The Sly Persuaders released their debut record, Sly Persuaders in 2017 and then almost immediately fell off the radar. With killer riffs, chant-able hooks and ear-worm melodies, they’re your favourite band you forgot you’ve heard of. And today they’re back with an even more powerful second album, two years in the making. So, what happened to a band seemingly on the rise?
I’ve met all of the Slys before in varying degrees of professionalism. Each of them are deeply entrenched in the North London rock scene, with vocalist and guitarist Chris making up one third of the Roadkill Records core team, so our paths have invariably crossed. But this was the first time I had ever had sat with them, all together and (relatively) sober, at the mercy of my dictaphone.
RAW MEAT: Chris, you produced, mixed and mastered the album yourself... why?
Chris (guitar/ vox): Because I am a masochist. And a control-freak. But also it’s a cheap way to do it, I know can do it, and also, y’know, why not?
Alex (drums): Not only that. You’re very good at it. You’re excellent at it. We’re lucky to have you in that role. [To me] He’s brilliant. It’s like having our own Dr Dre.
C: You flatter me! Also it’s something that I wanted to do. The amount of time you’re in bands and you do stuff that isn’t 100% what you want... we just wanted to do one album where everything is written and done exactly how we want it.
We recorded it at Music Complex in New Cross where we rehearse. Chris Mansell is the engineer there and we’ve worked with him a lot over the years. We used equipment there that we could never afford to buy and used his skills to record it, then mixed it at home.
I mean obviously there are always compromises. We set a deadline that we wanted to stick to so… there were a lot of late nights. And I may have inadvertently spent a fair bit on plug ins...
Danny (bass): But we did get away with a lot of free month-long trials of expensive plugs ins. It meant we definitely hit the album deadline, because we couldn’t afford the software so we had to finish it before all the trials ran out.
C: It was definitely worth it. I’m happy with the sound, well... I’m never happy with the sound. It’ll take me six months before I’ll be able to listen to it. But, theoretically I’m happy.
Lee (synth, guitar): I’ve tried to listen to it objectively, y’know while walking around and that, and I know I’m in the band and I wrote some of it, but I like it! I think it’s a decent album.
C: We are proud of it yeah. Don’t get me wrong.
And you should be!
You guys make a vintage-influenced rock n roll sound. How do you approach looking backwards musically while still writing stuff that feels fresh, new and relevant?
C: I think that’s just a big part of all of our influences. Over the last two years we smashed out five or six tracks fairly quickly and then spent a lot of time going back over it and trying to come up with new stuff that was a bit different. We really took apart and dissected what we were doing and found a much clearer idea of what sort of sound we make. Because the first record had been written over a pretty long period of time.
That’s first albums though. You’ve got your entire career as a band up until that point to draw upon - it’s the second album that you’ve truly got to go back to the drawing board.
C: Yeah and we really had to find out just exactly what worked. We tried out everything. We wrote funk songs…
A: We tried things out at gigs to see what worked, what didn’t, and what evolved into something else. We had two minute songs that turned into sprawling 8-minute-half-mini-albums.
C: We made a conscious effort to really develop the sound to try and give it its own thing rather than relying on wearing its influences on its sleeve.
The whole record has a real sense of you all very much pushing yourselves. The sound, lyrically, vocally… Which results in a really amazing feeling of straining to your utmost.
D: And that works with the themes of the songs as well. Because it is definitely a more personal, darker album in comparison to the first one.
Yeah, I spotted a few different themes on the record. The tabloids/ news, growing up, the political climate, dissatisfaction… was that intentional?
C: I shied away from doing anything political or socio-political previously, apart from possibly ‘Gun To The Head’, which was about the burden of debt. My misgivings were that political records generally date very badly. So, the first political song I wrote for the record was ‘Control’, which starts, “Oh no another politics song / sounds dated once the news moves on”. It’s not exactly subtle, but maybe it’s nuanced? We live in a very divided society, not just politically, but in many respects, and it was important to me that regardless of one’s political persuasion you could understand where we were coming from. I wasn’t just going to be preaching to the converted.
What about ‘Essential’?
C: Well that was the last one we wrote and by that point I’d given up on being nuanced.
D: What Chris has written in the lyrics with this one capture an anger about the political scene which I don’t think will ever change. The sentiment and the themes are constant.
C: ‘Control’ is essentially a song about feeling bombarded with political news and the inability to engage with it all constantly, and the need to pull back from it a little, but the knowledge in the back of your mind that you need to stay aware of it. Every day the front page is the f*cking same. Lock your doors, stay scared, they’re coming for you, they’ll burgle you, rape you, murder you...
You can’t keep people at terror-level-ten and not expect them to crack eventually.
