Slow: Breaking the circle since 1985

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      You know all these bands from the '70's and '80's getting together to play again? I eat that shit up.

      From the original lineup of Gang of Four to bands as immense and important as Rocket From the Tombs—not to mention, locally, the Pointed Sticks, the Furies, the Dishrags, and the Subhumans Canada—some of my happiest concert experiences ever have been getting to see bands who I never thought I would see at all, who had broken up years before I knew who they were. And then suddenly Mission of Burma is in front of me doing "That's When I Reach for My Revolver". (Or the Pointed Sticks are gigging in Surrey.) Like, holy shit, right? 

      But of the many "the return of" shows I've seen in the 21st century, there's exactly one band from back in the day that I've seen who I actually saw back in the day.

      In 1986, I saw Slow open for the Cramps at the Thunderbird Arena. I had the 7" ("I Broke the Circle"/ "Black is Black"), which I bought brand new for a few dollars at Collectors RPM. (It sells for $130 on Discogs at present.) I had the EP, Against the Glass—which, two years pre-Tad, was terrifying and meaty, with immense chugging riffs and lyrics made more disturbing and mysterious by being almost undecipherable through Tom Anselmi's gigantic howling roar of a voice.

      It was like nothing else in rock at the time, or at least nothing else I knew. I was more excited to see Slow than I was the Cramps. I was more impressed by Slow than I was the Cramps (who were a bit grouchy and stiff that night, especially Lux, who seemed put off that the crowd was chanting demands that he strip, which he declined to do). By contrast, Slow was covered in blood, wearing nurses uniforms, and covering songs like "Gimme Shelter" (still in their live set)—which, you know, it takes real big swingin' ones for a group of teenagers to render live. 

      I loved it, and they made a huge impression, and deserve their rep in full—but here's the thing: precious as those memories are, Slow was actually better in December of last year, at the Fox, than Slow was in 1986. Having seen them then and now, I can tell you, they are tighter, stronger, more confident, and flat out more fun in 2017.

      Their range is far wider, their tastes more matured: I don't think they were whipping out Eddie Cochrane covers back in the day (though they did used to do Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog", which gives you a sense of what they sounded like the first time around: it's fun as fuck, but it's chaos and hormones compared to what they sound like now). And the new material ("Polaroid Queen" and "Asphalt Plane", for instance, was/is fantastic.  

      Tom Anselmi took the time to answer a few questions in front of Slow's upcoming ten night gig at the Penthouse. These are his answers in completion. If you somehow missed those Fox shows, and you like rock music, for chrissakes, go see Slow this time around.  

      Oh, and fair warning: you'll never hear "I Broke the Circle" the same way again after you read Tom's answers, below.

      Georgia Straight: What was the prehistory of the band? How did people meet? Were you friends before you were a band? Was music always a uniting feature? Did different people bring different tastes to the table?

      Tom Anselmi: Christian {Thorvaldson] and I met at University Hill Secondary, where I sang in a band called Psychotik Dik-Bites. He sang in Missing Children, named for the at-that-point-unsolved Olsen murders which were terrifying kids across the Lower Mainland. I remember their signature song had the lyrics, “Your children are missing, where have they gone? Perhaps you’ll find them down in the bog”. U-Hill was just transitioning out of being an alternative school—there were murals of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in the halls.

      We found common ground in our disgust for the place and in taunting the grade 12s, mostly stoned hippies that were its old guard. They were pretty easy to upset. This was in grade eight. Christian and I decided to join forces, and he had gone to school with Terry [Russell] and Stephen [Hamm]. We all jammed and it sounded like something right away. Terry and Hamm had a real '70s rock feel and it just felt right. Ziggy [Sigmund] joined shortly after, which added another, more punk element. Christian had lived in England and owned the Sweet’s “Teenage Rampage” and the early Sex Pistols singles, but pretty quickly got deep into soul and rhythm and blues.

      Nowadays Christian and Ziggy’s styles are much more merged and I often can’t tell who’s playing what, but in those early days there was a real contrast.

      How was “I Broke the Circle” written? Music first, lyrics first, or a bit of back and forth?

      Usually when I write lyrics to rock songs I'm inspired by the music first. Sometimes I try and articulate the feeling of the sound, and sometimes I contrast it. I'm pretty sure I came up with the title independently, but the majority of the lyrics would have been written to the music—which itself came out of a sort of taboo exploration of hard rock.

      The cover art is delightful! Who was the cover artist? Why a girl on the phone? Who designed the Slow logo?  

      The cover art was done by Erin Wright, a school chum of mine. She could draw comic art and I wanted something that was kind of Archies gone bad. The aesthetic was inspired by the Ramones—and the Modernettes, actually. No deeper meaning to the girl on the phone: she's only there to illustrate the line in the song. Oh, and I thought of the logo and had it drawn.

      Where were you rehearsing at that point? Where did you record it? How old were you at the time?

