Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the supergroup as “a rock group made up of prominent former members of other rock groups.” This means that by definition and to their relief, Minor Victories is not a supergroup. (Of course then, this also relieves Atoms For Peace, the Dead Weather and Fantômas, among others, from such an unwanted burden.) Comprised of Rachel Goswell (Slowdive, Mojave 3), Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai), Justin Lockey (Editors), and his filmmaker brother James, Minor Victories is instead more of a super-side-project (yes, this has apparently been a term that has existed for a decade now).
Justin Lockey formed Minor Victories in between the last two Editors albums. His original vision was to make a one-off EP of “extreme noise topped off by a delicate female voice.” Through his management he connected with Rachel Goswell, who herself had just begun playing with Slowdive again after a 20-year hiatus, and they began laying down tracks. Cue the snowball, and in no time Minor Victories became an actual band that now included Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite on guitar and Lockey’s brother James on bass. Braithwaite first described Minor Victories as having “the good elements from everyone's band” and he isn’t kidding. The band’s self-titled debut album is a perfect integration of those bands’ respective sounds: Editors’ poignant art-rock, Slowdive’s mesmeric ambient shoegaze, and Mogwai’s devastating, quiet-to-loud crescendos. The fact that it is the result of strangers emailing their parts to each other speaks volumes to the talent involved.
Noisey spoke to Rachel Goswell about the evolution of Minor Victories, working as strange band-fellows, the problems attached to the term “supergroup,” and the status of that new Slowdive album.
Noisey: Minor Victories began as you and Justin. Who initiated contact about the band?
Rachel Goswell: It was Justin’s idea. He contacted me via our mutual management because he had a few instrumentals and he wanted to see if I would do some vocals and writing for them. His initial suggestion was to do something really low-key, like an EP with four songs, but have films to accompany each song. But as we went on with it we realized we needed more people really. Even though Justin plays guitar, on this record he plays very little guitar, which is quite funny. We talked about people that we knew, and my initial thought was Stuart. I had met him a couple of years before, when Slowdive reunited, and we kept bumping into each other at festivals. We got on well and he’s a great guitar player, so I asked him. At that point we had only done “Out to Sea,” so he said yes and put some guitars on it. And Justin’s brother James plays bass and drums, so he was drafted in to play. That’s kind of how the band performed, and by about April last year it was fully formed.
So none of you really knew each other?
Not massively, no. [Laughs.] I had met Justin literally for about 30 seconds at Latitude in July 2014. And then in September he contacted me. So no, we didn’t know each other.
I guess people do it all of the time when they place ads to start a band. Was there any awkwardness felt from these four strangers getting together?
No, there wasn’t. I think it was a very curious thing. Everyone was so enthusiastic about it because I suppose we all have mutual respect for each other in all we do. I just seemed really easy. Certainly for the last six months of doing the record, it really ramped up the pace when Stuart began recording his guitar parts. We were in email contact and text messages several times a day. Occasionally Justin would ring me. It seemed very normal. There wasn’t any awkwardness. We passed the files around and what I often got was the finished pieces of music, which I would add melodies and vocals to at the end.
Working together remotely isn’t that uncommon now. But I imagine you likely never worked like that before with Neil Halstead?
No, never. I suppose the last thing we recorded was Mojave 3, whenever the last one was. So 2006? That was very much studio-based. There wasn’t that much file-swapping at that point. I guess the technology was there, but we weren’t using it.
Could you get used to file-swapping or do you prefer the studio?
Both have their advantages, really. I love the way we did this record. There was no pressure, because we all just did our bits on our own time. There wasn’t the time pressure when you’re in the studio always clock-watching thinking about how you only have x amount of days to get all of it done. There was no one to tell me—aside from my partner, who also worked on the record—they don’t like something. I felt free to do what I wanted. There was time and space to do it, so I think a lot more thought went into the vocals compared to previous things I’ve done. So I found it to be a very positive experience.
Minor Victories came not long after Slowdive were back in full swing. Were you looking to start another band?
No! [Laughs.] Not at all! I was really busy. When Justin contacted me in September 2014, I did the vocals for “Out to Sea” right before [Slowdive] did our North American tour. Then I had to put it on hold till about January  because I was just so busy. I wasn’t looking to do anything else, but then I figured my philosophy was if I like the music then I will certainly consider it. If I don’t I wouldn’t. I just really liked what Justin had done. And I wasn’t expecting it to turn into what it has at all.
I imagine there is quite a contrast between playing in a band that has existed for a year, and playing in one that has existed—more or less—for 27 years…
Yeah. You don’t have the history, do you? For a start. [Minor Victories] has just done four dates together in the UK, and luckily we all got on really well [laughs]. It was very relaxed, and I think although there is pressure to be good, we are still learning about each other. And we know a fair amount now. Both bands are good and positive, happy places to be. I love playing in Slowdive. We have a good laugh. But we did have a 20-year hiatus.
Do you think the Slowdive tour had any impact on starting Minor Victories? Would you have joined Minor Victories if Slowdive hadn’t reformed? Because you weren’t doing much music at the time.
I probably wouldn’t, no. Because I was out of music for about five years, and I had to come out of it because of health issues, initially. It took me a couple of years to come to terms with not being able to do music anymore at that time. It was a hard couple of years adjusting to not singing and playing, because it was such a large part of my soul and who I am. But I made my peace with it, and then the idea of Slowdive reforming came around again. I had to think long and hard about putting myself back into the environment of music and all it entails. It came at the right time in my life, where I was feeling better myself, and my son was a little easier by the age of four. I also don’t think Justin would have approached me had Slowdive not got back together. I don’t know if he was aware of Slowdive before that. I’ve never asked him whether he liked Slowdive back in the day [laughs]. He’s a bit younger than me. I’m kind of the eldest in Minor Victories, which is funny because I’m the youngest in Slowdive. But yes, I’m not sure if he would have asked me. He was looking for a delicate, female vocal and obviously Slowdive was very busy in 2014, and we were everywhere.
