Since 2009, anthemic Manchester rockers the Slow Readers Club have been honing their craft and building a dedicated following in the UK. Their hard work has paid off with sold-out shows at Albert Hall, the Garage, and the Borderline; gigs at Stag and Dagger Festival, Kendal Calling, and in front of 20,000 people at Manchester Arena; and shows with Jesus and Mary Chain, The Charlatans, and James. Ahead of releasing their third album Build a Tower on May 4th (via Modern Sky), singer Aaron Starkie took time to tell Northern Transmissions about the Slow Readers Club’s upcoming pair of shows in China and how veteran UK bands have helped them develop. Starkie himself spread the word about several up-and-coming bands that are impressing and influencing him at the moment.
Northern Transmissions: The band has said it has learned a lot since the previous self-titled album and hinted at quite a different sound on the new one. What have you learned?
Aaron Starkie: We are better musicians, through touring fairly extensively (albeit ‘round day jobs). I would say each of us has tried new things, so you have different rhythms and melody patterns. A lot of the tracks have more of a groove to them. Lyrically, I have explored different themes. They are not so inward-looking as on previous records. Part of that might be down to the fact that we have a bigger audience out there than ever before, and you are writing with big shows in mind.
NT: Do you think your fans are in for a shock? Is it a complete overhaul, or is it still distinctly the Slow Readers Club?
AS: There are tracks on the album that follow in a similar vein to the last record. But there are a fair few where we have pushed things a little. We have enough single/anthem-type songs in our catalogue to be able to experiment a little. But it’s not like we have gone in a wildly different direction. We make music that we want to hear and enjoy playing and hope that other people like it too. That approach seems to be working ok so far.
NT: Were you careful to not change things too drastically?
AS: I don’t think we were that calculated, really. There were occasions where we would try something and one of us would say, “That doesn’t really sound like us,” and sometimes, we will push on with those ideas, and other times, they will be shelved. Our last album was well loved by our fans though and continues to win people over, so I guess we had a strong formula to fall back on. But you have to try and push things a bit to keep things interesting, both for us and the fans.
NT: What are some new sounds, artists, or styles that influenced the new album that didn’t influence your past material? (Or didn’t influence your past material as much?)
AS: Personally, from a vocal melody perspective, Everything Everything are one more recent acts that I would single out as an influence insomuch as I have tried more unusual intonation and melodic rhythms. I’ve also listened to bands like The Horrors, Chvrches, The National and Arcade Fire as well as older stuff like Echo and The Bunnymen, Bowie, Magazine, and The Cure. James were most likely an influence too as we supported them a fair few times over the past two years.
NT: The band has gotten glowing endorsements by the likes of Peter Hook and Coldplay. Have you had chances to meet them?
AS: Yeah, we met Peter Hook at Salford Music Festival a few years back when he was a surprise headliner. He caught our set and went on to mention us in a new bands feature in the NME. Coldplay featured the video for an old track called “Block Out the Sun” on their website which was pretty amazing. Still not sure how that happened. We should try and get on a support slot, ha.
NT: Speaking of veteran bands, you yourselves have been doing music for a long time, specifically you and James who were in Omerta since 2003, before that band morphed into the Slow Readers Club around 2009. Did you learn anything from playing with even more established vets like the band James, Jesus and Mary Chain, and The Charlatans?
AS: Yeah, James and I have been doing it a long time. You learn how to work through the highs and the lows, I guess. I heard recently that James (the band) had their first gig [since] about 1982! That’s mental. James in particular were incredible to us. Jim [Glennie] and Saul [Davies] from the band would watch us from the wings and offered us lots of good advice. We played some massive shows with them at places like Manchester Arena, Brixton Academy, and Castlefield Bowl. Playing those support slots was fantastic for us. It brought us on as performers and gave us an audience all over the UK. Jesus and Mary Chain was just a one-off show, really, but a real buzz because I’m a big fan. We’ve done a few shows with The Charlatans now. Tim [Burgess] in particular is a great champion of new bands.
NT: Manchester’s musical history is world famous, but people might not know what the city’s like today. What kinds of bands are coming out of there now? Are they all still very indebted to the city’s history, or is there a whole bunch of different styles coming out of Manchester?
AS: Well, you have a broad range of styles really from the poppier end like 1975 and Pale Waves to Blossoms (Stockport technically, I guess). Then you have punkier stuff like Cabbage and The Blinders. (I think they are macs. Not sure.) And then you have the art-electro end with stuff like Everything Everything and Dutch Uncles. It feels like a very vibrant scene to me, lots of new bands doing big, sold-out shows. People have a lot of trouble getting past the legends like The Stone Roses, Oasis, Smiths, etc.
NT: Have the Slow Readers Club made it to North America yet? You have a couple of dates in China coming up, in Beijing and Hangzhou. That’s nuts. Is that the farthest country the band will have played?
AS: No, not made it to the States yet, but that is a firm ambition, as is Europe. Before the China dates, the furthest we will have travelled will have been Dublin. Physically at least, our music travels all ‘round the world.
NT: Do many UK bands go straight from playing the UK to suddenly playing Asia?
AS: Haha, I guess not, but our label is Chinese-owned, so it’s a little more logical to us than it might appear. I did think I would be playing Berlin before playing Beijing, but you have to take the opportunities as they come.
NT: Has the band been doing anything specific to prepare for those China shows? Will the band have time to explore Beijing or Hangzhou?
AS: Mainly filling in forms, haha. We will have a little time in Beijing I think. Really looking forward to it. Hangzhou not so much. Will probably just be the festival, then off to the airport.