One of the few musical incarnations of absolute beauty ever to exist in the world, the band Slowdive was formed in Reading, England, in 1989, by singer/guitarist Neil Halstead (b. October 7, 1970), singer/guitarist Rachel Goswell (b. May 16, 1971), bassist Nick Chaplin (b. December 23, 1970), guitarist Christian Savill (b. December 6, 1970), and drummer Adrian Sell.
No other band has ever sounded like Slowdive did, though many have tried. (Secret Shine, anyone?) Their wavey, hypnagogic, dreamy combination of guitars, guitar effects, soft drum beats and shadowy female and male vocals set them apart from their contemporaries in the mostly (but not equally) beautiful shoegazer movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s. They were softer and less blasé than the genre's forerunners, My Bloody Valentine, shinier than shoegazer contemporaries Lush, yet they were swifter and more textured than Moose, the minimalists of the genre.
The band was named for a word Chaplin had heard in a dream, though he couldn't remember exactly which word when he woke up. He was certain that it was either "slowdive" or "slowburn." Obviously the band chose "slowdive" and then began expanding on their dreamy origins by creating music to fall in love to, to lay comatose to, and to forgive someone to. Contrary to the opinion of some, the band did not take their name from the Siouxsie & The Banshees song "Slowdive."
Slowdive's first cache of EP releases, released on then-luminary label Creation Records, appeared in 1990 and 1991. First came Slowdive, a three-track 12", then the CD EP Morningrise and the 12" Holding Our Breath. All three were named Melody Maker Single of the Week upon their release.
Renowned BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel was highly enthusiastic about promoting the band and due to his influence they became more popular, and were loved by British music journalists. In 1991 Creation (UK/Europe) and SBK Records (USA) released the band's debut album, Just For A Day, to the wide acclaim of the music press.
Christian Savill recalls the following about meeting Alan McGee (then head of Creation Records) and getting signed:
"The Creation thing came about very suddenly. We had played a gig in Reading with Five Thirty and this strange guy approached me after the gig saying he really liked our show and asked if we had a tape. I didn't know who he was but a member of Five Thirty told me that he was Steve Walters, head of A&R at EMI and we should get him a tape immediately. Rachel went home and got him a demo from home. Steve was also good friends with Alan McGee and he played him the tape. Then a little while later Neil called me up to say we were meeting Alan McGee in a hotel in Reading and he wants to sign us up. I couldn't even begin to believe it. When we turned up and saw him at the bar of the hotel in his sunglasses, it was amazing. We had a short meeting and he told us that he wanted to sign us but we should go home and think about it then come up to the offices in the week and decide. Then he left and we celebrated, there was no decision to think about."
The early 1990s were a busy time for the band. Most of the time they were either on tour or in the studio. However, due to the shoegaze genre's inability to catch on in the USA, several tours there were planned and scrapped because SBK Records seemed to be against the band from the start. Their records received virtually no promotion in the States and sold poorly as a result, though the band did garner somewhat of a cult following there around this time.
By 1993, shoegaze was rapidly sinking as a favoured genre of music, for reasons I was never able to figure out. By this time the band had released a couple more EPs; Outside Your Room and the 5 EP, both on Creation (none of the EPs ever saw release on the other side of the pond), and their second full-length album, Souvlaki. In an odd move, SBK packaged Souvlaki and four of the five tracks from the 5 EP onto on CD and released it in the USA. In late 1993 the band was finally able to tour the States, and did so on a few occasions, with Ride, and later Lush and Catherine Wheel. Both tours were financial failures due to poor promotion on SBK's part, once again. In mid-1994 Slowdive financed a USA tour of their own, determined to not screw over their American and Canadian fans. It lasted only two weeks, but most of the dates sold out.
Early on, Adrian Sell left the band to persue academic endeavors, and he was replaced by Neil Carter for the recording of Morningrise, and then for a few years by Simon Scott, formerly of the band Eternal.
