Put on a Brave Face: A Conversation with Spanish Love Songs

SLS © Katie Neuhof
SLS © Katie Neuhof
Dylan Slocum of Spanish Love Songs tells us that sometimes the most effective political songwriting is based on personal experience.

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On their most recent album, Los Angeles’ Spanish Love Songs tackle issues from climate change to addiction with a sense of personal care that most politicized bands can’t master the nuance of. Like Bruce Springsteen in the ’80s, singer and guitarist Dylan Slocum brings issues to light, while also singing from his own experiences.

Being a massive step forward from their previous album Schmaltz, the band has now toured with The Menzingers and The Wonder Years, two bands that were consistently name-checked after Schmaltz, for Brave Faces Everyone, an album that finds the band stepping up and finding their own sound.

Atwood spoke with Slocum about writing political music, live requests, and those Wonder Years-Menzingers comparisons.

Stream: Brave Faces Everyone – Spanish Love Songs

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Atwood Magazine: Earlier on Twitter, you talked a little bit about people requesting songs -

Dylan Slocum: (Laughs) We were literally just talking about that. “Oh, the greatest tweet we’ve had since the album announcement is me being mean to people.” It was just a joke. I actually don’t care. I’ve heard from a couple of people the last few nights, including friends, “Why didn’t you play that?” We have a 30-minute support set and a new album to promote and half an album we haven’t rehearsed.

Even Dan [Campbell] from The Wonder Years was like “Why didn’t you play track 2?!” I’m like, “We haven’t rehearsed that song! We’ve been on tour before the album came out.” It’s been figuring out how to mix things in and out. I’m sure we’ll mix it up. That’s hilarious.

I thought it was so funny. Do you get a lot of people requesting specific things?

Dylan Slocum: Yeah, we usually try our best to accommodate it. On a situation like this-it sounds like a dick thing to say-it’s about making the people who want to see us happy, but then also, we have 30 minutes to win over everybody in the room who’s never heard of us. That’s probably as important if not more important. It’s hard to get that across. “We didn’t play that song, because it’s a deeper cut, and we have better single songs.” Also, we just kind of play what we want. A lot of it has to do with my voice and how I’m feeling.

What was the writing process for Brave Faces Everyone?

 Dylan Slocum: It was kind of nice. It started out in a basement in Iowa, just wrote the bare bones and did the lyrics and melody. Then, took it back to LA. We got our first-ever practice space, and we were able to all get together in a room and play the songs together and do heavy pre-production and lock in as much as we could before the studio.

By the time we got into the studio, we were free to focus more on the production aspect, especially [guitarist] Kyle [McAulay] and [bassist] Trevor [Dietrich] could focus on that. And, I could sit in the back and be like, “What if we change this thing?” They get really upset.

It combined the way we wrote the first two records but together, so it was the full process of it.

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Why did you re-record “Losers”?

Dylan Slocum: It was on the list of songs. We loved the song, and we didn’t necessarily want it to be a one-off. We were debating whether to put it on the album or not. When we started listening to the album and contextualizing it with the rest of the songs, it made sense to put it there. Since we were already there, it was more about making it fit in sonically with everything else. We couldn’t just use the original version. It would sound different. Because Kyle and Trevor recorded it, it was another year of recording experience as well. Every year, you’re getting better at what you’re doing. Why not make it sound the best we could at the moment with the skills we’ve developed since doing the first version?

What can you tell me about the “Beach Front Property” video?

Dylan Slocum: Our buddies Ian Shelton and Will Acuna-they did the “Kick” video, and we knew right away we had to knock out both back-to-back. They had this-“We had this idea. We want to do a classic car with flowers filling up and a red backdrop,” and I was like “Okay!” That’s what it was.

It was great. It was fun. It fits the song pretty well. It was a good, fun day. It was great for me, because I’ve directed most of our videos up to this point. So, to hand it off, it was unsettling at first. I got to set, and I was like, “What do I do?” I just sit back and relax. It was nice.

