St Leonards Slowly SlowlyMelbourne’s Slowly Slowly are led by the impassioned, vulnerable rock knack of frontman Ben Stewart; we asked the musician all about the band’s debut album, St. Leonards.

Hey Ben, thanks for speaking with STACK today and congrats on St. Leonards! How do you and the band plan on celebrating release day?

Hey! Thank you. The day our album gets released we are heading to Launceston for the first day of the tour, so we will probably head down to The Cataract Gorge to avoid staring at our phones all day. Our fans down in Launceston are super passionate about the band, and I couldn’t think of a better place for it all to kick off – it’s going to be a very surreal feeling after the last two years of waiting, to show the world St. Leonards.

This being your second album, what lessons did you keep in mind going into recording? Did you find the process any easier by the way of experience?

In the months after our first album Chamomile was released, the first batch of new songs I wrote had a real sense of confidence about them which I hadn’t experienced before. It took some time to wrestle with the idea that we had something to live up to, but Alex [Quayle, bassist and co-producer, -recorder, -mixer with Stewart] and I worked through all my different phases of creativity, and tried our best to pull the gems out when they appeared. I think I am a little more tuned into that feeling of ‘This has something special about it’ now – when to manipulate an idea and when to just step back. Especially in regards to recording. I think we have realised that not everything needs to be perfect, but it needs that juju – you need to capture energy.

You kept the recording process mostly DIY; how important was it for yourself and Alex to keep it in-house?

Alex and I are two people with very different skill sets and approaches to recording music, but for some strange reason (and I haven’t felt it with anyone else ever), when I listen to a piece of music with him I know we are hearing the same thing. We both consume music in exactly the same obsessive way, and for the most part have the same taste, so I guess because of that we don’t really trust anyone else or want to include anyone else in the life cycle of our music. It is a rare situation that you have two people that can get along so well, but can also keep each other in check. This project has been a great learning experience for both of us. There is going to be some serious emotions when we hold the vinyl for St. Leonards as there have been so many hours poured into it.

You’ve found yourselves on a bunch of ‘Ones To Watch’ lists this year. Do you feel any extra (or any at all) pressure from those kind of plaudits?

We are flattered by the praise we have received and all the hype around St. Leonards, but at the same time, don’t let any of that get in the way of our creative processes. Slowly Slowly is such an important project for me and so there really is no faking it in the writing process. In terms of live performance though, I will admit, there has been an added element of pressure, but I think that just adds to the explosiveness of it all, because all four of us will be up there full of nervous, raw energy. You know that feeling you get when you are watching someone do something that really matters to them? I hope you get that from our show, because it is definitely the case.

Ten Leaf Clover is a track that really stands out to me, with the swirling undertones of the backing vocals/drums, and the dense lyrics. What is the song about?

Ten Leaf Clover is a really imaginative song which I wrote after hearing my friend Anna sing live to air on a local radio show in Adelaide. The sound of her voice made me want to write a duet, a kind of modern day love song entangled in technology. I guess I wanted to encapsulate that feeling of futility when trying to find someone who understands you. I fed into it portions of my own experiences, but also my close friends who sympathise with that paradox of feeling so alone in such a connected technological time. Anna lives in Adelaide so I hope one day we can perform it together. At its core I guess it is just a love song, as I am most definitely a hopeless, painful romantic.

Likewise, Smile Lines sounds huge! That recession at 3:10 gave me goosebumps the same way Brand New’s Luca did the first time I heard it. How have bands like that influenced you, as a band and as a songwriter?

Thank you! I love the way Brand New were able to balance that sense of intimacy with grandiose rock songs. That school of songwriting with the likes of Kevin Devine and Citizen has definitely played an influence on my songwriting. I come from a background of heavier music and I think that has twisted the way I approach my songs even though many may come from a soft and vulnerable place. I think over the years I have started to realise the components of that heavier music I identified with – it was always the distilled emotion that came with it, and you can apply that in any genre. I draw influence from many different styles of music nowadays, but I guess that is something really stitched into me. I like the drama of it all.

The album sways between those big tracks like Ten Leaf Clover and Alchemy and then more delicate and intimate songs like The Butchers Window and St. Leonards. Was that balance something you were conscious of when writing the album?

We didn’t go into the album writing process thinking we were going to create something with so many peaks and valleys, but at the same time our ears were tuned into not messing with the stories for the sake of it. Those arrangements were really deliberate in that we wanted the focus to be the lyrical content – we wanted the imagery to be at the forefront. We didn’t want unnecessary effects to pull you out of the moment. They were written in a quiet, retrospective moment, and we wanted that translated. Whenever we got experimental in the studio and tried to compliment those songs with other instrumentation it felt forced, and clouded the point of it all. The Butcher’s Window and St. Leonards are exactly unchanged from their initial form. [They’re] some of those lucky moments you live for as a songwriter where you just conjure a song out of the air and it is given to you all finished.

You’re about to head out on the biggest headline tour to date – are you excited to get around the country? What can we expect from a Slowly Slowly headline show?

I don’t think we have ever been this excited to tour before. We are playing at some of our favourite venues, and get to show our beloved fans what we have been cooking up in the kitchen, and I just don’t think it gets better than that. There is definitely that electric feeling in the rehearsal room at the moment and we can’t wait to bring that to those stages and see all those beautiful faces. We have been so fortunate to be blessed thus far with such attentive and kind crowds so hopefully that rolls on.

St. Leonards is out May 11 via Unified.

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