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Sly Withers: “It’s always been about us trying to figure life out”

“I’m a believer that a song is only as good as it sounds with the chords and the vocals and nothing else,” Sam Blitvich of Sly Withers says. As co-vocalist and guitarist, Blitvich’s assertion goes to the heart of what has made the band so successful.

There isn’t a single listener that could hear a Sly Withers song and deny its emotional resonance, which stems from the act ensuring that they’ve made their bones with integrity, and that what they write means something in its rawest form. Taking that a step further, the Perth-based outfit ventured on an acoustic tour in support of third studio album Overgrown before embarking on their self-proclaimed regional(ish) set of dates currently underway, and ahead of their upcoming round with Tigers Jaw.

“The acoustic format has always been essential to what Sly is,” Blitvich says. “Sly started really as me and Jono [Mata, co-vocalist and guitarist] busking outside of cafes when we were sixteen, playing Jack Johnson covers and getting spare change off people. Slowly we started, from playing together so much, writing together, and then the band came along and it all developed from there. The acoustic Jono-and-Sam vibe is super essential to Sly, and it’s a nice way to be able to showcase the songs in a different light.”

The reception to their acoustic tour reinforces that a Sly Withers song stripped back is as powerful as an electricity-powered delivery, and there’s a place for both in the world for the Australian rockers, as co-vocalist and guitarist Jono Mata elaborates.

“From the first show in Melbourne, it was as easy as it could be, it was a really lovely group of our fans that came. Sam and I did a bunch of the songs that got reworked so that it wasn’t playing the songs as they were with just two guitars and two vocals, they got more of the acoustic treatment. I didn’t hear many complaints from people who were there,” he laughs. “There were a few people that thought the acoustic thing would be with the full band, which isn’t off the table, but this one sort of just made sense for me and Sam to do it.”

Going back to their roots was one experience for Sly Withers, but the release of their latest full-length heralded in an entirely new chapter. Achieving the coveted status of triple j feature album and a Top 10 ARIA Chart spot, Overgrown has ushered in a new wave of recognition for their craft of making a rock record incorporating an intricate collage of acoustic guitars, synths and strings. They’re in no rush to follow it up, but they’re certainly not sitting on their heels.

“We’re very firmly between records at the moment, I think,” Blitvich notes, while Mata adds: “Sly has always been a product of Sam and I writing individually, and then taking those ideas, whether it goes straight to the full band to be worked on or whether Sam and I workshop it. That’s how the last record came about, Sam and I did a lot of the workshopping before it ever got to the band.”

There is an instrumental aspect to what makes up Sly Withers, and then there is, of course, what the band are actually writing about. Be it coming of age or managing mental health, Sly Withers are voicing the emotions of a generation of young adults that are growing up in this world – and this economy – and feel understood when they’re singing the words to a song back to the band at a show. 

“As a general rule, we tend to write what we know and what we know tends to be our life,” Blitvich states. “Since we’ve been in a position where people have been listening to our music or wanting to listen to our music over the past few years, it’s been a pretty formative time. This kind of like – basically our twenties – you know? Shit’s tricky, stuff is hard, life is full of never-ending curve balls. Now we’ve got a cost of living crisis and the rental market’s fucked and all of that stuff. It’s always been about us trying to figure life out, and I don’t see that changing. I feel like there’s always gonna be stuff that we’re trying to figure out and that we’re struggling to come to terms with and I think at least partially, that will always be the throughline in all of our stuff. That’s what I think now, in a year I might be into abstract poetry and stuff because we have nothing left to talk about, I don’t know. But the writing has always been the core thing that binds it all together.”

Mata adds: “If we were to try and pick an idea or topic, or like a concept that we were gonna then write about, it would come across as super disingenuous and would be a very stark difference to what we normally do.”

Dedicating your life to making art, while an admirable pursuit, doesn’t protect you against the realities of being a musician in a world and industry as bleak as ours in 2023. The lifeline for Sly Withers as a band has been their manager, who they describe as “the wheels on the car that keeps us moving forward”, as well as “the seats, and the engine, and the windscreen, and the wipers.”

“I think definitely in terms of navigating the music industry as a whole, we are super lucky with the team that we have assembled around us,” Mata says, while Blitvich agrees: “Special shout out to our incredible booking agent Casey as well, Skinny and Casey really, really kept the ship afloat while the world was in crisis and we were rescheduling shows seven times and all that stuff. It was pretty chaotic and they were the ones doing all the hard work and it made it that little bit easier to just keep doing the next thing and everything will kind of fall into place.”

Sly Withers – Regional(ish) Tour

Thursday, July 6th
Volta, Ballarat
Tickets: Oztix

Friday, July 7th
Pier Bandroom, Frankston
Tickets: Oztix

Saturday, July 8th
Torquay Hotel, Torquay
Tickets: Eventbrite

Friday, July 14th
Uni Bar, Hobart
Tickets: Oztix

Saturday, July 15th
Royal Oak (Matinee Show), Launceston
Tickets: Royal Oak

Saturday, July 15th
Royal Oak, Launceston (SOLD OUT)
Tickets: Royal Oak

Sly Withers & Tigers Jaw Australian Tour

Friday, August 11th
Croxton, Melbourne
Tickets: Oztix

Saturday, August 12th
Factory Theatre, Sydney
Tickets: Century

Tuesday, August 15thWednesday, August 16th
Sidefest at the Brightside, Brisbane
Tickets: Oztix

Friday, August 18th
Lion Arts Factory, Adelaide
Tickets: Moshtix

Saturday, August 19th – Sunday, August 20th
Sidefest at Freo.Social, Fremantle
Tickets: Moshtix