After years of simmering with expectation Slow Readers Club is about to reach boiling point.
The Manchester-based four-piece are very much a part of the continuum of Manchester’s great bands and have been feted by the likes of Steve Lamacq, Peter Hook and Tim Burgess.
Slow Readers Club is about to embark on a UK tour which will include a headline appearance at Liverpool Sound City and coincide with their third studio album release, Build a Tower.
We caught up with frontman, Aaron Starkie to discuss the tour and the new album, politics in music, the first song he ever learned to play and who to look out for at this year’s Sound City festival.
Hi Aaron, you’re about to start your UK tour – paint us a picture of what it’s like preparing for that and the things you have to take care of beforehand?
We’re all at work at the moment as we all have day jobs – you’re speaking to me on my break! We’ve just returned from China where we did an industry festival and another one called Strawberry Festival which was really good – lots of challenging food!
This week we’ve just been doing final rehearsals and signing all the pre-orders and stuff like that – getting ready to go out to Cardiff which is our first date this week. We’ve also just announced our support acts including Bang Bang Romeo who we’ve been following for a while and always enjoyed their stuff.
I enjoy touring and going to places like Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds which are really vibrant music cities and like to take in the atmosphere. Every place has its own character – when you look past all the Starbucks!
The tour will coincide with the release of your third studio album, Build a Tower. Talk to us a bit about the album, the choice of the title and the evolution from Cavalcade?
The title came from the single Lunatic and the chorus includes the line ‘build a tower…’. We felt it was a good visual image for what we’re doing as a band. It feels precarious at times when you’re building something brick by brick as you’re afraid it might topple – hopefully not! The idea of us all building something together is the idea we all had in mind.
Musically, the album’s the best thing we’ve done. Lyrically, it’s probably a bit more optimistic and hopeful than our previous stuff…well, a lot less introverted and existential! In a world where you’re facing Brexit and Trump and all the other issues, it felt a bit indulgent to talk about my existential angst. The album’s a bit more outward-looking and you can hear the development in our sound. The reviews have been great and we’re full of confidence for the future and the tour.
Part of the tour includes a headline slot at Liverpool Sound City which will be hosted by a series of independent music venues in the Baltic Triangle. What are your experiences of the city and how important are independent music venues?
It’s brilliant that the festival is based within independent venues and anything that helps to keep that scene alive is always a good thing.
Liverpool’s been a good city for us. We’ve played Magnet, Arts Club and played the Echo Arena supporting James and The Charlatans. Obviously, in terms of Liverpool and Manchester, we’ve always had our football rivalries and our political rivalries – something to do with the ship canal I heard! The audience has always been great with us and you do get a lot of crossover between the two cities.
I’m really looking forward to Sound City. It’s a festival that’s been on our radar for years – especially when we weren’t playing any festivals at all; it seemed like an impossible dream. So, it’s great to be headlining it this year and taking in the scene around the Baltic Triangle.
What was your first ever gig and what’s your favourite memory from it.
My first ever gig was Shed Seven and Mansun at the Academy in Manchester. My first big one in an independent venue was Embrace at the Roadhouse. But my favourite local, independent venue in Manchester is still Night & Day in the Northern Quarter. Like a lot of venues, it’s been a bit of a struggle and Night & Day has recently had to fend off noise complaints. That’s just crazy – people and businesses come into areas like the Northern Quarter to appropriate the ‘cool’ and then start complaining about the noise – the madness of gentrification!
You seem to be building increasing momentum at the moment. Are you a classic example of the phrase ‘it takes 20 years to become an overnight success’?
The last two years especially have really accelerated everything. Initially, we had a first album that didn’t do very much but people really took the second album to their hearts and that’s gained us fans all across the UK. However, it’s the quality of the material that makes people turn up and take notice – you can have all the people in the world present but if you haven’t got anything good then there’s no point.
Because we’ve been DIY, we’ve grown an audience and we’re now in the privileged position of being able to express ourselves in the way that we do. If you’re a band that gets signed early doors it might make that growth more difficult and you can easily get burned out.
Slow Readers Club have been compared to a lot of Manchester bands -, especially Joy Division! What were your influences growing up?
Well, music was around us a lot whilst growing up. My dad did bits of DJing and busking alongside his day job. He loved Elvis, so we were surrounded by that as well as Motown and Jacko. When I started to grow up and develop my own taste I got into The Beatles, the Roses as well as goth-y 80s stuff like Echo & the Bunnymen, Jesus & Mary Chain, Magazine; that kind of stuff. I remember that the first-ever song I learned on the guitar was Nevermind by Nirvana because I was (briefly) a grunge-y kid. After that, I was into Oasis like everyone else – picking up guitars at parties and playing Wonderwall haha!
Throughout your songbook, you address some of the more existential aspects of the human experience. Is writing and performing music a catharsis for you?
A lot of people will come to our shows and just like the melodies and that’s all good. However, I know there’s a lot of people who come and the lyrics mean a lot to them. A reviewer once said that our gigs are a sort of ‘shared cathartic experience’.
I was always wary of writing songs just about ‘boy meets girl’ and was keen to write about those things that people don’t necessarily talk about but which we all feel at times. For me, it’s great because we’ve put out this music and expressed our take on the world and people have identified with it. Seeing that other people share those feelings is great for me and great for them because we know we’re not alone in experiencing certain emotions.
Especially for men and men my age; when you look at the suicide rates of men in this country and the way men are encouraged to deal with emotional difficulty – almost programmed not to talk about their inner emotional lives. Whatever helps in alleviating that difficulty and bringing attention to it can only be a good thing.
The world seems to be lurching from one crisis to another and there seems to be a more polarized spectrum of political engagement in music today.
For many years, I’d was reticent of doing anything overtly political. We had John Lennon engage with politics in the 60s and 70s and he did so much but then you had people aping him later on – people like Bono and Bob Geldof and it felt like situations were being exploited for commercial means. That always made me a little bit weary.
However, it’s great to see bands like Cabbage and Sleaford Mods doing overtly political stuff in a very anarchic way – what they’re doing is very bright and it really is fantastic to see.
Tim Burgess highlighted Slow Readers Club as one’s to watch at Sound City – who would you recommend looking out for?
Well, I’d say DMA’s but they’re competing with us, so don’t go and see them!
Blinders are doing great things in Manchester and all over the country. Their latest track is Tarantino-esque so go and check them out.
I’ve also got to say Peace who are great as well.