It’s a dreary day in London City and as the recent heatwave subsides I find myself quick stepping it down the street in Bethnal Green trying to get out of the rain. The cold, tired streets are empty and I start to questions whether the strange invitation I got to come here was all a joke. “An evening of life drawing and exclusive advanced listen to Slaves new album ‘Acts of Fear and Love’ at Bethnal Green Working Mens Club” it read. So here I was on a Thursday afternoon, rattling my brain for any trace of artistic knowledge. I thought back to my school days, drawing oranges with charcoal hopelessly.
I’d never been to the club before but I knew it as the historic venue that Banksy had graffitied a sunflower on the side of in 2012. It’s been a real East-End Working Men’s Club since 1887 and now exists as a hub for live music, comedy, burlesque and art performances.
As I approach the Victorian architecture of the building I was met by a security guard. “What you here for?” I looked up at him thinking, “He’s gunna think I’m mad.” And said “The Slaves album listening party.” He let me in and I had my phone taken off me, there were no photos allowed. A great idea, everyone was in the moment and undistracted.
Slaves had been on my radar since they released the video for ‘White Knuckle Ride’ on YouTube five years ago. I lived in Margate then and my friend ran a night called ‘Art’s Cool’ and booked them to play. I DJed before the bands and Isaac and Laurie stormed their set, blew everyone away and stuck around to hang out and have a few beers afterwards. Top guys. Fast forward to 2018 and they’re releasing their third album on Virgin/EMI records. How far they’ve come.
Once past the bouncers and phone confiscators I found myself in a room full of neatly displayed tables stacked with three tier plates full of rich tea biscuits, bourbons, custard creams and party rings. A daunting semicircle of artist easels reached around the room facing a glamorously budget burlesque display of gold streamers, drapes and a giant love heart. In front stood a single scroll winged leather Chesterfield armchair. The scene had been set.
We were asked to take our seats and everyone gathered in front of their chosen easels, whilst an art teacher lady with a firm no-nonsense approach began our life drawing class. She welcomed her models for the class, Isaac and Laurie. The double doors at the back of the room flew open and in walked the boys in red silk dressing gowns. The room half gasped and half cheered before erupting in applause as the two of them shed their gowns to reveal matching union jack boxers. Following close behind was Laurie’s one-year-old son Bart, who appears on the new album cover. The album began and everyone scurried into drawing mode.
“We liked the fact we were sat in silence and no one could talk to us so they actually had to listen to the record.” Laurie told me a week later as we sat with Isaac catching up at a bar in Brick Lane. “Apparently there are usually these press playbacks that we weren’t really aware of so you can show everyone the new album. Usually they’re quite awkward affairs of people sitting in a room. So we talked about interesting ways we could do it and that was an idea we really loved. We also opened it up to fans to win tickets as well.”
I asked about the art teacher, “She’s great! She’s a real teacher.” Laurie explained “We just hired her in and got her to lead the class.
In fact, Slaves new album was inspired by an old teacher of Isaacs. He sings on the final track of the album “I had this teacher once tell me “There’s no such thing as hate. Just acts of fear and love.” I said “that’s a bold statement to make”. She said ‘think about it’ and went on to explain.” I asked him about the teacher and Isaac replied, “It was a teacher at college. I can’t even remember what the class was. I didn’t attend college very much. After I left it just really stuck with me over the years. The saying ‘acts of fear and love’ kept toing and froing between me and Laurie for a while. Then Laurie said “What does that actually mean? Where does it come from?” I told him the story and straight away Laurie said: “That’s it! That’s the lyrics and that’s the tune.”
For this album, Slaves flew to Brussels and worked with producer Jolyon Thomas who recorded their first LP and has since gone on to work with Royal Blood and U2.
“He produced our first album before Royal Blood, so they nicked him off of us!” Laurie stated. “We really love his sound, we love working with him and we have a good relationship. Lots of people were saying “Who do you want for this record?” And we didn’t want anyone, so then it dawned on us that we should go back to him. A lot of our friends were saying to us how much they liked what he did with our music. He’s like a third studio member of our band. We really let him in. He doesn’t write with us but he helps structure songs and pushes us so it’s really great.” Isaac explained: “We went to ICP studios in Brussels which is amazing. It’s so cool. It’s like a residential place so you live there, eat there and work there. You can fully immerse yourself in the album.” Laurie continued: “We also did a three-day stint in London before the two-week stint in Brussels and then did another ten days back in the UK. All in all, it was about a month of recording.” I asked if it felt like they were working at a fast pace, what with them releasing their first EP five years ago and now being on the third album since. “For us it just feels natural.” Isaac said before Laurie noted, “It’s slow compared to The Beatles!”
