The Slang recently released a new EP, Night and Day. Bobo and Newsome, members of The Slang, are as personable as they are talented. I had the serendipitous pleasure of escaping the heat for a conversation with them.
Libro Musica: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really liked your new album. What was your process for this one?
Bobo: We finished our previous EP and that was recorded in New York City and that was very much New York City. You go there and you’re in the middle of a huge city in the Lower East side of Manhattan. So we were thinking where to go from here. We did the big city thing, it worked well, but we wanted to do something different. I looked at Los Angeles, upstate New York – maybe a two weeks secluded location. Because of geography and other things we landed on Nashville. Then we hooked up with Russ Long.
Newsome: We definitely were getting to this point- I had known Russ’s prior work. He was it. Seemed like he cut his teeth on that Christian rock thing that was happening in Nashville in the 90s. Actually our original guitar player [Kris Kerr] was in one of those bands as well. Being a bass player, I really liked some of the sounds Russ had gotten out of the bass players. The drummer on this album is Miles McPherson, who is actually the drummer for Kelly Clarkson’s band, and Paramore drummer as well. Matt Slocum, who’s the guitar player, he did all the strings for us.
Bobo: The thing that Matt did – if I’m doing string arrangements for a demo or whatever, you can tell it’s lead guitar because everything’s in first, third, or fifth. He comes on and has this movement that is more complex and has some dissonance but still sounds good. Even people you would go out and pay to write an arrangement, a lot of them write it in terms of being a piano player and going up and down the scale. And Matt did a really good job.
LM: You guys have been really rocking it lately. What’s the best experience you’ve had so far?
Bobo: I think for me – and not taking anything away from New York it was a great experience – but I think that recording this EP in Nashville, that was something that ten years ago you couldn’t do that. Only after the collapse of the traditional music industry model can an unsigned artist like John and I reach out to a studio and get a call back. So the high point for me was recording this and working with this kind of talent.
Newsome: Yeah, me and John were neighbors for years. He comes with up songs and I write bass parts to the songs. We’re at this point 40-plus radio stations playing these tunes and working with world class musicians. Almost a humbling experience.
LM: That’s awesome that you’re having fun. If you guys could go anywhere and do anything as a band, what would that look like? What’s your vision?
Bobo: I know for me I’ve always wanted to play – we’ve done shows in Canada and the US – in North America – I’ve always wanted to play overseas and maybe do a show in London. I love music and read these articles about big stars who weren’t huge in Memphis but they went overseas and sold out. Also learning the culture and meeting the people, that would be something I haven’t done yet.
Newsome: I would back that up. Music really is an international language and you can go anywhere in the world and music translates well between the cultures. To have the opportunity to go outside the country would be great.
LM: Anywhere in particular?
Bobo: London or Sweden.
Newsome: It’d be really cool if we could go get Europe covered, Japan, Australia, maybe South Korea.
At this point, they shared with me a deal they have, wherein Newsome will eat whatever Bobo pays for. Long story short, these guys are charming and Nashville’s “Shut the Cluck Up” hot chicken can make a grown man cry… or at least sweat.
Bobo: The music doesn’t really reflect it, or the vocals I’d say, but we’re two huge goofballs.
Newsome: It reminds me a little of Paul Simon. He was really involved in the Saturday Night Live stuff of the 70s, Chevy Chase, big sense of humor, but it doesn’t really come through in the music… We have fun with it.
LM: What is the song “Miracle Sound” about?
Bobo: That’s an excellent question. That one, the guy that John mentioned, Kris Kerr, a very, very talented guy, and the only guy we’ve ever been in a band with co-writing working on each other’s songs, including lyrics. That was a song that we’d had when we were a four piece. He brought it in and the lyrics were written. He was a big stream of consciousness writer. So I don’t know. I think it’s just supposed to be left for interpretation. At the end of “Miracle Sound” you hear guitar sounds and we thought, we had to add in a “miracle sound”… so we did.
