Slate Vocal Guitar 2


slate released their debut EP Deathless this month via Brace Yourself Records. The title drawn is drawn from a review of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. The Cardiff quartet have been quietly building a reputation since their debut single ‘Tabernacl’ in 2023. This was subsequently released as a 7″ single with second single ‘St Agatha‘ on the flip side. Jack Shephard (vocalist) and Lauran Edwards (bassist) discuss their creativity and the inspirations behind the new EP.

How the four of you came together to form slate?
Drummer Ray (Raychi Bryant), we’ve (Jack)known each other for years. Basically, he came down to Cardiff University and then we started playing music together. And that was a year or two in advance of meeting Lauren and Penri (Elis Penri), the guitarist. Cardiff is a capital city but its quite a small city so with all the musicians you tend to you be one friend away from knowing another person. So I knew a few people Lauren was friends with, without knowing Lauren, and the same with Penri and it was just one of those things where we were looking out for a guitarist and a bassist then we kind of came together. And that was about two and a half years ago now. I (Lauren) was living in Bristol at the time. And through mutual friends got in touch with Jack and yeah, that’s kind of how we got together.

So had you been in bands before?
Yeah, we’d all been in bands before. Ray was in a covers band prior to being in a different band with me, and then Lauren had their own project going and Penri was in a Welsh language band. All very different to what slate sounds like now but I think it’s all in the same melting pot now and the reason why slate sounds like it does. Lots of different influences and different kinds of backgrounds.

With regards to the EP Deathless can you share a little on its themes?
I think when we decided we were going to do an EP, my first instinct, which I’m glad we didn’t do now, was to just throw our best songs onto it like a collection of songs. But then Ray was keen on the idea of it being a proper body of work, with a narrative installed into it and a cohesive thread that runs through all the songs. We had a couple of songs like ‘Remoter Heaven’ which we released last month, and ‘Sun Violence’, which is on the EP as well and ‘The Heir’. So from those three songs, we tried to draw conclusions of how they could all exist in the same world, so to speak. And then we landed on this idea of it being a day in the life of a protagonist, a character. We see the whole EP as a diary entry almost. It starts from one night and then into morning and day and evening and then the following night, and it spans a range of emotions throughout that time. When we started working on the EP we always wanted it to flow continuously, to be very cyclical, and that kind of lended itself to this “Day in the Life” idea, this everlasting kind of notion of things repeating, experiencing the day again and again. This is want we definitely wanted to consider and from this it started to form into what it is now.

It’s interesting to learn you’re lovers of poetry. Yet when you listen to your music it’s the atmosphere you’re creating that builds the intensity. The listener may be drawn to expect that your songs would be packed with lyrics, but instead they have such depth within the sound. It’s the instrumentation that’s gripping.
It’s a very interesting point you made, which I’m kinda glad you raised. I think, generally speaking, the poetry I love are short poems, no longer than a page. Because I feel like the words, the fewer of them that there are, have greater weight to them. I think we approached lyric writing and poetry with a similar sense. We don’t want to overfill and pack the whole thing full of words. I think we could try and say what we want to say within two verses, three verses at the most. There’s something to be said for getting your point across in as few words as possible. You can indulge yourself in longer form things, but I think, when we’re writing, we’re quite cognitive of giving each of the songs breathing space, but also getting it across quite concisely. I think there’s quite an art to that, no one wants to hear us waffling on for too long! I love Nick Drake‘s poetry because it’s very kind of concise. So I think that’s how it works most naturally for us. And then I think in turn, because there isn’t maybe eight versus we feel the music can fill in the gaps so to speak. We’re raising different things through the music rather than the words.

The first track is single ‘Remoter Heaven’ which is seven and a half minutes long. You’re not afraid to give the songs the space they need. Because of the atmosphere that you want to create, would that be right?
Sure. In the case of ‘Remoter Heaven’ that was the first song that we wrote together. That was the springboard for us going into this extremely collaborative way of writing. And I think with that one in particular, more than any other song, there was this sense of wanting to keep it as natural and as true to its first conception as possible, because we just jammed for 25 minutes, maybe longer. I’m thinking we were going round and round in circles. We landed on this structure and I think with that song we tried to keep it as true to its original essence as we could. You are listening to a jam literally!

Do the four of you write collaboratively?
I would say it always comes in from a different way. Someone will bring an idea and it changes each time or sometimes it’s all in the same room. But nothing can get finished without all of us being involved in it. For each of us it may be “I’ve got this idea. I’ve got the structure. I’ve got these chords.” And then we bring it together and we’ll craft our individual parts. ‘Remoter Heaven was a rare case where it did just emerge from a jam. Even if you write a whole song by yourself now, it feels like it can’t truly be a slate song until we kind of you know, give it a sheen. You give it a polished finish by bringing it to a band practice, because Lauren has such a specific way of playing bass now, and Penri has such a specific way of playing guitar and Ray is a really specific drummer. So it would be impossible to do it by yourself.

Do you have spoken word within your gigs? Is that something that you do when you’re playing live?
We often have one or two poems, just short poems, again, just to bridge in between songs. I think it just offers some deviation during the gig. And also, our guitarist has to retune for every song, which is a nightmare! This is the best and worst kept secret! The poems are vehicles in order to allow him time to tune and as well as including in the performance. We’ve included poetry since our first ever gig, and he’s getting quicker for sure! It’s also a good way to add a bit of variation to the gig and some of the poems lead well in terms of themes. For example, for ‘Tabernacl’, there’s a poem I say which has the same essence and same kind of mood so that one works particularly well.

Where do you get your inspiration for your song-writing?
I would say that it comes from probably a different place for each of us. Penri, for example, our guitarist his background lies in the blues so that has that influence over his song-writing. The artists that we come together with the most are artists like Nick Drake, and Sonic Youth. But I think the thing that I enjoy the most about our writing process, and being in the band generally is that we’re all coming from completely different worlds. Ray’s a pianist originally, the same with Jack. I think when it comes to writing, it’s always a bit of a lucky dip of what is actually going to come out, because one person could have been listening to something completely different to our music that day, and it has a massive impact. We’re all interested in making music that reminds you of something that isn’t musical, like a landscape, or a setting. I think we try At the end of ‘Remoter Heaven’ there’s this one part where after the last note the guitar sounds like a swarm of bees or something. It’s crazy. And then there’s the snare on the end of ‘The Heir’. So all that stuff that’s a bit more unconventional and even more dangerous, I guess. I think that inspires us a lot as well just kind of pushing the boundaries a bit.

How are you feeling about the release of the EP?
We’ve spent a lot of time crafting these songs and they mean a lot to us as I’m sure any other artist would say. It’s very exciting for it to be out, and to hear what people make of it. I’m looking forward to some kind of reception, whether it’s good or bad, to be honest, just because we’ve been living with the songs for the best part of the year, or longer. I can’t listen to them objectively anymore so I’m looking forward to what everyone thinks of it.

Live dates:
31/5/24 Cardiff, Clwb Ifor Bach
5/6/24 London, Windmill Brixton.

Photo credit: Beverly Craddock

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.