Slow Down Tallahassee
Slow Down Tallahassee are Nicola Coleman (vocals, harp, keyboards, bass), Claire Hill (vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass) and Richard Butterworth (guitar). They had a fourth member when recording the first single and album, Rachel Hedley (vocals, bass), who has since left the band for career and motherhood. However, Rich is quick to acknowledge her contribution: “she plays on every track on the album and the album that we’re promoting is her album as well, even though she’s not in the band”. Their debut album The Beautiful Light is a record of great energy and variety, reflecting the band’s love of 50s twang, 60s pop and 80s indie. Like their blood-red vinyl single ‘So Much For Love’ – and the free “virtual vinyl” single ‘The Beautiful Light’ - the album was produced by Sheffield’s Alan Smyth (Arctic Monkeys, Long Blondes, Pulp, Richard Hawley, etc) at 2Fly Studios in Sheffield. The single and album are released on the talent-chocked Sheffield Phonographic Corporation label.
Claire also wants you to know that she’s also a member of other Sheffield bands Navvy and Bon Bon Club (the latter with Reenie and Screech from the Long Blondes). They’ve released an EP and single respectively, and both are highly recommended. We interviewed Slow Down Tallahassee at the end of May in Camden.
SXP: You’re officially a three piece but you recorded the album as a foursome, before Rachel left. She played bass - how does that work live?
Rich: We just swap it around dependent on the song.
Claire: Quite a few songs that Rachel played bass on, Nicola sang but didn’t play any instrument so it was quite easy for Nicola to take her bass lines or for me to do it.
Nicola: I don’t think it’s made much difference to the sound really, it was quite easy to adapt…not to undermine Rachel’s role!
SXP: Who writes the songs?
Rich: Me and Nicola write the lyrics. We just kick it into shape in the rehearsal room. We work hard because we’re so proud of the vocal melodies we want lyrics that are good enough for the melodies. We don’t sit down and try and write poetry and then try and fit a song around that.
Claire: Whenever they give me a song to hear, they normally just play a version on a guitar and record it on one of these [points to digital recorder] and give me the CD and I’m like: fucking hell that’s brilliant! Well, sometimes it’s: meh! Maybe you should put it to the back of the queue! *laughs uproariously*
SXP: There’s a vivid contrast between incredible melodies and earthy, direct swearing! Is that intentional?
Claire: It connects with people who are listening – people do get fucked off! “I’m sick and tired of fucking hiding” [from ‘The Beautiful Light’] is what people say. We had to do a radio edit through. We released ‘The Beautiful Light’ as a single and were wondering: why isn’t anyone playing it? We realised we’d never heard a song with the f-word on Radio 1 so we had to send out the song again with the f-word magically disappeared!
Nicola: I like to think we swear for style rather than for the hell of it!
SXP: Was ‘A Little Hex For You’ written with anyone in mind?
Rich: Any number of people. I think it’s one of those songs that can be for anyone. You can take it as whoever you want it to happen to.
Claire: I think you were just fucked off when you wrote it basically. *laughs* That was a song written when we were in our previous band so it would have been written about 8 or 9 years ago. So the anger has passed but the song’s remained!
SXP: ‘Electric Sun’ is very different from the other songs.
Rich: Sometimes songs are happy accidents. The chord progression had existed for such a long time and when we were in a previous band we had different melodies for that song and it didn’t really work. And one day the melody for ‘Electric Sun’ suddenly came and it fitted.
Nicola: I like that people are surprised by that. Because they’re on Myspace immediately, a lot of bands get written off straightaway - pigeonholed - so it’s nice to have songs that are different to what came before.
SXP: And then you’ve got ‘Limbs’ which is an incredibly delicate song.
Nicola: I wrote that when I was pregnant. It’s partly a song about pregnancy but I think of it as a song about death as well. It’s quite an abstract lyric. I was in a bit of a funny place when I wrote the lyrics for that.
Rich: I like the “blood and blood and fingernails” on there. It’s so pretty and delicate and then it says things like that.
Nicola: That’s how I felt a lot of the time when I was pregnant – terrified!
SXP: I notice that you bridle a bit when people mention girl groups. That reference might have been easier when there were three girls in the band but there is, admittedly, some girl group pop as well as some fuzzy indie in your songs.