You can hear a process of thoughtful dedication has gone into the album when listening to its philosophical lyrics met with bold statements alongside their emblematic hardcore sound. They’ve now developed their writing into pop songs with hidden messages.
I asked Isaac if he keeps a lyrics book with him. “It’s usually just off the drafts on my phone.” He revealed. “My drafts folder is full of lyrics. I do have a lyric book but I don’t write in it as much as I should do.”
On the new record, ‘Bugs’ goes back to the simplistic punk rock sound with a comedic edge that Slaves are known for. Isaac rattled his brain for the source of the song: “I can’t remember how it first came about, Laurie had been playing that bass riff for quite a while and we’d been jamming it in sound checks and stuff. I can’t remember when the lyrics started.” Laurie remembered “A lot of it came together when we were in a writing session in Brixton. Isaac had “two arms, two legs, two faces” for ages. They get pieced together over a long stretch of time. We’re always writing little bits. That was one of those songs that’s hard to place, it was sound checks and stuff, little bits got added slowly.”
‘Magnolia’ is the fourth track on the album, about people desperately trying to fit into society until they all end up with the same magnolia wall colours, only to realise they were all the same to begin with and it was the same insecurities that led them there. “’Magnolia’ was one we wrote in a little session just before we went into the studio.” Isaac noted. “That’s the only song that didn’t change structure. We pretty much had that completely written and done and we just wrote it in two hours.” Added Laurie.
‘Daddy’ follows ‘Magnolia’ as track five and Isaac explained the story behind the song: “We wrote that in the same session, it’s just about a bloke having a midlife crisis and he’s lost his way and forgotten the important things in life. It’s an honest portrait of a lost man.”
Laurie’s son Bart features on the album cover, he wondered into shot when the band were having their cover shoot and it just worked. It brings to mind nuances of Ian Dury’s album ‘New Boots and Panties’, in which his son Baxter stands proudly next to him on the cover, leaning against a shop window. Baxter Dury has since grown up, followed in his father’s footsteps as a songwriter and also become mates with Slaves. He even sang on their last album for the song ‘Steer Clear’. Laurie mentioned: We keep in touch, we were texting the other day. That came about because he was gunna talk about us on BBC 6 Music and he chatted to Laurie because he was playing ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie’ on 6 Music. Then after that Laurie text him when we were in the studio and said “We’ve got the studio for the day if you want to pop in.” so he did. Laurie mentioned: “We’re massive fans of ‘Happy Soup’.” And Isaac burst out “It’s like my favourite album.” Laurie continued: “We listened to it so much that he was a dream collaborator. We’d written this song already and it sounded to us like a Baxter Dury song so we just asked him to come and jump on it.”
At this point in their career Slaves have accelerated at a pace that’s left a lot of the peer bands from when they first started in the dust. Laurie reflected: “I think nearly all the bands that we started out with in the scene that maybe we could have been included in, have split up. That’s definitely been a sign of how hard it is to keep going. Then you have people like Wolf Alice who are from a completely different kind of world. They’re a few steps ahead of us so they keep us seeing the direction to go in. It’s nice to have people who are still pushing forward that we’re friends with. So there are definitely a few people we’re still friends with who are inspiring.”
The band’s music has spread globally but they’re bigger in some countries than others. That doesn’t stop them touring all over though. Laurie told me: “Russia is pretty big for us. We can play to a couple of thousand people in Moscow and St Petersburg. That’s quite mind blowing considering that we’ve not spent that much time there. Its mad.” The USA is a different story altogether, Laurie continued: “But then if you want to still come and see us at an intimate venue, come and see us in the states, we’ll probably be playing at like small clubs to like 50 people.”
