Pretty much as soon as they finished banging their two-part epic The racing car blues, Slowly Slowly have been thrown into a whirlwind of personal ups and downs. As he had done his entire life, frontman Ben Stewart told it all in song, leading to some of his darkest tracks to date, but also some of his brightest. Musically, Stewart drew inspiration from artists like Chaka Khan and post-split Paramore, and this expanded palette provided a stark contrast to his sharp, sobering melancholic poetry.
Announcing Slowly’s fifth album Slowly, daisy chainStewart said that if The racing car blues saw him “clean the slate and try to reinvent [him]oneself”, then its follow-up “highlights the fall [he experienced] after that”. He admitted that in the pursuit of self-evolution on The racing car blues, he lost sight of what – and who – was around him: “I was so committed to my personal development that I had my blinders on. I think I was a bit too self-centered and forgot what’s important.
Then came a period of reinvention, where to move forward, Stewart was forced to consider his past and face his demons head-on. Not only did he pull it off, but he channeled the experience into Slowly Slowly’s most surprising album to date. As the band begins to prepare the setlists for a busy year of supporting tours, australian guitar caught up with Stewart to find out more about how daisy chain came together.
Was there any thematic significance to you that the record started on the title track?
Yeah. This song came quite late in the track, and I went through a few stages with it. I think originally it was supposed to be a self-titled album, but then it just didn’t feel quite right. And then for a while I was gonna call her Paper mache, which is the closing track – but you know, it’s a pretty dark song, and I was kind of waiting for that “point of resolution” to come. So when ‘Daisy Chain’ came along, it kind of tied everything together.
I think we’re probably known for music that errs on the more depressing side of things, but I always fight to have some sort of resolution in all of our work – so I was really hoping something like this would happen [for this record]. And when ‘Daisy Chain’ happened, I was just like, “This is it!” It’s circular – it looks like fixing all the problems that happened [in the process of making the album]so it’s kind of like the bow that ties everything together.
How did you manage to find the right balance between the rawness of the lyrics and the beauty of the music?
A lot of the music was written during a super dark time. And I think for the first time, because it was so dark, I needed to put [the lyrical themes] against that bright, happy exterior because that was the only way I could get out of it – it was almost like I was hiding it. It would have been too difficult to go through all that, in confinement, and then write the most depressing record of all time. I needed to be almost like I was wrong, like I was dancing around the room while I was writing this super sad stuff. And back then when I was writing the music, I felt super inspired by all these new sounds, and it was almost like a distraction from the content itself.
So how did that translate into your approach to songwriting as a musician?
I think this record is our biggest change, guitar-wise, from what we’ve done in the past. I wouldn’t even call myself a guitarist. I play guitar like a drummer – it’s very rhythmic, and I play a lot of open tunings and things that make sense in the moment. I have never taken guitar lessons, so I definitely approach the guitar in my own way. And so I think on our past records, I was just playing block chords throughout a song because that’s how I envisioned the skeleton of that song. But for this album, I used bass and drums more to build this skeleton.
I was writing a song and I had the chord progression laid out, but then I would take all the guitar chords out of the song and be like, “Okay, now let’s start writing some guitar parts that complete the arrangement, which aren’t necessarily the bare bones, like the song’s structural chords. And I think that helped because I’ve always had a very shy approach to guitar playing – I don’t feel worthy enough to call myself a guitarist. You know, I always felt this need to write complex guitar parts, or things where you would need knowledge of chord structures or scales to understand them. But I realized, while making this album, that we didn’t need all that. As long as it sounds good, it doesn’t matter how complex. And so for [Daisy Chain]I just took that liberty and ran with it.
A song that’s really close to my heart is “Turn It Around”, where you have this really swaggering, strokes-y kind of groove. Where does this come from?
I took a lot of inspiration from my favorite song of all time, which is “Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan. I think [‘Turn It Around’] it looks like this mash-up of the groove from that, and then something in the Venn diagram of Michael Jackson and Incubus – it’s fucking weird, but it works! I just wanted one of those hypnotic grooves, and it all fell into place from there. It’s three chords for most of this song, and yeah, it was an opportunity to put on a different hat and really tap into that swaggering sort of thing.
That super percussive vocal and that little guitar movement, right before the chorus – it’s almost like a Jackson 5 chord progression. It was super fun to write. And we deliberately kept it from being a single, just because I feel like there’s nothing worse than when a record comes out and you feel like you’ve heard all the best bits. So [‘Turn It Around’] was like my big chocolate cookie crumb – it’s my treat for all the diehards who stay up till midnight to listen to the record.
When you look daisy chain like this, a cohesive set of works, what do you hope the listener gets out of it?
I want to help people celebrate through the pain. I didn’t want to wallow. I think in the past, I wallowed, and I didn’t want to do that on daisy chain. I mean, ‘Turn It Around’ – this song is literally about not being a victim, and taking responsibility for being more positive. It’s like, “You’ve already been kicked in the gut and you got up right away, so what else is there?” You have the powers in your hands, get up and do it. I wanted to capture that kind of energy.
It’s inspired by some of those great records from bands like Paramore. They are able to still carry the soul of what makes them Paramore, but they move it across the full spectrum of emotions. It’s the kind of band I want to be – if somebody’s having a good day, I want them to be able to put on one of our songs and have a party, just as much as I want them to be able to put on the one of our songs if they’re having a bad day. And this record, I think, is us trying to get into that light.