Slowly Slowly
Slowly Slowly | Credity: Marc Grimwade/WireImage

Slowly Slowly: “I’ve Just Been Chasing the Juju”

Slowly Slowly’s music is infectiously cool. Known for their signature punk energy and clever lyrical rhyme schemes, their music is unabashedly catchy and stirring in equal measure. The band’s fourth album, Daisy Chain, is no exception. From the stream-of-consciousness title track to the gut-wrenching closer, ‘Papier-Mache’, the songwriting is consistently interesting and offers some things to dissect when you listen a little closer.

Slowly Slowly are one of Australia’s hardest working and most resilient bands. Despite the innumerable challenges presented by the pandemic, especially to those enduring Melbourne’s relentless lockdowns, the pop-rock outfit persisted with the release of two records throughout 2020 and 2021 – Race Car Blues and its subsequent extended version. Now, on the back of their latest regional tour, Music Feeds sat down with lead vocalist and guitarist Ben Stewart to discuss Daisy Chain.

Music Feeds: You’ve been so productive during Covid. How did you navigate being productive during lockdowns?

Ben Stewart: I got into a routine. Now that I look back, it was a coping mechanism. I wasn’t sleeping much, was doing 70-80 kilometres on my bike every day, writing 12-14 hours a day, and lost 12 kilos. I got sick at the end of 2021 and had a stint in hospital. At the time, I thought I was just doing too much and didn’t know how to turn it off, but I was telling myself it was fine.

When everything opened back up and I sat down in a writing room, I had PTSD. I needed a break and didn’t write anything for three months. Now I’m falling in love with it again and starting to feel less pressure to do it. My future discography felt like my only outlet and the only thing I could control, so I just exercised so much control over that. It was a weird fucking time.

MF: I can relate. You’re thinking “Everything else is chaotic, so my creativity is the one thing I can control”.

Ben: All musicians could relate to it, I think. A lot of people had their identities taken away. I didn’t realise how entwined I was with the concept of myself as a songwriter and performer. I was thinking, “People only like me because I write songs and they sing along”. It all gets ripped away and you’re asking yourself, “Who the fuck am I now?”

MF: Feeling that urge to exercise as much control over your music as possible, did that influence the decision to self-produce this album?

Ben: With Slowly, I’ve self-produced all the records, but this is the first one I publicly put my name on as a producer. I did it because it was such a nursing from beginning to end and something I really slaved over. Slowly has always been my baby. Side projects and singing on other people’s songs, that’s helped me to define the role of a producer, and then I was like, “I think I do that for my own music”.

Through that I’ve found a new vein of work, because I’ve produced a bunch of songs for Bec Stevens’ new record, and I did Tyler Richardson from Luca Brasi’s solo record. This is the first time I’ve put my hand up and said, “I think I’m a producer”.

Slowly Slowly – ‘Forget You’

MF: On this album, you collaborated with your hero Chris Carrabba from Dashboard Confessional. How did that come about and what was it like working with him?

Ben: It’s psycho. I grew up smashing Dashboard’s music and Chris’ brand of heart-on-sleeve writing was instrumental in how I crafted my own style. It felt fitting to ask him, so I reached out via email, saying, “I wrote this song ten years ago and always pictured you on it”. We got on Zoom and I expected to maybe have to beg. He turned out to be one of the most supportive and kind guys.

He’d been through a terrible motorcycle accident in the year preceding, so he was relearning how to use his hands and arms. When we spoke, he had this childlike curiosity about music, which was so refreshing considering he’d been in the industry so long. He said, “Do you want me to write lyrics?”, and I said, “I want you to make it your own”. He wrote some lyrics and sent them back, and they were perfect. He sent over one vocal take – we didn’t have to edit a thing. He just understood the subject matter. It couldn’t have been more natural.

MF: I read that in your earlier life you were into heavier music, and then began to write more confessional singer-songwriter songs. Which other acts made you realise you could be more vulnerable in your writing?

Ben: I love the early noughties heart-on-sleeve stuff by Taking Back Sunday and Blink-182, but I think when I started discovering more Australian stuff, like Paul Dempsey or Tim Rogers, it shifted things. Finding singer-songwriters whose voices weren’t perfect was an eye opener to me. I thought, “I love this for the story and charisma, and it has nothing to do with how the person is singing.”

Through the modern age of recording on your laptop and in bedrooms, people have fallen more in love with personality than ability. The You Am I-type bands showed me there was so much more to music. Like the classics, like Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan, they’re not really singers, but people listen for the songs.

MF: The voice is a vehicle.

Ben: Yes, and that made me fall in love with singer-songwriter music. There are a million people who can sing just as well as Adele, but they don’t have the juju. I’ve just been chasing the juju. I think that kind of bled into the work and allowed me permission to call myself a musician. I’m not trained, I don’t have a great voice, I’ve never had a lesson and I’m a pig on guitar. That romance gave me self-permission.

MF: I understand the songs on this record go back a long way – the earliest was written ten years ago. The record still feels very cohesive. How did you ensure that, while utilising songs from over a broad timespan?

Ben: Early on, a few different sounds started emerging. That’s a big part of the reason we released the Race Car Blues extended version, because as I was writing for what is now Daisy Chain, there were a few cookie crumbs in this lost batch of demos which we felt were important to release as it would give context to what’s going to happen next. There was a bit of waiting to see what would emerge, a few catchments of sounds, but contextually it’s probably our broadest record sonically.

As much as I wanted it to be a cohesive record, embodying new sounds and old, we’ve released a few records now and if people aren’t understanding it by now, there’s only so much I can package it up. This is the sort of songwriter I am. I’m gonna put my personality stamp on it, whether it’s a pop song or an acoustic sad thing or an aggressive rock production. Now it’s more about being honest with myself rather than trying to prove anything to anybody. I’m more chasing the idea of, “Who am I, and how can I deliver that unabashedly and not have it feel too premeditated?”

Slowly Slowly’s Daisy Chain is out now.

Slowly Slowly Daisy Chain Tour 2023

  • Friday, 5th May – Magnet House, Perth WA
  • w/Teenage Joans & Tied Down
  • Thursday, 18th May – The Gov, Adelaide SA – NEW SHOW
  • w/Between You & Me, Oscar The Wild
  • Thursday, 25th May – The Tivoli, Brisbane QLD
  • w/Turnover, Between You & Me, Clews
  • Friday, 26th May – Forum, Melbourne VIC – SOLD OUT
  • w/Turnover, Between You & Me, Clews
  • Saturday, 27th May – Roundhouse, Sydney NSW
  • w/Turnover, Between You & Me, Hevenshe
  • Saturday, 10th June – Northcote Theatre, Melbourne
  • Easylover Mini-Festival w/Yours Truly, Between You & Me, Bakers Eddy & More

Further Reading

Slowly Slowly Announce Mini-Festival and National Tour

Groovin the Moo 2023 Lineup: Alt-J, Denzel Curry, Fatboy Slim, Eliza Rose + More

Slowly Slowly Cancel Tour So Singer Ben Stewart Can Focus On Health

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