Slow Club are in New York when I speak to them transatlantically; in their early days, as a couple of kids out of Sheffield making gentle, folk-tinged indie, there was nothing to suggest that the city that never sleeps might provide anything like a natural habitat for the pair. As they ready their third full-length, though, it suddenly seems like a much neater fit; with Complete Surrender, they've produced a gloriously cosmopolitan pop record that mines four decades' worth of the genre's finest moments and still manages to sound genuinely fresh in the process.

Their image is beginning to shift accordingly, too; the video for the title track - all flashy strings and high drama, where once the penchant was for acoustic guitars and tender harmonies - features an artfully-shot Taylor drumming topless and an impeccably-preened Watson cradling a white Persian cat. Slow Club apparently aren't satisfied with merely making remarkable musical progression; they're taking every available opportunity to let you know about it, too. The videos, the lyrics, the practically faultless production on the new record; it's less about greater maturity than it is to do with a constantly developing level of sophistication. Posers, though? There's every bit as much substance as style on this album, which is as emotionally delicate as anything they've yet produced.

"We both agreed that we wanted this one to be a bit simpler," says Taylor - its predecessor, Paradise, was hugely diverse, playing like an exercise in a band trying their hand at as many different angles as they could on one record. "We were trying to get to the point a little bit quicker. And then, you know, we wanted it to sound beautiful, too. We demoed the songs pretty extensively to bring them in line with what we had in mind; they made a lot of sense when we listened back to them, and got things done pretty quickly once we were in the studio."


Getting Started

Critical acclaim for Paradise was unanimous - stylistically broad, it offered the first real signs that the pair were capable of far more than their early work had suggested - but Watson insists they were never likely to play it safe with the follow-up. "I wouldn't change that album for the world, because it's how we came to arrive at where we are now, but it's only natural to want to move away from what you've done before, to keep things interesting for yourself, if nothing else. I think there was a little bit of a sense, with Paradise, that we'd thrown the kitchen sink at it, and the whole point of the new one was to strip things back a bit, and come up with something that felt a little more streamlined."

In doing so, they focused on a fairly specific set of influences; Complete Surrender is replete with references to retro pop, specifically from the sixties and seventies. "We were listening to a lot of really classic pop," recalls Taylor, "and just trying to pick out melodies, to figure out new ways of working with them. It definitely helped me figure out what was good for my voice; a lot of that older stuff suits me better, I think, just in terms of my range and the way I sing. We never really wanted it to be a throwback, or anything; I think we managed to strike a nice balance, in the end."

"We were definitely mindful of making sure the record wasn't going to be written off as some nostalgia-fest," Watson agrees. "There were certain routes we didn't want to go down, and we knew we had to avoid getting too mired in the past. We needed to look forwards more often than we looked back. Colin (Elliot), who produced it, helped steer us in the right direction. It wasn't like we were ever trying to replicate anything, anyway; we were just trying to give a little nod to certain influences, in our own way."

Elliot played a key part in keeping the pair on track throughout the recording process, not least because he, and his Yellow Arch Studios, are based in their native Sheffield. "We both really liked the Richard Hawley records he worked on," says Taylor, "and we really wanted to make it in Sheffield, if we could. We weren't in any rush to get started, initially, and we were sort of doing trial days with different people, just to see if we clicked with anyone. We did that with Colin, and the results sounded great - he had a free week, so we jumped on that. It was like divine intervention, really; it went perfectly."


The Writing Process

Another big help, as far as recording was concerned, was the fact that Slow Club have been touring as a four-piece since Paradise was released; this time, they could go into the studio knowing that they'd have a full band to fall back on, when it came to reconfiguring the songs for the stage. "When we made the last album, we didn't put much of it down live at all; we pretty much pieced it together," Taylor says. "It was new for us at the time, because our first album was just a process of recording the tracks as we'd been playing them. We seemed to get through things quicker this time, just because we weren't second-guessing how things might work out when it came to touring. It's exciting, really, because these songs have been written with the intention that they'd be played with a four-piece; it's not how it was last time, with the two of us blindly coming up with ideas that, for all we knew, were going to be impossible to pull off with just two pairs of hands."

There's already a fairly unusual writing dynamic in play; with both members bringing ideas to the table, there's often a piecemeal approach to the actual building of the songs, as well as the recording of them. "I think any band that has more than one songwriter is going to have to find a different way of making it work," Watson admits. "We've had to gradually figure out how to accommodate each other, in that respect. In the past, we've always ended up with this dual perspective, which is fine, but it's gotten easier since we took a step back and realised that, if those two points of view don't fit, you shouldn't try to force them."

"The good thing - especially when it comes to trying to make the album sound cohesive - is that we've always got something bringing us back together, in the harmonies and our voices. It works as a bit of an anchor; no matter how far one of us might branch out in a certain direction, there's always that bringing us back. I mean, in basic terms, Slow Club essentially is just us singing together, anyway.

"We're better at making decisions for ourselves now, basically. In the past, I'd sometimes be singing a certain way purely because I felt like I had to."

