Interview: The Slang

The Slang

Recently I was able to schedule a Zoom interview with DC rockers, The Slang (John Bobo and Felix Nieto) before they release their debut LP called Divide. In this interview, I asked them about the songwriting process for their debut record, the comparisons some have made to their slick pop-rock sound, how genre lines continue to blend, and also what went into their music video shoot for “Nothing Lasts Forever.” Pre-orders are now up for Divide.

Thank you guys for your time today. Let’s start off by discussing your great new record called Divide, which comes out September 24. What led up to the release of this album? And what are you most excited about, knowing that it will be released everywhere next month?

John: Yeah, I think starting with what I’m most excited about is it’s just been a while since we’ve had a release of new, original music. And, I think leading up to it, we were playing a lot of covers’ shows, and then with everything that’s happened, that dried up kind of overnight. And so Felix is right there in his studio, so we kind of went from the stage to the studio and started writing songs. 

So what was your impression of the sessions leading up to that, Felix?

Felix: When we first started, it had been so long, and this is the first record that I’ve actually been a part of in the band. And like John was saying, it’s kind of that whole situation of being so used to just playing the shows you get in that routine that I think you start to lose a little bit of creativity. When we are like that, then we need to write new music. There are definitely a couple days, we’re just like, “Well, what do we want it to be like?” But we haven’t really talked about it, though. It kind of took a little bit to get in the groove. And once we got in that groove, it seemed to flow pretty well.

Nice. Okay, cool. So what about the actual title track? The third song on the sequencing Divide comes from? Is there a certain reason why you felt this song was the right choice to call your album? 

John: So I think the theme for this one was, there were a couple things as I wanted it to be really simple. So kind of like that, Peter Gabriel album titles, really simple, one word type things. And then we wanted it to be pretty ambiguous in terms of what it could mean, and we wanted it to mean a lot of things to different people. Obviously, it’s a pretty divisive time, in a lot of ways here. And especially being so close to DC. I mean, really, we’re right in the middle of it, with damage insurance, home spraying, and we might have a practice and we can’t get somewhere because there’s something like protest accompaniments in the way, so we’ve been living just like everyone else. And so we wanted to kind of have a title that just reflected that, but at the same time, for me personally, it kind of means more internal divide and internal division. I’m trying to figure things out.

Interesting. Is the album artwork the part that kind of pieces everything together for the title track?

John: Yeah, the album artwork, there’s a horizon, right? It’s a car going into the water. And there’s horizon and I actually found that picture just kind of browsing the internet, maybe a year before the album. I mean there was no title, there were no feelings, and we hadn’t even started writing. But being respectful of artists, I saved the picture, and then did a reverse image search. And through a lot of pain and suffering, found the gallery that hosted the digital artists and actually did pay for it. It wasn’t cheap. But it’s worth every penny. 

Yeah, it’s a nice little visual. I’m just looking at it right now beside my question template…

John: Yeah, it emotionally kind of struck me as a cool picture. So we tracked the guy, I think it’s an artist from Sweden. And we paid for the digital for the use of his art. But yeah, all that kind of came together with the title, and it just felt like it conveyed it. 

Nice! This record includes a lot of rich guitar tones, both textured and atmospheric elements, as well as great sounding rock songs, which is always a big plus, too. So is there a certain song that you think your fanbase will be particularly excited to hear for the first time when it comes out in full next month? 

Felix: We’ll tag team this. That’s an interesting question because we found a lot of times the songs that we think are favorite may not be other people’s favorites, and vice versa. But we have kind of got good feedback on our third single or the album titled track called “By Itself.” And so we’re interested to see that it resonates with a lot more people outside of our small circle of people that we’ve gotten feedback with, or if it’s just, area dependent. Yeah, definitely curious to see for that one. Any thoughts add on to that, John?

John: Yeah, I do think that’s the song. The third single “Divide” is kind of a song that seems to be resonating but in terms of the fan base for how to be received, it’s tough because I do think we’re one of those bands that don’t really fit into a genre. And as soon as you say rock, people will critique the guitars or the vocals and say it’s not heavy enough, and as soon as you say alternative, they’ll say this is just really mainstream, this isn’t different enough. If you say in the attitude politics, we get it and  I agree with all those features. But unfortunately, it doesn’t really leave us a home. And so that has been interesting. And even submitting the first or second single to get reviews. It’s funny how people react. We’ll get one person that says, “I like the song, but it’s too poppy for my playlist.” And another person says, “I like the song, but it’s not poppy enough for my playlist.”

Yeah, and that is kind of the thing that we enjoy at our site, for Chorus, because genre lines are blending so much. So, the former version of AbsolutePunk didn’t really fit Jason’s vision for where the music was heading and it really opened up a lot of eyes and a lot of different areas of artists that we could actually cover, whether that be indie pop, or things like that. So it’s good that genre lines are really blending, and if you write good songs, it seems like less people will care about what genre it is. So how would you describe the overall direction of this record? Just in general terms, with the vibe and the feelings?