Nicola: When we’re writing songs I don’t think we ever consciously say we want to write a song that sounds like Blondie or the Shangri Las or whoever. I always just tell people at work that we’re a pop band and leave it at that.
Rich: That Everett True reviewed us, he mentioned Elvis Costello. I don’t really get that!
Claire: With the sound so varied, I think everyone latches onto a certain set of the songs that they listen to and that’s the reference that they take away from it. I think that’s quite cool in a way. Because there’s a majority of girls in the band, we shouldn’t be dismissed as being a pop band. I think we’ve got balls as well – although we haven’t got balls! I think we’re a rock band in that sense.
SXP: Looking at your influences on MySpace – from Britney Spears and Madonna to Leonard Cohen. How is that reflected in your songs?
Claire: ‘The Beautiful Light’ was written with Britney Spears in mind, with that line “I’m going to go and cut off all my hair”!
Nicola: We tend to take our influences mainly from films and books and where we live rather than from other bands. I don’t really listen to many other bands!
SXP: So how does Sheffield affect the way you sound?
Claire: I don’t think there is a typical Sheffield band. It’s like all Sheffield bands are atypical. I think a lot of Sheffield bands sound good because they’ve all recorded in the same studio with Alan Smyth and he makes bands sound really good. I think there’s a quality coming out of Sheffield that other cities may not have because they haven’t got the resources there to record it at our affordable prices and get it produced by someone who’s produced Pulp and Arctic Monkeys and Long Blondes. Style-wise, it’s very eclectic.
Nicola: The small area that we’re in has influenced our songs. It’s kind of a bit of a rough area and there are prostitutes outside - a lot of our songs seem to be about prostitutes!
SXP: Or “beautiful prostitutes” to quote one of your lyrics!
Rich: If you’re living there and it’s not beautiful and you see them staggering up and down the street with open wounds bleeding down their legs, you could write about that and that would depress you. So you’ve got to make it romantic and like a movie: a Last Exit to Brooklyn kind of thing.
Nicola: I like to think of the whole album almost as a soundtrack to a film about the rise and fall of a notorious street gang, a tough girl gang with real emotions.
SXP: There is some connection with Sheffield bands, though; you’re all quite literate and cinematic. Do you have an art school background?
Claire: No - media studies degree maybe!
Rich: That may be because, although Sheffield is a really big city, it’s not like London where everyone walks in little cliques and doesn’t look at each other. There’s a community feel to Sheffield as a whole, even though it’s so expansive.
Nicola: And I think Sheffield attracts people. None of us grew up in Sheffield; we all came to go to uni and stayed. I think it’s an alternative place to go that’s not London.
SXP: You mentioned Alan Smyth. What was it like working with him as he’s produced all the Sheffield greats: Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, Long Blondes?
Rich: It’s hard to say because he was so quick. When we went, we were well rehearsed and the whole album was mixed and done in four days. We did three songs a day from 11am to 11pm, and we’d have a CD with the finished songs each day.
Claire: He has a lot of input. He’s got a really good ear…
Nicola: …And a good instinct…
Claire: On about two or three songs we’d stop and start again. Alan gave us the idea we could stop and start a bit more. He’s extremely honest, which is what people need in bands; the first time we recorded we thought we were shit hot, and he really loved the songs but he pointed out things we could improve on. Which is why the later songs that we recorded are a bit more adventurous.
Nicola: He just found the core of what we needed to do. He really brought that out - and a heavier aspect.
Rich: The first four days, we did three songs, which was the first single, and then however many months later, because we’d had the experience of the single, we were much more practiced to go into the studio. So we nailed it more the second time than the first three songs.
Claire: I think we just realised he didn’t need to have as much input on the rest of them. On the first record he had a lot more input.
SXP: What’s next for Slow Down Tallahassee: more singles from the album?
Nicola: We’re ready to move on. We’ve had these songs for so long now and we’ve played them live. We’re not the sort of band that’s going to tour an album to death.
Rich: We’ll probably take more gigs that are offered us this summer but after that we’ll go away again for a few months and get a collection of songs – we’ve got about 30 ready to go - and go and record them rather than try and jump on the conveyor belt of indie bands. We’ve already got full time jobs so we don’t want some fake career in being an indie pop band – at this stage!