Slowdive: “I like to think our music brings balance for people, even just for 40 minutes”

Now having been reunited for longer than they existed as a band the first time around, shoegaze legends Slowdive command a larger, more dedicated and more diverse audience than ever. As they prepare to release their explorative new album Everything Is Alive, singer Rachel Goswell tells us about the rise, fall and rise again of a unique group

The last time Slowdive talked to Loud And Quiet their reformation was still an experiment. In 2014, Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell were navigating the excitement and nerves of playing to the biggest crowds of their career, 20 years after breaking up. They were adamant they wouldn’t become a heritage industry act, reliving past glories for a paycheque. New music was always the goal, but before those crowds showed up, it wasn’t a guarantee. 

Nine years later, Slowdive’s rebirth has existed for longer than their original run, and a new set of young fans have joined in on the pain of eagerly awaiting new songs. With Everything is Alive, Slowdive can claim to be one group among a select few who’ve had to deal with the pressure of the sophomore slump twice. But given all that’s happened in the time since their 2017 self-titled record, sonic evolution was an inevitability. They’re different people once again. 

Everything Is Alive retains the huge, emotional atmospheres central to the group’s appeal, but it’s a record that looks inward more than outward, soaking up ideas like loss, memory and quiet hope more than the romantic angst of their earliest material. Preparing for their first set at Glastonbury, Rachel Goswell discusses its creation, their familial closeness, and the many lives you pass through within one lifetime. 

Skye Butchard: Hi Rachel. You’re rehearsing for Glastonbury at the moment, right? 

Rachel Goswell: Yeah, we’re rehearsing for the rest of this week. We’re doing a warm-up show in Exeter on Saturday, which is fairly local to me. I’ve been trying to do an Exeter gig since we came back, really. It’s taken us nine years, but it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do it the day before Glastonbury. Hopefully it will be alright…

SB: How’s it been preparing for it? 

RG: It’s really nice to finally be at the stage where we can be in a room together and play the songs again. We did a handful of festival dates last year. It’s nice to get to this point where everything’s announced, because we’ve been sitting on it for a while. What will be will be.

SB: Which of the new songs are you excited to share? 

RG: I really like ‘Shanty’, the opening track on the album, which has the arpeggiator, and ‘Chained to a Cloud’. I have to remember what their actual titles are now. Our working title for that one was ‘Chimey’ for nearly three years. I particularly love those two because they’re a bit different. They’ll be more challenging to work out live because we’ll need extra equipment to do those. At Glastonbury, it’s only an hour-long set, so we might try a couple of the other ones in the warm-up show. The people coming to that show are the diehard Slowdive fans. It’ll feel nice to do something different for them. 

SB: Have you gotten to know any of your superfans? I guess they were the people asking you to come back in the first place.

RG: Yeah, I’ve gotten to know some of them over the years, and a handful of them have become friends. It’s generally people close in age for me, but having common ground outside of music. I think as you get older it’s more difficult that you really connect with people a cellular level, at least for me anyway. I’ve always found it difficult to make friends. As an adult, having always been in bands, it’s hard to make genuine friendships that go beyond the music. 

SB: When Loud And Quiet last interviewed you, it was just before the reunion show at Primavera Sound. How do you look back on that moment in time, when there were plans to make new music but it was up in the air what would actually happen? 

RG: It’s been a remarkable few years, for all of us. Nine years is a long time in anybody’s life, and so many things can change. Slowdive still existing now [means] we’ve gone past the original few years of the band. 

I’ve got brilliant memories of when we first came back, this whole excitement around Slowdive, having never experienced anything like that before – not on the level that it was. The first time around I was fairly drunk and stoned through a lot of it. I just felt grateful for the opportunity. I appreciate it more the second time around, it keeps you young in a way. It’s such a different lifestyle, and certainly a few years ago I wouldn’t have imagined I’d be doing this now.

SB: Your early records were very teenage, and that’s something that’s loved about them, but what were you pulling from on this record, in comparison to when you were younger?

RG: You have a rich tapestry of experiences as you age. I still remember thinking when I was in my early 20s that I knew it all, much more than my parents did, all those cliches that you get from your parents and older people. You look back and think, ‘Yeah, well they were kind of right’. Life is ever-changing. It can throw so many different things at you.

I find it interesting to reflect back at Rachel at the age of nineteen, when I had not much of a care in the world. I didn’t become a mother until I was 39. That was obviously life-changing. In a lot of ways, as my son’s got additional needs. It was more of a shift for me than I was expecting, but nothing prepares you for parenthood anyway. I think I have more of an appreciation for life than I did when I was a 20-year-old. I appreciate older people, their experiences and their wisdom. 

I spoke to someone yesterday who said “The last time I saw you was in 1992 – that was a lifetime ago.” Actually, it was several lifetimes ago. 

SB: The record is dedicated to your parents. Why was that an important thing for you to document? 

RG: The record is dedicated to my mother and Simon [Scott]’s father, who died in 2020 during the early months of the pandemic for different reasons. Simon’s father was a heavy influence on him, with music, with nature – all the stuff Simon does with his sound recordings. He talked about his dad a lot. As a kid, his dad used to take him out to the Fens [marshland in eastern England], and taught him how to recognise different bird songs. He had a close relationship with his dad, and when he passed away it was devastating for him. 

