The Slow Readers Club came to Dublin over the weekend for a show at The Button Factory. We sat down with the band to talk about their 2018 and what’s next.
Build A Tower has seemed to elevate you to another level, what do you think it is about this record that has been received so well?
Aaron Starkie: I think that it’s well written, well performed and there’s some really good songs on there. I think it works well as a record. It’s a combination of our journey up to this point, we’ve built a fan base over ten years and the last couple of years have been the strongest period of growth for us.
Cavalcade is the one that took to the hearts and word of mouth spread and we know from Spotify numbers and people singing it back that it’s well loved, which is our previous record. So when this one (Build A Tower) came out and we had it labelled properly and had all the proper machinery that all established bands have, it had a better chance of charting.
JACKS: So it’s like you laid the foundations with Cavalcade and built from there?
Aaron: Yeah, I think so. We set ourselves nice, neat symbol that y’know, we’ve done alright now. It’s cos when chart-positioning is a very visible thing and a very definite thing for the industry to see that you’ve got 30,000 people that wanna go out and buy your music.
Speaking of numbers of people, you did an acoustic set at the Food and Drink Festival in Manchester, the reviewer said; “The roar as The Slow Readers Club come on stage is almost deafening. At one time that would have set them aback, but now it feels like it’s the norm…”. How does it feel walking out on to a stage to that kind of reaction now?
Jim Ryan: Cool, yeah.
David Whitworth: Still nervous, y’know it’s still new and kinda fresh, it’s a nice feeling inside but can still feel a little embarrassed at times, I know I am. It’s a new thing but yeah, it’s nice.
JACKS: Since you mention that, the review said that in the past that would’ve set you aback. Would it have set you aback in the past, getting that kind of reaction?
Kurtis Starkie: I think, well the first time it happens it would. The fact that the first time that happened was actually when we were in Dublin when we first experienced that.
Obviously we’ve got a decent fan base in Manchester and when we do tours in the obvious places such as London and other cities. But when we first came to Dublin, we actually had quite a decent bit of radio play. So we had no idea how the reaction would be and then that they wanted to meet us after. Back then it was a bit like “what’s going on!” We were taken aback back then, definitely.
David: We want to make sure that you live up to that and you put on a good performance for people. Like, they go home thinking “I’m glad we came to that gig tonight” or even when it’s a free one but especially like tonight, when they’re paying money to come and see us and we want to make sure that when they leave that it was well worth it.
Aaron: And they keep telling their mates.
Jim: It’s all about the experience as well, it’s not just hearing the album live, it’s hearing the tracks from the album as well can be very different from just hearing it at home or on the radio, so that’s why they keep coming.
Songs can take a life of their own when they enter the set list. Are there any songs particular that you’ve played live that have sounded better or given new meaning to you as opposed to when recording them?
Kurtis: Of this album, ‘On The TV’ probably?
Aaron: Yeah, ‘On The TV’, when it first started, we were playing the tracks live before the album was out. We had a couple of gigs and ‘On The TV’ wasn’t a single and it might’ve been pushed over here (Ireland) but it’s not yet a single in England.
We had the crowd singing back Kurt’s riff really strongly within three gigs of the last tour and that was amazing. After the tune had finished and seeing people bouncing around to the riff. It was just one of those special moments to see people had really taken it to their hearts. You feel like you’ve got a decent tune on your hands, I suppose!
And there are other ones like from our first album, production wise isn’t what we hoped looking back on it. I think the live renditions of those are better than on the record. Like when ‘Block Out The Sun’ was played last night (Belfast), there was about three or four people right in front of me crying and it was the weirdest thing but it’s such a privilege to be able to touch people like that.
It’s mad then to go on to another tune then, where everyone’s dancing around. Those are the kind of moments that sort of mess you up a bit but in a good way. Y’know what I mean?
How about from the other side of the barrier? Has there been a band you’ve seen live that performed a song that caught you off guard or blew you away compared to hearing a studio version?
David: Not been to a gig for a long time… been doing them more!
There will be a track but I can’t think of one this moment in time but it’s probably more that it’s just disappointing recording-wise, then live it’s just been mega.
