Grungy, garage-y alternative rockers Slothrust have been playing the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection for about a decade now, from house shows to the mega-stage of The Fillmore, where they opened for Manchester Orchestra last October. Last September the Boston band released their fifth full-length, Parallel Timeline, and last month they released Parallel Timeline (Origins), which features demos, comments from the band, a live acoustic take on “Strange Astrology,” and a poetry reading. Slothrust are currently in the middle of a headlining tour and will be playing the First Unitarian Church this Friday, April 8th. I recently got a chance to catch up with Slothrust mainwoman Leah Wellbaum for the first time in half a decade to talk about their latest music and just what you can expect from them this Friday night at The Church.
Izzy Cihak: First off, since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, I have to ask your thoughts on the city. You’ve played here a ton of times, from upstairs at KFN and Johnny Brenda’s to huge rooms like Union Transfer and The Fillmore. Any favorite memories, whether onstage or just around town?
Leah Wellbaum: Philly is one of the first cities we started playing regularly outside of NYC, which is where we came up as a band. The majority of the first shows we did in Philly were in the basements of peoples’ houses. I loved growing up in the Boston DIY punk scene, so this type of experience was really fun for us at the time. That being said, the load ins were occasionally psychotic and we ran our own sound so I am delighted to be playing different rooms these days. We can’t wait to see what the First Unitarian Church is all about!
Izzy: So, I realize this is from a personal perspective, but the last time I talked to you was in early 2017, not long after the release of Everyone Else. What do you feel like are the biggest differences in the band that released Everyone Else and the band in your current state?
Leah: Oh gosh… a lot has changed for us since releasing Everyone Else. Sonically, on both The Pact and Parallel Timeline, we explored textures in a way we had not done on our previous records because there were only three of us and our goal was to capture a killer performance that we could recreate. Now we lean into the recording process as its own art form and it’s really fun and interesting to see what happens when you strip away the limitation of feeling like you need to recreate something precisely on stage. Also, there is technology to make that happen that we used to be turned off by, but now we embrace it. It’s fun to evolve and to explore all aspects of music. I try to go where my sonic intuition leads me. Billy Bush was the perfect producer for us on these past two albums to really lean into this.
Izzy: Last fall you released your fifth full-length, Parallel Timeline, and you just released the deluxe version. What have been some of the highlights of the band since the album dropped? You’ve already done a good amount of touring and seem to have gotten a lot of critical praise.
Leah: It was really fun sharing my demos with the world on Parallel Timeline (Origins). I had not intended to show them to anybody, I am not even sure I sent them to our record label initially. I used to have a solo project called SlothBox and I produced these demos in that same style… kind of a creepy Casio pop vibe. It was really cool to develop these and further arrange these songs for Slothrust, while also being reminded of where they came from. We are psyched to finally have the opportunity to do a headline tour on this album and play them in front of people! The energetic exchange between performer and audience has become part of my life force.
Izzy: I have to ask, is the album title meant to be a reference to Parallel Lines by Blondie?
Leah: Nope! But Blondie is awesome.
Izzy: How do you feel like Parallel Timeline compares to previous releases, both in terms of sound and the process of writing and recording it? I know most artists got to take their time with their latest releases more so than usual.
Leah: We definitely spent more time on this album than on any album prior. It was supposed to get made in March of 2020, and as you might have guessed, it got delayed. Will and I spent a lot of time with our producer Billy Bush at the Dangerbird Record’s studio in Los Angeles in August of 2020. Due to the lack of time restraint, we really got to lean into the process and didn’t rush anything. I spent a lot of time on the creative direction and visuals for this record as well because we had the luxury of time. It allowed me to think more expansively. It was really satisfying creating and developing the inverted rainbow realm. It was also so pleasing seeing my concepts and sketches executed by Ishaq Fahim, he is an amazing digital artist and his work on this really blew me away. He brought things to life beautifully. I would love to do creative direction for another artist someday.
Izzy: Do you currently have a favorite album track, whether one you’re most proud of, one that’s most fun to play live, or one that might signify the direction of your future sounds?
Leah: I enjoy playing a lot of the songs on this record for completely different reasons. Recently I have been enjoying playing “The Next Curse.” I can tell it is a cathartic song for our fans, and it pushes into some slightly new territory for us. It has our first vocal feature, which is by the one and only Lzzy Hale, and there is a spoken word section. I also love playing “A Giant Swallow.” This is a song I wrote toward the end of our recording process once we realized the album needed a little something else. It showed up for me at just the right moment and feels like a true summation of a lot of things I was pondering.
Izzy: Your interest in music seems to be fairly eclectic and diverse, so I’m curious, who are some of your favorite artists, whether all-time favorites or just people that you’ve been listening to a lot of recently?
Leah: You are correct, my taste is definitely eclectic. I go through phases where I only listen to really specific artists, and phases where I don’t listen to music at all. In terms of contemporary artists I have been listening to Dominic Fike. I find him really charming. I also am digging Remi Wolf a lot, she is super creative. I like music that surprises me. Historically I have always loved Chopin, Fiona Apple, John Fahey, and Regina Spektor. Growing up a listened to a lot of hip hop and punk rock. Quite the range! I could go on for a long time.
Izzy: Okay, so this is totally personal… I’m a college professor and I’ve been teaching a class about deception, and I’ve been compiling a playlist around that theme, so I’ve been asking artists if they have any suggestions. Do you have any favorite songs that relate to the theme of deception?
Leah: Oh wow what an interesting question! I love that. Self-deception is a really interesting concept to me. I explore this a lot on one of my favorite tracks from The Pact on a song called “Some Kind of Cowgirl.” My goal is always to write lyrics that function as poems on their own and a theme that I continue to explore ceaselessly is that space in which I end and you begin.
Izzy: I know you’re currently on the road. What can be expected of the live show this time around when you play First Unitarian Church, both in terms of setlist and just the general vibe of the evening?
Leah: Well, assuming all goes as planned we will be playing plenty of Parallel Timeline, and also a good handful of the old classics. It’s interesting having five full-length albums because we really do have to pick and choose what we want to serve that night! I call audibles plenty of the time though and it’s nice to have that flexibility. We also have a delightful giant moth puppet with us on tour called Bambi the Bombyx.
Izzy: And you’re going to be playing with Calva Louise. I really dig them. What do you think about them? Are they making good tour mates so far?
Leah: We absolutely love touring with Calva Louise. They are such a fun and creative band. I have never seen anyone else quite like them. They are lovely as people and really inventive artists. I hope we can tour with them more in the future.
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you? How are you hoping and planning to spend the remainder of 2022, after these dates wrap?
Leah: Our plan is to continue headlining both in America and beyond! It is obviously a very unpredictable time to be a touring musician, but I am choosing to stay optimistic. We are hoping to announce a bunch of international festivals and tour dates soon.
*Get your tickets here.