Spanish Love Songs on their quest for joy

“How lucky are we that people want to even talk to us?”

Perhaps it is because I am first in a five-hour-straight interview slate that singer Dylan Slocum is especially humbled by our chat, but it’s probably safer to say it comes down to pure excitement about the incredible fourth record he and his band are on the precipice of releasing.

“When I was in college, I was doing a bit of magazine writing. And that was kind of where I really wanted to go with things. I’m obsessed with a really good feature, especially the stuff that you study in school – New Yorker features and stuff like that. So, anytime anybody wants to talk to me, I think it is so cool. Trying to come across not like an idiot in print is a fun challenge!”

It became clear far before our chat that Dylan and I were kindred spirits – both 35 years old, both grew up on blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World, both with an endless supply of existential crises swirling around our brains at any given time. It was the band’s 2020 release, Brave Faces Everyone, that cemented Dylan as one of my favourite modern lyricists, with an uncanny ability to take an overarching fear or sense of dread and put it into words that are immediately relatable to any millennial trying to survive in the 21st century.

“I wrote that [record] in 2019 – we had just come off tour,” he remembers. “I had mono, which was fun. I had lost my job to go on tour, and so every day I would go down into [Meredith’s] parents’ basement and pour through lyrical ideas that I had written down. I did that for like 10 or 11 days straight.”

With themes of income inequality, a growing sense of mortality and an overarching sense of existential dread, the band’s third record was of course thematically heavy, but it was universally understood by any average human citizen. Lines like ‘Don’t you know you were born to die poor, man?’ and ‘Every city is the same – doom and gloom under a different name…’ especially resonated with anyone frustrated with the escalating political unrest and societal division here in the US.

“Being in LA, watching things change, watching the price of everything drastically increase, being sort of underemployed and not making any money – I was seeing people suffer through certain things, friends dying… It was a few years of late 20s, early 30s bullshit washing over me. By the time we got to Brave Faces, it was just sort of at the forefront.” 

The running joke within the band is that each album Dylan writes ends up being sadder than the one before it. So when it came time to write the songs for their upcoming release, No Joy, Dylan faced a quandary over what ground he could possibly cover.

“After Brave Faces…, I was like, ‘Okay, we did the divorce album on Giant [Sings the Blues], we did the ‘I suck’ album on Schmaltz, and we did the world sucks album on Brave Faces…. I don’t know what’s next! But we’ll figure it out because something will always go wrong that will trigger enough Notes app lines to write an album.’”

Released on February 7th, 2020, the band had big plans for Brave Faces, Everyone that were almost immediately squandered. After some time, there were fears the band wouldn’t make it through the pandemic just on a purely financial level, further validating the themes so present on the record they’d just put out.

“I think we navigated it…not greatly,” Dylan admits. “I was pretty vocal about our fears, to the point where certain people had to offhandedly mention that I should probably shut up a bit because it sounded like we didn’t want to tour anymore, or even be a band anymore, which was never really the case. I think it was just real-time coping with different things. 

“We got through it with the support of a ton of other people. The Patreon that we started was a huge help when none of us even had jobs coming off of touring. People took a chance on us and gave us some jobs during a pandemic. We were supposed to tour all of 2020 into 2021 for like, a year and a half, and so we had all given up our apartments – we crashed at people’s houses for three or four months. Hopefully it’s smoother sailing from here, though I don’t expect it to be. I’m always waiting for the next catastrophe, whatever that may be.”

Coming out of both a thematically heavy record and a global disaster sent the band purposefully into uncharted sonic territories when it came time to arrange No Joy. Due out 25th August, the record trades the band’s typical wall of guitars, crashing drums and yell-singing vocals for a more polished, dare-I-say accessible sound. 

“I am not really interested in repeating what we’ve done before,” Dylan admits. “[No Joy] definitely felt different enough that it felt justifiable to make. My biggest critique of Brave Faces… is that it’s an album that is sad, and also sounds sad. Most of the time, with a few exceptions. That’s just too on the nose for me. I’d rather it sound one way and you feel a different way, that’s more in line with what I enjoy and the music that I truly love.

“Getting into something a bit more nuanced and textured and trying to explore songwriting as a craft in a different way has always been in our trajectory as a band – really reacting to what came before. I think this is the first time we finally felt confident enough to pull some of it off.”

