This year’s Decibel Fest in Seattle featured a very special treat for shoegazers—the A/V showcase titled OPTICAL 1: Sine Your Name Across My Heart. Featuring New York’s Mountains as openers, the evening featured multi-instrumentalist Simon Scott of Slowdive, Inner Sleeve/Televise fame as direct support to seminal electronic/shoegaze cross-pollination ambassador Ulrich Schnauss. Ulrich was forbidden to fly at the last minute due to some visa issues, but Scott—along with collaborator Rafael Rafael Anton Irissarri—created a swirling, beautiful atmosphere of drones, electronic serenity and effected guitar as equally compelling, composited video footage was projected behind them.
I caught up with Scott at the W Hotel. We unfortunately ran out of time before I could ask him about his projects that happened between the shoegaze days and his current electronic work, but as he said, “the blog is called When the Sun Hits!”
Have you been to Seattle since you were here with Slowdive, on tour with Ride?
How is it now compared to then?
Well, it’s a long story—we had a really great show at the time, and one of the wives of the Ride guys had just had a baby. We played a club called RCK CNDY (long since gone –ed.). And now I’m back here and my second [solo] record is coming out in, literally a week. I’m not expecting people to go “oh, I hope he plays that song” [tonight at the showcase].
Well, the songs the label (Miasmah) posted on Soundcloud certainly sound promising.
Going back a number of years—you started playing music at a very young age, yes? You were 16 when you began with the Charlottes. When did you first pick up an instrument?
I’ve got an older brother and sister, and both were obsessed with music. My brother loved heavy metal, and my sister used to go out with a biker and listen to prog rock. My parents were massive music fans—my dad’s a pianist. I used to jam on my brother’s acoustic guitar and my dad—he played accordion as well. After parties and drinks, they’d all start singing and he’d be playing accordion or piano. And me, the little tiny kid, I’d pick up a guitar and learn what notes he was playing and play along. I loved it. I got such a buzz from collaborating musically with my dad.
Then I started hitting things and got told off at school. Banging on tables. The teacher turned around after class at said “you know, you should get a drum kit. That was amazing!” And I was like, “well, shit. I should be a drummer.” When you’re eleven years old and someone tells you you’re amazing [at that], you think “yeah, I should [do it].”
I was in lots of bands before the Charlottes, but they were all cover bands and stuff. I’d always end up playing with guys in their twenties, which was quite strange, you know, being thirteen and playing clubs with guys who were smoking joints and drinking beers. But I there weren’t too many drummers around, and that led to me and Graham [Gargiulo] forming the Charlottes. Petra [Roddis], his girlfriend, could sing. Slowdive supported us at a gig in London, at the White Horse in Hampstead in 1989.
I was a teenager through all that. And then Slowdive had just put out their demo. Alan McGee loved it, but they didn’t get on with their drummer. So when we played together, they were like “what would that guy think about moving to Reading and being in a band that just signed to Creation Records?” I was a huge Creation fan—Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream. It took me about a millisecond to say yes.
The Charlottes. See Me Feel.
Regarding the Charlottes—LoveHappy (1988) is a great record, but I really adore Everything Falls Apart (1991). A lot of the songs on the former sound very punk-influenced…"In My Hair” sounds kinda Minor Threat, even. What sorts of bands were you guys listening to at the time? When you played to the second record, there’s a shift to the sounds of the shoegaze that were prevalent at the time. How involved was the band with “the scene that celebrates itself”?
The reason it sounds punky [on LoveHappy] is because I was really pushy as a drummer. Young and naïve, you know? I would play fast and play over every single gap in the songs. Live, I used to kinda destroy drumkits and stuff. I don’t know why I did it, probably for attention or something—Keith Moon was a massive influence on me. So that was just me pushing everything. I later thought, hmm, I should calm it down a bit. We also started using more guitar effects pedals.
