We haven’t exactly shied away from our love for Melbourne act Slowly Slowly recently. They were one of our punk bands to watch in 2016, we frothed all over their debut album Chamomile earlier in the year, and we had a blast at the album launch last month.
We caught up with Ben Stewart from Slowly Slowly over a cup of coffee to chat about everything that’s happened in the bands’ young yet busy life so far.
HAPPY: Let’s start at the beginning, how did you first get into music?
BEN: I started playing drums when I was in year four or five and just sort of learning a fill here and there and doing all the little drum exams for school. I think it was in the first term of year seven that we figured out that one of our friends played guitar, another played bass, and of course one friend always gets roped in to sing that doesn’t want to. And then we started playing that Holy Grail footy song, so every lunch time for all of year seven we just ran to the music room and played Holy Grail. So that was how it pretty much all started, that was when the obsession began.
HAPPY: So you started on drums?
BEN: I started on drums but always had a guitar around the house, and my old man played bass, so he always had it around and he’d play – he’d just buy his favourite records and sit and play along on bass and learn by ear, he’s very talented like that. The guitar would always be in its case, he didn’t play it much, so I’d just grab it out and be sort of noodling, playing little one string riffs and stuff.
HAPPY: How’d Slowly Slowly come together?
BEN: Slowly started so long ago but we just didn’t have a real project name for it, I’d played in other bands where I played guitar and sang but it was more of a group effort kind of vibe, whereas me and Alex Quayle (other member of Slowly Slowly and album producer) always hung out and wrote songs on the side. We had like a little mini-studio set up out east in my dad’s factory and there were no time constraints or whatever so we used to go late at night.
HAPPY: Sound like a bands’ wet dream.
BEN: Yeah it was crazy, my dad helped us, and we set up this chocolate velvet room, because it was the cheapest material at Bunnings and we painted the other room red – it was just awful and it was so shabby – but some of the best nights ever, even sober, I had there. We’d just be writing tunes and then skating out the front under the massive spotlights of factories in the industrial area.
HAPPY: What’s the driving force behind the band?
BEN: I just wanted to make records that my friends would like, I think a lot of the time you have no control over what you write, but I just wanted to put it into a tidy package to impress my mates, and I think that’s still a lot of the ethos behind the band, just to make music that myself and my friends would want to listen to and just sort of mesh together all of mine and their influences and whilst obviously staying true and writing something that you genuinely and honestly feel. It’s just started like that, I love playing shows to my mates, and I just don’t think it gets better than that.
HAPPY: That sounds very organic.
BEN: Yeah and I think it always will be. There is no ambition behind the band (laughs) I just want to make records that are honest and make people feel things and that’s it, and if no-one buys the next one and everyone hates it and we get ostracised I don’t care. It’s literally where it begins and ends, I don’t wanna be big.
HAPPY: Is that what you’d define as success for the band then?
BEN: It’s been overwhelming. I guess I don’t want to ‘fix it if it ain’t broke’ kind of thing. The band isn’t a company, I don’t like have this vision to re-brand the whole thing now that we’ve had this little taste of success. I want to do the last record exactly the same as we did this one, I just want it to happen organically, I don’t want to push something out if it’s not ready, I just don’t wanna mess with it – it’s such a delicate balance. I think people latch onto things that feel honest.
HAPPY: What fuelled the songs on that album?
BEN: I think the overarching sentiment of the record is kind of like treating the physical effects of a problem without looking at the cause of it, that’s how we kind of grouped the songs together. They all seem to tie together like that for me, just from different walks and times in my life. I’ll often write some really up-tempo stuff, like almost poppy kind of stuff, but none of that fit with that ethos, so they got left out.
HAPPY: What was it like bringing out the debut album, Chamomile?
BEN: So fun. I get so anxious about releasing stuff too, as much as I love showing people it’s like I’ll write something and then two minutes later despise it and you know I can’t even listen to Chamomile it makes me sick, I listen to it and hear all the mistakes and it makes me sick, I hate it. But I know with the music I listen to, I fall in love with the imperfections on a record that make it, so I just have to close my eyes and hope that people fall in love with these same mistakes that make me feel awful. But it’s been so fun, putting our first footprint down.
HAPPY: What inspired it musically?
BEN: Quayle will argue with me for saying this but he really likes very cohesive albums, he loves the blue album by Weezer so he likes the same guitar and drum tones throughout the whole record, he wants it bookended to be tidy. Whereas for me, I like a lot of records that are very messy and sort of, one might be an IPhone demo, we sort of had to meet in the middle so I wanted to bridge it between that kind of 90’s Weezer-y college rock thing. I wanted to dance on that, but with more intimate kind of stuff.
HAPPY: What was the launch show like?
BEN: So ridiculously fun, it was psycho I could not believe it. I sat in the car for most of the night cos I was just so scared, I was popping out to see the support bands and then going back to the car (laughs).
HAPPY: How’d you feel getting up on stage?
BEN: As soon as you get out there, once you’ve sung the first note or hit the first guitar note its fine. We had the whole night filmed from a few different positions with some nice cameras from our friend Michael Roberts, so I got to watch back all of the footage and I was astounded at how psycho the room was going because most of the time I was just staring down the mic the whole time not paying attention. So it was nice to be able to look back on it. I was flying high the whole time, didn’t have a drink until we finished and didn’t get home til 7:30 the next day. I was an absolute poached egg until Tuesday the next week, it took me four days to get over that hangover.
HAPPY: What’s it like to look out at that crowd?
BEN: It’s very fleeting, I try not to look out at the room, but it was absolutely unreal, there were so many faces in that room that I didn’t recognise and there were all these people in the front row singing every word with their hand in my face, it was unreal. I don’t know if we deserve it but it was a lot of fun.