The meaning behind the band name SLAVES is that we are all slaves to our jobs and to society. Before Isaac and Laurie started rattling our cages and telling us to wake up, they had a series of low paid jobs. Laurie: “I worked in the Odeon. That was the worst out of all of them. They’re shit to their staff. The one I worked in, in Maidstone, you should be ashamed.” He went on, “I made milkshakes in Blendini. I had a Saturday job at a timber yard. That was quite nice but still mundane.” Isaac said: “I worked in Topshop, which was pretty mundane to be fair, I worked in the stockroom. I met some nice people there though.” One of Isaac’s Top Shop buddies came on the road with the band as a merch man and ended up as their famous stage mascot THE MANTARAY! Isaac continued: “I was a care worker from the age of 17 until we got signed. Which I actually loved to be fair. I can’t complain about that job.”
Now they’ve become successful, the band keep themselves surrounded by friends who’ve been with them from the beginning and they keep their families close. Just watch Slaves TV or check their insta feed and you can see its all friends and family. Laurie’s Dad even has a skit on their first album saying “Just record it Laurie, it’s all about the emotion.” The guys opened up about keeping their feet on the ground: “We would never let each other get big for our boots. But we wouldn’t anyway!” Isaac said. “Our music is like big by a standard. But it’s not that big so that keeps us quite grounded. We’re not getting private jets anywhere. We’re quite real people and we do everything for ourselves. We’ve got each other and our families to hold it down.” Laurie said. “We still feel the same as when we started.” Added Isaac.
The guys hold onto a DIY ethic, Laurie is influenced by Crass and draws a lot of the artwork. The band have a hands on approach when it comes to their music videos which are always bizarre, hilarious and have their own stamp on them. Laurie told me about how they came up with the concepts for the new singles: “We usually do come up with them ourselves but for ‘Chokehold’, the director we always use Phil who’s done our last four or five videos, he came up with that and we really loved it.” The video involves Slaves splitting up and Laurie auditioning new drummers who all happen to be famous drummers from other bands. Laurie listed: We had the drummers from Blur, Royal Blood, Peace, Hinds, Maccabees, we dressed someone up like Joey Jordison and dressed someone as the gorilla from the Cadburys advert. Our label boss did it which was quite funny. We worked on that together but ‘Cut and Run’ was all us.” The video for ‘Cut and Run’ has Isaac and Laurie in a dance studio dressed a bit like the 118 joggers doing a synchronised dance.
Some of their videos look very like the 2000’s comedy show Mighty Boosh, especially ‘Feed The Mantaray’. I asked if they were fans: “Definitely! That show was our comedy for our generation. They were the kings of it and they were icons. They were the first people that did something really visually stimulating as well. It was funny and contemporary. I love Noel Fielding so much. I met him, he’s such a nice person.” Said Laurie and Isaac added: “They definitely inspired us.”
For the new album, the guys have worked tirelessly to get around the UK doing intimate acoustic shows at record stores all over the place. “We don’t feel like we’ve ever fully done an album campaign properly so we want to really smash this.” Laurie said. One of the stores they played was Smugglers Records in Deal. The stripped down version of ‘Magnolia’ makes the lyrics so much more meaningful. “It was good, it’s completely new to us. We’ve never done it before but this last week we crammed in a few and I recon we’ll probably do some more. It went down really well.” Told Isaac. Laurie went on: We got in the sea next to the shop as well on the Deal coast. It was cold but nice!” Isaac ran through some of their recent shows: “We did two gigs in Nottingham … wait when is this going out? In a month? Oh well then we’ve been all over, we’ve been everywhere!” Laurie said “All around the world! America, Serbia… With the in-stores we’ve just been going around the UK.”
There’s a major reason why it’s so important for Slaves to visit small musical community hubs in the UK. They’re both ambassadors of the music venue trust. Isaac explained: “Jason Dorman got us involved. He’s well into it. We fully support the cause.” Laurie expanded: “We asked what the most endangered venues were and we ended up going and doing a small tour where we played four of them. We went to Pontypool and Dunfermline, played small venues just to sort of give them a bit of exposure and help out where we could.” The tour was called ‘I Would Drive 500 Miles and I Would Drive 500 More and Then Drive 126 More’ and they played Colchester Arts Centre, Pontypool’s The Dragonffli, Dunfermline’s P.J Molloys and Dover’s The Booking Hall back in July.