John: Yeah, like Felix mentioned, this is the one where he got involved in and I think you can clearly see an evolution from the first three EPs to this album. And we’re with Felix the whole album. So not just production but I mean, he really played a key role in the writing. And I think that’s where the biggest differences are because when I know when I’m writing by myself, I think I do a really good job of getting very average. I struggle to get past a kind of a passing C+ grade. But I can get C+ pretty consistently. But you know, just having an extra person there to push and say, “Hey, this isn’t that good?” Or you know what, it’s not gonna happen tonight, but let’s go back to it tomorrow. On my own, I’m definitely much more willing to compromise and say that’s good enough, which has been nothing to my detriment in the past. I think there’s an evolution in the production and in the writing.

So on this record, in particular, were there certain songs that took more time to finish than others? Sometimes artists will say, “songs are never truly finished.” But when you’re putting it out to the world, other people can leave that for interpretation. Can you describe the writing process you guys went through on this one?

Felix: So yeah, kind of like John was saying, when we started this record, there were other members of our band that we originally had. But we found that it was just easier to co-write this record ourselves. Because there’s less to get in the way. And we were able to look at it in a bigger picture. So some of the songs are really easy to write. I remember the first time I think we got together, John and I were saying, “Hey, well, let’s just do a little sidebar, we’ll try writing a song and see what happens.” And so we got together one afternoon, and a couple hours in and we pretty much had the first song done. And it’s pretty surprising just how fast it went. Because everything leading up to that suggested is probably going to be a pretty laborious process. And that’s the second single that’s actually going to come out here in a couple of weeks. That was our first song that we wrote on the record, and it was just great. But then we got halfway through the record, and I think this is very normal, but you don’t want to repeat yourself too much. It was the tonality of the song or even little lyrics a lot of times, and there were definitely some songs halfway through where we rewrote the chorus, three, four times before it worked. And before we found one that we were like, “Hey, we feel good about this one. It’s telling a different story, but it’s part of the bigger picture.” So, to answer your question, I think we’re to a point on this record where both of us feel 100% with all this music. So there’s not like you’re saying artists where they’re saying it’s good enough to get out in the world, or there’s things we don’t like, but people won’t notice. I think this is the first time we’ve gotten something where we feel good about all the elements.

That’s great. Anything to add to that, John? 

John: I definitely agree with Felix and everything, but I would add that I think it’s really hard to write an album, because you want it to all tie together, but not being too repetitive, like Felix said. And at the time that you get into about song six, seven or eight, it gets pretty tough. You start to feel like maybe you’ve said a lot of what you want to say. And again, if you branch off to a different topic or a different feel, it’s tough to kind of sometimes make it all cohesive. But we wrote more than what we released. We wrote a few more songs, and we took a few “side trails” on certain things, and I think that that helped to keep it fresh. 

Okay, interesting. So I imagine you guys are kind of eager to get back on the road once it’s safe to do so. But what are you most looking forward to with getting back to touring in support of Divide

John: Touring, even with social media, and playing shows is really the best feedback in terms of what their responses to it, and you get to interact with people. And Felix does a great job on social media. And I’m slowly getting there myself, but that is I think that’s the most direct feedback. So that’s the part I like and feel.

Felix: For the whole touring thing, this is also a big debate that we have from time to time about when is the right time, especially in this current climate? And if we really come to like you said, when it’s safe, and when people are willing to go out now that venues are opening back up, it is good. But I don’t know if for us personally, we felt that that time is just yet. So, hopefully, we get a little traction on his record, and things start to get a little bit better.

Yeah, and I’m just thinking of opportunities for new artists, sometimes they will prefer the support billings, since they’re kind of a niche area of touring that can really expand your fanbase in a hurry. Especially if it’s the right fit for your guys’ direction, sound, and everything like that. So it’s interesting to hear that because obviously I pay close attention to what’s going around this area, such as the 9:30 Club. And it seems like they’re going to try to re-open in September, so I was just curious about your guys’ feedback on that stuff, so thanks for providing that. As I understand, your band is from DC, which is very close to where I live and grew up. What are some of the things you most love about this area in the music scene in particular?

Felix: This might be a little bit of a harder one for me to answer because being right between Baltimore and DC, I’ll tend to go more towards the Baltimore side. But DC is a very interesting area. We haven’t really played too many shows in DC, but it is very eclectic. I think you have a lot of different genres, which is kind of neat because you can go a couple blocks, and you’re listening to rock, you go a couple more blocks and you’re listening to reggae/gogo, or whatever else is being played. So it’s very interesting in that regard. I think it could be a little harder for genres like rock in DC, because I think it definitely branched out more into world music and other things. With cities like Baltimore, I think it has a little bit of a bigger rock scene. So that’s one thing I’ve noticed. But the nice thing about DC though, is it’s the nation’s capital, so we get a lot of tourists, and there’s a lot of influences to be gained. There’s a lot of great musicians in DC. Those are things that I think are very positive about the area. 

