Slothrust’s Leah Wellbaum on the band’s new record and joining a label, at Mills Record Co. Tuesday night
If you put on Of Course You Do, the new record from Slothrust, you’re likely to get lost in the hazy reverb and thrashy perfection that the Brooklyn three-piece has crafted. Lead singer Leah Wellbaum has a big, bell-like quality to her voice, sounding almost off-key in the way Nico perfected. She plays it against furious guitar work with a driving rhythm section. It sounds like the kind of sound that was born in a dingy basement from the brains of crusty punk kids.
But Wellbaum and her cohorts – bassist Kyle Bann and drummer Will Gorin – are all classically trained jazz and blues musicians, degree holders from Sarah Lawrence. You probably wouldn’t guess that at first, but a closer listen – especially on tracks like “Crockpot” off Of Course – reveals tight, precise musicianship with thoughtful chord progressions. And Wellbaum’s somber voice is an excellent match for her plain, unadorned lyrics.
Ahead of the band’s show tomorrow night at Mills Record Co., we spoke with Wellbaum from the road about the band’s recent album and Slothrust’s new spot on the Ba Da Bing Records roster.
The Pitch: You’re playing at a record store, and I know you guys got your start in kind of DIY spaces and such. Do you have a preference for types of venues?
Wellbaum: I don’t really think we have too much of a preference. We’ve always been one of those bands that play a variety of venues. Our first stop on this tour was in Philadelphia at a house, and the next night was at a 400-capacity venue in D.C. with the best sounds that we’ve heard in a really, really long time. Both are great. For us, the venue is less important. It’s more about who turns out to the shows and the energy of who’s there.
One thing I love about the DIY spaces and the house party circuit is that it’s all-ages. I like that people who are under 21 or under 18 can come to the shows, because it sucks when venues, by default, end up excluding a group of people that are more often than not the most passionate about the music they’re into.
I feel like your band is in a unique position. You’re signed to a successful label, but that’s not really where you came from.
I think when it comes to working with labels, the most important thing is that you trust the people that you’re working with and you don’t think that they have ulterior motives. When we were talking with Ba Da Bing, it was really clear that they just wanted to make the record. I think that’s the most important thing in picking a record label, finding someone who really likes your music and isn’t going to try and screw you over with royalties or anything like that. I trust everyone at that label.
The other thing I love about it [Ba Da Bing] is that it’s also very eclectic. We don’t end up playing with bands with that label that often – we usually find ourselves on bills with bands from other labels. At the same time, we all really love a lot of different types of music, and I think it’s kind of a testament to how passionate Ba Da Bing really is about the music they have. They don’t necessarily try to cultivate one specific type of genre, and they really make the records that they want to make, even if they are different.
Speaking of bizarre, let’s talk about your new record. Tell me about Of Course You Do. It’s such an odd record – highs and lows. How long was it in the works?
Well, a lot of the songs have been written for a very long time. We did a tour a summer and a half ago, a five-week national tour thing, and we played a lot of those songs on that tour. We had pretty much recorded half of it and then sent it to Ba Da Bing, and they really liked it and wanted a full-length. And because we were working with them, we were able to go back into the studio and record some more material. It’s funny, because people who aren’t in bands or aren’t in labels don’t realize how long it takes to get the record. We’ve had it for a while, and there’s a lot of buildup that happens and a lot of steps that have to happen before the record actually comes out.
You’re all classically trained musicians. How does your education influence the way you make music now? As much as you sound like lo-fi or DIY and punk, you come from a highly trained place. How much of that influences the music that you make and where the sound kind of evolves from within that?
We all played in blues groups together and jazz groups in college. I was involved in a hip-hop group for a while that I played in. We all just have a variety of different influences. In terms of my songwriting, it’s hard to say where it comes from. It kind of just happens, like, “Oh, there’s one.” Something that’s definitely a theme in this record and all our music is that we all really like things that feel really surprising, musically. To keep it interesting to play and to listen to, when you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen next. We all really like having thrashy elements to it, instead of having the same time changes and signatures every time.
Do you have a favorite song on the record?
The song that I’m most proud of is “Magnets Part II,” which is kind of a difficult song in some ways. It starts with a minute-and-a-half solo acoustic-guitar fingerpicking intro, because John Fahey is a really big influence of mine. It’s like, sometimes when you’re at a rock show and everyone is thrashing and moshing and then you throw in a minute and a half of singing these really sad lyrics over no rhythm section… . it can go either way.
A lot of people have said that they really liked it – I think it’s one of those songs that’s very one way or the other. People either bring it up to me immediately and they’re like, “That track was crazy.” I’ve also read a couple reviews where people have been like, “Eh, that track was out of place.” But that type of comment doesn’t bother me at all, actually. I think it’s kind of great when people can recognize the risk that we’re taking. Actually, that song is the one that they played on BBC One, which was surprising, because even though it was like, the least likely single, it was the one I was secretly the most proud of.
Slothrust at Mills Record Co. on Tuesday, March 18, 7:30 p.m.. Free. All ages. Details here.