C: Exactly. And it’s double sided; do you believe what the write in the papers; and can you believe it? because it’s all so crazy. ‘Fall Out’ the last track on the album is about ‘the age of the deal’, it’s not really pro or anti Brexit, it’s just about the fact that it’s a sh*t show either way you look at it. And it’s supposed to unite us in some bizarre way?
L: Just to be clear, we don’t want anyone thinking we’re pro-Brexit in any way.
C: It’s an utter disaster really. Treating politics like some f*cking business deal that you negotiate.
Do you all have quite different influences?
C: We’ve all got quite broad influences. I’m a massive Northern Soul freak and love disco.
D: Influences coming from everywhere, it’s very subtle and hard to break it down. I play a bass line and it’s not a deliberate thought, “this is going to sound Northern Soul” but it can still come out that way.
C: There are at least two Northern Soul rip off tracks, the start of ‘Threads’ is my interpretation of the intro to ‘Future Proof’ by Massive Attack.
L: There’s a handful of things that we all agree on.
C: Although we disagree on what they are.
L: Bowie, Stranglers, The Beatles, Iggy Pop. For me, I just love harsh noise. I’m not a very good musician, so I just make as much noise as I can.
A: He says this, he’s one of my favourite musicians. Musicians go to college to learn the skills that you have.
C: Annoyingly Lee plays everything right first time in the studio.
L: … I just like noise.
D: There isn’t an influence or a direction of sound that we won’t explore. Although we’re grounded by who we are and what we play, our influences build up and up as we go on and we just hope we can draw on those to create our own sound. It’s not about limiting what you’re doing, it’s about adding to it.
So you released the first album, you did some amazing gigs, and then there was this big break. What happened?
C: There were a couple of things…
L: I had a stroke. But I was only out of action for about three months! It was literally just after we released the first album.
C: And we’d finished that album quite a while before it was released, so it’s been just over two years, but to us feels closer to three. We actually opened the last album’s launch party with ‘Control’.
Was there ever any panic?
D: There was, but it wasn’t for very long. When Lee first came out of hospital he had problems with walking… but it didn’t last very long.
C: We got a chair for him. In the rehearsal space. Got him back in rehearsal as quickly as possible.
L: It was the nicest thing! I didn’t use it though. It was just a minor stroke.
A: In a way it gave us more time to write the newer stuff.
C: Immediately after the first record, as soon as it was released I was chomping at the bit to get on with the second one. Although we love the first one, we wanted to just keep going.
D: And no-one was more enthused about getting back out there than Lee. And although there was a time when we were worried he wouldn’t be able to come back and play with us… it was only for a couple of weeks.
L: Did you audition other people? [Laughter] ...I use low salt ketchup now.
And now you’re back to full momentum. So in any way, back from the break, does this feel like a come back album?
D: We’re a band that doesn’t do as many gigs as we’d like to, just because of working. So we use the albums as big pushes, things to work towards, to give you energy, to get videos made... All the stuff that makes you a band.
C: And we’re all big believers in the album as an artistic statement. We’ve been working on the album for a long time, and I’ve been tracklisting it since we’ve had one track. As mad as that seams.
L: Right, we’ve got track three, just need one and two now… then the other ten.
C: I was already working out lengths of the album, and how long each song would be to fit on the two sides of a record… Which, I suppose seams like, um…
C: Impossibly nerdy. But then, in fairness, we are all pretty nerdy.
Does Saboteurs feel dramatically different to the previous record?
C: It does for me. It feels a lot clearer. I always wanted to have an open book on the band in terms of style, y’know? We could always do… anything. And after the first record it felt a little constrained. This faux-retro, nouveau-retro, pre-post garage whatever...
A: People always called us a rockabilly band? I still don’t get why.
C: It’s my haircut, darling.
L: Even though the first album was collaborative, we all joined the band at different times (more or less), so there were certain songs that Chris and Danny had done, and then bits of me and Alex… whereas this felt even more collaborative because we were all starting completely from nothing, together.
C: This band was a conscious decision to be in a band with friends. It just so happens that my friends are the best bloody musicians around.
Could each of you pick a favourite track off the new record?
D: I’d say ‘Saboteurs'. It stands out, and it’s one where we’re pushing ourselves. And it creates an atmosphere that we haven’t really had before. It’s an example of how we’re trying to put a little more thought into this album.
C: Having mixed the record I’ve listened to all of the tracks… a lot. I’m still getting over it a bit. ‘Fall Out’ was one of the last we wrote and recorded, so it’s still fairly fresh to me. And also, I get to do the whole Fleetwood Mac, ‘The Chain’ Les Paul guitar sound. Getting to crank that up, and do the whole distortion just by using the volume control on the Vox AC15… For a massive guitar nerd, that was extremely satisfying.
L: We did the keys over at Chris’ actually. We had Robocop on in the background with the sound down.
