Atwood Mag chats with Sløtface about debut album ‘Try Not to Freak Out,’ taking down the “boys’ club” music industry, and why everyone should start a band.
Sløtface is a band that tends to create the kind of music you didn’t even know you needed to hear. And, after hearing it, it’s hard to believe you’d ever managed to live without it. Since 2014, the Norwegian foursome have drawn listeners in with their catchy hooks, relatable lyrics and especially-potent blend of punk rock and pop. From “Shave My Head” to “Empire Records,” the group has managed to release banger after banger with a few EPs here and there—and makes it each new release sound completely fresh.
And, despite the success of their previous releases, Sløtface’s debut album Try Not to Freak Out introduces eleven entirely new songs that possess all the same charm as the band’s earlier singles. Released on September 15 via Propeller Recordings, Try Not to Freak Out is a unique debut record in that it’s not simply a rehash of the band’s singles, but rather, an introduction to even more songs that give us even more of Sløtface at their best.
Try Not to Freak Out is a record that begs to be played aloud. Each song deserves to be blared, windows down, volume up to eleven. This is what the friendlier side of punk rock was always meant to sound like. And yet, Sløtface manages to keep their fresh energy and make every song on the record unique. The album is a burst of energy that scrutinizes its songs’ subjects and youthful take on the world as much as it celebrates it. Try Not to Freak Out succeeds in its approachability and its cleverness, never sacrificing one for the other. Sløtface’s lyrics play between witty, self-deprecating, positive, scrutinizing, and rage-filled, keeping us on edge for whatever treasure the next line will hold, and what slamming riff will drive home Shea’s point, whether she’s complaining about a lame night out or ranting against the systemic sexism of the music industry.
Listen: Try Not to Freak Out – Sløtface
Try Not to Freak Out – Sløtface
From the slamming opening riffs of lead banger “Magazine,” it’s clear that we can count on Sløtface to hold their own. Sløtface’s frontwoman Haley Shea wastes no time in ripping down the “it girl” image, taking a more iconoclastic, W.W.P.S.D.? (What Would Patti Smith Do?) approach to body image, making “Magazine” the perfect unconventional slammer to introduce us to the rest of the album and what Sløtface can do.
“Galaxies” and “Pitted” brings us further in to a world we can understand and relate to—whether it’s not being able to “stand this healthy stuff” (because honestly, who really likes kale that much? IT’S A TRAP.), dragging ourselves away from the couch for a night out where the music may or may not suck, dancing stupidly with our friends, and having fun by sitting around and complaining. These are stories almost every twenty-something who hates the phrase “twenty-something” is familiar with, and Sløtface invites us to join them in laughing a bit at ourselves.
“Sun Bleached” and “Pools” fit together like puzzle pieces, pairing water imagery to two different ends. “Night Guilt” and “Try” familiarize us more with Sløtface’s killer ability to pair smart lyrics and slamming guitar riffs, and set the stage for “Nancy Drew,” one of the album’s strongest tracks. Sløtface (re)write the teen sleuth, whose name tends to be used as a euphemism for ineffectual, inexperienced women poking into places they don’t belong (which, really, doesn’t make much sense—the woman has been kidnapped, knocked out, and chloroformed, and still manages to uncover the truth), as a strong character who will stop at nothing to get justice. With “Nancy Drew,” Sløtface does something that’s far overdue in rock: introduces a kick-ass female who’s set on taking the music industry “boys’ club down in one fell swoop” and, in doing such, keeps rock n’ roll’s anti-establishment streak alive and kicking (which is no small feat in 2017).
Taking a lighter tone, “Slumber” is a softer duet. With Shea sharing vocals for lyrics like “I’ll never have friends like them again,” the song strikes a balance between the rest of the album’s frenetic energy and showcases Sløtface’s versatility. “It’s Coming to A Point” acts as a short short spoken-word track interlude/false ending, in which we hear Shea say, “We have to limit ourselves at some point if it’s not getting any better, because this is, it’s coming to a point.” There’s the beginning of a riff, laughter, and then silence. Because really, how better to make your listeners think you’re ending an album than by having the last laugh? From there, Sløtface segues into last track, “Backyard,” aptly closing out the album with another banger.
