by Max Miller
Sometimes, or so I am told, Slothrust frontwoman Leah Wellbaum feels like she’s a seahorse. But sometimes she thinks that she’s a horseshoe crab. She says as much on the fittingly titled “Horseshoe Crab,” a slow-burner off the group’s forthcoming third LP, Everyone Else. The singer/guitarist goes on to sing, “I don’t have anything in common with myself, except that I came from the sea like everyone else did. But it is so unfamiliar now.” It’s a poignant meditation on alienation from an album where Wellbaum also compares herself to a rotten pumpkin and describes herself as feeling like plastic.
If that makes Everyone Else sound like something of a dark record, fear not. In that same song, “Like a Child Hiding Behind Your Tombstone,” in which Wellbaum is feeling a bit like a disposable bottle, bassist Kyle Bann and drummer Will Gorin launch into an upbeat swing groove as Wellbaum lays down a buck wild blues solo.
“I think one of the things that came out when we were jamming on it in band practice was that medium swing groove that we settled on,” Bann says. “We tried a bunch of different things in there to see what felt right, and finding that groove was pretty cool.”
Wellbaum is Slothrust’s primary songwriter, but the band often jams on songs and works on arranging instrumental parts together. The new album’s instrumental opener “Surf Goth” was actually the byproduct of a band practice jam which the group now often uses to open sets. It’s a rager of a tune, and somewhat of an outlier compared to the rest of Everyone Else, but it ends up as a good introduction to the twists and turns Wellbaum’s songwriting takes across the album’s ten songs.
“She’s been writing for so long that there’s a lot of awesome stuff in her back catalog,” Bann says. “Occasionally we go sifting through and find some real gems in there. Specifically, on this album, the track ‘Pseudo Culture’ is a song she actually wrote kind of a long time ago. It’s kind of cool that that’s on the album right next to a song like ‘Rotten Pumpkin,’ which was written a couple of weeks before recording.”
The members of Slothrust have a long musical history together. While the band formed about four years ago, the trio of Wellbaum, Bann and Gorin had played together a lot in their days as music majors at Sarah Lawrence College.
“We were all studying jazz and blues and stuff like that, although I think the three of us also dabbled in classical and recording and all kinds of different stuff — a lot of improvisation. That’s definitely what got us playing together,” Bann says. “We were playing in blues groups and jazz groups, and not even necessarily on the same instruments we play in Slothrust.”
Slothrust began in the basement of a house Bann and Gorin shared for a year. The trio would meet up for late-night jam sessions that would cement the special blend of jazz and blues with punk and noise rock that has become its signature sound. While “college rock” has always been synonymous with the various popular forms of indie rock of the past three decades, there has often been a perceived stigma against professionally-trained musicians, no doubt thanks to the scene’s DIY hardcore punk roots. Yet despite the fact that Slothrust back their tunes with enough jazz knowhow to make Steely Dan blush, the band have never felt like the audience has given them the cold shoulder due to their chops.
“We’ve managed to fit in surprisingly well with a broad range of other bands,” Bann says. “We’ve done well at hardcore shows and at songwriter-type shows. And I think that’s because we like to incorporate a lot of different styles in the stuff we play to keep things varied and to keep the listener guessing.”
The band recently spent ten days in Los Angeles, playing shows with Cape Cod threepiece Highly Suspect, who Slothrust is about to tour with this fall and who Bann describes as the “raddest, rockin’-est power trio out there.” They also spent some time there working on new music and shooting some videos.
Why all the time spent in LA? The trio is planning a relocation in the not-too-distant future. Although the band has been based out of Brooklyn for almost their whole existence, Wellbaum moved to LA this year, with Bann and Gorin, both currently Philadelphia-based, making preparations to join her.
“We just wanted to get a change from New York City life,” Bann says. “It really started when our drummer moved to Philadelphia, and I think after being in New York for such a long period of time, as much as the three of us enjoyed it, I think we were all collectively ready to live someplace else and try out a different thing.”
But before their West Coast exodus, Slothrust will embark on the aforementioned massive tour opening for Highly Suspect, including a November 1 headlining date at Rough Trade in Brooklyn — their album release show. The band members are no strangers to touring, and while the prospect of playing music all across the country excites them, they are prepared for the chaotic ups and downs that plague touring bands at any level.
“With touring, there’s always the great days and the less-great days,” Bann says. “There are days that are the most fun days of your entire life where you had an epic adventure and an awesome show and you made friends in a place you’ve never been to before. And then some days it’s a little less awesome, and you sort of wake up and go play the show and go back to another motel room and try to go to sleep.”
To maintain their sanities on the long drives between gigs, Slothrust have developed some simple tour rituals to keep spirits high.
“We listen to music in the van quite a bit, as everyone does, but we also listen to a good amount of stand-up comedy while we’re driving,” Bann says. “I think that’s actually really helpful because everybody just laughing together eases tension and makes everyone feel good. And when you’ve been hearing music so much every night, it’s maybe even good to not have music on in the van for a while.”
According to Bann, Louis CK and Aziz Ansari are van staples when it comes to comedians. But even more than these legendary comics, what really keeps Slothrust going is the strong camaraderie between Wellbaum, Bann and Gorin, which includes being able to give each other some space.
“There are a lot of days where you’re stuck together,” Bann says. “But occasionally you get a couple hours or a whole day where you’re like, ‘You know what? We’re not forced to be together right now, so why don’t we all do our own thing for a while and we’ll meet up later?’ Having that freedom and respect for each other’s needs and likes and dislikes is crucial to the environment being positive.”
And above all, a positive environment is perhaps the most important thing fueling Slothrust. Even when the music takes a turn for the somber or Wellbaum’s lyrics touch on painful themes, the longstanding bond between the three, both as musicians and as friends, leaves Everyone Else sounding triumphant and cathartic.
“We’re having a good time,” Bann says, “even if we’re making somewhat sad music sometimes.”
Slothrust will play at Union Transfer on Friday, 10/28, with Highly Suspect. Everyone Else will be released the same day on Dangerbird Records.