I know Stuart is a Slowdive fan.
Yeah, Stuart came to see us when he was really little. We were working it out the other day where it was in Glasgow. He was 15 when he came to see us. It was quite funny.
Originally Justin imagined this as an “extreme noise EP topped off by a delicate female voice.” How long did it take for the music to shift into something not so extreme?
I think once Stuart started adding his guitars in the summer last year, and I was writing the vocals after that was when it shifted. The original idea for “Scattered Ashes” came from Stuart. It was a bit of a Shangri-La’s, 60s vibe, and it changed. “Cogs” came from James, and that was very upbeat and different.
Stuart’s description of it was “if you know the music that all of us have made, it won't really surprise you.” Is this band more about everyone playing on their strengths instead of trying to reinvent the wheel?
I don’t think we did anything consciously. I think we all just did what came to us naturally. We didn’t have any discussions about how we wanted it to sound. It just came out of us.
How do you feel about the term supergroup?
I had this discussion with the rest of the guys actually. It made me cringe when I first read that. It sounds very… smug, is the wrong word. Maybe egotistical? I understand why the term is used if you have three people that are in known bands. I guess that is how journalists describe these bands. But I felt really uncomfortable with it. I’ve become more comfortable reading the term now, but I still don’t like it.
Yeah, and then you added Mark Kozelek and James Graham (The Twilight Sad). That makes it even more super. How did Mark join the project? You guys were both on 4AD back in the day. Was there any connection there?
Well, Mark and I have been friends for around 20 years. I was thinking about this the other day. Obviously Mojave 3 signed to 4AD in 1995, and I was a huge Red House Painters fan. I think the initial connection came when they played in London. I went to the Columbia Hotel and met Mark, and we had lunch. We just got on, and then continued to cross paths in various places over the years, and chat on the phone a lot. We did the John Denver tribute album all those years ago, and thinking back on it, he had sent the file over digitally. I’m trying to think how that came at the time because that was the late 90s. We just did things with him over the years. Neil played with him last year, and we went to see them play in Bristol. Mark had asked me to duet with him on “I Got You Babe,” Sonny and Cher, and I said, “I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to do that. I just want to come and see you play.” Then during the show he announced I was there, hoping I would go up and sing with him. So I had to and it was really funny. I didn’t know the words, so I did fluff some of it. It was just a big, warm thing to do. We had a big hug at the end and I scuttled off stage.
We thought about having other people on the record. I just thought it would be interesting to have Mark write something, because I’ve always been a fan of his writing and the way it has really evolved over the years. So we just sent him one track that Justin had been working on, and he sent it back in two days, which was amazing. The original had him singing everything, but he had obviously written the song about our friendship over the last 20 years. There are loads of pinpoints; Mark has a fantastic memory, much better than mine. It was a fun song to sing that was so much different from what I’ve done before. And it was nice to have him on something I was doing.
And James from the Twilight Sad came aboard to sing “Scattered Ashes” with you. I have to say, that song sounds like a proper single, which I wasn’t really expecting.
I don’t think we were expecting something like that to come out either. [Laughs.] But it did, and it really evolved in its own way. We felt it needed a male singer, and originally we asked Stuart to do it but it was too high for his range. He suggested James, who I didn’t know at that point, but Justin and James knew him because the Twilight Sad had done some touring with Editors. I really like what he did. He performed with us in London and Glasgow a few weeks ago, which was really fun. It’s interesting to sing live with different singers. Live I’ve only really ever sung with Neil.
You recently revealed there is a new Slowdive record in the works. How does it work splitting your time between the two bands?
Ha, ha, ha! Sometimes I feel like I’m a headless chicken! I’d say it’s an organizational nightmare for our managers to see that there isn’t any clashing. At the moment it’s OK, because with the Slowdive record we had a fair amount of studio time last year and recorded a fair amount of stuff. Neil spent a few months earlier this year rejigging and playing around with things and writing lyrics. They’re just laying down some bass and drum parts at the moment. And I’m not allowed in because I have my son. I did some vocals in the studio last year, but I’m actually doing my vocals at home now. Then I just send the files to Neil, just because it’s so easy to do it that way. We aren’t constricted by time, because he lives a few hours away from me, and the rest of the guys are spread out. But it’s going well. I think the record is sounding good. We’re excited about it.
Can you give me an idea of what this Slowdive album is sounding like?
There are obvious Slowdive sounds, but I wouldn’t say it sounds like any of the other Slowdive records. I think it would be boring to make a new record that sounded like the old ones. I know people keep saying, “I hope you re-record ‘Silver Screen’,” which was a Souvlaki demo, but we’re not going to do that either. I don’t see the point in looking back with music. I feel you should always be moving forward. And all of that stuff had its time and place, which is great, but I don’t think any of us want to make something that sounds like our earlier records. It’s going to be different again.
It’s great that Slowdive didn’t just reunite to tour the old stuff.
Well the thing is, we reformed and realized we actually like each other. We can still have a good laugh, and we want to carry on. I guess if we reformed and felt we really hated each other we wouldn’t be doing this.
Minor Victories self-titled album is out now via Fat Possum Records.