Putting out a record that veers in a different direction than your fans would normally expect doesn’t come without its risks. There are plenty of case studies throughout history where bands and artists have unintentionally (or intentionally, even) alienated their fans with a change in sound. To Dylan’s credit, this doesn’t seem to concern him in the least.

“When we first put this album out to our friends, one of them said, ‘this is gonna surprise people – probably in a good way. But, some people are gonna hate this.’ And that’s fine. That means we did our job if people are having some sort of visceral reaction. The worst thing I think we could do is put out an album that people think of as ‘fine’. I want you to love it or hate it, I don’t want you to just sort of be okay with it.”

Prepare to plant your feet firmly in the ‘love it’ category, because what Spanish Love Songs have managed to pull off with No Joy is nothing short of miraculous. They’ve followed up a masterpiece with yet another masterpiece that has completely different sonic qualities; synths and acoustic guitars take centre stage alongside Dylan’s vocals more than ever before. That’s not to say the heart of the band isn’t still present – with the unparalleled energy and lyrical insights alone, it absolutely is – but if Brave Faces, Everyone was their winter of discontent, No Joy feels as close to summer as one could expect from these underdogs.

Lead single ‘Haunted’ is not only one of the most radio-friendly (cringe, sorry) songs the band has written, it’s also one of the catchiest. Mid-album highlight ‘Marvel’ wraps all of the band’s instrumental intricacies in a glossy new package, as well as including the soon-to-be-classic Spanish Love Songs lyric, ‘I’ll stay alive out of spite’.

And then there’s ‘Clean-Up Crew’, a song whose message of disillusionment with one’s dreams hit extremely close to home. ‘Fuck the garden and the yard, I can barely tend to my own dreams…’ Hearing Dylan describe the inspiration behind the song was eye-opening; it was as if my brain was connected to his mouth.

“It’s a song of envy,” Dylan admits, “just watching other people have better moments than us. I have a hard time keeping my eyes on my own paper, because… I’m a human. I was trying to understand why certain things were happening for certain people but not for us. I started really looking at my own life – I grew up playing baseball, went to college for it and my goal was to become a professional baseball player. I had been scouted for the pros, then I got hurt and stopped because I wasn’t really loving it. So I almost made it… but not quite. 

“Then, I moved to LA, trying to write for TV and film,” he continues. “I did the whole thing where I had representation and took a bunch of meetings, but it was never quite right. Which is fine. Then, I got into this band sort of as a joke. We started taking it seriously and felt like maybe we could make a career out of it. And then COVID, and other stuff, et cetera, et cetera. 

“Why do I keep chasing these sort of big dream lives that are really not attainable in any fundamental sense? They’re pipe dreams and I can’t stop doing it. I’m 35 now, and I’m still doing it. What’s wrong with me? What’s broken with me? Like, why can’t I just be happy moving to the suburbs having a nice, quiet life? Every time I think about it, I shudder with fear. That’s what ‘Clean-Up Crew’ is about: how do you give up on your dreams when it feels like they’re not going to succeed for you? But also, like, fuck that – I’m not going to give up on my dreams just because it doesn’t seem like they’re going to succeed. I don’t want anything else! “

Despite all that, Dylan is quick to admit he’s just happy to be here, doing what he loves with four other musicians who mean the world to him. It’s a very human thing, wanting more for yourself in spite of everything. And, as evidenced not only on No Joy but on their entire catalogue, Spanish Love Songs is nothing if not a very human band.

“I’m very aware that I’m lucky to have had a guitar at the age of 13 so I could start writing songs and learning [to play]. So yeah, there’s an inherent guilt in all of this – wrapping your head around these things that feel like the biggest deal on Earth and they really aren’t, but it feels that way to you. There’s really very few people who get to live out their dreams in any consistent manner. But goddamn – wouldn’t it be nice?”

No Joy is out 25th August on Pure Noise Records. Pick up a copy from the band’s webstore HERE and catch the band on tour with Hot Mulligan starting next week at the venues below:

Aug 31 – Kingston, UK – Pryzm
Sept 1 – Leeds, UK – Stylus 

Sept 2 – Manchester, UK – Academy 2 
Sept 3 – Glasgow, UK – SWG3
Sept 5 – Nottingham, UK – Rescue Rooms 
Sept 6 – Bristol, UK – SWX
Sept 7 – London, UK – Electric Ballroom 
Sept 8 – Birmingham, UK – O2 Academy 2 

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