Features, Music

Slowly Slowly are Australia’s best and worst kept secret

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Has there ever been a band that didn’t revel in hype? We’ve seen them come and go, these artists bathing in the ego boost of interviews and too scared to commit their reputation completely to their art. All but one – Slowly Slowly. The truth is, frontman Ben Stewart doesn’t need a dozen quasi-journalists on the line telling him what his music means to attest to his genius. He just wants people to listen to it, and every once in a while, rock up at a show. It works because his band genuinely does make some of the best music Australia has ever seen, not that they need us to tell them that; they’re gonna keep making it anyway.


Where it all started

There are covers that get released into the ether only to flatline at a couple dozen streams, and then there’s Slowly Slowly’s rendition of Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love’. Sitting at over 240,000 views on YouTube, it was an initial introduction to the Melbourne heartbreakers for some, and boy was it a doozy. Having said that, you don’t get on triple j’s Like A Version simply for existing, and it certainly wasn’t Stewart and the gang’s first rodeo. Their debut single ‘Empty Lungs’ dates all the way back to 2015, with their first album Chamomile dropping just a year after. Their second studio album St. Leonards was released via UNFD in 2018, all way before they stepped foot in Melbourne Town hall for triple j’s Good Az Friday. For new fans, their prior work was something to chew on, but boy did we get even more lucky with what was to come.

The saga of Race Car Blues

Race Car Blues, surprisingly the third studio album from Slowly Slowly, was released at the end of February last year. On the cusp of our hiccup of a pandemic, the long-player received rave reviews, but of course didn’t quite get the celebration that it deserved. With other things on our minds, like our first lockdown of many and declining inventory at local supermarkets, Race Car Blues was criminally underplayed. It took out #8 on the ARIA Australian Album Chart, but should have been #1. It was a triple j Feature Album, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better album from last year altogether. Slowly Slowly were at their peak even as the record started, so honest with themselves that it makes you want to both laugh and cry: “Ben’s got a gig/did you hear he’s got a gig? We should all go, yeah they’re getting pretty big now. Something about Slowly, or maybe it was softly,” Stewart mimics. “Fuck my life this is always gonna haunt me.”

The (almost) end of the world

No one would blame a good man for sitting on his hands during the pandemic, praying for things to get better and ignoring the cultural phenomenon of learning how to bake sourdough. Slowly Slowly might be good men, but they didn’t use the excuse of a globe-disrupting virus to pause on their input while they were sitting still, maintaining a well-updated Patreon where they gave the most dedicated of fans some content to hold onto. Though they shut it down, they did end up sharing the highlights with the rest of their adoring public, including one of the greatest covers we’ve ever seen in our lifetime, Stewart’s rendition of Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Smoke Signals’ (bonus points for listening on to his take on Taylor Swift’s ‘All Too Well‘ and trying not to cry). We also saw a team-up between Slowly and their contemporaries Luca Brasi in the form of a 7” split that featured the acoustic ‘Slow Learner’, as well as an absolute anthem in what became ‘Melbourne’. Originally airing on triple j, who don’t always get things right but certainly pay appropriate tribute to the institution of Slowly Slowly, ‘Melbourne’ was the outcome of a challenge to write a song about what listeners missed about the city in Daniel Andrews’ extensive lockdown. Written in just 24 hours, we laughed, we cried, we died a little on the inside. Having said that, even that wasn’t well enough for the band, who, in lieu of learning to bake bread, had something else cooking.

Race Car Blues continued

It’s every music fan’s dream to hear one more song from their favourite record. Be it an offcut B-side, a demo, a bonus track, we’ve chased down limited editions all the way from country-exclusive releases to Kingdom Leaks to extend our most prized LPs just a little further. With that in mind, it’s Christmas in February for Race Car Blues fans, with the band announcing Chapter 2, composed of the collection of songs that didn’t quite fit the first time around. Stewart shared that what had first been “envisaged as background information that that assisted in connecting the dots of Chapter 1 soon became its own entity and has actually planted a few seeds”. Late 2019 output ‘Low’ finds a home on Chapter 2, alongside a collection of songs you would never guess were cut from the team. Out one year almost to the day of its first iteration, Race Car Blues Chapter 2 at its core is a hard-hitting rock album that fundamentally represents the emotions that only Slowly Slowly can perfectly capture, from love to loss to addiction and all the missed connections in between. Underpinned by the alluring grit of the truth, it certainly does, as stated by Stewart, push “the envelope a little further in every direction”. If you’ve ever heard a better song about the phenomenon of drug dependency sweeping through our culture than ‘Comets & Zombies’, we’d love to hear it.

The sequel to the prequel

With all that said, we can’t summarise what it sounds like better than the music itself. Nor can we write about that music better than its creator in Stewart, who concludes quite beautifully the aim of Slowly Slowly as “to celebrate the music we love – anthemic heart on sleeve songwriting – but across a broad spectrum of genres.” In the second chapter of Race Car Blues, they make good on that promise, though we would have to off ourselves if we imagined a world where there’s no next album on the horizon. On their own merit, without a bullshit narrative fed to the press in discombobulated releases, we do see a consistently remarkable band that backs meaningful commentary with one hell of a tune. If it really is a pattern that makes a person, or in this case, a band, then based on their history, Slowly Slowly truly are the best there is.

Race Car Blues Chapter 2 is out this Friday, 26th February.

‘Race Car Blues’ Australian tour

Friday 4th June
Manning Bar, Sydney
Tickets: Slowly Slowly

Saturday 5th June
The Triffid, Brisbane
Tickets: Slowly Slowly

Friday 11th June
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets: Slowly Slowly

Friday 13th June
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets: Slowly Slowly

Friday 18th June
Lion Arts Factory, Adelaide
Tickets: Slowly Slowly

Saturday 19th June
Badlands Bar, Perth
Tickets: Slowly Slowly

Friday 25th June
Altar, Hobart
Tickets: Slowly Slowly

Saturday 26th June
Saloon Bar, Launceston
Tickets: Slowly Slowly

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