JACKS: A good example for me is The National’s ‘About Today’, on that Cherry Tree EP, it’s just a little acoustic track but live it just takes on a life of it’s own, they reworked it for a Tom Hardy film (Warrior). But when they play it live compared to acoustically, when you think “that’s nice, bit emotional” and then you hear it live and the guitars come in for a massive instrumental at the end.
David: The acoustic tracks on the EP we did just then, where we took songs in a different place like ‘On The TV’ live takes a new meaning because of the riff and almost football chant kind of attitude towards it in the crowd. We then flipped it on the other side as well and done it completely differently acoustically and made it a lot more mellow and intimate.
Aaron: I think people have taken it, based on the feedback I’ve seen on fan pages, is that they’ve paid more attention to the lyrics in that context.
David: Yeah, cos you’re chilled a little bit more, you can listen to it with your eyes closed and it’s all a bit more sombre.
You released the For All Here To Observe EP last month, with songs from each album appearing with an acoustic rework. Was it difficult to decide what songs you wanted to give the acoustic treatment to?
Jim: We literally went into the studio, probably a couple actually, where there were others we intended to have recorded and jammed through. Then sort of do it like where we knew it weren’t going to work and change that but I can’t remember the two it was.
Aaron: Cos since then we’ve done the acoustic show and put more in.
David: Not for me, no.
Jim: I think there’ve been more where we thought we could do more acoustically like ‘Frozen’ and ‘Silence’ and we’ve done others.
Aaron: Yeah, I think we wanted to choose stuff that was fresh to people that had heard us play acoustic sets before. Represent the three albums that we’ve done in some way.
JACKS: You’ve done quite a lot of acoustic sets over the years, haven’t you? Where you’ve given everything a bit of a go?
Aaron: Well not the whole back catalogue but we did one at the Fire Station in Manchester and we did one acoustic track at the Albert Hall to promote previous tours and that. Oh and The Library where we intended to do one or two tracks or six-track sets, but it might be something we explore in the future like the Jordell thing where we had strings and that.
It’s currently Mental Health Awareness Week and in a year where mental health amongst musicians has been in the spotlight after the passing of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison and Avicii. Do you feel there’s enough being done in the music industry, because your songs as well can go down a dark route mentally, do you think that there’s enough out there to protect musicians at the moment?
Aaron: I don’t think it’s unique to the music industry.
JACKS: But in regards to the music industry?
Kurtis: You’d learn how you would use it and be there to champion it to people.
Aaron: I think the guys from Enter Shikari, we share our management with, they’re doing a thing around that at the moment, they’re doing some campaigning stuff. They’re doing it more where you need a mental health professional in the workplace kind of thing that should be part of.
I think it’s getting the fact that there is an awareness month and people are becoming more and more aware of it and in Manchester, we’ve had a lot of charities like Calm for years and years, I think they’re local to Manchester anyway.
Jim: It comes from the government not funding the NHS properly, that’s where it lies. Like if you get referred for having any mental health issues or wanted to go to get some counselling, you could be waiting for months. You could threaten suicide or something and you’d be waiting a long time to get seen.
David: It’s becoming more acceptable now to talk about it as well. You have people who’ll say “I have bi-polar” or think they might do or they’re depressed, more and more people are talking about it now.
Jim: A lot of people go through shit, y’know but mainly in the past people wouldn’t talk about it and kept it to themselves but now you probably think people are more depressed than ever or have mental issue but really it’s not, it’s that they’re talking more than people would have in the past.
Aaron: I think that’s the part the musician plays sometimes as well. Like our lyrics and that where I’ve had people say “they mean a lot to me”. I think, me sharing more personal stuff helps those guys to talk as well to let them know that, yeah, they’re not alone. It’s like when Chester Bennington committed suicide last year and there was loads of stuff in his back catalogue and it was there for all to see what he was going through. I think the great thing is that more people are talking about it.
I don’t know what it is about the music industry that makes us more vulnerable, maybe the insecurity of the way of life, the hours, being away from home. There’s a lot of stuff that can set you off.
Jim: Lots of drugs. You’ve seen it though, not that we do that but we (musicians) smoke loads of cigs or get pissed almost every night and take loads of drugs to keep you going cos you’ve got all these gigs to do.