Earlier this year, Slaves were at the other end of the spectrum of music venues when they had the chance to support The Foo Fighters at London’s Olympic Stadium. “It was just mad!” They said together. Laurie recalled: “It was mind blowing, the fact that people play gigs that big is incredible.” Isaac added: “You just can’t comprehend it, it’s so weird, just huge! It’s like a festival.” On Dave Grohl being the nicest guy in rock, Laurie asserted: “Yeah he’s the nicest bloke. What everyone says about him is true. It’s just so nice to hear from his mouth that he liked our band and he picked us to support him. We’re playing with them again at their festival in San Bernardino, CalJam in October so I’m excited to see him again hopefully.”
Since signing to Virgin Records the band have had opportunities to meet a lot of their heroes including touring with Kasabian. Isaac told us: “We’ve met a few, we still haven’t met Robbie yet. We chatted to him over email and online but we haven’t actually met him yet.” Laurie said: We met Johnny Marr recently which was pretty wild. Surreal. It’s also amazing to hear that they’re into what we do. It’s really incredible.”
I asked if fame had changed their vantage point on how celebrities act. Especially given their new song ‘Photo Opportunity’ which talks about wanting to be left alone by strangers. Isaac explained: “I think my opinion on people who are in some sort of limelight has changed a lot. And also I’ve learned never to judge people on first impressions. Because you might meet someone who’s famous and think they’re a dickhead but they could just be having a bad day. People forget that you’re a human.” The band have had their fair share of keyboard warriors and judgement online. I asked how they deal with hate. Laurie looked at Isaac and said: “I think we chat to each other about it. You get affirmation from your friends and family. If anything has been particularly harsh I usually just talk to Isaac or Emma (Laurie’s wife) about it. People are always gunna slag you off. We see the humour in it.” Isaac continued: “That’s just the way it goes. You’re not gunna please everyone. I think you have to just remember that. I think it used to bother us more. You can play with it sometimes but more often than not it’s better to just never give people the satisfaction. There’s no point.”
Because Slaves has two members, (apparently when they started no one wanted to join!) Laurie uses two amps to create a guitar and bass effect from one guitar whilst Isaac drums and sings. They look and sound unlike any other band, but three albums in, I wondered if they’re reaching any limits with their sound. Laurie set me straight! “We’re not gunna run out of ideas. I feel like we’ve just hit our stride the way we’re writing songs in the format we do. I feel confident that if we had to we would be ready to go in and start writing again right now. We feel like we’re in a really good place and there’s a lot of ideas left over from the last record as well. We’ll be like this for a while.” Although they’re not ruling out using some backing tracks live as Isaac mentioned: “We’ve played to a bit of track before just like a drum beat. I feel like we might get other musicians onstage with us like session musicians.”
The band are busy on tour now until December when they’ll get a couple of precious weeks off. Laurie said: “I have a list of things I wanna do but in reality I’ll probably just watch TV with Bart.” Isaac laughed and added: “Yeah, you’ll be like hyping it up too much and then you won’t end up doing anything!” Laurie affirmed: “The first bit of time we have off after we’ve spent time with our families, I definitely want to go and write music again and go in the studio.” I wondered if it was hard for them to balance family life without having a routine. “It is hard but you just have to keep remembering how privileged you are and I’m really lucky to have a supporting family. My partner is amazing; she holds it down.” Laurie said. Laurie is also working on his art: “Yeah there’s some stuff coming out next year that hasn’t been announced yet. I need to get some time to paint but yeah I’m always working on my art.”
The guys mentioned that they have music left over from the recording sessions for this album so I had to ask if they were writing the next one. Laurie confessed: We’ve already been in the studio since this album’s been finished so we’re always doing stuff. It’s gunna be organic. We’re not gunna rush it.”
Way Out Radio – A Brief History
Way Out Radio is a music brand dedicated to reviews, interviews and radio. The fire was lit in 2012 when we held our first event at The Queen Charlotte in Ramsgate and launched a fanzine. Poets and artists performed with Riskee and The Ridicule topping the bill. We also held a raffle and gave away a signed Buzzcocks t-shirt.
Led by music journalist, writer and drummer Paula Frost, the brand has gone from strength to strength over the years. We hosted a successful radio show on Kane FM for five years and undertook a world tour in 2017-18 meeting fans and bands across the globe and DJing live.
We look to the future with excitement and joy for music will never die! Keep dancing.