HAPPY: The band has only been around for about a year and a half, it’s a pretty short amount of time to be headlining a packed room at the Evelyn.
BEN: Oh yeah we’re just a piss in the ocean. You get those Facebook reminders from like a year ago and they always shock me like “that was just one year ago” but it feels like an eternity. We are such a young band. When we were booking the album launch I was talking to our manager Boots, who’s super ambitious unlike us, and she wanted to book The Evelyn so when I asked what the capacity was and she said 350, I was like “let’s just book the Old Bar”.
HAPPY: Everyone would not have fitted in there.
BEN: I just wanted the Old Bar and we argued for ages and then I gave up and just said “It’s gonna be empty, you’re gonna regret this!”
HAPPY: Well she was right.
BEN: Yeah, I’m happy with the way it panned out.
HAPPY: What’s your song-writing process like?
BEN: All over the shop, some of them take like two minutes and it’s done, some of them are like six-months or some are in the works for years. When I got back from overseas recently I pumped out like six new ones in a week and then recorded drums to them the next week with Quayle, so we pretty much have six new ones ready to go. I want to have a new full length in six months.
HAPPY: I though you said you weren’t ambitious!
BEN: No (laughs) I mean not ambitious for what it’ll mean to anyone other than me, I guess we’ve just got the first little taste of what it’s like to release something now, cos we’ve never really experienced it before. We’ve recorded so many damn songs, Quayle and I would’ve recorded over 200 songs together, but most of which will never see the light of day, this is the first taste we’ve had of actually giving it to the wider public and not just drop-boxing our friends. So it is like an addictive thing, but I write a lot so I want to put them out. I’m going to be old and dead soon so I just want to put out another one.
HAPPY: How do you know when a song is working, when you’re writing it how do you know if it’s a keeper?
BEN: Well Quayle’s really good for that, I’ve never met anyone like him – it’s not just that he has an ear for it – you meet creative people all the time that can come up with a bunch of options for what you could be doing, I mean if I played you something then you could say “Oh but what about this, you could do this” and you’d come up with fifteen options on what I’m doing that could be different, but it takes a really special kind of person to analytically look at what you’re doing and just change this exact thing, and he’s got that. It’s just weird. I’ve met so many great songwriters in my life that are great at coming up with ideas like they’re going out of fashion, but he’s so analytical and calculated and he’ll be like “the third chord isn’t working” or “I don’t like the vocal phrasing in this one line”, and you’ll change that and be like “Oh that was the whole problem!”. He sees the problem, rather than coming up with a billion solutions, so it feels less meandering with him.
HAPPY: Is playing live a part of the song-writing process?
BEN: Definitely with the Old Bar residency we played yeah. You can always tell when you play a gig in front of people, you listen to it differently, almost like you’re looking at everybody’s reactions.
HAPPY: You’re launching the album down in Tassie soon, you guys have been down there a bit more than most bands – is there an affinity you have for Tassie?
BEN: It’s really cool, when we were booking our tour for the album launch shows, we had Sydney on the cards, Brissy and Adelaide, and I just went nope let’s just do Melbourne and Launceston… and not only because we don’t have very much self-confidence about people coming to the shows up there, it’s also because it just feels like home down there. Our shows are really fun down there and we get a fair few heads in the room – I dunno they just seem to get us.
HAPPY: What is the Melbourne music community to you?
BEN: It’s so sick. I remember trying so long to get into it, just being young and growing up and being 18 or being 17 and living out in the suburbs and knowing that Melbourne had this amazing community and not necessarily being in it but just like, having that feeling when you walk down Brunswick street and you look at all the chalkboards with all the bands’ names on it and you just go “Fuck that’d be something that I’d just love to be in” and you don’t really realise you’re in it until you’re just in it and playing in bands, and you meet someone else in a band, then you meet someone else, and then you’re like “This is a community!” and it only hits you after. There’s no red flashing light going “You’re in the community”.
HAPPY: I’ve realised that if you go into the world of another community, another clique, it hits you like “Oh this is so different to what I have, I’m so glad I have that space that I belong in”, its home.
BEN: Exactly, it’s so nice. And to go out to a gig and go by yourself, which I’ve done a lot, and just be like “Oh I’ll see someone I know” that is so damn sick. It’s like high school man (laughs) it’s awesome.
HAPPY: So what’s next for the band?
BEN: I just want to make another record and I want it to be good. I don’t care if we don’t tour it, I don’t care if we break-up (laughs) I just want to make a sick record next and I’m like head-down arse-up into writing at the moment and we learnt a lot making the last one because we aren’t a band that was born in the rehearsal room. All of those first baby-steps when you’re finding your feet and you’re finding out what your about, those steps for us were made in the studio and I feel like we’re figuring out what we’re about now.
So the next record is like, we’ve found our sound, it’s just that we kind of did it publicly. Whereas like, bands in a rehearsal room, you spend ages and you do a batch of songs in the rehearsal room, you move onto the next batch and you find your sound. We had to do it in front of everyone. Maybe a residency early next year is the way to go, I want to take it back to where it started with an Old Bar residency, maybe in January, just work on some new songs and play them to everybody.
It all comes in waves and cycles so right now we’re kind of post-release, we’re in that trough, and you have to really enjoy that time as well because it’s just as important as the touring and the releasing and the fun and the drinking and the partying, like this next little phase we’re gonna go through of watching all these other bands and gathering ourselves. There’s so many little flavours of the month, we might fade into obscurity and it’d be done and it’d be over but it’s like, I just want to make cool records I don’t care.
Also check out our article on funny band names for a laugh or two.