On third album ‘Acts of Fear and Love’, Kent duo Slaves are broadening their horizons, embracing their softer side and remaining as un-pigeonhole-able as ever.
“There are still a ton of people in the industry we’re trying to correct. Still tons. There’s been so many misunderstandings and I’ve literally watched the face of fully grown women and men change when they meet us,” shrugs Laurie Vincent. “There are just loads of people we haven’t met yet.”
Sat outside a Kings Cross cafe, heavily tattooed and decked out in dapper suits with - for the guitarist - an England shirt and the positive whiff of a man who still believes it’s coming home, Laurie and powerhouse singing drummer Isaac Holman cut a noticeable silhouette. On stage, they’re this but amped up by several notches – Isaac almost always topless and thrashing the skins to within an inch of their lives; Laurie stalking the stage and delivering big, meaty riffs. But when you actually meet them? Heck, Slaves are more like a pair of endearing, lovable labrador puppies than blokey bruisers.
That particular preconception is one that seems to stem implicitly from both the genre they operate in and the initial furore over their chosen moniker (it is, to clarify once more, about being in thrall to society and expectation rather than anything else). But it also contradicts everything that Slaves actually stand for: for a band whose first album mascots were a pair of fluffy white pooches on a hot pink background, it seems bizarre that people might pen them for oiks.
Now, however, the final nail in that coffin should be popped in with the release of third LP ‘Acts of Fear and Love’ - an album that sees the duo opening up both sonically and lyrically to a place that’s undeniably far broader than just bangers and jokes. “This album is our attempt to right everyone’s wrongs,” nods Laurie. “And I feel like [it has], I feel like we’ve shown what we can do. Because if [people] aren’t going to come to a live show because they’ve got the wrong idea, then we’re gonna have to do it in another way.”
Coming just under two years after 2016’s ‘Take Control’ (itself released a mere 18 months after major-label debut ‘Are You Satisfied?’), ‘Acts of Fear and Love’ may be keeping the duo’s steady momentum going, but the attitude heading into it couldn’t be more different. “I think in the future we’ll look back at [‘Take Control’] and think it was sick, but that album doesn’t feel like an album to us,” explains Isaac, slugging on an orange juice. “We just chucked everything we had on it and didn’t really think about it as a body of work, I guess. It was like a mixtape.” “What I’ve noticed,” picks up Laurie, “is that there’s a lot of bands who put their debuts out the same time as ours who are just putting their second records out now we’re putting out our third. But I feel like it was important [to work quickly] because we needed to hammer that out to get to this point.”
Having made their name with a bunch of early tracks that focused on the band’s playful, humorous side, alongside stretches of reputation-gathering live shows, the point that ‘Take Control’ seemingly needed to hammer out was to present Slaves as a straighter prospect. “At one point we felt like we were becoming a joke band,” explains Isaac. “We’re always gonna have that side to us but we did want to step away from it. We didn’t want to just become a gimmick.” “We were becoming really well known for [those] songs and as much as we were proud of that, we wanted to show a more serious side of ourselves. And I think ‘Take Control’ did that,” nods Laurie.
On entering phase three, however, the possibilities were wide open. Both members had gone through some fairly formative experiences in the interim years - Laurie had become a father (baby Bart is pictured on the album sleeve of the new record) - while Isaac had undergone major surgery to repair an ongoing shoulder problem. With perhaps an added hit of maturity, it saw them approach Slaves with a similar level of increased faith and conviction. “Before it was a bit like, oh we’re just kids who smash it out and that’s all people want,” explains Laurie. “Whereas now we’re more confident to be like, let’s do this new production and [let’s keep it] nine tracks and to the point.” “I think there’s a range of things on ‘Take Control’ that we didn’t sonically record well enough for people to hear,” he continues, “so it became really apparent that to get what we were looking for we were going to have to spend a lot more time thinking about how we recorded it.”
Inspiration for how this would take shape, however, came from an unlikely source. “You know another huge thing that can’t be overlooked is the death of David Bowie,” begins Laurie, without warning. Er… huh? “Him dying and [all the] documentaries that came about, I always knew that David Bowie reinvented himself, but when you realise there were different bands, different producers, and you see the Nile Rodgers Bowie or the Tony Visconti Bowie, that’s when you see that he didn’t do it on his own. That’s what’s exciting about creating art - working with others and making a concoction that you couldn’t do on your own.” Previously, admits Isaac, the pair were “very precious and definitely didn’t let people in”. Prickly to any possible shifting of their yin-yang dynamic - “as soon as anyone suggested an idea we’d say no” - it’s only on this album that the duo let producer Jolyon Thomas actually, well, properly produce them.
