It is backstage at Cal Jam 2018, Dave Grohl’s music festival in San Bernardino and we are chatting with Laurie Vincent and Isaac Holman from U.K. punk duo Slaves. This tour they have done a limited number of shows stateside: Their highlight is being on the Cal Jam bill with their hero and Godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop. However, they have plans to return to the U.S. next year to promote their third album Acts of Fear And Love.
After their incendiary set earlier in the day, the pair—both dressed in white—rock up with clothes so dirty, mothers everywhere would be reaching for the industrial-strength stain remover. Yet they are the most affable punks—tattoos, gold teeth and all. They reveal their inspiration behind the change of pace and sonics on their new album, bemoan the lack of diversity in contemporary Top 40 pop charts and give pointers on when it is not OK to ask for a selfie. Thankfully, they do oblige us with a selfie, post-interview, after giving us their best Iggy Pop pose and first politely apologizing for “being sweaty and smelly.”
Acts of Fear And Love is quite different in sound compared to Are You Satisfied and Take Control, which were more straightforward punk albums. Was that a conscious decision or did your inspiration just come from elsewhere this time?
Vincent: I think it was a conscious decision that we didn’t want to rush it this time. Not that we felt that we rushed it before; we knew that the songs we were writing had a bigger potential and…
Holman: We didn’t want to sell ourselves short at all. We just knew that we had more in us. Not to say the other stuff isn’t good but we just gave it our all, 100 percent.
What was the idea behind the title and how does it tie in with this weird codependency we all have with our phones and Instagram? A couple of songs reference those issues, such as “The Lives They Wish They Had.”
Holman: The title comes from what a teacher in college told me. There’s no hate, just acts of fear and hate. It just came from the teacher saying it to me, and it stuck with me for all these years. I kept saying it and we were practicing one day, and Laurie said, “Where does that even come from?” And then we decided that’s what we should call the album. At first we thought it sounded too big and bold, maybe a bit cheesy, but then it just felt right in the end.
Vincent: This was close to when we started the album. We had a few songs already. We talked about what we wanted to do with the album from the beginning, and we’d never done that before. What we wanted it to sound like. And what songs we wanted to do. And the name sort of set the bar for where things had to be, everything we said on it had to feel relevant to the title, and really of the moment as well.
“Photo Opportunity” speaks specifically to this moment and our obsession to record everything with our phones and post it to social media, or take selfies. As a well-known band that fans want to take selfies with, when is it OK to ask a celebrity or your favorite musician for a selfie?
Holman: Rather than say when it is OK, I would say it’s not OK: When you’re, like, eating food at a restaurant. Or you’re in the bathroom of a venue. Those are times when it’s just not cool.
Vincent: You just have to be conscientious; there are times when people are in deep conversation with another person and you have to just give them space.
Holman: Or when you’re on the phone, that’s another rude one.
Do people really do that?
Vincent: Yes. All of the above, we’ve had people do. If you’re eating with your family, like Eminem says, it’s a no-no.
Vincent: I think the point of that song isn’t that you shouldn’t take photos with us, it’s just the value of them shouldn’t be as much as people associate with it. And people should be happier just to be in each other’s company, have that experience, than the trophy for it. That’s what sits with us so uncomfortably. We’re all guilty of it. I want a photo with Iggy Pop.
Ha! That was going to be my next question.
Holman: I actually am going to have to. Iggy Pop’s like my dad’s all-time hero!
Vincent: (To Holman) And you’re going to sound like those people when they come to us. People come up to us all the time and say, “My girlfriend loves your band,” and it feels like they don’t want to admit that they love the band.
Vincent: But it’s true.
Holman: (With puppy dog eyes) I’ll tell him [Iggy] I love him first.
Vincent: You instantly just say things like that (pointing at Holman) …. another thing that people do is, they list the gigs [where] they’ve seen us; it’s like an icebreaker but everyone just gives up their gig list and you’re like … (look of dismay) just standing there.
It’s their way of saying, this is how much I love you, all these gigs. But I’m curious, Isaac, what are you going to say to Iggy Pop?
Holman: I’m going to say, “I love you. You inspired me. You’re my dad’s all-time hero.”
Vincent: And you touched him once in 1982…
Holman: Yeah – that’s my dad’s claim to fame, that he touched him once when he was crowdsurfing.
