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Gavin Brown Takes On The Slackers | Interview Special

September 2, 2020
Courtesy of The Slackers Bandcamp

The Slackers

Interview Special

With Gavin Brown

For the past twenty-five years and more, The Slackers have been an incredibly consistent force when it comes to putting out quality material and live performances. The New York Ska band hasn’t let this lockdown slow them down on this front either with a relentless string of music released and live-streamed gigs. We had a chat with The Slackers saxophonist David Hillyard to hear all about what the band have been up to during these times and what they have planned for the future. 

You have just done a livestream gig with The Pietasters, Barstool Preachers and Catbite, how did it go?   

It went well. I was really happy with this lineup. All of the bands were strong and they brought their A game. We were soundchecked and ready before the start so I was able to catch a good chunk of it this time.  Really enjoyed it. 

How was the experience of doing a gig not in front of a live audience? 

I mean, it felt like a gig. After around 2-3 minutes the adrenaline and the reflexes kicked in. Somehow it didnt feel like rehearsal. We were playing.  and playing hard.  Its nice getting the audience feedback at the time.  I think when we actually get to play for more than 15- 20 people at a party (we did a private party in July), it will be mindblowing.  

Have you got plans for anymore livestream gigs at the moment? 

We are working on a band livestream concert for October and then some individual livestreams on Sunday’s for the foreseeable future.  

You’ve done a few livestream performances over the last few months, what has been your favourite so far? I loved the live dub set! 

The last one. The August 1st one was my favorite. felt the closest to a before times gig. My 2nd favorite was me and Vic playing in the woods in a park in the Bronx. We were doing our thing and a few people were around us….30-40 feet away and smoking weed and listening from a distance, just regular people hanging out in the park, they didnt know who the The Slackers were! 

You had fans vote for which songs to play in your set, how much fun was that to do and would you do something like that again? 

It was interesting. We did a bunch of request shows in late 2019, where we had polls set up and people could vote for favorites.  the last one was like a tournament. Part of the thing is we know and can play at a gig around 100 songs and we have recorded around 200, so how much time do we want to spend learning old songs as opposed to working on new ones. At this point, there are always songs we aren’t gonna be tight on but I like democracy, so keeping that alive is important even if its imperfect.

What is your favourite Slackers song to play live and why? 

That varies so much, it really depends on my mood.  I’ve been enjoying Nobody Listening recently. It has a certain manic energy that fits my mood.

What are your touring plans like at the moment, you have dates booked in October including dates in Leeds and London but is it a case of waiting and seeing what happens with everything? 

We are moving all our October shows to October 2021.  With venues being at reduced capacity and travel restrictions against Americans, we arent gonna be able to get a tour together. We dont know when we will be able to tour again. We have some ability to do private parties and some local shows in the northeast US.  That is it.

My favourite Slackers gig memories are seeing you playing at CBGBs, and in Nottingham and the Rebellion festival in Blackpool. What has been your favourite gig that you have ever played? 

Out of the 10,000 Ive played??? hahaha. I dont know. Its gonna be the first gig I get to do when quarantine is over, that will be my favorite.

You’re just about to release your new single Nobody’s Listening, can you tell us about the song and it’s creation?  

We started playing it live around a year ago and got an immediate reaction. The best version which ended up being the single was recorded live at Ernestos in October 2019.  

The other song on the single is a re-recorded version of Sleep Outside, can you tell us a bit about the song and why you choose to re-do it? 

The homeless situation in the USA is insane. It is something we have seen take off in the last 10 years with gentrification. and now trumpism.  Vic felt it was time to make a stand.

You’re also reissuing your live album Live At Ernestos, are you looking forward to bringing that out again?

Yes, the vinyl sounds better than the original cd, really rich!

What do you recall about that particular live recording? 

We had access to a free tequila ice machine! 

Have you got any plans or ideas for a new full length Slackers album? 

We will see. We just started recording new tunes again to see if we get up to the magic 10 songs.

You have had a few Zoom discussions about some of your songs. How has that been going?

Very well. We did Coyote studios with the Caiati brothers, that was like a fun high school reunion.  Ernestos was deep, lots of love expressed and then Vics behind the songs one was brave. He had 2 of his main exes on the panel, hahaha!

How have the Quarantunes, your quarantine versions of songs you have put up online been received? 

In general very well. They take a month to get together and we have to record them bit by bit. It is really time consuming so i’m glad people like them.  

You’ve also been sharing a few rarities compilations. How has it been revisiting that material? 

I spent a lot of time in our DAT archives.  Listening to different mixes. Listening to songs develop. listening to things that didnt make the cut. It’s been very illuminating.

How else have you been keeping busy during this pandemic and lockdown? 

Cooking. drinking. plotting revolution.

Next year is the 30th anniversary of The Slackers forming. Are there any plans for you to mark this milestone at all? 

If we get through this and are able to tour again at some point.  that will be reward enough.

What are your main memories of the early days of the band and when you first started? 

Alcohol.  I used to drink a lot more.  Most of the early 90s are a blur. 

How much did New York City shape the band and your sound from the early days to the present day? 

its always shaping us. We just went through the ringer with the rona. That’s gonna be affecting us for years to come.

What are some of your favourite places in New York to play? 

That just makes me sad cause they are all closed right now.  

How did you get into ska, reggae and dub in the first place? 

My dad listened to reggae in 1970s. Jimmy Cliff was my gateway drug.

What have been some of the ultimate highlights in your time with The Slackers?

To be honest one of my biggest highlights was our last livestream. Just being there.  Making vital music.  Together. There’s nothing like it.

A huge thank you for your time!

https://www.facebook.com/theslackers

http://www.theslackers.com

Words: Gavin Brown

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