With their debut collection 'Sugar Coated Bitter Truth' turning five years old, Slaves head back to their Royal Tunbridge Wells roots to throw a party to remember.
Slaves’ ascension is remarkable. Two lads with just a guitar and barely a drum kit have made serious waves with songs that talk about the lacklustre ways of dealing with life (‘Spit It Out’) and the emptiness of big city living (‘Cheer Up London’).
Their beginnings can be put down to being unable to find a drummer because no one around wanted to play punk like they did; an unsurprising revelation for Royal Tunbridge Wells. Finding themselves as a duo, they’ve not looked back since.
Returning to celebrate the fifth anniversary of ‘Sugar Coated...’, it’s not quite a hometown show; Isaac hails from here whereas Laurie comes from just up the road in Maidstone. “We have to keep a clear distinction, just because that’s the way it is,” he explains.
Before they take to the stage at Tunbridge Wells Forum, Laurie talks about listening back to their debut EP, 2012’s ‘Sugar Coated Bitter Truth’. “It’s better now listening to it than it was when it came out. You get that, oh how did I write that song? feeling. I wanna do that again!”
With an ever increasing number of fans and a relentless tour schedule, they’ve made a lot of new friends during their time as Slaves. “Without sounding like a dick, some of our guest lists are bigger than this venue now. When we played Brixton [Academy], I think there was 200?”
“It feels good,” Isaac continues, “but there’s always a bit of pressure with hometown shows. All of a sudden people come out of the wood work and ask you for guest list.”
All of this success has stemmed from their early singles and said EP, which in turn led to a debut album that filled an apparent void. “It only cost four hundred quid to record, took about four evenings of six-hour sessions each time, so it’s like a proper budget album,” says Laurie. “Four hundred quid for an album’s nothing!”
They also attribute Slaves to the most obvious thing of all: “I think the reason it stays so strong is that it’s just the two of us.” Onstage and off, the duo have a unique chemistry. “We’ve gone all over. I think if you don’t listen to our band and you put any of the songs on you can generalise them, but if you’re into our music and you like what it is, I think all of the albums go on a real journey. [2016’s] ‘Take Control’ doesn’t sound anything like ‘Sugar Coated...’.”
“We were sound checking these old songs today, and I was like, ‘Fuck, these sound good! Why did we stop playing this?’ You have to remind yourself that back then it didn’t sound that good,” Laurie begins. “You didn’t have this equipment, you didn’t have this crew, sound guy, confidence, and it probably sounded quite weak. Now, revisiting them with all our high-tech gear and new ability to play the songs - five years of playing every single day is going to make you a better player, so it’s interesting revisiting this now.”
“There might have been forces like label influence, but we’ve always been quite true to ourselves,” Isaac adds.
Sometimes, you have to roll with the punches; but accepting that you’re barrelling towards your future so fast there’s little time to look back isn’t a bad thing. “Rather than feeling sad that you’re not in that time anymore, [it’s about] enjoying playing it again and going ‘I wrote this!’” says Laurie. “There’s this weird thing with music where it’s of a time and a moment. You almost feel you’re covering someone else’s songs when you look back at it; it’s not you anymore, you’ve moved on.”
“Playing these songs, and just being proud rather than being jealous of your old self, if that makes sense, is quite interesting,” he continues. “What inspired it [was] seeing The Cribs doing their ten year anniversary [of ‘Men’s Needs...’], and that made me think how long it’s been since we did ‘Sugar...’. They’ve done loads of shows where they come out and do stripped-back stuff, it felt like we needed a good reason to do it and I think this is the perfect reason.”
Noting their change in styles, Laurie breaks it down. “It’s because we made a conscious effort on ‘Are You Satisfied?’ and ‘Take Control’ to get heavier; to be faster and more aggressive. When we released ‘Sugar’ we thought it was more garage-poppy, it has a swing to some of the songs, and they’re quite slow.”
Referring to Isaac, he continues: “I think you have to not move because if you move they’d speed up. They’re actually quite steady tracks, which is interesting because looking back everyone says this is our heaviest piece of work and when we were doing it I remember thinking we weren’t heavy enough. Do you remember? It all felt a bit too garage rock, and I wanted it to be punk.
“We definitely write songs thinking about how they’re gonna be played live. Like, with ‘Sockets’ I was just like, I wanna play something really fast and the song comes out. The problem with that is sometimes with fast songs you just don’t enjoy them; you’re just holding onto the tune trying to get through it. Pretty much whatever you’re doing you want something else, you’re never happy.”
It’s impossible not to see why they’re making such waves; they know they’re a rarity, a force to be reckoned with, one that does what it needs to survive. Isaac ties it all together with a statement that’s hard to argue with: “There’s no one else that does what we do. We’re the masters of our craft.”
Taken from the September issue of Dork. Order a copy below.