“I got home at like 5:30. I feel like rat shit!” It’s 10:30am and Ben Stewart – the lead singer of Slowly Slowly – hasn’t had a lot of sleep. However, he’s still more than willing to chat about the origins of what has become one of the most exciting new bands in the country.
Stewart and good mate, Alex Quayle decided to start mucking around in a makeshift studio, as Stewart explains, “It started as just a studio project. We would record these songs in our home studio that we fashioned in the front office of a factory building in outter-East Melbourne.
“We built a dividing wall and made a little control and recording room and we used to just mess around and record stuff because we’d both accumulated a lot of recording gear through life. We merged everything and then spent most of the time just skating out the front, over palettes and stuff, but it was all punctuated by recording music. When we finally put pen to paper properly, we released our first single, which was called Go Easy, and people kind of liked it. We didn’t expect anyone to like it! So we went, ‘Oh, we should put a band together.’”
And a good idea it was. From those skater-fueled early days to their debut album in 2016, Chamomile – on which Stewart played all of the instruments – the duo have since combined with a “revolving cast” of bandmates before settling on Albert Doan on guitars and Patrick Murphy on drums (who Stewart describes as his biggest man crush ever) for the recording of the new album.
“We recorded the album as a band and it’s a lot more of a group project – and I think it’s better for it – we’ve got a few personalities clashing on the record. That’s kind of what it’s all about,” realises Stewart.
Listening to the opening verse of Aliens is enough to know that there’s a heavy ‘90s influence in what Slowly Slowly do. A dash of ‘90s Aussie acts like Kisschasey, You Am I and Powderfinger pepper their way through their songs and Stewart confirms my suspicions, but adds more.
“We’re all massively into all that. Like Jebediah, You Am I and all that Aussie stuff but then dicky ‘90s bands like Archers of Loaf. I love Built To Spill and sort of weird ‘90s guitar bands. I love all that. When we first started recording, that’s what we set out to do. Write big kind of ‘90s grungy pop songs, but then my song-writing style always went towards these growers that were always quite emotional or autobiographical.”
The result is a ‘90s sound with a singer-songwriter twist that is unique and fresh in its delivery, endearing fans to them quickly.
Stewart has been plugging away in bands for 13 years, starting out on drums, before moving on to guitar and vocals later in his high school days – and the name of the band really starts to resemble what is required in the hard slog that is the music industry. “I feel it’s more how long you knock at the door, not how loud.”
The old adage holds weight when trying to break out. Stewart continues, “I think if you’re open to criticism, and you’re really happy to put a magnifying glass on yourself and hone your craft, people will start noticing eventually.”
The challenge lies in not becoming jaded or letting setbacks dull your enthusiasm, but Stewart is refreshingly upbeat. “I’m still as excited and obsessive about music as I was when I was 15. So for me, it’s not a choice about getting up and getting motivated, it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. If I wasn’t creating music, I don’t know what the fuck else I’d do!”
I ask Stewart whether his one-track mind and drive to create can put him at odds with his teammates, particularly Quayle, who has been working alongside him for so long. “Oh, we definitely get sick of each other! We have some complementary personalities, but they’re so different that we’ve learnt to manage it over the years.
“He’s [Quayle] got the best bullshit meter out of anyone I’ve ever met. He’s really analytical and just a great filter for me. I’ve got 1000 ideas a minute and 999 of them are complete and utter horseshit!”
He elaborates, “We both push each other a lot. I’m super motivated and he’s got more of a cruisier approach. I’m like, ‘We have to do this, I’ve just had an idea! We have to do a double album! We’re doing a story video! It’s in 12 parts for each song! He distils me down, so it’s a lovely little partnership we have.”
It’s this combination that seems to be paying off as the band – recently signed to Unified’s independent label, UNFD – get ready to launch their second album with a tour around the country. Many of the shows have already sold out, with the album not even out yet, which blows Stewart away.
The album, St. Leonards, named after a small holiday town on the south-west side of Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne, says a lot about Stewart and the way his experiences shape the music he writes. Stewart spent a lot of summers there and has translated his experiences and thoughts into the title track of the album, wanting to say goodbye to a memorable place from his youth. It’s this sort of personal touch that gives Slowly Slowly the substance to connect with their audience.
“Feel free to take out all of my swearing because I’m hungover in my car after two hours sleep. Make me sound polite!” Ben Stewart wraps up our chat as honestly as he started. It’s an endearing quality and one that shows in their music. This album is one to look out for. St. Leonards is out on the May 11.