After a short break after the tours, the band entered the studio again to record what ended up their final album, the ambient-ish Pygmalion. Simon Scott left the band prior to its recording, and he was replaced by drummer Ian McCutcheon. Pygmalion contained just about zero contribution from anyone other than Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell. The rest of the band, not liking the ambient/experimental tack that Neil and Rachel were leaning towards, quit. After the album's release in 1995 (in the UK only -- SBK Records had gone bankrupt the previous year), Slowdive announced that they had not so much had broken up but had more reformed themselves with a new name -- Mojave 3. The new band, consisting of Neil, Rachel, Ian and pianist Poppy Gonzalez, had originally named themselves just "Mojave," but after quickly discovering another band had that name, they pinned the "3" onto the end of it, as they had been a trio at the time. Poppy Gonzalez didn't come along until the band were recording their first album as Mojave 3, entitled Ask Me Tomorrow and released by 4AD in 1996, effectively tolling the bell for Slowdive. Mojave 3 ended up branching out into various genres in the intervening years, including country music, surf rock, and atmospheric jazz.
Rachel Goswell released her first solo effort, Waves Are Universal, in 2004, also a 4AD product; I thought it was very good. It was nice to hear her voice again, unfettered by Mojave 3's latter efforts, which I disliked. Waves is mostly just voice and acoustic guitar, but not bare: the sound is actually quite full. I don't know if everyone who was into Slowdive would like it, but I do.
Neil Halstead has also built a solo career, releasing the twangy country music album Sleeping On Roads in 2002 through 4AD, followed by some more of the same in 2008, although his first solo album was so uninteresting to me that I haven't bothered to listen to what came after it, untempered by the fact that Neil now sports a huge and utterly preposterous beard, complete with its own song, "Baby, I grew you a beard". This offends my delicate sensibilities and makes Neil look like a hipster.
A wealth of unreleased material was collected over the years, enough to fill about three full albums. None of it saw the light of day until the year 2000, when it was distributed to fans of the band (myself included) by former guitarist Christian Savill, who around that time was forming the band Monster Movie. Most of the unreleased stuff is very, very good, though unpolished, as it's all demo quality. Some of these tracks evolved into Mojave 3 songs. There are a few tracks marking a collaboration with Brian Eno. Fruit of that collaboration can be found on Souvlaki -- the song "Sing" features Eno on synths, though that's the only song from that session to make it to an official release.
Despite the stigma that the genre-whoring public and music press insist on inflicting on everyone, Slowdive transcended whatever they were labeled with, and meshed their way onto a lot of music-elitists' favourite band lists. I recommend starting at the beginning, if you mean to pick up some of their recordings, although all of the band's releases are now out of print.
The albums are still relatively easy to find, but the EPs are not. Your best bet for the really early stuff are P2P networks or iTunes. The whole back catalogue has been reissued. Look for it at a store near you or buy it on Amazon or iTunes!
UPDATE 2014: You'll never guess. SLOWDIVE HAS REUNITED to play live and maybe record new material! I can die happy, now, thank you. Here's their first warm-up show, May 18, 2014 at Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen in London. Over the summer of 2014, a 20-date world tour is in the works, with only two US dates: Chicago and Los Angeles. I consider myself extremely lucky enough to have attended the Chicago show! Suffice it to say it was the very best, most special thing I have ever seen! A few days before they played Chicago, a 13-show North American tour was then announced and took place in October and November, 2014. I saw them again when they visited Detroit! And according to recent interviews, the general consensus among the band is that the reunion is permanent, with a new album (at least) and further tours. I never though any of this would happen and the summer/autumn of 2014 is a high-point of my life now because of it.
UPDATE 2015: A new album is being made as I write this and a few weeks ago Pitchfork put out a documentary on the making of Souvlaki, which offered some brilliant insight into what made that record the shining star that it always has been.
UPDATE 2016: The new album is in post-production, as of mid-year, and should see a proper release by the end of the year. After that, I'm hoping for more touring! Rachel has also been busy with her side project Minor Victories, whose self-titled debut album was released in May. It's pretty good! Minor Victories is a super-group of sorts, consisting of Rachel on vocals and guitar; Stuart Brathwaite from Mogwai on guitar, Justin Lockey from Editors on bass guitar and his brother James Lockey handling the electronics (including the drum machine) and providing a third guitarist. It's most definitely a shoegaze band. Their self-titled debut album is pure and beautiful, and is perhaps comparable in sound to M83 or Still Corners, but still manages to provide a fairly unique sound. It's head and shoulders above anything Mojave 3 ever made.
