Music by VICE

The Return of Slowdive

The UK shoegaze pioneers are about to release their first album in 22 years. We talked to vocalist and guitarist Rachel Goswell where the self-titled project came from.

by Cam Lindsay
May 2 2017, 3:15pm

When Slowdive began to discuss the idea of reuniting in 2013, Rachel Goswell had virtually given up on a music career. "My son was born in 2010, so I was a full-time mom, that was it," she says over the phone. "I wasn't expecting to get back into music at that point. I suppose I had made my peace and felt I had done everything I wanted to do in music. I was in quite a happy space."

After spending six years in Slowdive, another 12 years in Mojave 3, and a brief solo stint in 2004 that produced one album, 2004's Waves Are Universal, Goswell had settled on raising a family. But when her long-time bandmate Neil Halstead got in touch with her about the possibility of resurrecting their old band, she was open to the idea.

"I think after four years of just purely being a mother I felt like I needed to do something," she admits. "It sounds selfish, but I needed to something for myself again. I needed a bit more balance in my life. My son was born with multiple issues and special needs, but by the time Neil called things had been settled with him, because he was just starting school. So for me, circumstances had changed quite a lot at that point."

Although there was plenty of speculation over the years as to whether Slowdive would ever reform, it was at Halstead's intimate solo gig in London at the end of 2013 that the seeds were planted.

"He had done a couple of solo shows in London, and I went to sing a couple of Mojave 3 and Slowdive songs with him as a guest," she recalls. "Nick [Chaplin] and Christian [Savill] had come along to that as well. I'd never lost contact with Neil, but I got to renew my contact with the rest of them that night. We got on and it just seemed like it everybody was up for it we should do it really."

What sealed the deal was an offer to perform at every band's favorite festival, Primavera in Barcelona. They kicked the wheels, and all of a sudden a slew of offers began to pour in. Just like that, in 2014 Slowdive were born again.

Slowdive formed in Reading, England back in 1989 by childhood friends Goswell and Halstead. At the time of formation, the two were a couple who took their band's name from a Siouxsie & the Banshees song. Chaplin and Savill joined early on [drummer Simon Scott would join in 1991] and within a short time Alan McGee had signed them to his Creation Records imprint based on the strength of their demo.

"That was exciting for us to sign with Creation," she remembers. "It was the best label in the UK at the time. That was incredible for us at the age of 19."

In November 1990, they released a self-titled debut EP (essentially their demo), followed by the Morningrise EP three months later. At first the UK press was spellbound by their deeply pensive, effects-laden music, but as shoegaze began to fall out of fashion for being too isolated and cold, Slowdive took the brunt of the bad press. Although their 1991 debut album, Just For A Day, received favorable reviews, the weekly music papers targeted Slowdive with derisive criticism as both grunge and My Bloody Valentine's masterpiece Loveless arrived. Melody Maker inexplicably described their second album, Souvlaki, as "a soulless void," while their third, Pygmalion, the NME said "will sell absolutely fart all."

"We went through difficulties in the UK, with the press backlash," says Goswell. "But we did concentrate more in America back then. We always felt at home doing stuff in North America, and the way the press worked was very different from the UK because it was much bigger. We weren't relying on two weekly newspapers."

Slowdive received a much warmer welcome outside of their home country, but by the time they released Pygmalion, the band were on their last legs and ready to move on. It didn't help that the record was delayed by almost a year, sounded very little like its predecessor and was the antithesis to the pop album McGee had asked for.

"Pygmalion came out in 1995, but it was ready to be released for about a year," Goswell says. "By that point we were rehearsing to do a tour that had been booked, but things were quite fractious in the band. It wasn't fantastic. We were dropped by Creation about a week after the record was released. Around then Nick and Christian decided that they didn't want to do it anymore."

As Slowdive burnt out, another band rose from the ashes. Goswell, Halstead and then-drummer Ian McCutcheon formed an indie-folk band called Mojave 3, signed to 4AD, and within a year had their debut album, 1996's Ask Me Tomorrow, which has been called "essentially Slowdive unplugged."

"Neil had been doing a lot of music on his own at home and we still had our publishing deal with EMI, so we were able to use a studio they had in London for free," she says. "So Neil had all of these demos, most of which ended up making the first Mojave 3 album. Obviously Neil had been listening to a lot of ambient music and Talk Talk during the making of Pygmalion, but then went back to his roots, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, which then influenced Mojave 3."