A couple of months later my mum passed away. She’d been ill for some time with dementia, and some other things going on. She loved Slowdive. She was always my champion. Always used to come to gigs. In fact, my dad is coming on Saturday to Exeter. He’s 80 now – still loves his music. It just felt right that the record should be dedicated to both of them. They were both really important to us. Everybody knew my mum in the band, from when we were teenagers.

SB: You get a sense that you’ve all had that kind of closeness as a band, and that familial connection.

RG: We’re like a pair of old shoes, really. Or five shoes that fit a weird human. I’ve got a brother, but they’re like my other brothers. We’ve had so many shared experiences over the years. Everyone’s got their own families and children. There are about 11 children between us. Some of the band have got teenage children, so they’re going through the teenage angsty phase, which reminds me of me. We laugh at some of the things that have come full circle. 

SB: Do the Slowdive children enjoy the band? 

RG: I think one or two of them do. Some might be embarrassed. Nick [Chaplin]’s daughter is twelve. She’s into Dua Lipa. That Netflix programme Never Have I Ever has got ‘Don’t Know Why’ playing in the final scene. At that point, her friends were very impressed that was her father’s band, so dad became quite cool, which we thought was funny. 

SB: To get back to the new record, I know that Neil was working at home, bringing songs to you, and then they morphed in the process. What did those originals sound like?
RG: There were maybe 40 tracks, very electronic a lot of it. There was some stuff that we ended up not working on. There’s a democracy flip in the band in that the eight that were chosen were the most agreed on. If the rest of us weren’t in the band and Neil was able to do exactly what he wanted, it would have been a very electronic record. 

The first song Neil played for us was ‘Shanty’. We listened to it on a loop for two days. The main bit is a loop anyway, but it was 48 hours of that while playing around with what to add in. 

SB: You recorded in The Courtyard in Oxfordshire, where you’d recorded some of your early material, like ‘Morningrise’. I can imagine you’ve got many memories attached to that studio.

RG: Yeah, and it’s changed a lot. It used to be bigger. Upstairs is Radiohead headquarters, because Chris [Hufford] who engineered our original records went on to manage them. The nice big residential bit is a lot smaller. But it’s still got the same sofa which was there 30 years ago, which is so uncomfortable. 

It’s very familiar to us, and there’s a bit of comfort there for us. We also went up to Chapel Studios in Lincoln, which was great. There’s more room there to set everybody up to play, which meant that all of us could be there away from our families. The two weeks we spent there were good fun. We had a night just sitting around playing tunes on Spotify, everyone choosing songs until the early hours of the morning, which was just a laugh. It was nice to be normal. 

SB: You’d mentioned recording being a comforting experience. The album has a warm sound to it, and the tone of the record is quite hopeful. What drew you to that?

RG: We’ve always felt that our music is more about escapism and being able to take you out of the everyday and wrap you up. As you say, there’s a comfort thing there, but there can be sadness, and there can be hope. The album title Everything Is Alive is about hope. We’ve all lived through a terrible few years collectively. Clearly, there are an awful lot of people in the world living through really hard times. To be able to have a bit of hope is really important.

Maybe as you get older you get more philosophical, but it’s about appreciating the beauty that is around you. There are a lot of hard and horrible things in the world, and probably most people need to be able to switch off from the internet, and constantly being bombarded 24/7. I try to get out every day and walk for at least an hour, in fields just away from everything. It’s important to have that regulatory time. I like to think that Slowdive brings some balance for people, even if it’s just for 40 minutes. 

SB: The overstimulation aspect is interesting. I’ve found myself drawn more to those intentionally longform records recently. 

RG: You live in this age when you’ve got Spotify, where the songs are shuffled and not in order. When we order our records we want people to listen in a certain order and take you on a journey. There’s too much urgency, overstimulation and not being present. Everybody is too busy and in a rush, and you’re kind of missing stuff. That’s what frustrates me with where we’re at. Social media is a blessing and a curse, but I really feel for younger people now being born into that. I’m glad that wasn’t there when I was a kid.
SB: I was born in 1995. I’m in that cut-off point where my first phone was a Nokia brick, so I still get shocked when I see my niece with an iPad.

RG: My son is completely deaf. He’s got no auditory nerves or hearing, and mentally he’s younger in years than what he is physically. I gave him an iPad from when he was ten months old, because that was his window into the world. He loves it, and he’s a real whizz on it. He gets upset when there’s no internet. For him, he won’t be able to do a lot of the things that, for want of a better word, ‘normal’ people are able to do physically. That’s not his world. So there is a place for it. But I do get sad when I ask Chris Savill what his kids are into and it’s mostly sitting in their room playing their Xbox with headphones on. Go outside!

SB: A lot of young music fans are very online, and find your music through that.
RG: That’s the blessing of it!
SB: Being able to engage with those people across generations must be quite a valuable thing. 

RG: It’s fabulous. I love it. I sound like an old fart, but I’m still learning so much. I love that our audience, particularly and noticeably at gigs, we have people across generations. There are teenagers through to people older than us, and really mixed genders as well. We consciously make our shows all-ages for that reason. I’m very grateful to have that.

Photography by Ingrid Pop