Me and Graham and Petra all worked at this record store in Huntingdon. So we had this sort of Charlottes HQ. We’d listed to Can records, things like Curtis Mayfield, Sly and the Family Stone. We didn’t want to be an indie-pop band, but to be honest… well, LoveHappy was a really great record, and we got some really good tour dates with Ride when they were starting, and some more when Slowdive supported us, but around Everything Falls Apart I accidentally overhead a conversation between Graham and Petra where they were talking about going to university and getting their degrees. At the time, I was like “I’m not interested in education. I just want to fucking play.” And that was, literally, it could have been the very night Slowdive played with us [and asked me to join]. [The gig lineup] was Boo Radleys, Charlottes, and Slowdive. I was just thinking, they’re going to fucking go and leave me here in Huntingdon. I’ve worked so hard on this. So then, when Slowdive asked, I straightway said “yes.”
The Charlottes. Love Happy.
How quickly after you joined was Just For A Day recorded? As the story goes, Neil assured Alan McGee that the band had the songs were fully written, then spent several weeks in the studio writing the album. How was that for you? What approach did you take as a drummer?
When I joined, Morningrise and the “She Calls” single were already written. “Catch the Breeze” was just being written and I kinda started adding my input. Because I was a songwriter, guitarist, and singer myself, I was kinda a pain in the ass, really. They just wanted a drummer, and in comes this guy…it ended up working, because with Souvlaki it was very hands-on and collaborative.
But literally, the day I moved to reading we got Morningrise ready to go. The cover was approved and I was handed a page of tour dates with Blur in America. It was like “oh shit, in a week I’m going to be on tour in the States.” Boom, bam. Came back, did a UK tour. Morningrise came out and we did Europe. It was difficult to find time to go into the studio and record, let alone sit down together. So we booked time at Courtyard Studios in Abingdon with Chris Hufford, who now manages Radiohead. Really nice guy. We kinda jammed stuff out. Neil would setup with an acoustic, and we’d figure out arrangements. That’s how “Shine” came about. “Erik’s Song” was kinda an improv.
We’d gone in and done “Shine,” “Catch the Breeze,” “Albatross” and “Golden Hair,” and made it an EP, Holding Our Breath. Because that worked so well—these four great songs—we thought we should jam and do record with more [in a similar styling].
Slowdive. She Calls.
Prior to Souvlaki, Slowdive holed up and wrote a ton of songs. Most of these have circulated on the internet, sometimes a collection called I Saw the Sun. How many of these were played live?
A lot of them, actually. One of the main reasons for my leaving Slowdive was because I think those songs should’ve been recorded and properly released. Stuff like “I Saw the Sun”…
Slowdive. I Saw the Sun.
That song was actually written around Just For A Day. There’s one called “Colours in Spin” and we’d play those two on the Just For A Day tour. But between that record and Souvlaki, we went toured a bunch and then needed some time to write and also get back with Chris, who at this point had just started working with Radiohead. We’d written some great songs and really Souvlaki came together out of that time. Strong record, but there was loads left over. So we’d be out gigging and trying things out. Things like “Joy,” and “Silver Screen.”
But, as I said, I left because among other reasons I was cheesed off that we didn’t use any of those songs to make a new record. With Souvlaki I think we hit a point where it was beautiful and we were all working very nicely together.
Then Neil moved to London. I moved back to Cambridge because there was nothing to do. Those songs should’ve been a third album, and instead we did something completely different. Neil sat around and took a long time to come up with ideas, and I just thought, I want a break. In hindsight, maybe I should’ve stuck around for the final record. But then Creation Records started changing—signing Oasis and telling us Slowdive needed to change. I thought it was bullshit. Britpop had just broke, and now we have to change?
Anyway, I think it’s great those demo songs are out there but there should be better versions. It’s funny—me, Rafael [Anton Irissarri, ambient/classical composer and frequent collaborator with Scott] and Marcus Fisher, who’s signed to 12K, went into this record shop in Portland and there was this scruffy-looking bootleg LP of Slowdive songs that were unreleased. We put on the vinyl and the songs were all mastered from an old cassette—really bad quality.
Slowdive. Silver Screen.
There was a recent bootleg LP of Souvlaki pressed in Japan. The original goes for several hundred dollars online, don’t know if you knew that...
Why would someone press it that way, though, at such bad quality? I guess they probably just want to make money and don’t give a shit.