It’s clear that with Try Not to Freak Out, Sløtface have outdone themselves. As in their previous EPs, they never hide who they are, and their songs invite us to join them in whatever they’re “freaking out” about—whether that’s breaking up with body image, trying to survive a night out, or slamming the music industry’s inherent sexism. Before the album’s release, Atwood had the privilege to catch up with the band and talk in detail about a few tracks, feminism, and why everyone should start a band. Dive in!
Atwood Magazine: ‘Magazine’ is one of my favorite tracks on Try Not to Freak Out (especially the ‘Patti Smith would never put up with this shit’ line). It's such a perfect opening track. Can you tell us about the story behind the song?
Haley Shea: To start, thanks! The song was one of the first songs we wrote for the record, and we were in our old rehearsal space in a house on an island that belongs to [bassist] Lasse’s grandparents. We really wanted to write a song that would push our boundaries for how much of a college-rock band we could be, and came up with the basic arrangement for “Magazine.”
I figured the song deserved to be an awesome breakup song, because that was the vibe I was getting from it, but as a rule we just don’t have that much experience with dramatic heart-wrenching breakup songs and therefore don’t write about them. So we decided to write a song about breaking up with bad body image instead. The song is all about the constant push and pull between knowing you shouldn’t care about superficial things like how you look, or how much you weigh, but how it still sometimes sneaks in, like a bad ex.
Watch: “Magazine” – Sløtface
'Try Not to Freak Out' is one of the most, for lack of a better world, real records I've heard in awhile. As with most of your music, it's just so relatable—from being sick of ‘healthy stuff’ in ‘Galaxies’ to half-heartedly playing MFK with friends in ‘Pitted,’ there's a lot of great one-liners throughout the album that listeners can really connect with. Can you tell us a bit more about your typical songwriting process? Where do you tend to draw inspiration from?
Haley: The lyrics mostly come from me trying to be as specific as possible about things I think about and am trying to deal with in everyday life. I really love lyricists that don’t worry too much about people getting every reference, because I think it’s such a fun listening discovery. Our songs as a whole are written together in a room most of the time, where one of us, usually Lasse or [guitarist] Tor will bring in a demo that has a kind of outline, and we’ll discuss it and try out a bunch of different things, and then rearrange it until we’re happy with it.
Speaking of ‘Pitted,’ I love that song. It definitely flips the idea of a rocker-girl-out-on-the-town kind of vibe and tells the truth—that a lot of us would rather just be at home and are praying for them to play any other song. Did you set out to write a song that flips that perception, or were you just speaking from your particular experience?
Haley: I was mostly speaking from experience, I really would prefer to be at home watching TV most of the time. Have you ever heard “T.V.” by Colleen Green? That song is my life. It is also me trying to convince myself that sometimes you have to force yourself out because it can end up being really, really fun when you aren’t obsessing over it so much. So it’s kind of my pep-talk: “put your dang lipstick on and leave the house” song.
Watch: “Pitted” – Sløtface
I'm curious—there's a line about 'letting my roots grow' in ‘Sun Bleached.’ Is there any sort of tie-in there to ‘Shave My Head,’ as far as using hair as a symbol for growth goes?
Haley: Hmmm. Maybe a subconscious one? I just really like hair as a symbol, because it is so connected with femininity and beauty, but at the same time it can be really gross, like at the bottom of a sink, or in your food. I love things and ideas that are kind of disgusting in lyrics.
From the first moment I found out the album included a song titled ‘Nancy Drew,’ I was even more drawn in. And it's such a clever twist on the teen sleuth’s image. How'd you come up with the idea to use Nancy in a song about 'checking up on' the 'boys’ club’?
Haley: Since the album is all about things I’m freaking out about, and kind of annoyed with, I also felt the album needed some positive power and not just outrage. I wanted to create a superhero character that would be this ass-kicking spy that would take down the patriarchy and the indie-band boys’ club. I loved Nancy Drew when I was younger, and thought it would be cool to turn her into a superhero.
Watch: “Nancy Drew” – Sløtface
You've mentioned Bikini Kill in other interviews as one your icons and one of the groups that inspired you to make music. You've talked about that moment where everything clicks, when you first hear Kathleen Hanna and think, this is it, this is what I've been missing, I can do this, too. Do you hope to do the same with your music? (That is, encourage other women to be loud, fierce, and unapologetic with their music?)
Haley: Definitely. Our dream is that everyone in the world starts a band. It’s just such a positive way to create, and it really teaches you to listen to people and work in a group. We would especially love for rock music to be more balanced, and for there to be as many women in every part of the music industry as there are men, so we hope that by writing honest music, we can inspire some people, the way we’ve been inspired.