A: It was ‘Control’, just because I like the whole feel of it. It was just perfect rock n roll, straight ahead, political. But if you had to pin my down to one song, probably ‘Fall Out’ as well. I like the fact that it’s the last song, and although it’s a long song, it doesn’t feel like it because there are a lot of different elements to it. I like the keys, the drums change as it develops, and it’s got my favourite bit in the whole record. It sort of climaxes, and we all go, “Are we all together now” and, y’know, we’re all here, we’re all in this thing together. It’s us, the listener, whoever can be bothered.
It definitely contributes to that feeling of all of you pushing yourselves.
C: It was written as a question, after everything that’s happened over the past two years, are we any more together now as a nation or planet, or are we more divided? And it’s intended to be a kind of passive rallying cry, “Are we all together now? Well we f*cking should be.”
L: Well, when you asked the question, I was immediately going to say ‘Johnny’. It’s the most fun to play, and it’s the track I was most proud of, it’s fun… But then, ‘Never Know’ is the closest to the music that I actually listen to. And weirdly, it’s a song Chris brought in pretty much entirely written.
C: ‘Johnny’ is very personal… but it’s basically about people who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. When it comes down to standing by the people they love… when it actually comes to the crunch they’re just... gone. Whereas ‘Never Know’ is just a bit of an emo one.
D: I think the only one that we haven’t really spoken about that I wanted to highlight is ‘Another Attack’.
L: Haha, I love that.
D: It’s quite a straight ahead song, it’s probably one of the darkest on the album, one of the hardest in terms of themes.
L: Really? I thought it was a happy song! [Alex, Danny and Lee go on to argue about whether or not Lee has ever listened to the song. Chris and I continue.]
C: It was quite difficult for me to write. It’s about knife crime in South London. I moved down here when I was 19, so I never felt like the person to write about it, but then I kept seeing stuff and it kept feeling like it was being overlooked… not that my writing a song about it will make any difference…
But if you don’t, then you’re an artist who isn’t using their platform for what they want to talk about.
C: It’s just something you see every day. And it’s not even directly happening to me. I’m not a young kid, feeling desperate.
D: I applaud Chris for his lyrics on this. You accept what’s going on, you understand it, and then you question why the f*ck is this happening?
C: Growing up in Grimsby, I guess I did have a little commonality with the experience of being resigned to a life of low level jobs and being considered a criminal before you’re born. When you’re working class and grow up on a council estate, you’re considered beneath everyone immediately.
We've talked about the record. Now talk to me about what it's printed on! It’s eco-vinyl, is that right?
C: Josh Cooper at Roadkill Records was very keen on coloured vinyl, and as the ... shall I say operations chap at Roadkill, I looked into it and I found that Breed Media who we've used for a lot of our other releases, they do something called eco-vinyl, which is basically using the leftover plastic pellets - so they're all random colours and swirly stuff - and they do it for the same price as black vinyl. So it's reducing plastic waste for starters.
D: And as an aesthetic choice it worked well with the album artwork which Katie Hearne did for us.
C: And each record is different. You can't choose which colour. You'll get what you're given and like it.
Ok, so, something that we always do is past, present and future...
L: Band from the past? The Fall. One of my absolute favourite bands of all time. Present, Ayse Hassan. We know her as Nixxie, but she’s great. Future, I’m quite excited about a band from Birmingham called Modern Literature. Possibly Japanese Television as well.
D: Past… Uncle I would say. Present probably Mets for me. They’re one we all agree on as a band. Future, f*cking Arxx. They’re amazing. Really, really cool. Well written songs, and the performance is great.
A: Public Enemy. Current? I’ve got no idea. I’m listening to a lot of hip hop, but also a lot of electronic stuff, like Craftwerk. Actually there’s a group called Muscle, I think they’re just a couple of people but it’s brilliant. It sounds like something from the past. The future would be a friend of ours’ group Swedish Death Candy. Oh and Two Tribes, they’re f*cking great. I love that synth thing, reminds me of Wendy and Lisa from Prince’s classic line up.
C: Ok. Past. Oh god it’s all so complicated. Uh… There’s a track by The Originals called ‘Suspicion’. Presently I’ve been listening to Mission of Burma’s albums, I’ve been finally catching up. Future… I mean I’ve been locked away looking at waveforms for two years, but I enjoyed The Cosmics the other day. Oh and it’s not a new band but I’m going to see Chromatics in a couple of months and they’re great. And on that bombshell…
I wasn’t surprised by the result. Talking over each other, (often battling to be heard over frontman, producer, mixer, masterer, (charmingly nerdy control-freak?) Chris). They are a band of close friends, fully grown, hugely in awe of each other as musicians and comfortable in their own skin. They have considered opinions, a realistic outlook, and a confidence of conviction that comes across on what promises to be an impactful and lasting record.
Saboteurs is out today (28.06.19) on Roadkill Records.
All images are by the wonderful Chris Patmore.
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