“It’s the death of so much artistry, when you’ve built a caricature of yourself and you write to that,” Ben Stewart tells BLUNT. The frontman of Melbourne band Slowly Slowly is talking us through their latest album, Daisy Chain, out today. On the fifth full-length of their career (including the second chapter of Race Car Blues), Stewart and the crew are unafraid to forge a fresh path across uncharted territory without playing into their past success, purposefully weaving in and out of new shades of light and dark. Stewart guides us into unannexed domains of vulnerability by carving out his heart and serving it to listeners on a silver platter, with a beat that merges the influences of the music that he was raised on with the music that he wants to dance to. It’s not pure rock, or pop, or punk – it’s just Slowly Slowly.
Before generously reaching further inside his chest cavity to extrapolate on each track of the record, Stewart also offers that he trusts the act’s audience to “make up on their own judgement” on what may at first seem abstract about Daisy Chain. “I want it to mean different things to different people,” he concludes. “Everybody has a daisy chain in their life.” Ahead of some sold out acoustic shows next week in addition to screenings of their documentary, Stewart took some time out to talk us through the next entry in Slowly Slowly’s discography.
‘Daisy Chain’ was probably the last song to be written for the record, and it kind of tied everything up and put a bow on it. The daisy chain metaphor was something that felt really fitting, because I had this imagery of myself falling into a volcano, and having this little daisy chain tucked under my shoelace and that being what saved me, and it being such a fragile thing, a metaphor for someone in my life or sometimes [what] the things that save you could be. Something that can be so strong, sometimes often so delicate at the same time, that you have to look after it. And that duality there of strength and vulnerability.
I also love the idea of it being circular, because I felt like I was re-living a lot of things, a lot of loops that I thought I’d put to bed a long time ago. It felt like the perfect metaphor for a lot of the stuff I was going through when I wrote the record, and it had this resolve in it. Everything felt like it was how it was meant to be at the end of that song, whereas I think if you take that song out of the record, it’s actually quite a depressing record. And so I wanted, from the get go, to state that everything was going to be alright.
I wrote it about the best party I ever went to. Everyone has those nights where you feel like the planets have fucking aligned, and everybody’s on the same wavelength and everybody’s tapping into this…feeling of fucking chaos. And that almost got raised up the flagpole over the lockdowns, ‘cause it was like, I remembered that fucking feeling of “I’m so alone right now, and feeling disconnected from everybody,” and the concept of everyone in a fucking room going crazy was so far from reality that that song served as a reminder. It was written pre all of that stuff, but the relevancy of it became so poignant over that time.
‘Turn It Around’
There are so many times where you look in the mirror and say, “I’m done. It’s over.” But then here we are. This is like that retrospective kick up the butt that sometimes you need. It’s dark content up against a hypnotic groove, it feels like you wanna dance to it, and that was what I wanted. Some of my favourite, and the saddest songs that I love, make you wanna dance. That was what I wanted to tap into for this record. And it was also a song that we deliberately held back from being a single because I knew that I wanted it to be the first song that people heard – people had heard all the singles to date when the record dropped, so I wanted them to be like, “What song do I want to hear first?” They’re obviously gonna go, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard ‘Daisy Chain’, ‘I’ve heard ‘Blueprint’, I’ll skip to fucking, the next one.” And then they listen to ‘Turn It Around’. It encapsulates a lot of the ethos around this record.
‘Forget You’ is self-explanatory in a way, but it’s about putting stuff to bed. It’s almost like a self-mantra as well, about putting parts of your personality to bed that just keep rising from the ground like fucking zombies, or when you cut the head off a snake and then it grows back. It was playing with that concept of, “I love to say take 2, but to be honest baby think a million’s due.” And that’s like, everybody loves to go: “And starting again from…now.” And that’s like, as I was saying before about the ‘Daisy Chain’ stuff, you zoom out and it’s like, “How many fucking times have you said starting again from now?” It’s like you realise the loop that you’ve built, and maybe you won’t forget those parts of yourself, maybe you won’t forget that particular person, and that’s fine.
I love that song. I love the production. There are just very few dancefloor bangers that would talk about working dogs in the first verse. That song for me is like, the ultimate lockdown kind of thing, as much as that’s fucking cliché. We don’t wanna talk about that year that shall not be named, but it’s like, sometimes when you’re locked down and forced to look at your life – who you’ve become – and all of your identity’s been stripped away by a global pandemic, it changes your perspective on things. I’d lost a little bit of the fun in myself because you build a personality around the person that you are in a band. And it’s like, “I write these sorts of songs, this is the sort of person I am, I’m a fucking deep thinker, I’m romantic, I’m all this sort of shit.” And maybe I’m not. Maybe sometimes I just like to fucking dance and have a good time, and maybe I wanna connect, maybe I wanna light some old fires. That song is just about that. It’s about reconnecting.