Four more Mojave 3 albums were released before the band entered a hiatus in 2008. At that point, Halstead began focusing his energy on a solo career, releasing folk records for his surfing pal Jack Johnson's Brushfire label. However, questions about a Slowdive reunion never stopped coming, and in 2012 he finally admitted publicly that he was open to the idea.

When Slowdive finally reformed in 2014, the band members all agreed that making new music was the number one priority. Once they had completed the tours they had booked, they would begin working on the fourth Slowdive album.

"It was really important for us because we didn't want a nostalgia band that always plays the same old music," Goswell explains. "It was very much, 'Let's do these shows and see how we get on.' That was a busy year, 2014, for all of us, and it was important that we did the live shows, so we could enable the possibility of doing another record. We talked about it from the start, but I think we needed the time to familiarize ourselves with each other again.

"It was a naturally evolving process, but it was always in our minds that we wanted to [make new music]. The beauty of it was that we didn't have a record label or any real pressure on us to make it. We all agreed that if we thought it was rubbish it wouldn't see the light of day [laughs]. Thankfully we ended up liking what we did."

Touring helped them gain a sense of what Slowdive could be 22 years on from their last work. Over the course of 18 months, Slowdive began to piece together new songs they had worked on over various stretches of playing together. During that period, Goswell was also making an album and touring with another band, Minor Victories, while the rest of the members were spread out all over the country.

"Some of those sessions were us just rehearsing to see what would come out naturally," she says. "'Slomo' and 'Go Get It' came out of those sessions. And then Neil would have some ideas and bring them in for us to work on. However, it took a long time because there were snatch moments where we could all be available since we've all got children and we're all doing other things."

Slowdive is basically an encapsulation of the band's catalog in one album, yet it also doesn't sound like a band stuck in a decades-old time capsule. Some bands struggle to relight the flame they carried during their original run, but not Slowdive. They have returned as a more confident and determined band, fully aware of what they are capable of.

"We were conscious that we had a particular sound we wanted to retain, however, we didn't want to rehash things we'd already done before," Goswell says. "Some things didn't see the light of day, but I think every band on the planet does the same thing. There were some songs definitely where we felt it was too far away perhaps. I think the record has nods to parts of Souvlaki, elements of Pygmalion too, but also shades of the present and the future. I don't think it's completely similar to what we've done before, because that would have been a pointless task."

When asked if this is closer to the pop record that Alan McGee requested prior to Pygmalion, Goswell pauses for a second.

"That's a really interesting question," she answers. "Maybe this is that record in some way. There are certainly songs that are more upbeat, at least for Slowdive. There is stuff that is more pop-based. Maybe this is it, but we needed that 20-year gap to make it happen. And it's not on Creation, so there you go."

In the 20-plus years that Slowdive were not with us, they earned a cult status and became the favorite band for a lot of shoegaze fans. The recordings they left behind were enshrined in the beautifully twisted films of Gregg Araki, reimagined by "indietronica" artists (see Morr Music's 2002 compilation, Blue Skied An' Clear) and name-dropped by enthusiasts like the Sonic Cathedral label ("Nathaniel Cramp has been integral in spreading the word about Slowdive," says Goswell about the label's owner.) A lot of people will even argue that Souvlaki wasn't just a work of brilliance on par with My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, it's the better album of the two. The UK press has even come back around and given them their deserved praise.

"It's very different, but I think a lot of the people writing about Slowdive now are younger," Goswell says. "A lot of them weren't even born [laughs]. There are some back then are still writing. The journalists that weren't nice to us I don't even remember the names of anyway. It hasn't affected my life that much, to be honest."

Goswell's life in Slowdive seems better than it's ever been. For a band that was once humiliated by critics, there are few bands on the planet more hallowed than hers. And the fact that musically they've become better at their job makes this second chance even better than the first one.

"A lot of time has passed and things have changed," she says. "There was a 20-year gap, so we're a lot older. But I'd like to think we're more accomplished musicians now through the natural turning of time and all of what we've done over the years. I actually think we're also a better live band than before. I don't necessarily put that down to the advancement in technology and guitar pedals either. It's more a mix of that and the experience that has been gained just through time playing music. We also appreciate it a lot more now and take it a little more seriously than we probably did back then. I certainly don't take anything for granted. We are lucky to be in the position that we're in. I'm definitely enjoying it more now."

Cam Lindsay is a writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.