And John, have you visited any of the local venues, or gone to local concerts?

John: Yeah, definitely been to some of the big places like 9:30 Club back in the day, and Black Cat and Constitution Hall. But yeah, I moved here about five years ago and I’ve been working remotely since 2016. So I haven’t gotten out too much, but I definitely feel like this is kind of more like how Felix is, since we know he works with a lot of local bands, so he’s definitely involved in the scene.

Cool, so can you guys describe how the music video for your first single “Nothing Lasts Forever,” came together and who directed it?

John: Sure, yeah! It was directed by Adio Ash, who is a fantastic director and we actually found him via Craigslist. We’d had a few different leads and a few different directors that we wanted to work with, and it just wasn’t coming together. And that’s a whole ‘nother world, too. I mean Felix, and I feel very comfortable writing and recording and producing music. But video, especially during a pandemic, you’re talking about getting assets like venues, locations, and extras, and it was really challenging. And Adio Ash did an amazing job of somehow pulling it all together. And he’s out in New Jersey, so he’s a few hours away from us. And we knew we wanted it to be cinematic, and we knew we wanted to have five videos in total <for this album cycle>. And we want them all to be the same storyline kind of progressing. And so that was kind of the theme that we got.

And just from watching the video, some of the impressions I’ve gotten is that it is very cinematic, it fits the tone of the song well, and just from a music writer’s perspective, it works really well. So, my hat goes off to you guys. 

John/Felix: Thanks so much!

So one of the last questions I have for you is that the song “Fiction” reminds me of the charming brilliance of pop-rock bands like the Goo Goo Dolls, the indie rock of Snow Patrol and The Fray. Where do you think The Slang fits best among these pop rock “royalty acts.”

Felix: Yeah, I think we saw this question before the interview both of us said, “Oh, man!” Well, being compared to those bands, that is definitely an honor. I think both of us grew up listening to a lot of those bands and they obviously have great songs. And we definitely have gotten a few comparisons to some of them from time to time. It’s tough to know where we stand with a band like that, because times are drastically different from the early 2000’s, and just how music is regarded. But yeah, there are definitely influences from bands like that. In that song “Fiction,” it’s kind of funny, because when I listened back to the song, it kind of sounds like one of those songs that might be the first dance at a wedding or something, just because of how it has the slick pop feel. But on the lyrical side, no, honestly it’s more of a negative tone. You probably shouldn’t play that for your wedding. <Laughter> But that’s kind of what it reminds me of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris,” among those other ones. You can feel that acoustic guitar kind of leading the song.

And are there any core influences that you guys brought into this record? What were you guys listening to or did what you were listening to expand any ideas of creativity for other elements found on this record?

John: Yeah, I think there’s definitely a fair amount. It’s kind of funny because we kind of brought in a lot of influence from like, 80s bands and things and, and John can even kind of go more into that. But we have one track on the album called “Speed of Sound,” which is very different from the rest <of the material>. And the funny thing is with this band, if we listen to a song on the radio, or on Spotify and it’s an 80’s song, we kind of think, “Oh, we’d like to do that.” And then we don’t necessarily know that it was five people that wrote it, they worked with a top notch producer for seven months, they had session players, and we don’t understand it necessarily. It’s probably willfully ignorant. And ignorance is bliss, because we don’t realize the odds of recreating and hitting that level of production and songwriting. But “Speed of Sound” definitely was one where…I heard a story where Bruce Springsteen was recording Born in the USA, the album, and he actually thought he had the album done. But he brought it into the A&R, and the record label and they said, “We don’t hear a single.” Now in hindsight, there ended up being like five singles off that album, so he got pretty pissed. And he goes home, and says, “Well, I’m just gonna write the poppiest song in the world now.” And he wrote “Dancing in the Dark,” so I thought, well why don’t we just take that approach and let’s just write something as poppy as we can possibly write. And that was kind of the premise going into that song, which is probably the reason why it sounds so different.

It’s interesting, because usually when you get like these biopic movies, they always have that one scene, like with the Elton John biopic, and also the one with Queen where they go to either the label or A&R guy, and the label says they don’t hear a single. And you’ve got to understand, as an artist, the business side and also the creativity side, and how they can kind of mesh together. So luckily for your band, there’s plenty of great material on this record. I wish you guys nothing but the best, and if there’s anything else you want to share with your fanbase or the Chorus fans that are going to be reading this. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

John: Well, I know for me, I just want to thank you for your time, Adam and everything you’ve been doing for music. And I know you’re somewhat local, so it’s good to meet you, and thanks for everything you do to get people’s music heard. 

Yeah, definitely. My pleasure!

Felix: And yeah, we’re excited! I mean, hopefully when shows start back up, we’d love to invite you out to show in person.

Yeah, that’d be cool! Besides being stuck behind this eight by ten <computer screen> as they call it. It was so nice to meet you guys, and again I wish you guys nothing but the best.

John: Thanks again, Adam!