I think I realised throughout all of this introspection and throughout this record, and something that fits the theme of what we’ve been talking about, is that a lot of my Achilles heel is fixing myself. “Good advice” is my [Achilles heel] – it’s like constantly looking to self-improve and thinking I can be something different. There are so many parts of myself that I fucking despise, and thinking: “If I just try my fucking hardest to focus on the good bits of me, I can grow in that direction and be a better person.” But I think this song, this record, is about going into, there is heaps of darkness and there is heaps of light. There’s heaps of all sorts, and being honest is probably the only power I have in this situation. There are a lot of tongue-in-cheek little references throughout that song where I’m poking fun at the music industry and the little slippery rungs that we all have to climb and just the state of the game at the moment. I didn’t think I realised how political this stuff was with music, and how the industry was just fucking snakes and ladders, and I wanted, in my own playful way, to poke some fun at it as well.
‘Hold My Breath’
‘Hold My Breath’ centres around stubbornness and just conflict. I guess what I was trying to get at was like, you’ll be stubborn in a fight, you know? But the flipside of that coin is, you should be stubborn in fixing things, too. You should stubbornly want to fix things as much as you stubbornly want to wreck things, I think. It’s a natural human emotion to dig your heels in, and that song is just going, “if you’re going to self-sabotage or sabotage externally and stubbornly, you owe it to yourself and the people around you to dig your heels in to save stuff too.”
I guess that’s probably one of the lowest points of the record. There’s not a whole lot of light at the end of the tunnel in that song. I think I did most of the vocals in one take for that, and recorded it in a spare bedroom at my house. I haven’t cried in a long time, but if you listen to the second verse just towards the end when I say, “Where’s the medicine you take to believe? I’m on my knees,” you hear this big inhale and shake and it’s like, I almost broke the dam. I don’t know what to say about that one.
I wanted to play with this concept that was like, “You’re right. God’s real, and we have to do our best on this Earth to get into Heaven, right?” Nobody wants to go to the bad place, we want to go to the good place. And so it was like, “Say that’s real, we should do our best here to look after everyone and we should be selfless and blah, blah, blah, Ten Commandments, the Quran, the Torah, the everything – follow the rules, be the best person you can be.” And then I was like, “What if there was no religion?” No Heaven, and this is what we’ve all got. Doesn’t the same fucking apply? If this is a fleeting experience that’s gonna end and we’re gonna be worm food, shouldn’t we still try and be the best person we’re going to be, and leave this place better than we found it? What if this is Heaven, what if we already died and we’re in Heaven right now and we’re wasting all of this fucking time thinking about this place that we’re gonna get to? And we’re constantly trying to convert other people and push ideologies around?
There’s no one in the world that can tell you whether that’s true or that’s false, I think it was just playing with that concept. I’m not the first one to do it, and I won’t be the last…And who the fuck am I? I’m an idiot. Nothing accredits me more than anyone else to talk about this, so I felt like it was almost untouchable, but given the experiences I’ve had over the last couple of years, and reconciling close people’s beliefs, and we lost some close family members. Death and religion and having to look those things in the eyes wasn’t a choice anymore. You’re forced to think about them for the first time…I didn’t want to make any decisions about it, and I didn’t want to impart my own views on it in a way that was a real chokehold. I just wanted to walk through the problem and just think about it.
A lot of bands have a song that’s a bit of a middle finger to doing things you don’t wanna fucking do, and feeling like the dream that you’re clinging to is evaporating a little bit. I wanted an internal pep talk. The bones of that song are quite old, and it’s felt especially relevant over the last couple of years about feeling like you’re chasing something that keeps moving backwards, you know?
‘Moving Trains’ (feat. Dashboard Confessional)
That song was a dream come true. I love Chris [Carrabba’s] writing. I love Dashboard. It’s an old song that, as well, got a bit of a facelift, but just felt more relevant than ever. I listened to the original demo of it and I felt a very fresh perspective on myself, but it was like this sort of time capsule from years and years ago…This was supposed to be a romantic song, and now I listen to it and read the lyrics and I feel such pity for myself, or Little Ben, because I’m like, “You thought that was romance?” That was just trying your hardest to not get hurt and to feel safe. It was selfish. It was about building a concept of yourself in a way that would prevent the other person from ever getting too close, because you thought that there wasn’t anything good there.
So it was like, “If I can just distract this person long enough, they might let me in so that I can feel good, but God, I can’t let them know how fucked I am.” I think the whole metaphor around that, building tracks in front of moving trains, it was this neurotic process of keeping up with yourself. Like you have to build the tracks in front of the fucking train while it’s moving For me, building personal relationships and things, they were so problematic for me back then. So now that I’m a bit more in tune with myself, I can see those patterns. I’m thankful that they’ve somewhat broken. It was also a cool circular thing, because Dashboard were so instrumental early on in the way that I wrote.
I guess it probably goes hand in hand with ‘Medicine’ as being on the darker side of the record, and it’s pretty self-explanatory, this song. It’s the metaphor of layering all of these very fragile, delicate, easily-ripped things into something that’s seemingly sturdy or something that could take weight. But in reality, it’s so many layers of weak, flimsy shields or something. It’s playing with that concept of a front, of things seeming okay when they aren’t.
Daisy Chain is out now via UNFD.
Slowly Slowly ‘Daisy Chain’ Album Launch
Monday, November 7th
The Vanguard, Sydney
Slowly Slowly SOLD OUT
Tuesday, November 8th
Night Cat, Melbourne
Slowly Slowly SOLD OUT
Thursday, November 10th
Lefty’s Music Hall, Brisbane
Slowly Slowly SOLD OUT