1990 Slowdive (EP - Creation Records)
- Avalyn II
1990 Beach Song/Take Me Down (Flexi 7" - Creation Records)
- Beach Song
- Take Me Down
1991 Morningrise (EP - Creation Records)
- She Calls
- Losing Today
1991 Holding Our Breath (EP - Creation Records)
- Catch the Breeze
- Golden Hair
1991 Just For A Day (LP - Creation Records/SBK Records)
- Spanish Air
- Celia's Dream
- Catch the Breeze
- Ballad of Sister Sue
- Erik's Song
- The Sadman
1992 Blue Day (EP - Creation Records - reissued in 2015)
- She Calls
- Losing Today
1993 Outside Your Room (EP - Creation Records)
- So Tired
- Souvlaki Space Station
- Moussaka Chaos
1993 5 (EP - Creation Records)
- In Mind
- Some Velvet Morning (Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra cover)
- Good Day Sunshine
- Missing You
- Country Rain
1993 Souvlaki (LP - Creation Records/SBK Records)
Note: The SBK Records release of Souvlaki contained the last four tracks of the 5 EP.
- Machine Gun
- 40 Days
- Sing (feat. Brian Eno)
- Here She Comes
- Souvlaki Space Station
- When the Sun Hits
- Melon Yellow
1994 5 (In Mind Remixes) (EP - Creation Records)
- In Mind (Out of Mind mix by Bandulu)
- In Mind (The 147 Take by Reload)
1995 Pygmalion (LP - Creation Records)
- Crazy For You
- J's Heaven
- Visions of La
- Blue Skied An' Clear
- All of Us
- 1995 The Doom Generation (Blue Skied An' Clear)
- 1997 Nowhere (Avalyn II)
- 1999 Splendor (Shine (Splendiferous Mix by Locust))
- 2004 Mysterious Skin (Catch the Breeze, Dagger and Golden Hair)
- 2010 Kiss Kiss (Golden Hair)
Note: All of these films except for Kiss Kiss were written and directed by Gregg Araki. He's a confirmed fan, to the extent that he named a character in Mysterious Skin "Avalyn".
Other releases from former members of Slowdive (excluding Simon Scott's work with Eternal and Neil Halstead's work with the Pumpkin Fairies, both of which predate Slowdive):
- Sleeping On Roads (2002, 4AD Records)
- Oh! Mighty Engine (2008, Brushfire Records)
- Palindrome Hunches (2012, Brushfire Records)
- Waves Are Universal (2004, 4AD Records)
Monster Movie (Christian Savill):
- Last Night Something Happened (2001, Clairecords)
- Monster Movie/Dreamend (2002, Graveface Records)
- To The Moon (2004, Clairecords)
- Transistor (2004, Graveface Records)
- All Lost (2006, Graveface Records)
- Everyone Is A Ghost (2010, Graveface Records)
Inner Sleeve (Simon Scott):
- Looking Up (2000, Fierce Panda Records)
- I Know (2000, Stupidcat Records)
Televise (Simon Scott):
- Songs To Sing In A & E (2006, Quince Records)
- Secret Valentine (2008, Distant Noise Records)
Simon Scott (solo projects):
- Navigare (2009, CD, Miasmah Records)
- Nivalis (2010, 3" CD, Secret Furry Hole Records)
- Silenne (2010, vinyl-only, Slaapwel Recprds)
- Conformists (2010, CD, with Dag Rosenqvist, Low Point Records)
- Depart (2011, CD, Sonic Pieces Records)
- Bunny (2011, CD, Miasmah Records)
- Below Sea Level (2012, CD, 12k Records)
- Insomni (2015, CD, Ash International Records)
Mojave 3 (Neil and Rachel, among others):
- Ask Me Tomorrow (1996, 4AD Records)
- Out of Tune (1998, Sire Records)
- Excuses For Travellers (2000, 4AD Records)
- Spoon and Rafter (2003, 4AD Records)
- Puzzles Like You (2006, 4AD Records)
Black-Hearted Brother (Neil, Mark van Hoen and Nick Holden):
- Stars Are Our Home (2012)
Minor Victories (Rachel, among others):
- Minor Victories (2016, CD, Fat Possum Records)
Neil has also collaborated with French shoegazers Alcest on the track "Away" in 2014 and Rachel contributed backing vocals to "Pearl" by Chapterhouse way back in 1991. She also provided guest vocals on Liu Bei's "Fields", released in 2015.
Some relevant links, including pre-reunion and post-reunion, as well as some fan sites:
Official website (new as of 2014)
Database of all Slowdive shows
Souvlaki Space Station: A Slowdive Digital Museum
Entire band (post-reunion)
Entire band (post-reunion)
Entire band (post-reunion)
I have seen this band live twice: Chicago 2014 (Pitchfork Music Festival)
Detroit 2014 (with Low)