Watch: “Beachfront Property” – Spanish Love Songs

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Since you have a background in film, were you analyzing while you were on-set?

Dylan Slocum: No, you don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. We trust somebody to execute their vision. So, that’s what we’re going to let them do. If anything, I was just psyched, because the stuff we were seeing on set just looked so good. They had a huge crew for once. Ian said it was the biggest crew he ever got to work with. It was just taking it in and worlds colliding.

My two favorite tracks on the album were “Optimism (as a Radical Life Choice)” and the title track. Can you tell me a little more about writing and recording those?

 Dylan Slocum: Both of those were in the original batch of demos that I sent over. The chorus for “Brave Faces Everyone,” I think was the first thing we actually wrote for the album. [Drumer] Ruben [Duarte] and I were at a practice right after Schmaltz came out and wrote a version of chorus for that song-like a midtempo rock song.

“Optimism” was kind of the same way. I wrote that riff on an acoustic guitar, and I thought it sounded like a Tom Petty song. “Oh that’s interesting. We’ve never done something like that.” By the time we got it in with everybody, we turned it into this 90’s thing that we all just loved. That was a song that we really jammed on and expanded out. The heavy part of that bridge wasn’t originally in there. It was a time when everybody’s creative instincts came together and created something that was pretty different than what we’ve done before.

“Brave Faces Everyone” was maybe the second or third demo I recorded, and I kind of got out what I wanted to say on the album in a lot of the lyrics, and there were a lot more lyrics. The song was like 6 minutes long. It was nice, because I laid out fenceposts of what I wanted to do in the other songs. So, I worked backwards from there. It’s not a concept album, but there’s loose concepts I want to talk about. “Oh, I like that line, so let’s tell that story.”

In the end, when we were in the studio, we didn’t want to do the full reprise of the chorus and kind of loop it in that way, because The Wonder Years have done it already [on The Greatest Generation’s “I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral”, and they did it better than anybody’s ever done it. Even though, I love that device. We did that a little bit on Schmaltz just between songs, but I didn’t want to do the whole album like a medley. We also knew we wanted something that washed over you and made you reflect on the 39 minutes you’ve just been through.

I had the idea, “What if I just shout all the choruses but you just mix them low and they wash over each other.” Kyle had the idea of the wall-of-sound. You think you can make it out, but you don’t know, but it’s also-I don’t know-pretentiously reinforcing things. It was fun to shout all the choruses like a marathon. He kept it running on a loop: “Now, I’m doing this chorus.” I think the way we recorded it and the way Vincent mixed it was great, because I have people that are like, “I think they’re doing something there, but I can’t tell,” which is great, because I don’t want anybody to think that we’re trying to do a less good version of “I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral.” We’re very aware of that stuff, and it’s all a conversation.

And I feel like if I’m passively listening, it’s easy to miss, because it’s so low in the mix.

Dylan Slocum: Exactly, and that’s kind of the idea. You’re not even paying attention, and it’s going over you, but then all of sudden when it comes back and it shrinks back down. It refocuses you almost.

When Schmaltz came out, the two biggest comparisons that came up were The Menzingers and The Wonder Years, now, you’re touring with The Wonder Years, and you just finished with The Menzingers. Is it a little strange to have toured with both?

Dylan Slocum: No, it’s great. We’ve always been fans of them, and we’ve always had a ton of mutual friends. We’re all roughly in the same generational age group. It hasn’t been weird at all. It’s been fun. They’re great tours, and obviously, they’re two of the best bands in doing what we do. I think we’re hopefully moving past a lot of those comparisons. I mean, people still do that. That doesn’t bother me.

The only weird thing was we were doing an interview in Europe somewhere, and somebody brought up the comparison. I made a joke about getting more haters. I was like, “The worst thing people say about us is that we sound too much like The Menzingers.” He read that quote back to me, when [Menzingers’ singer-guitarist] Tom May was in the room. I just went, “Oh fuck.” That was the only weird part about that tour.

