The in-your-face Kent duo of Isaac Holman (vocals, drums) and Laurie Vincent (guitar) have confounded current musical mores once more with another Top Ten album of raw, impassioned punk, garage, hardcore and rock, Take Control. Following last year’s Mercury-nominated Are You Satisfied?, 2016 has been another incredible year for Slaves, and they end it with a major UK tour.
Holman explains why, love them or hate them, you can never call Slaves average.
Take Control went top ten and the singles have had loads of radio play. Is it weird for a band so obviously at odds with much of the music on the radio to enjoy so much mainstream acceptance?
We’ve had to deal with it, yeah. We never expected an inch of the success we’ve had. We didn’t ever think we’d even be able to go on stage even – we thought our music was too lo-fi, minimal, stripped back. So it was definitely surprising when mainstream radio stations started playing us. But if it means more people are hearing us, I don’t care who’s listening!
So why do you think Slaves have struck such a chord?
We’re saying things that people can relate to. It’s as simple as that. People can see that we’re giving it our all, and how much it means to us.
But unless the things you say are allied to great tunes, not many people will hear them, will they? So the music itself is really important. How do you describe it?
It’s high energy, definitely. A group of friends can stand in a room and throw themselves around to it. You can listen, or let yourself go. I dunno, it’s hard to explain your own music. What I do know is that if you tune into the radio it does feel like pretty much every song has been produced by the same ten people. So maybe we’re offering something different.
How do you feel about Take Control now, with the benefit of a month or so’s distance?
Well, it’s a bit more than that for us. We recorded it quite quickly, and when you’re waiting for it to come out it can be a tense time, you never really know what people are going to think. So it feels really good that it’s out there now and I’m thrilled that it’s gone down so well. It’s definitely our best material to date. It feels like we’ve progressed as a band, and it feels a little more sure of itself than the first one. So yeah, I like it!
Mike D’s such a breath of fresh air, a lovely, down to earth bloke. You almost forget what he’s done and what a legend he is when you’re with him.Isaac Holman
Mike D said it felt like the world needed an album like this. What was it like having this punk and hip-hop legend produce your album?
It was a fascinating experience. He’s such a breath of fresh air, a lovely, down to earth bloke. You almost forget what he’s done and what a legend he is when you’re with him and then suddenly you’re like ‘oh yeah, it’s him!’ He was amazing to be around and I’ll never forget it.
You’re seen as quite a British band in the kind of music you make and the issues you write about. So was it a bit odd to make Take Control in California?
We were away from our comfort zone maybe, but distance makes the heart grow fonder too. The further we went, the more we felt we needed to get where we’re from into the music. So we were in California, but there was something about being there which made us feel even more like a couple of Kent boys.
So do you think Mike D changed the way you made the record?
He influenced it, definitely. We went there with an idea of what we wanted to do and we had a lot of songs written. But we allowed him into our creative circle, which we’ve never really done before with anyone. He almost became the third member of the band for a while. So he definitely had an input and he worked us hard. It was fun, but there were times when he was quite brutal with us – I think me and Laurie needed that.
So he was like some sort of stern uncle?
Yeah! There were points where we were writing scrappy punk music, you know, ‘verse-chorus, verse-chorus, done’. And he was like, ‘No, I think we can do something else with this’. And he was very honest when he thought something wasn’t quite good enough.
And it’s definitely not scrappy punk is it? There’s a real variety to Take Control.
I’m really glad how eclectic the album is, yeah. It has its ups and downs, there’s hard, punk tunes and then softer, more mellow ones. That’s what we wanted to show with this album, that we’re not just a one-dimensional band. We can and we want to write different kinds of music.
Absolutely. Your connections with Chase & Status and Skepta shows that you and your music doesn’t exist in a ghetto.
Not being pigeonholed has always been important to us. I know, obviously, that we started off making punk music and being heavily influenced by it. But I didn’t like it when we were called punk, because it puts you in a creative cul-de-sac. I didn’t want that to happen to us, but what is great about this era of music is that people are into everything. Being a music fan isn’t genre specific any more, really.
Take Control, Consume or Be Consumed, it feels like the album is full of messages about the way we live our lives.
We’re very aware and analytical of ourselves and everything around us. The music that we make is very much a documentation of what we see and feel. It feels like you’re always switched on these days, taking in information. And there’s a little part of me taking notes, keeping a lookout. Conversations on buses, a little bit of a film, a little bit of a paper, inspiration can come from anywhere really.
You’ve just finished the low-key Back In The Van Tour, and now you’re off on another tour of much bigger venues. It never stops for you, does it?
Touring is definitely full on. And our live show has a big impact on my physical health. My back is terrible, I’ve had an operation on one of my shoulders already and I’m getting the other one done in December. But yes, we put so much into our live show, and that’s where I think we’re at our best. It’s then that we feel untouchable. It’s an amazing sensation.
Slaves play at O2 Academy Leeds on November 15 and O2 Academy Shefield on November 25. youareallslaves.com