Picture by Madi Ellis Slow Mass plays a unique sort of indie rock that flirts with post-hardcore in an exploratory and ...

Slow Mass: Music for ears and minds

Picture by Madi Ellis

Slow Mass plays a unique sort of indie rock that flirts with post-hardcore in an exploratory and adventurous setting that incorporates post-rock passages, math rock complex structures and tinges of Midwest emo. The band first LP release, On Watch, comprises 13 songs that deal with complex themes with perfect honesty and a unique sensibility. 

The latest releases by the band are Music For Ears 1 and Music for Ears 2 featuring covers from bands like Pygmy Lush and Wilco

-Your first LP, On Watch, felt to us that it wove a web of intricate experimentalism from indie-rock and the aggressiveness and pure emotion of post-hardcore. Each song is like a very powerful and intimate vignette that somehow reflects living and dealing with hurdles and setbacks. Is there a lyrical thematic leitmotif that somehow inspires and unites the songs in this LP?
Interesting! I think your observation is quite astute. We never set out with the intent of covering such themes, but sometimes life ends up getting in the way. Whether it’s about abusive/toxic relationships, a friend battling cancer, or confronting childhood trauma, those topics felt necessary to express. I don’t think of myself as a lyricist, but in the role that I take, my style of song writing has taken the form of these unintentional but ultimately unifying motifs. 

Artwork by Dnl Hrs 

- Also, about the lyrics, what events or images are you most sensitive to? And are the lyrics written as a collective?
Areas of conflict are probably what bring out the strongest reactions in my creative expression. Several songs in our catalogue are about an abusive figure in our music community. It was heartbreaking to watch him manipulate and use everyone for his greater benefit. Even to this day, the only form of public expression I’ve had is Slow Mass. 

Mercedes wrote the lyrics to Oldest Youngest (discussed here), but I wrote everything else. However, Mercedes has been a stronger lyrical presence in our newer material, which has been absolutely wonderful to watch take shape. From the start, I would regularly turn to her for advice and assistance with my writing.

- We know that Slow Mass derives from a Glenn Branca’s piece. What other artists do you think and feel that have inspired you and set you on the path to create your own unique sound?
We all come from different musical backgrounds, where the amalgamation of those influences help create what I feel is our sound (or at least some idea of it). I love how we all absorb relatively contrasting sounds, ever allowing the band to push and pull in different directions that I would never predict. 

For myself: Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Grouper, Mount Eerie, Low, and Kowloon Walled City are some of the few that I listen to regularly that inspire a lot of my contributions.

- What was the concept behind the videoclip for the E.D song? On a smaller note, it reminded us of the movie “Frank”. 
I’ve never seen the movie, but from a quick trailer viewing, I can see the obvious similarities. It’s kind of complicated, but we shot a video for Schemes (unreleased at the moment) with a friend named Brad as the lead. We needed to do some reshoots that were going to double as the E.D. video, but Brad was unavailable and hard to get in touch with. While figuring out a new solution, we ended up creating a mask of Brad (designed by Kate Grube & Sydney Kosgard) and had our friend Ian (the lead in the Portals to Hell video) play the roll of Bizzaro Brad. Past that, no real concept besides absurdity. 

Picture by Kendra Peterson-Kamp

- In the LP, On Watch, the guitar patterns and the harmony between the male and female vocals were two of the huge highlights for us. You also played with a couple of guest musicians. How were the sessions like and are there any memorable episodes that you are willing to share?
The whole album was recorded in various chunks over a couple months rather than in one long session. We were in a bit of a transitional phase with Sparks having left the band to join Minus the Bear, but still needed to record the parts he had already written for the album. It’s slightly unorthodox to break it up that way, but more economically viable as some elements didn’t need to be recorded in a nice studio (i.e. loud guitars can be recorded anywhere). The guest musicians were probably the biggest treat and most exciting part of the sessions, as a majority of the contributions from Sen Morimoto, Al Costis (Monobody), Viv McConnell (VV Lightbody) or Ryan Packard where relatively unrehearsed prior to tracking. 

- On Watch, Music for Ears 1 and Music for Ears 2 all feature children and skulls on the cover art. Is there an underlying idea that you mean to express by joining those two elements? 
Dnl Hrs created all of the art for those releases. We loved the piece they made for On Watch, so I imagine that dictated the direction they wanted to pursue for the Music for Ears series. While we never instructed Dnl to focus on this theme, I think there’s a wonderful intensity conveyed in their work by juxtaposing youthful innocence with such morbid depictions of decay.

- Music for Ears 1 features two songs. Siren and a cover for the song Reservations by Wilco that flow very well together as they feature a more atmospheric and soothing nature. The compilation also benefits the AIDS foundation of Chicago. How did that “partnership” come along?
Our friend Tim Crisp commissioned the cover for a Better Yet Podcast Wilco tribute compilation. Upon finishing the cover, we liked it so much that we asked Tim if we could use it for the series. Tim’s vision for the comp was really fantastic and we’re very thankful he asked us to be apart of it.

- You have been playing extensively all around the US and Canada since 2015 but what shows did you find the most memorable so far?
The shows can feel like a blur with the passing of time and amount of touring we’ve done. While it’s nothing compared to some of our peers who have been nonstop touring the past couple of years, I can find myself having a hard time pointing out specific memorable moments. I know that playing with Kowloon Walled City on our first West Coast tour was a really treat for everyone in the band. Playing NYC and Philly with Mannequin Pussy & Ovlov in 2018 was a truly wonderful tour package to be apart of, even if for only two shows. Our third show ever was opening for METZ & Bully at the Metro in Chicago, which was a WILD trip. 

- What can we expect from Slow Mass for 2020?
Touring with some old friends in the spring while working on finishing LP2. Hoping to lay low after that so we can wrap up this long but fruitful writing process.

Thank you!

Text & Interview: Cláudia Zafre
Band: Slow Mass