LM: What was the first album that you added to your personal music library?
Newsome: Mine was Big Country The Crossing, first album I ever bought. Actually my parents bought it for me. The first album I ever requested.
Bobo: The first album that I literally picked myself and chose it was Weird Al Yankovic, self-titled released in ’83. It had songs like “My Bologna”, “I Love Rocky Road”… The funny thing was I didn’t know it was a parody. That was kind of how I lived my life until I was probably 14 or 15.
Newsome: That does not surprise me.
LM: What was your most recent addition to your personal music library?
Newsome: I just downloaded it the other day, I haven’t listened to it yet. That first wave of shoegazer, a modern day My Bloody Valentine… Rogue Wave. They were recommended to me by a friend of mind. I haven’t listened to it yet.
Bobo: The last three albums kind of fit into this genre… Survive by Survive. Like a lot of people in the past month I really got into Stranger Things on Netflix. It’s a synth pop band out of Austin, Texas. They’ve got all these albums. I just love electronic music. Before that I got Tycho and I’ve been totally into it.
LM: What was your first live music experience?
Newsome: It was The Call opening. The Call was the opener and Simple Minds was the headliner. I actually had a piggy bank – it was an owl bank – of a lifetime of pennies and nickels to come together to get $10 to get to that concert. My parents dropped me off me and a couple buddies. I was like twelve maybe.
Bobo: First concert we paid for or the first one we went to?
LM: First live music experience, whether you paid for it, someone else paid for you to get in, or whatever else got you there.
Newsome: I need to revise my answer to Johnny Cash at the state fair. True Story.
Bobo: My first concert was the Monkees at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus, Ohio. They were playing the reruns of the TV show on Nick at Nite and my parents, they were awesome and supportive, and they saw the Monkees were coming through. It was everyone except the one with the hat – Mike Nesmith – I remember, like Micky threw a sombrero across the stage and Davy Jones caught it on his head. It was really amazing.
LM: If you could perform with any musician or artist, who would it be?
Newsome: I’ll say this, just because I don’t know if I could perform, but superfandom would be U2. You know there’s going to be thousands of people there anyway. To this day I can still hear their sound.
Bobo: I think the thing with U2 that people don’t give them credit for – Madonna, she’s reinventing herself all the time, she’ll change her looks. U2, I don’t think they get enough credit for what they do with their guitars. They do a great delay thing with their guitars. I’d like to share the stage with – playing in Nashville was kind of a dream come true – but for me, probably, I’d have to pick somebody like Saint Vincent’s Annie Clark. I’ve always wanted to share the stage with a female vocalist. She’s very artistic and kind of out there and almost has that crazy art type of a take on music that I don’t know if I have, but I’d love to spend some time around someone like that.
LM: What artist do you wish more people had in their music library?
Newsome: I go back to my original answer on the Big Country. Personally I kind of cut my teeth on The Replacements and Psychedelic Furs, those type bands. A lot of people know who they are as the college rock type sound progresses being able to realize a lot of the artists that made it possible for the sound to be more popular, more mainstream. Concrete Blonde – that’s another one – that’s helped shaped the sound of where we’ve come from.
Bobo: I’ll probably go contemporary. I like Newsome’s answer. It’d be nice to see people go back a level. I’d probably pick a band like Dawes. I found out about Dawes in a magazine four or five years ago. The last two albums I’ve really liked. For me, they’re like that Tom Petty type of band where they’re a band. They go out, they play the shows, no backing track, no tricks, and they try to write real songs. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers they did that thirty-five, maybe forty years ago and they made a living doing it and bands like Dawes have a hard time.
I could have talked to these guys all afternoon. Maybe the next time they’re in Charlotte I’ll run in to them somewhere, Bobo enjoying himself immensely while Newsome consumes a culinary rarity. If you haven’t already, check out The Slang.