The covid pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns brought about enforced periods of isolation for many of us, resulting in months upon months of stagnation, self reflection and, for many, loneliness. For better or worse, those of us that have made it through to the otherside have been changed by the experience forever, the pausing of life as we knew it enabling us to examine in greater detail who we are and what we truly value. For many of the artists we love, the lockdowns provided free creative time, as tours were cancelled and venues across the world closed their doors. Belgium-based shoegazers Slow Crush were about to embark on another heavy tour and festival schedule themselves when the coronavirus stopped them, and the world, in its tracks. Having already begun the writing process for album number two, this enforced ‘time off’ ended up being a blessing in disguise, as the disappointment of having to cancel live performances provided the band with the time they needed to focus on their next album. Hush is out now, but ahead of its release, Astral Noize spoke with the band’s vocalist/bassist Isa Holliday via Zoom to talk more about the writing process, the recent personnel changes in their line-up and committing their powerful new album to muscle memory.
“What’s funny is, the first interview you did with me, you were sitting in this exact spot,” Holliday says smiling, en route from Switzerland to France as we speak, sitting in the passenger seat of the van the band use for touring. Indeed, it was May 2019, as Slow Crush were touring the UK in support of their debut album Aurora that Astral Noize first spoke to them. Since that time, the band have continued to gain a greater following, garnering wide critical praise, touring with a diverse range of artists around the world and, most recently, signing to Church Road Records in preparation for the release of their gorgeously gloomy sophomore record Hush. There are also two new permanent members in the band now, with Jeroen Jullet on second guitar and Frederik Meeuwis behind the drum kit, completing the existing core of Holliday and guitarist Jelle Harde Ronsmans. “With the whole corona thing, we kind of ended up with a line-up change because of availability,” explains Halliday. “So now we’ve got people who live close to us, which makes it easier to practice, easier to play shows. And Freddie, who’s on drums, he’s filled in a couple of times before, so it just made sense to take him on full time. And on second guitar, Jerry, well, we’ve been playing in bands with him since forever so…”.
Listening to the new record and the way Holliday speaks, it sounds as if Slow Crush have found a permanent line-up that works – a vital step in their continued evolution. “Yeah, it makes sense and it feels natural,” she says with a smile. “ We can’t say we’re never going to have fill-ins ever again. We’re adults you know, some people have to go to work occasionally, but yeah the plan is to have this line up-now. It would only ever be sporadically that we may have to change.”
This sense of cohesion, togetherness and maturity bleeds out from every aspect of Hush. Maintaining all the hallmarks of the band’s sound – the huge guitars, the bittersweet melodies – everything from Aurora is present on Hush, but this time in greater abundance and clarity. Much of this seems to stem from the album’s composition. “Most of the songs were written before the pandemic,” Holliday explains. “But it’s like building a house, nothing’s ever really finalised until you’ve gone through it so many times that it becomes muscle memory.” The band members also seem to be in different places both in their personal and professional lives, and this too has clearly impacted the new album. “It’s the evolution of the band really,” she adds. “Since we wrote Aurora, a lot has happened to us personally. We’ve experienced a lot as a band, so I feel we’ve learnt a tremendous amount, about life in general *laughs*, about touring and about sounds too. That evolution, I feel, is very present in Hush.”
Indeed it is; the punkier leanings the band had on their EP Ease and to a lesser extent on Aurora have (the urgent ‘Swoon’ aside) all but disappeared. There’s still a youthfulness and energy to their sound, but not juvenility, Hush is the sound of adults making considered choices in their music, finding their feet, resulting in a far more nuanced and perhaps introspective album. “I think that is the case, yeah,” agrees Holliday. “I think the mood of the last two years made for natural growth as well. It feels fitting to have that kind of tension and intensity with everything that everyone has been through in the past two years. There’s a great sense of solitude in the record, which obviously is something we’ve all been through, that longing to be with someone, or just around people in general, I think in the last year a lot of people have been confronted with that.”
This darker mood that prevailed over everyone since the start of the pandemic has bled through into the album’s lyrics too. “I think there’s darker themes than on Aurora, the mood of being alone or feeling a little helpless,” Holliday says thoughtfully. “But I think the main lyrical focus of Slow Crush is also trying to have some theme of hope. It’s all about finding a balance for us, like without the darkness you don’t have the light, and the other way round. Sound-wise, it’s the same thing, the yin and yang thing is there both in our music and lyrics; I think that’s the Slow Crush sound.”
While the lyrical themes of Hush veer toward the more intimate and personal, the sound the band have created on this record is their most expansive yet. Layers of guitars are thoughtfully built upon one another and Holliday’s driving basslines sound a little more prominent in the mix this time around, lending the album its grandiose feel. Holliday credits much of this to the studio they ended up in to record the album. “We had to record in a completely different studio than the one we had planned,” she reveals. “We ended up going to a local studio in Ghent, Belgium, which worked out really well and was probably something we wouldn’t have even considered had we not been stuck in Belgium because of the pandemic. The studio had a really large room where the drums were recorded, so we were able to use the acoustics that way. It also had this tall hallway, with a tall glass ceiling. We mic’d it all up and recorded there whilst also pushing the guitars through the hallway too. There’s lots of atmospheric sounds in there and I think that makes the record sound larger.”
There’s no denying Hush is a record that feels huge, but there are also many delicate, quieter interludes throughout too, each band member shining in their own right. “We’ve given a little more space between each instrument this time,” says Holliday. “Each instrument has a lot more space to breathe. So, maybe on first listen it can sound like a wall of sound, like Aurora, but I think with this album it’s a lot easier for the listener to pick up on different elements”.
Not a band shy of the road, Slow Crush are about to embark on a mammoth tour, including some UK dates this November in support of Loathe. “We’re very excited to play these songs live,” Holliday says, smiling at the prospect. “But also very nervous at the same time, I feel I have to concentrate way more this time. We haven’t had the chance to play many of these songs live yet. I think there was one show where we managed to play three new tracks. But it’s always daunting bringing out a new baby, and I get nervous with the first shows in any case. I hope they’ll go down well. I think everyone has been waiting for so long for shows to happen, I hope everyone is just as excited as we are.”
As the band begin to play Hush for their fans, behind the scenes, the band continue to work on new ideas. “We’ve got a couple demo tracks recorded and a few ideas in the early stages,” admits Holliday, “But I can’t really comment on where we’ll go post Hush. Lets see how everyone responds to Hush, and you never know that might help us choose the path forward. Whatever it will be, we’ll always be Slow Crush.”
Hush is out now on Church Road Records. Order now.
Words: Adam Pegg