      We were rehearsing in Terry’s parent’s basement, which was across from Locarno Beach, near the Jericho Youth Hostel. The neighborhood wasn’t really posh like it is now. I was 16.

      Tom, pardon me if I seem to blow smoke up your ass here—I am being pretentious in what follows but I am being sincere—but where did the central lyrical idea come from? It’s brilliant. It is meaningful without being didactic or overly clear. It has exactly the right balance of mystery (what does it mean really?) and utility (you can apply to almost any circumstance where you've gotten ahead of yourself or have stepped out of line) without seeming vague to the point of meaninglessness like you might get from (bless 'em) Brian Eno, or Echo and the Bunnymen, or REM, or other bands that wrote portentous lyrics. Was there an actual "circle-breaking" that inspired the line? What circle? How were the lyrics written?

      Well, the title “I Broke The Circle” is a conflation of “I Walk The Line” and “May The Circle Be Unbroken”. So the name was definitely inspired by Johnny Cash, I also kind of added a country twang to the vocal. But ultimately, I guess the song is about making a mistake that can’t be fixed. I always tend to gravitate towards familiar ideas that can’t be placed easily. But you know, I was a teenage fuck up, so really it’s just about that, fucking up.

      How many copies of it were actually pressed? How did that end up happening? (Did you already have a relationship with Grant at Zulu?) 

      My relationship with Grant was a few years old already. He was the cool older kid that worked at Quintessence. Since grade seven I had been a regular customer of Quintessence Records, and I bought a lot of my first records on his recommendation. He had, and has, great taste. So he was the first person I played the tape for. We recorded it at a small studio called Aragon onto an 8 track, with a really talented guy named Howie who owned the studio—which had kind of a fern bar feel. Grant was the first person I played it for and he got pretty excited. I told him I thought it had mass appeal, and he said he wasn’t so sure about that. In any case he wanted to release it. I think there were 1000 copies made total.

      Any memories of the reception to the song? Particularly  meaningful reactions? 

      The reaction was pretty polarized. Some people loved it, but a lot didn’t. It was kind of brimming with teen sexuality, which was definitely not common at that time, and was equally influenced by punk and classic rock. That was kind of a new concept, and it didn’t go over well with a lot of more conformist punks, or with the college rock people, some of whom now pretend they were part of what was a very outsider scene. There was a lot of conformity in both the college rock and second wave punk scenes. Really, we were mixing the music that got you beaten up with the music of the people doing the beating. It unsettled some people. CITR wouldn’t play it at first—they said it sounded like Goddo, which was okay with me.

      I always also wondered where the title "Against the Glass" came from. I found a line in a Bukowski poem (don't recall which, but it was early on in his writing and may be in Burning In Water, Drowning in Flame) about "barking like crazy dogs against the glass," but there's a lyric in the song of the same name about someone pressing her bruised white body (?) against the glass? 

      With "Against the Glass", I was trying to reconcile the understanding of sexuality that had been taught to me during my hippy upbringing—that sex is beautiful, natural, between people who love each other, etc.— with what I saw around me as a teenager. At the time I was being taken care of by a woman who was older and involved in the sex trade. She had a lot of creepy pornography around the house, you know, those weird '60s paper bag novels with bizarrely illustrated, explicit covers. They weren’t particularly erotic and they kind of unsettled me, as did the whole idea of her work in general. I was still pretty young and naive but desperate to change that.

      My stepfather’s parents lived outside New York City, so I actually went into New York a lot from age 14 on—buying records from Bleeker Bobs and buying drugs in Washington Square. The title "Against the Glass" came from a young teen visit to Times Square, where I actually felt a woman’s breast for the first time, in a peep show. You went into a booth, and if you put a quarter in, the blind raised. If you put a dollar in, the window itself raised. Then you could put your hands through and cop a feel. So that’s really where the song was coming from, the kind of culture shock of confronting those seemingly opposing ideas around sexuality. The idyllic hippy version and the Times Square version.

      Any particular memories of the Cramps show? That was an amazing set.

      We wanted to make a splash opening for the Cramps, and I thought of the idea of doing "Pills" by the New York Dolls and wearing nurses uniforms. Buck and Mary from the Modernettes joined us onstage and we had dancers, too. Everyone was wearing the uniforms and I remember Christian had a pig’s ear and a meat cleaver hanging from his belt. For the grand finale, I planned on doing a re-enactment of the end of Carrie and dumping a bucket of fake blood over my head. The person tasked with procuring it decided it would be easier to just get a few gallons of actual pig’s blood from Save On Meats. 

      I opened my mouth, held the bucket high over my head and dumped it, swallowing a lot and immediately starting to retch. You had to go outside to get to the dressing rooms at Thunderbird Arena and there I was, covered in blood and still wearing a full nurse’s uniform with security refusing to let me in. Eventually Grant McDonagh figured it out for me.

      Slow plays for 10 nights straight at the Penthouse Cabaret, from March 30-April 8