JACKS: It’s a culture, isn’t it?
Jim: It is and I don’t know how you would solve that. The only way you could solve it, you’d do less gigs but then people wanna do gigs. There’d be management, there’d be labels, booking agents and promoters putting pressure on these young lads, who want them to do 60 gigs in 62 days and at the end of it, they’re absolutely on their arse cos they’ve took absolutely loads of drugs to get them through it.
Then taking loads of drugs can cause paranoia and all that, which just feeds into everything else like not being at home, not having your family to speak to and all that sort of shit. Just adds up, doesn’t it?
Kurtis: I think when you get into it as well, generally, it seems more the artsy types in general or even musicians and songwriters got some things they want to get off their chest or whatever.
JACKS: They’re more in touch with that side?
Kurtis: Yeah, I think so and add all the pressures of touring… but we’re doing great!
David jokingly adds: Next we’re gonna have bigger gaps when we’re touring at this rate, we’ll never leave home!
On a lighter note, it’s National Album Day (Saturday 13th October), what would be your favourite album on the occasion?
Kurtis: Ooh, fucking hell.
Aaron: Well I’m hoping ours gets a mention in the (BBC) 6 Music list…
Kurtis: Mine is The Queen Is Dead, probably by The Smiths… a happy one.
David: At the moment probably Nevermind (Nirvana) but it changes on a regular basis. It could be the Beatles’ Revolver, it could be anything.
Kurtis: The best of the Beatles!
Aaron: Funeral from Arcade Fire would be my pick
You’re performing in The Button Factory tonight, which is one of the more picturesque venues in Dublin. What’s been your favourite venue you’ve played in?
Aaron: Albert Hall is a very attractive place, it’s like a former church. It’s really unique where it’s got glass windows throughout, a massive circular balcony that goes around the whole place.
Kurtis: Free Trade Hall? When we played there at like a daytime festival, it felt nothing like compared to our own gig.
We supported James at the Brixton Academy recently, which is quite an iconic venue. We’ve played in Manchester Arena.
Kurtis: Trades Club was good.
Jim: Yeah, Trades Club was top, was just a weird place, in a place where you wouldn’t expect it to be.
David: 200 people, rammed in, proper sweaty, proper loud and it was really just a good gig.
Kurtis: Felt like the roof was gonna fall in!
Aaron: The one we played in last night in Belfast was a bit like that cos the audience were on different levels as you were looking out. Whereas like here today, it’s a nice square block and a balcony.
All fans have their personal favourites of each album they own. So what’s your favourite moment on Build A Tower?
David: We’ve definitely got one that’s least liked.
JACKS: Care to share?
David: Well, the only one that hasn’t made the set list. It’s not that we all dislike it but there’s only one on there that we’ve never played.
Aaron: It was a tough one to write, in a bit of an albatross kind of thing
David: To be fair, we would’ve played it but we didn’t have the right backing track live for it. Favourite though, playing wise I’d say ‘Supernatural’.
Aaron: Yeah, I like ‘Supernatural’ as well.
Kurtis: ‘Lunatic’ is my favourite to play but I didn’t like it when we first had it.
Aaron: I was writing the lyrics to ‘Lunatic’ on the plane when we were coming over to Dublin last time.
David: And that’s why some songs come out very different. Like we never would’ve thought during that process, at that point that ‘Lunatic’ would take on a life like it did.
JACKS: You mentioned there that the lyrics for ‘Lunatic’ were written on a plane. What is the creative process like when it comes around to making the albums?
Kurtis: We have to take a plane!
Aaron: Most of it comes from just jams when we’re in the practice room. Kurt on guitar or Jim on bass or drums, or a bit of keyboard for me and then we’ll just play musically for a bit and then I’ll add a top-line melody and then that’ll stay like nonsense for a bit.
We just know straight away, not whether it’ll be a single or not but whether we’ll carry on working with it. We’ll literally go home and one of us will practice on it.
Jim: We’re forced by time constraints, aren’t we? We only know we’ve got a limited time in practice. So if we’re not all liking it in a couple of minutes, we tend to sack it off. We’ve not written a load.
Yeah, you read about bands who say “we wrote 40 songs for this album and we narrowed it down to 10”. We literally wrote 10 songs.
