Daisy Chain is out now!
Image: Marcus Coblyn
Melbourne-based four-piece Slowly Slowly have unveiled their fourth studio album, Daisy Chain. To celebrate the release, frontman Ben Stewart has shared with MILKY what led him towards taking on the role of producer and working with other artists.
I started producing my own work, and then when I started my side project called Congrats, I started working with a lot of producers and also as a songwriter for some other artists. And in that collaboration, I was able to finally define the role of what a producer was, because I didn't really know prior. I think when a lot of artists work with producers, they might sit back and be the artist on the couch writing the lyrics and doing those sorts of things. But I was always very interested in what the producers were doing. And I've always been, even back to when I played drums, very involved in the arrangements of writing. I think as well, writing Daisy Chain gave me like an insight again into it because I approached Daisy Chain very differently than other records I'd written arrangement-wise, especially with guitars because I'd had all this experience with my side project and using a host of other instruments other than writing on the guitar.
For Daisy Chain I came back to the guitar and I was like: “I'm not gonna treat this like the classic pop rock thing and have you doing just doing block chords through the song” or, you know, doing the Weezer thing or the blink-182. I really wanted to write guitar parts where if you pulled everything apart and you just listened to each component, it would maybe make no sense. But then together - that's the song. And during that exercise, writing arrangements made sense to me for the first time. It just felt like luck before then. I felt like I was just kind of wandering around with a bit of a blind pin the tail on the donkey or something, and if I struck gold, it was lucky.
But songwriting still is a complete fucking mystery to me. I don't pretend to know anything about that. But in terms of the science of arrangement, creation and being able to help a song’s message be clearly received on the first listen…that’s what I’ve improved. And that is a muscle and that is something that anyone can be good at if they just love it enough. And that is the muscle that I've really started to exercise over Daisy Chain. And because of Race Car Blues and another couple of things, I started to become a magnet and a person who could help in those areas.
Without sort of putting my hand up and saying: “Oh, I'm a producer now. I produce work. Guys, hit my management up”…it wasn't like that when it came to me working with other artists. It was more like: I had friends within the music industry that saw that I was creating a vast volume of work that I'd like to think they thought was of a high quality. And then I had some dear friends like Bec Stevens hit me up to do some help on her record, which turned into co-producing with Jon from Cry Club. I think I did five or six songs on her album, including her current single called Big Worry, which just got added to rotation. I went in with a pretty heavy hand on that song and I'm so happy with the results. And Jonathan killed it in his own input as well, we just worked together as a great team.
So, I did Bec’s record, and then at the same time, Tyler Richardson from Luca Brasi approached me. I did 10 songs on his album, and we did it via correspondence. And then for a few sessions he came over here and he had these sort of skeletons of songs, just acoustic and vocals, and I fleshed out the arrangements. We had a bit of a vision for the record where we didn't want drums across the record, and we wanted to steer away from the kind of “punk guy in band makes acoustic record” sort of thing. We ended up making this strange little wistful record with Baroque piano parts and strange tape-addled guitars. And it's beautiful. It's like a bowl of fruit or something in this record, it’s so refreshing. And especially for me and Tyler, we've made a lot of meat and potatoes rock over the years. So, it was really nice, we went in with a real vision for it. And it turned out like a sort of charming Paul Kelly-esque, Billy Bragg-esque record. It's really cool.
I have such a love for hooks and hi fidelity pop, but then I also have such a love for garage recorded singer-songwriter music sung out of tune. I love it all, and I would hate to shoehorn an artist’s work, that’s not what I ever want to do. I love exceeding expectations, and sometimes you just have to follow your nose, like curious kids, wandering our way to school on a spring morning, retaining a childlike curiosity with music while hopefully using the broader knowledge that I’ve picked up over the years. I like working with people who have open minds, and I think in order to truly create something that exceeds yours, as a producer, and the artist’s expectations - it has a bit of juju about it. And you need to make a few mistakes to get there, definitely. I'm also extremely picky, I wouldn't work with anyone that I didn't like. Unless it piques my interest, I'm not gonna do it. And I need to be discerning because if I'm going to maintain the same ethos across all the artists I work with, I have to enjoy it.
A lot of the wisdom I hope to have accrued over the years lies in how sometimes a song can mean something so much to you, the songwriter, but sometimes that doesn’t come across when you hear it. And when you’re producing, it’s just trying to do that dance between making this song retain those qualities for the artist, the qualities that they fell in love with initially, but also packaging it so that someone else can get that feeling too. It’s the curse of so many good songwriters in this world, things can just get confused in the messaging. And sometimes that’s in the arrangement, sometimes that’s in the lyrics or the melody too. Not that I want to feed into people having short attention spans these days, but I feel like you’ve only got one moment on someone’s first listen, you’ve only got one moment to make a fan for life. So, it should be taken very seriously how your packaging that stuff up.
Daisy Chain is out now!