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SLATES Hanging Out At Steve’s

Slates

“The way Steve Albini conducts himself is pretty amazing. He’s dedicated his life to working with his peers, with people that are quite well known and also bands that are up-and-coming.”

Alberta punks, Slates, are playing in Australia for the first time after self-booking their tour – DIY-style. JESSICA WILLOUGHBY talks to guitarist, James Stewart, ahead of their shows at 459 Bar and 208 in Maylands this Saturday, February 21, and Sunday, February 22, respectively.

 

Environment plays a big part in how art is shaped. Whether it be social conditions or a physical location, the influence felt often impacts deeply on creative outcomes.

Slates are a band born from this idea. Hailing from Edmonton, Alberta – a cold, industrial city in Canada where wealth dominates over artistic endeavours – these are a bunch of punks that felt like they needed to exist in response to their surroundings.

But this notion of ‘environment’ played out differently for the four-piece when it came to their latest effort, Taiga (2014). The opportunity to record with legendary jack-of-all-trades, Steve Albini, at his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago served as inspiration for taking a different approach to writing their third full length. But it was a little literary advice from Talking Head’s mastermind David Byrne that got them in the right headspace. “I can’t remember which David Byrne book it was, as we had a few we were passing around the band,” guitarist James Stewart tells X-Press. “But there was a part in there where he mentions writing music for an environment. He is known for that huge room drum sound. That’s something that Dallas (Thompson, drums) especially took to heart – leaving a lot of space so he could have that dynamic.

When we got to the studio, we recorded in Studio B. It used to be a pinball factory, I think. It’s just this massive room. The ceilings are so high and he (Albini) was taping microphones to the floor – he had stuff all over the room. So as soon as you hit that snare drum, it was this massive crack all throughout the room. By keeping that in mind when writing, and streamlining everything, you can really make the music breathe. We were inspired by this studio, but it was also the music we wanted to make as well.

So what was it about Albini’s involvement that struck a chord with Slates? “It’s been something we’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Stewarts explains. “It started as a pie-in-the-sky idea. But the way he conducts himself is pretty amazing. He’s dedicated his life to working with his peers, with people that are quite well known and also bands that are up-and-coming. He obviously needs to be working, but these are the bands he wants to work with and finds interesting. The whole thing came together pretty quickly. There are so many albums that he’s done that we love. Like Times Of Grace by Neurosis, which is just one of the most crushing albums I’ve ever heard. They recorded in Studio B too.”

There was also a changing of the guard during the writing of this album, with a guitarist swap over due to unusual circumstances. “The biggest change was that we had was Eric, our guitarist, left because he primarily wanted to focus on Kung Fu,” Stewart says. “I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. He had the opportunity to go study in China or to come on tour to Europe. He was going to come to Europe, but then he decided he had to go. And that’s basically the coolest excuse anyone can have for leaving a band. So we had a friend S.D. come in, who used to be a bassist instead. When we made that switch, everything came together really quickly. We were all on the same page and think the album is a reflection of that.”

 

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