If Dan walks in, do you want to dis The Wonder Years?

Dylan Slocum: That’s the thing, is the way he said it, he made it sound like a bad thing, he was like “Oh, the only thing people say is wrong about you is that you sound like The Menzingers,” and I was like “No! Too much!”

Yeah, if Dan comes in, let’s just say, “Yeah, the only problem is people say that we sound like The Wonder Years.” It was really funny. Also, Tom just laughed. It was a green room like this, but we were all three in one. He was grabbing a sandwich. He just chuckled and walked out. It honestly ruined the interview for me. I just checked out. “I don’t want to talk to you anymore, because you just embarrassed me.”

SLS © John Lafirira
SLS © John Lafirira

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But like you said, I feel like you guys really moved past a lot of that with this record.

Dylan Slocum: Yeah, I think on the last album we just did what we wanted to do, and we did what we were comfortable doing. I’ve played in these types of bands for a long time. We all know how to play a fast beat and sing some sad, self-deprecating stuff over it. That’s our comfort-zone. For better or worse, you can hear the influences of not only just them, but the stuff we were all influenced by. So, you can hear The Gaslight Anthems or the Against Mes and stuff like that. Because I have a vibrato in my voice, you can go, “oh they’re ripping that person off.” That’s fine. You can make that comparison.

On this one, I definitely think that we were able to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and do something that’s wholly our version of this sound. Not to say we reinvented the wheel or anything, because we definitely did not. People have made me definitely aware of that. We’ve done the best that we could do to beyond just playing a fast beat and yelling.

One of the things that I feel changed a lot on this album is that it’s more politically driven than personally driven. What moved you to write about things like the opioid crisis, police brutality, climate change, and the general state of the world?

Dylan Slocum: Part of it was a reaction to what we did on Schmaltz. I sat down to start working on this album. I had some songs written, like “Oh Jesus Christ, I can’t do another album where I just complain about how shitty I am for another 40 minutes. It’s not fun. It’s not interesting.” That song really was meant to be a cap. That and “Aloha,” I really did mean those to be like, “and this is the outcome of this, and we’re done with it.” I meant it in the context of the album, but I think afterwards I was like, “Oh that was the final nail of this at all. I don’t want to do that.”

We started writing and recording Schmaltz at the end of 2016, before the election. So, things have changed. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable writing about politics. I think I’ve found my voice in doing that kind of stuff. We know a lot of people who are suffering, met a lot of people that are suffering and it just felt wrong to-if my neighbor is suffering and hooked on opioids, I don’t want to be like, “Oh I felt like a fat piece of shit today.” That’s valid, but I don’t know if we need more of that. I don’t know if that’s helpful. I guess it is helpful  to somebody else who wants to feel the catharsis and be like, “I recognize what you’re saying,” but I think you can do that and still recognize broader things that are happening. Things are political now, and you can’t escape it for better or worse. It’s exhausting and it’s terrifying. I think that’s the biggest thing. Just anxiety taking over.

Do you know Luke O’Neil?

Dylan Slocum: I know the name.

He’s a journalist - he does a newsletter called “Welcome to Hell World.” I started reading it not long before Brave Faces Everyone came out. I saw a lot of parallels between what he does and what you guys do, where it’s very personal, but it’s still bringing light to issues.

Dylan Slocum: I didn’t want to just do bad political songs. You can play four chords and be like “The government sucks.” I think of that Tenacious D song – “The government totally sucks, you motherfucker –“ That’s a joke for a reason. The best political bands don’t do that. They can draw it to something bigger and speak to broader things. I think you see a band like Anti-Flag who can be very directly political and not be cheesy about it.

I think on the other side of that spectrum is someone like Bruce Springsteen who’s incredibly political but because he’s telling stories-John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats is also great at this-because you’re just telling stories, it’s not like I’m bashing you over the head with it like-politics, politics, politics. These are just regular people. My favorite political music is definitely that brand, and I think there’s a time and place for both-the nuanced political view and then the storytelling. If we could leave out, the bad “The Government Totally Sucks” stuff then we’re good.