The change is noticeable. On ‘Acts of Fear and Love’, the harder songs hit harder (‘Bugs’, ‘Chokehold’) while there are softer moments (‘Daddy’, ‘Photo Opportunity’) that might raise a few eyebrows. The overall effect is a record that, though shorter, is audibly fuller and more ambitious in its breadth.
“I think playing those big arena shows [supporting Kasabian] had a big influence on our sound. You play these fast scrappy punk tunes in a big arena and it doesn’t really resonate. Playing those venues made us instinctively write bigger choruses maybe? Do you reckon?” asks Isaac to his bandmate. “That’s what Kings of Leon said when they did that ‘Sex on Fire’ album…” Laurie warns. “Oh no!” chortles Isaac, before pausing. “It’s true though, innit?”
It’s not just the sound of LP3 that finds Slaves veering away from their own self-imposed norms. Though there’s always been an element of social commentary to the likes of ‘Live Like An Animal’ or ‘Consume or Be Consumed’, the band have largely looked outwards to the world around them for inspiration. This time round, however, they’re touching on more vulnerable ground. Take ‘Chokehold’, for example. Ostensibly a break up song, but told from the spurned male viewpoint laid bare (“I felt rejected and disrespected / I thought I knew her, I stand corrected”), it’s an angle that’s not often found within the full throttle punk realm. “It felt time for us to write a song like ‘Chokehold’ and write it from the male perspective, because you know what? Men with our background and our music don’t do that,” says Laurie. “It didn’t feel like a cheap, easy song to write; it actually felt like quite a bold statement, in a weird way. Men need to be able to start opening up and talking. I still feel like that’s a thing that needs to be challenged.”
“Slaves is our therapy,” he continues. “I was talking to Lady Bird [the first band signed to Slaves’ label Girl Fight Records] last night and it was really interesting. So many people message us and say ‘your band got me through a hard time’, and [Lady Bird drummer] Joe was saying that when he got a message like that for the first time, he replied saying, ‘Yeah me too. This band’s got me through everything’. That made me realise, that’s what this band is for us. Both of us have got those dark thoughts as well, and this band is helping us. The core of it is that being in this band is helping me and Isaac be happy people.”
Alongside fellow cover stars IDLES, pals Lady Bird and a number of other noisy bands preaching openness and sensitivity, it’s this kind of chat that puts Slaves in the centre of a group of punk bands practising a different kind of attitude. “Nobody wants the lad crowd, but those lads are probably some of the most fucked-up cases that need some help,” explains Laurie. “I think let’s get all the lads in and help each other out.”
It’s about creating an atmosphere of positivity and inclusiveness around all that they do, too. Midway through their set at a recent headline show in Hull, a girl called out someone for being sexually inappropriate in the crowd. With the band immediately stopping the performance and alerting security, the offender was caught by the end of the gig. “It was the first time that a girl’s called it out as it’s been happening. And we’ve always kept an eye on it, but that must show that something’s happening and bands are creating a positive atmosphere where women are learning that we will help them,” enthuses Laurie. “Just people in general,” nods Isaac. “If you’re in distress in the crowd, I think it’s wicked if people think they can just talk to the band.”
From the grand title of the record - named after a quote nabbed from one of Isaac’s old teachers (“There’s no such thing as hate, just acts of fear and love”) - to the more vulnerable tracks within it, to the warm, brotherly way that Isaac and Laurie conduct themselves in general, Slaves have proven time and time again that they’re far, far removed from whatever first impressions people may have lumped on them right back at the start. Instead, they’re entering album three with an increasing gaggle of peers ready and able to break down any stereotypes and create a space that’s safe, inclusive and full of nothing but good vibes.
“I feel like I’ve grown up a bit since the last album where I can say I don’t agree with your views, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to our music because music is for everyone. There’s so much vitriol and bile spewing around the world at the moment and it’s causing so many fractions whereas really, you were always taught growing up, to agree to disagree. That’s what the album’s about, love,” nods Laurie.
“There’s not a name for it yet, but growing up you had grunge, or punk or two-tone. And I feel like if anyone else [similar to us] comes along people will be like, oh they’re like Slaves. We take a lot of different ideas and we’ve not rewritten the rulebook but we’ve walked our own path, which has been hard but it’s been fun. I feel like we’re the first of something.”
‘Acts of Fear and Love’ is out 17th August via Virgin EMI.