There's certainly plenty of evidence on Complete Surrender to suggest that he's right about that; those harmonies are a big part of the record, both on the bouncier side of proceedings - 'The Pieces', for instance - and on the ballads - the sumptuous 'Number One' springs to mind. The evolution, though, is obvious; there's no longer a reliance on that particular vocal trick to carry the songs, and when they do tap into it, there's a restraint and intelligence that you could only really pick up from years of singing together night after night.

"When we were younger, we were always like, "well, I'm singing this bit, so you'd better sing that bit" - it was as if we felt like we had to split things exactly equally, all the time," says Taylor. "We just came to realise, as we got older, that we didn't need that, and that it was best to just run with whoever's voice we thought would carry the song better. That way, we could just support each other as and when we needed to, rather than overdo it for the sake of it. It works out nicely now, because when a harmony does come back into it, it's like a relief - when it was all harmonies, all the time, you never really felt that. We're better at making decisions for ourselves now, basically. In the past, I'd sometimes be singing a certain way purely because I felt like I had to."


Influences

Musically, too, they seem to be constantly finding ways for their own personalities to permeate their writing; as many classic pop allusions as there are on Complete Surrender - the horns on 'The Queen's Nose', 'Everything Is New''s huge choral vocals - there's a fair few moments that evoke present-day, chart-friendly pop - of which Taylor's known to be a fan - too, the title track especially. Watson, though, is pretty casual about that particular connection; for him, at least, it's something that's bound to come naturally.

"It's weird, because our records have always been representations of us as people, and of the period in which we've written it. We listen to so many different things that it'd probably be really difficult to make an album that was full of songs that all sound as if they're very much from the same time, and have the same feeling, you know? Especially when they're coming from two different people. The fact that there's an overlap, and that it's a year or eighteen months of writing, has probably influenced it more than pop music in general, really. I don't look at it as more than just a document of us as people."

"The dividing line, really, is that we're still the same people, but the music has changed. We can't really do anything about that, because we have to progress."

That in itself, though, begs another question; can you still connect the dots between Complete Surrender and Yeah So? There's the odd point at which the listener can draw sonic comparisons, lyrical likenesses, but for the band, it must mean thinking about who they are now, in the context of who they were then.

"I don't feel like I've changed that much at all," says Watson, "and I suppose there's a lot of stuff that's for other people to decide. I mean, if people are genuinely expecting us not to change at all, and to make the same kind of music, and are fucked off that we haven't done that, then...you know, how are you supposed to respond to that? Moving forwards as a band is the only thing we feel like we can do - we haven't done that just to keep ourselves entertained. Sometimes, at shows, people come up and ask for really, really, really old songs, that we haven't played for about six years, and that we have literally no idea how to play any more. And, you know, I can understand that, but it's just funny to me how difficult it can be to get away from something that seems, in your own mind at least, a long way away, a long time ago. The dividing line, really, is that we're still the same people, but the music has changed. We can't really do anything about that, because we have to progress."

"In fact," Taylor adds, "I feel quite selfish, because with every album, my main thing is always, "what do I want to be singing for the next two years on tour?" I never really think about what people might actually want from us, which, to be honest, is probably for the best. I think we've been quite lucky in terms of how slow and gradual everything's been; there'd be a lot more pressure on us to make the same kind of music if we'd been catapulted to extreme fame and fortune on the first record, but we've got a good set of fans that understand us, and support us. We still do get the odd few who are a bit "fuck you, Slow Club!", though."


Gravitating Towards 'Pop'

As much as a hardcore niche amongst the fanbase might not like it, though, it's hard to see any reason why there wouldn't be some kind of crossover for Slow Club once Complete Surrender is released; it's such a brilliantly-measured pop record that there's plenty of potential, in that respect. "That'd be nice," admits Taylor. "I mean, first and foremost, we both want to be doing this for as long as possible, and this album truly isn't some calculated move to make money, or anything like that. We've naturally found ourselves in this place. We've toured for years now, and it does get boring; we've played in so many different types of place, to so many different types of audience, and you find that you have the most fun when the crowd are enjoying themselves. The songs that seem to connect the quickest tend to be the poppiest ones, so there's a genuine reason for us gravitating towards that. We're in a place now where every day is playing live, because that's where the industry is at. You have to really love it, and it has to be fun; if it was super serious indie music all the time, I know I'd be going crazy."

It's in comments like that one that you recognise what it is that's so appealing about Slow Club; behind all the pop sheen, behind the ever-more-prominent level of sophistication that they bring to every facet of their work, they don't make it difficult to have an emotional stake in them; they're an incredibly genuine band. As Taylor put it, as she talked about making the record in Sheffield, rather than London: "not that it fucking matters whether we're a 'London band' or a 'Sheffield band', but it was just a much less stressful environment. That's what makes you a better 'artist' in the end, actually - less stress, more food from mum's house."


Complete Surrender is available via Caroline International on July 14th. Slow Club tour the UK in July:

  • 8 - Liverpool - The Kazimier
  • 9 - Leeds - Brudenell Social Club
  • 10 - Middlesbrough - The Georgian Theatre
  • 12 - Manchester - Gorilla
  • 14 - London - 100 Club
  • 15 - Brighton - Sticky Mike's Frog Bar
  • 16 - Cambridge - The Portland Arms
  • 17 - Bristol - The Fleece
  • 18 - Birmingham - The Temple at The Institute