I’ve been thinking about that because I’ve been listening new stuff from artists like AJJ who do great political music, but I end up thinking every time you mention Donald Trump, it might not resonate with your average person.

Dylan Slocum: I haven’t thought about that, because I love that new AJJ record.

I do too!

Dylan Slocum: I know Anti-Flag, the last few albums, steered away from that, because they didn’t want to-but they were like “No, we’re going on the attack on the new one.” I think if you’re good at it, then fuck yeah, go for it. I’m not good at it. I’ve tried. It comes out wrong coming from me. It’s just not where my skills are. I think AJJ is a good example of that. They’ve done weirder stuff in the past, but this one they’re very direct. Damn, he’s good at it. I think you need both. The one I don’t like is the bad, cheesy. Just like if you’re a bad storyteller, I don’t want to hear that either. I think that’s where we fit in. I think it came up when Schmaltz came out, people brought it up about why we were on A-F, I think that our buddy over their Chris Stowe and Chris Two, I think they recognized our political leanings but it was a different way to be political as opposed to the different protest song.

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One of the things I thought was really cool that you did with this album was you tweeted out a list of charities and organizations that correspond with each song on the record. Have you heard from people that donated or looked into them?

Dylan Slocum: Yeah, people are sending me screenshots of donations they made. It’s incredible. I sat down one day, just thinking about what’s an interesting way to broach these subjects without just being like “buy our album,” because that feels cheap.

We’ve had people sending us screenshots, donations or even just looking into stuff like “Oh my gosh. This is so cool! I didn’t know this existed.” Even me, doing the research, I didn’t want to just give what I knew, because that is lazy. I discovered some new organizations that I hadn’t heard of. It’s great all around. I still urge people that if they haven’t seen it, look it up, and pick your favorite song and donate to one of those organizations.

Dan tweeted that, after I posted it. I texted him, “Why are you so smart? Why are you better at this than I am?”

The album’s really bleak, even though it’s optimistic. One of the things that I think’s missing from this album that was on Schmaltz is the funny-ish lines -

Dylan Slocum: A lot of jokes.

Was it an intentional choice to not put any jokes or were there some self-deprecating lines that were cut?

Dylan Slocum: There were definitely some self-deprecating lines that were cut, not by me-by the structure of the band. They were like “We’re not doing a two-minute bridge there.” A lot of times on Schmaltz, that’s where the jokes would be-not jokes, but the pressure-valve release.

I think there’s some lines on this that I think are funny, but maybe, they’re more darkly funny. I still laugh when I sing “I swear to god, I’m an optimist,” and I think my entire band laughs. He likes to say “arsonist.” I think talking about the world ending and I’m staring at dirty pictures, to me is a funny image.

It’s funny. You picked two lines that really resonated with me.

Dylan Slocum: (Laughs) I think that’s the best kind of humor. The stuff that’s poignant. The entire chorus of “Self-Destruction.” That whole chorus came about, because we were doing something with the band, and I was so stressed, and [keyboardist] Meredith [Van Woert] was like “Hey, it won’t be this bleak forever.” And I just deadpanned, “Yeah, sure. Good call.” To me, that entire chorus is a joke, but in a poignant way.

So maybe not any obvious references to me having a nazi haircut or anything. What’s funny now is we’re doing these tours and we’re playing these songs next to the new songs, and I’m singing the bridge of “Haircut” and I’m like “Oh this is bad.” I’m just embarrassed by it. I wrote that song almost four years ago. I was a much different immature 28-year-old, than I am as an immature 32-year-old. I guess that’s just where the interests have shifted.

Spanish Love Songs are on tour with The Wonder Years now. They will begin a headlining tour with Future Teens and Dollar Signs in April.

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Doom and Gloom: Spanish Love Songs Enlighten a Horrible World with ‘Brave Faces Everyone’


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