The LA-based trio’s fourth studio album “The Pact” is due Sept. 14 on Dangerbird Records.
You’re never going to fully figure out Slothrust, but rest assured, it’s well worth the effort.
Unlike the persistent debate over how to pronounce their name (it’s Sloth-rust, officially), the LA-by-way-of-New York power trio is a juggernaut of cannonball riffs and lyrical intrigue. They’ve got a new album on the way and its lead single “Peach” — premiering today on Streets Talkin — features frontwoman Leah Wellbaum leading up to the big chorus with after-school mad libs like this: “Silly sandbox, stupid scarecrow; Jack-o-lantern, chupacabra; sick menorah, candelabra.”
“I’m a very playful person,” the vocalist-guitarist tells Streets Talkin, chatting on the phone earlier this week. “Childhood really appeals to me, the way one's inner child can look at the world with curiosity, as opposed to the hardness of adults.” Wellbaum challenged herself with stream-of-consciousness, automatic writing exercises in the making of “Peach,” all the while cranking up funhouse-mirror guitars toward an absolute wrecker of a chorus.
Elsewhere on The Pact — their fourth LP since 2012 — you’ll find bruising blues-rock, surrealistic balladry and clouds of spastic saxophone and keyboards floating among the lightning hooks. It’s a weird record, but it’s also very catchy, pop sensibility out in the open. Wellbaum points out the myriad Pixies and Nirvana comparisons the band has gotten in the past; for The Pact, Slothrust teamed with producer Billy Bush, who’s probably best known for his extensive studio work with Garbage, beginning with 1998’s Version 2.0. Comparisons to Shirley Manson and company are more apt for Slothrust 4.0, as well as PJ Harvey and Fiona Apple, whom Wellbaum names as particular convention-shaking inspirations. After all, Slothrust is following a 2017 EP in which it covered Marcy Playground, Black Sabbath, Louis Armstrong, Britney Spears, The Turtles, Al Green and Sam Cooke. No one said they had to start making sense.
Alongside bassist Kyle Bann and drummer Will Gorin, Wellbaum is on a hot streak. Listen to “Peach” below, and let us take you inside her creative process.
How did “Peach” come about?
“Peach” started with a riff I wrote on a classical guitar when I was on the East Coast – the intro with that really dissonant note. That riff was constant in my head. The rest of the song just came to me very naturally.
“Peach” is a song to my inner child, encouraging her to stay free and keep it weird, and to remind her that people who used to make you feel small are ultimately unimportant. It’s also about seeing where your own mind takes you. Playfulness can be found in free association, then figuring out what those connections are afterward.
How did you get interested in free association?
I've always been a writer. In some ways, I was a more serious writer than musician, for a minute. Automatic writing is a process where you just go pen to paper and you just keep writing and don't stop writing for a certain period of time. It really helps you extrapolate things in your mind you don't necessarily know are there.
What about the big line in the chorus, “You've got the sharpest teeth and I’m soft as a peach”?
I think that it comes from the similar place of seeing your inner child and being open to delving into that whole scope of emotions. Owning your sensitivities, being aware of them, and figuring out where to go from there. The world is a really crazy place for people that are super sensitive to things like texture and color. There's sensitivity to emotion of course, and there's absolutely an element of that in here. But this other idea of being hypersensitive to the way things feel on a sensory level.
From your vantage point of working with Will and Kyle, what do they bring to the track?
Will and Kyle have an infinitely deep groove. They certainly rock out to this track. They work really well together.
From listening to the whole album, it feels more pop-friendly than what Slothrust has done in the past. The vocals are higher in the mix and the songs are very catchy.
I really challenged myself as a writer on this album. I became less attached to the idea of myself as the inherent performer of the material and that allowed me [to reach] a more universal space, which is probably a lot of what you're hearing, which is great. It was a really interesting and rewarding process. In doing that, I can feel myself coming apart in layers. That allowed me to really dig into the craft of songwriting on a different level.
Did you want to appeal to more people with this record, take Slothrust to a new place?
We definitely wanted to take things to the next level sonically. That's part of why we brought Billy Bush on board. He was a great producer for us to work with. Something Billy said early on that made us want to work with him was, “Let's push each of these songs as far as they can go sonically, and head in the studio and see where that lands. Try a bunch of things and see what that ultimately produces what feels the most compelling, the most authentic.”
This was the first album where we had a significant amount of time in the studio. All our other records we made from start to finish under a time constraint. This one, we had a lot more time to play — that was crucial.
Is there something you wanted to see more of in music, which you were trying to put out into the world through this album?
Diversity in song structure. I really liked the idea of having songs on the same album that were derivative of the pop formula – following really traditional songwriting models – alongside tracks that never have repeating sections. I'm happy to have songs that are catchier that maybe appeal to a wider audience, but also always embrace the material that pushes the norm of what songwriting is – like “Fever Doggs,” which has a lot of time signature changes. They’re really fun for a live show, keep you on your toes and make you feel grooves in different pockets.
As you went outside your comfort zone, what artists were inspiring you?
PJ Harvey was really huge for me in putting together this record. I think of her as being somebody who is completely unafraid and I definitely tried to channel that. I like that her music has such a range to it; it can be highly complex yet also incredibly simple. I like that her songs tell stories. That's something that I tried to bring into this record, which I haven’t as much in the past. I also like that she steps into the role of performer in a really interesting way. She's a really deep, intricate artist and I admire that a lot… Vocally, I tried to keep Fiona Apple in mind a bit, particularly on “Some Kind of Cowgirl.”
How does creating feel now, compared to when you first started the band?
I used to write music as a means for catharsis. Now I find myself writing music in a much more intentional, organized way. It’s fulfilling to me to feel like music is something I turn to with intention, as opposed to only when I feel like I'm going to explode if I don't write something down.
Find the album artwork for The Pact below, along with the track list.
1. Double Down
4. Walk Away
5. Birthday Cake
6. For Robin
7. The Haunting
8. New Red Pants
9. Fever Doggs
10. On My Mind
11. Some Kind of Cowgirl
12. Travel Bug