We can’t sit there and write them cos we’re wasting time on it but y’know, maybe if we get more time, we won’t have to worry about practice and work and all that crap.
Kurtis: If we got more time to work on it and see it through, it might turn out good but I suppose it could be a good thing too but if we’re not vibing on it straight away…
Aaron: Some things they’ll get shelved for a bit and you’ll return to them.
Like I struggled with a lot of them for a period and then shortly after a break and then three or four of them came to me straight away. Also cos I don’t drink anymore they might come a little easier to me next time.
You’re saying next time, hopefully it’ll be easier, so after this tour finishes, what’ll be next for The Slow Readers Club?
Aaron: We’re writing in November and then writing in January and February.
David: And then there’ll be a spring tour. I haven’t really given anything away really as there has been for the last three or four years. It’ll be a bit bigger, hopefully.
Aaron: We wanna get out, this year we got out to China and to Europe, like we did Reaperbahn Festival in Hamburg, Kaltern Pop in Düsseldorf. Then Germany have been great to us, the times we’ve been over, the crowds have been really receptive, it’s been a decent spot. So we wanna do more there and get out to Europe.
[We want to] do a lot more festivals, we say this every year though like “what are we gonna do next year?” And it’ll be “do more festivals and all that but we’re going in the right direction and we’re playing in bigger and bigger venues and getting out to more places. This time last year, we didn’t know what the album was gonna be like and luckily it’s gone down [really well] and hopefully it’s gonna keep like that.
Kurtis: This time next year we’re hoping to be millionaires!
Aaron: I’d be happy just making a living out of it.
JACKS: Obviously the album release would be the highlight of the year but that aside, have there been any other standout moments for The Slow Readers Club?
David: I liked Repearbahn Festival in Germany, cos we flew into Hamburg first thing in the morning cos it was the cheapest flight for us to do. So we got to spend the day in Hamburg just pissin’ about, walking around and we spent a few hours in the city and that, had a drink and something to eat, which was good!
Then we played the gig that night and we didn’t know how many people were going to be there because it’s a festival in different venues. So it’s not like everyone pours into the one venue and you’re just one of the bands that are on. We were first on, so we were on early at like 7 or something but it was literally jam-packed and they had to turn people away.
Aaron: The promoter out there couldn’t get in!
David: It wasn’t even that they were there for the next band after us cos it emptied after we had played and then when the next band played. I mean don’t get me wrong, it was busy and everything but wasn’t as busy when we were on. So it surprised me obviously in a good way, that all these people turned up to see us where we had just flown in in the morning not knowing what to expect.
Aaron: Cool venue, that.
David: Yeah, cool venue too.
Aaron: The Independent Venue Week gigs were great and the Trades Club gigs, like the smaller ones. It’s just a different energy and then Leeds as well, it had a similar size and a coolness attached to it, I suppose. China was really awesome as well.
Kurtis: Yeah cos one place at night was like a massive club venue and the next day it was a massive open-air festival.
Aaron: And that was like the most culturally different place I’ve ever been to in my life. Where it was just like… mad.
Kurtis: There was that one night where we didn’t just stop drinking!
Aaron: Yeah, me and him got there first and our label people were out there and industry belts and all that, so they were buying us drinks in the town in Beijing. Then on the way back to the hotel we thought we buy some more just for the room and we started reminiscing about our childhood and stuff, getting upset. It was probably what knocked the drinking on the head for me cos we had a gig the next day and just about managed it.
David: We had a lot of time to do things in Beijing during the day.
Jim: Yet instead we went on Google and just looked up images of the Great Wall of China!
Kurtis: We were asleep up until like an hour before we went on stage.
David: And it was pissing down as well, everywhere was havoc, the traffic was a joke so I don’t think we even could’ve got anywhere.
Jim: Stoke was a good gig as well, was the last one of the tour.
Aaron: Oh yeah, that was great, The Sugarmill.
David: It was our longest set we’ve done too.
Aaron: Yeah, how many was it? 22? We played ‘On The TV’ twice.
JACKS: You did say it was a fan favourite, to be fair!
We caught The Slow Readers Club’s set later on at The Button Factory. Check out our review by clicking here.