I wanted to ask you about the Souvlaki sessions. What was it like collaborating with Brian Eno?
Awesome. Absolutely awesome. We were spending so much time in a van on tour, and when you do that you get bored very quickly—especially being around the same people so much. We were listening to Eno and there was a track we especially loved his Apollo record. Our management wrote to his, saying, “there’s this band who are really into ambient artists and really into you. They’re doing something new with guitar music.” He was into it. He collaborated on a lot of songs, but only “Sing” and “Here She Comes” made it onto the record. There were several times where he’d come in and go “let’s just play,” and many ideas just didn’t become fully formed. We ended up running out of time. He’d come to the studio after dropping his kids off at school, then leave when he had to pick them up again. A family man with time constraints. It was a great experience, though.
Slowdive (with Brian Eno). Here She Comes.
And how was the European tour you guys did with the Cranes as support?
Brilliant. The way I look at it is, we were firing on all cylinders. Releasing Souvlaki, touring with the Cranes, and then…it suddenly turned into a situation where the American tour was going to be a nightmare [it was indeed—Scott departed before this happened and was replaced by Ian McCutcheon]. Creation held a meeting where they decided they needed to change Slowdive. Alan McGee just changed his aesthetic of the label. Instead of it being about bands being themselves and having their own originality or niche, he signed Oasis and had begun getting funding from a major label. I think it was something like “Mr. McGee, if you want us to back you and you want to become rich and famous and pretend you’re a legend, you have to do it this way.” And he just said, “yeah, alright.”
So, Slowdive got dropped. So did Swervedriver and Ride. It’s bullshit. These bands weren’t products the label could change the flavor of. It was like “be more honey—the lime isn’t working now.” It was pretty grim really. Everyone in the band started dispersing. It’s heartbreaking, really, because I think we were a good band, and the test of time has shown that people still enjoy our stuff today. Shame we didn’t do that third record. But, the music industry changes…
Well, it certainly does, but that doesn’t mean your label and the UK press had to turn on Slowdive so harshly.
Yeah, that was quite hostile.
What was the show like when you toured out here with Slowdive between the first two albums?
Amazing. RCK CNDY was a really great night. I remember walking around Seattle because we arrived early. We really loved America. Being a music fan in England, you listen to American bands and think about how amazing it would be to visit. Our culture’s really influenced by America in Britain. You go to New York City and see the skyline and the yellow cabs and think, Jesus, I’ve seen this so many times in movies! It’s the same for American people who listen to the Clash and other British bands and probably want to go the UK and see where the music comes from. It’s great to be back and play a solo show tonight. I just hope it works.
Decibel Fest is a pretty celebrated thing—I’m sure you’ve seen the lineup for the other nights...
Yeah, I’ve been out every night!
I think it’ll be well-attended.
Well, yeah, I think the showcase sold out…I’m just trying to be humble about it. People know my work from Slowdive, but now I’ve branched out into electronic sounds. I still am influenced by the music I’ve always loved, like MBV and Jesus and Mary Chain, though and because I was in Slowdive people are going to be looking for a shoegaze connection. I’m really proud of being in Slowdive, and there’s still a bit of it in my music, but just as long as people can get past the Slowdive thing and see that it’s Simon Scott as a solo project, then it’s a win-win really.
What do you think of shoegaze as a genre term? Rachel’s referred to it as “water off a duck’s back” with how often she’s heard it over the years, and Adam Franklin of Swervedriver finds it rather silly that any musical style would be named after footwear.
Well, just like “the scene that celebrates itself,” it was something created by journalists. Everybody thinks we all hung out, that we all partied together. We did play gigs together, but everybody lived in different places. Chapterhouse lived in London, we lived in Reading, Pale Saints were from Leeds, Ride were from Oxford, like 30 miles away…that doesn’t seem like a lot compared to the distances you travel in the US, but yeah. “Shoegaze” for us was whatever. And for a long time, it was a dirty word in the UK for the longest time. Calling someone a shoegazer was like saying they had no substance and hid behind effects pedals. Manic Street Preachers said we were worse than Hitler. When we read that we were laughing our heads off. There are so many worse things happening in the world besides five people making music in a band.