What are the most common interview questions you get as a female-fronted group? Is it typically the generic ‘what is it like to be a woman in the music industry,’ and do you ever get tired of people asking that?
Lasse Lokøy: It occurs, but not that often. We used to get those kinds of questions more often before than we do now, which hopefully means that the world is going forward. Or maybe we just engage with more reflective journalists now than before? Who knows. Anyway, we don’t see those questions as boring, because it is very important for us to explain to them what our thoughts are. A common question is “How are the boys in the band feeling about the feminist message in Haley’s lyrics?,” asked in a way as if we couldn’t really understand what feminism [is]. Instead thinking of it as a boring question, we try to convince them that it’s as natural for boys to be feminists as it is for girls. Or at least explain that that’s how we feel.
You had to change your name awhile back due to social media censorship. Want to tell us a bit more about all that?
Lasse: When we were called “Slutface” every social media post was a battle. The algorithm in Facebook picked it up as offensive and therefore limited our reach and denied our attempts in promoting our posts. Later on it became a problem for festivals and promoters as well because they couldn’t promote us. In addition, the Slutface hashtag was filled up with porn and the same thing happened with our Google searches. We found out that we could keep the name by changing the U to Ø. (The Norwegian Ø is pronounced the same way as the U in “Slutface.”) So we tricked the Internet by changing the typing but still keeping the name orally. It’s a shame we didn’t get to keep the original typing, but now our songs can reach more people and hopefully we will spread the message to more people, which is most important for us.
Would you say that being from Norway has shaped your sound in any particular way that you can tell? I know journalists will stick on whatever labels they want on any given sound to justify their explanations for a band sounding the way they do. What do you think?
Lasse: We listen to a lot of Norwegian bands and artists (i.e. Hajk, Honningbarna, Sondre Lerche, Team Me and Sigrid) and we naturally take inspiration from the music we like to listen to. Growing up in Stavanger, a city with a local scene mostly dominated by hard-core, screamo, black metal and, on the other side of the musical spectrum, Norwegian space disco, created a very colourful framework.
I think we definitely can agree that our songwriting and sound reflect that framework but at the same time we play a genre that is not very popular in Norway at the moment. I think we are generally looking for new music regardless of the geographical origin. Our biggest influences are U.K.- and U.S.-based bands, but we’re always inspired by our latest musical explorations on the internet (My latest discovery is Shugo Tokumaro’s latest record Toss). Regarding journalists trying to define music in general, I think everyone is hearing different references and paying attention when they listen differently. A journalist’s job is to try to find a general explanation so the readers will understand what the band is like, and labels help with just that. So even if I personally never think of us as a punk-pop band, I won’t care if a journalist (or anyone else) defines us as it. Because they hear things I don’t and vice versa. I would use the label “rock band” because I find it hard to not hear our songs as something else than rock songs in one way or another.
Somewhat related, there's a lot of talk about the relevance of genre these days. I've seen your music categorized as punk, pop punk, hardcore, ‘punk flavored’...what genre(s) would you choose to describe your music, if any?
Lasse: I think what pulls our music appeal towards the punk-definition is the fact that the songs contains a strong message behind it as a lot of punk music does. The riot grrrl movement has been a big inspiration for Haley’s lyrics and the band’s message. It’s important to stand for something and we want to use our band as a platform for just that. Punk includes also an important demonstrative power and I think many people are worried about the political situation in the U.S. It’s obvious that a lot of mainstream music has a very neutral political voice and we hope that more artists dare to break that “silence.” What we need is open and public communication so people can discuss and figure out their differences with verbal action instead of fear and hatred.
So you'll be touring with the release of Try Not to Freak Out, correct? Where are you most excited to play?
Lasse: AUSTRALIA! … We’re so excited you have no idea.
What are some of your favorite songs to play live? Or, which songs are your fans most excited to hear live?
Lasse: We all have different favourites, personally I love playing “Nancy Drew.” I just feel way too cool every time we play the chorus.
What's next on the horizon for Sløtface?
Lasse: We are touring everywhere in Europe this summer to play summer festivals which will be lovely. We’re also working on videos and different surprises for our favourite people (our listeners). And we are also about to finish our last exams before we can start our festival summer.
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photo © Victoria Stevens