OK, so what’s the worst thing a fan has said to you?
Vincent: I guess they’re not fans if they say bad things. I don’t know—there’s a lot of shit on Twitter, tweets I’ve tried to avoid. I’ve deleted Twitter now. I’ve decided I can’t be part of that negativity.
Unfortunately, people will troll and bait you.
Holman: It’s not good to read Twitter. I always feel like it’s either going to inflate your ego or hurt your feelings; might as well just concentrate on what you’re writing, your songs.
Vincent: Yeah, let’s not give them credibility by talking about them.
Holman: Yeah, we love you all.
Vincent: If you’re unhappy, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about why. Why you’re unhappy and being mean to us.
Should they go on Twitter to tell you that or perhaps send you a letter?
Vincent: Yes, send me a letter.
In relation to your new record, which is not quite as thrash metal punk as songs like “Cheer Up London” and “Hunter” off debut Are You Satisfied or the Mike D-produced follow-up Take Control. It also shows the variety in your influences. But you said it’s the kind of music you would listen to – could you clarify that?
Vincent: We still love our first record but you have to be in a certain mood to listen to hardcore punk. And I love all of those bands just as much. But Blur are probably my all-time favorite band and that’s like the best “train music” or “on-the-way-somewhere music.”
Holman: We spend a lot of our lives in transit. And melancholic…
Vincent: Ambient music.
Holman: Actually, ambient music is what we like to listen to when we’re on the road.
Vincent: So specifically, “Acts of Fear & Love,” “Photo Opportunity” and “Daddy” – those three songs are like us admitting, that‘s the stuff we really love to listen to, sonically.
You also said that pop music was more diverse when you were growing up; however, with all the different ways we can consume music these days, I would think that music today is far more diverse.
Vincent: By pop music, I mean the Top 40, and I think the Top 40 is nowhere near as diverse. If you look at the Top 40, the credits—and I don’t dislike them at all—but Mark Ronson and Diplo will be writing credits across loads of different artists. It’s clever, they’ve worked out that if they all work together we can all just get access to the charts. But when I was a kid, I’d be listening to a girl band like Bewitched or Sheryl Crow or Boyzone. Sonically, they were all different. Then you had Oasis and Blur; the music ebbed and flowed. Now, there’s a definite EDM-background production to pop music. There’s more music now because of streaming or whatever, but I am still convinced that there’s less diversity.
Homan: I agree. The Top 40 is like bollocks.
Vincent: You know, with bands like The Corrs – they were in the charts. And the Dixie Chicks made it big in the U.K. for a while. All this variety of bands – Foo Fighters and Nirvana, they’d all be on the radio with Macy Gray, Dido, Eminem; nothing sounded the same. Whereas now if you put on any big pop radio station, I can’t differentiate who they are.
Yes, one DJ, a female vocal and EDM beat.
Vincent: We’re still guilty of enjoying that music and I’ll never ever berate musicians for making their way in the world; it’s just a case of—I think it’s homogenized and boring. But I’ll still sing along to it in my kitchen. (laughs) We’re all fucking hypocrites; that’s the thing about the human race. Let’s own it. But within it there’s bastions of hope. Not the most recent one, but the last one Justin Bieber put out, blew everything away. And you have people like Cardi B, who’s making such a bold statement for females, it’s incredible. If I have a daughter, I’ll be like, “Cardi B is what you can do with your life!” And even Post Malone; he is so down to earth and honest about everything, so there are diamonds in the shit. Kids just have to know that they can pick up a guitar again and have fun.
Holman: Justin Bieber is sick.
Vincent: That’s what upsets me, that kids don’t realize that there’s a way to start anymore. Just pick up a guitar…
Is it true that you are playing guitar today because of School of Rock?
Vincent: Yes, I had guitars all the way from about the age of six, and I kept, like trying to learn, stopping, giving up; it was too hard. I walked out of the cinema, 10 years old, after watching School of Rock, and I told my dad, “Dad, I want guitar lessons again.” And Jack Black is here today. Can you tell him? Are you going to interview him? Someone needs to tell him. I’m going to stalk him as well. That’s the beauty of our band; my dad was amazing and gave me access to instruments, but musically, I had to get there on my own a bit. And discover things. I’m lucky I had the internet. Whereas Isaac has all this musical heritage – it proves it doesn’t matter where you come from.