And it’s Slowdive we’re talking about here—ambient guitar music, not anything brash or offensive.
Absolutely! But so yeah, shoegaze was a derogatory term for some time. But now it’s become a sort of underground genre that people mention often and that’s really respected.
How much do you pay attention to newer shoegaze bands?
I don’t. When I see a bunch of kids with bowlcuts and stripey t-shirts, it’s like…it was cool back in England, twenty years ago, but…to anyone making music I’d say don’t try to be like anyone else—find your own thing. And, you know, for a lot of young bands it takes some time for them to find that thing. There were all those bands, we don’t need those imitations now. That’s why I really like the 12K label. It’s a lot of electronica that’s really organic and has all these melodies that are submerged. It’s the same ethos that we had. It’s all about trying to find new textures and sounds to work with. That’s why everything in Slowdive was so effects-driven. This is also why I stopped trying to fill every single gap with drumming and started to let things breathe—it was about the space and this wall of sound. People used to come up [after gigs] and say, “are your roadies behind the curtain playing? It sounds like a million guitarists!” Which was really great for us. We cranked the amps up and worked with the room and thought, we’ve got several hundred people here, let’s make this work.
And that whole wall-of-sound approach goes back to the early experimenters—Jimmy Page, Erik Satie, who “Erik’s Song” is named for, bands like Can, the ‘60s garage bands. You use what you have available—now we have laptops and guitar pedals. So I still play guitar, but now it’s also processed by my computer and I loop it and use my pedals and some delays. If you could take that back and give it to Debussy and Satie, they’d be astounded because they were always looking for new sounds to work with.
You also, along with a slew of different musicians from many genres, collaborated with R. Loren of Pyramids on the Sailors with Wax Wings self-titled record. It’s an impressive and cohesive record, yet no two collaborators were in the same room during its creation! How did he get in touch, and how did the project come together?
Basically, he wrote me a few messages and we corresponded. He was saying how he was very much into metal and also shoegaze, and that his new project detuned but also used the wall of sound in a similar fashion to Slowdive. This is what I was talking about with your previous question—he’s taken the influence, but done something new with it and it worked. He really liked the fact that I was an old shoegazer making new techniques with electronics. He came to me first and asked me to build some textures to build the album on. He sent me some drum tracks, and I used those as tempo maps. It also helped that I was a drummer and got a good sense of the feel of a given part—whether it was a more tribal rhythm, or he was really letting the kit ring out, or just hammering it.
It was really flattering to be asked to do the record.
If the money was there, would Slowdive reunite?
The money is there, but we probably won’t do it.
Yeah, everyone’s reforming these days. It’s kind of a joke in my mind. And we’re all really busy. Neil’s got his solo stuff. Rachel’s a mom. Christian and Nick are doing their own thing. I’m recording and doing stuff…so. One day. Neil and I have spoken about this and think it would be really nice to get onstage and play those songs again together. But, you know…everybody’s reformed…
I can totally see what you mean by that, and yes, it could be seen as a total sellout move…
I mean, it’s not like any of us are really skint (broke) and need to do [a reunion]. We’d be playing clubs still…
But think about it this way. There are people my age—I’m in my mid-twenties—who were little kids or not even born yet when Slowdive was active. There’s been some fantastic reunions applauded by folks in similar situations--the few dates Chapterhouse did recently, for example, were really well-received! I know they just about made Ulrich Schnauss’ life when they asked him to play keyboards for them.
Yeah, he’s a huge Chapterhouse fan. I’ve DJed with him, Ulrich’s such a nice guy. I’m disappointed he couldn’t make it here. We were actually gonna have a big live jam after his set.
Simon Scott. Under Crumbling Skies.
What’s next for you? Your record Bunny drops October 7th.
I have a few more dates in the US. Then I head to Europe for a tour, and then back to the UK to tour. By that point it’ll be December. I’ve got a collaboration going on with Marcus Fisher, he’s on 12 K, and then next year I go to Germany. There’s a track coming out on a really good compilation called Pop Ambient. I’ve got a new album coming out next year that I’ve already finished.
Yeah, I’ve been working really hard. I hope that I just get to tour my arse off next year.