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Slowdive's Neil Halstead on their new album 'everything is alive'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Slowdive, the British rock band, has been making dreamy guitar-rich records since the early 1990s. They pioneered something called shoegaze, a heavily layered style of music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALIFE")

SLOWDIVE: (Singing) Hey, just look at us now. Time made fools of us all.

SIMON: Slowdive began a nearly 20-year hiatus in the 1990s but reunited for a self-titled album in 2017. The group is back now with their fifth record, "Everything Is Alive." Neil Halstead sings and plays guitar for Slowdive. He joins us now from Cornwall in the UK. Mr. Halsted, thanks so much for being with us.

NEIL HALSTEAD: Hi, Scott. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Good to be back together with your mates?

HALSTEAD: (Laughter) Yeah, I mean, the band got back together in 2014. And yeah, and this is our, sort of, second record since our second act began really, I suppose. But yeah, we get on pretty well, and we enjoy the kind of touring and making the records and stuff.

SIMON: Part of your group is a guy named Simon Scott, right?

HALSTEAD: That's correct. Yep.

SIMON: I can't say he and I are confused for each other, but I'm flattered. Does anybody ever say to him, (imitating British accent) yeah, I hear you on the radio?

HALSTEAD: (Laughter) Possibly. I know he got mistaken for a very famous carp fisherman once when we were coming into the States.

SIMON: (Laughter) You mean your Simon Scott and me share names with a famous carp fisherman?

HALSTEAD: Apparently, yeah. Yeah.

SIMON: Well, I am honored.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOWDIVE SONG, "KISSES")

SIMON: Tell me about shoegazing, if I might put it that way, because it's a kind of thick guitar sound that creates the dreamy landscape of your music. And how does it get its name again?

HALSTEAD: I think the term originated in the sort of 1990s when there was a wave of bands. And Slowdive were one of that sort of group of bands that weren't really famous for having much stagecraft. So we spent a lot of time looking down at our shoes, mostly because we used a lot of guitar pedals. We were sort of looking to, you know, turn the pedals on and off. And there was this - this phrase was sort of coined in the early '90s by a journalist from the Melody Maker, which is a British music magazine. And it kind of stuck. And now it's sort of become a - you know, weirdly enough, it's sort of a genre of music now.

SIMON: Which emphasizes the guitar to do what when it tells a story musically?

HALSTEAD: I think, originally, all those sort of bands weren't really interested in having vocals that you could really hear. I mean, the most sort of famous band would be My Bloody Valentine. And you know, the vocals are very much buried in the mix. The guitars are very, very loud, and they don't really sound like guitars, you know? So it's a very sort of effect-heavy kind of version of pop music, I suppose.

SIMON: Let me ask you about your cut "Kisses."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KISSES")

SLOWDIVE: (Singing) Maybe there's a car, there, driving away from here. Taking all the ghosts, the hurt. Well, everything starts anew. Tell me what you need, what's right. Whatever is just enough, is living with a truth, a start. Maybe it's just enough. Kisses. Born desert sun. Kisses.

SIMON: Taking all the ghosts, the hurt. Well, everything starts anew. Is this an album that comes out of a sense of taking on a new life or redefining your life?

HALSTEAD: A lot of the album is sort of about time passing, I suppose. And I suppose, you know, seeing as we're all getting on a bit now, that's sort of one of the things we're writing the songs about. And yeah, and I think "Kisses" is sort of a song about, you know, having a second act, having a different chance in life, I suppose.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KISSES")

SLOWDIVE: (Singing) Kisses. Born desert sun. Kisses.

SIMON: How does this - what we're hearing - the layering process work?

HALSTEAD: I mean, this is definitely a sort of a cleaner version of Slowdive, I think, in the sense that the volume is down a little bit. It's not as heavy, maybe, on this record as they are on some of the other records. But there's still - yeah, there's still a lot of layers to the sound. And, you know, it's built up by guitar tracks, or there's some kind of synthesizer tracks and stuff like that. You know, some of the tracks are just instrumentals, which is sort of normal for us. And, you know, some of them are kind of more like pop tunes, you know? But they all, I guess, have a slightly woozy kind of Slowdive sound to them, still a lot of reverb involved in the sound.

SIMON: What does it take to make a record these days?

HALSTEAD: I think it's a lot easier in the sense that you don't necessarily have to spend a lot of money and go to a big fancy studio, you know? I mean, if you've got a laptop and a couple of microphones and a decent haircut, you can form a band and make a record pretty easily, which is great. I think the difficult thing these days is perhaps getting those records heard, you know? There isn't that kind of level of record company support that you would have got when we first started. So yeah, making the records is easier, I think. But making a living on it is definitely tougher.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SKIN IN THE GAME")

SLOWDIVE: (Singing) Skin in the game. Skin in the game. Poison heart won't go so far, yeah. Skin in the game. Skin in the game. Blood in the highs and count the stars.

SIMON: What keeps you touring?

HALSTEAD: I think for us, it's we enjoy doing it, you know? It's - we don't do that often. I mean, the last time we toured was 2018, I think. So, you know, we've had a few years off. Obviously, COVID was kind of a big part of that, as well. We - you know, I think we all lost a bit of time there. But yeah, I mean, for us, you know, we're looking forward to getting back out and playing the old songs, you know, playing these new ones, as well, and just sort of reconnecting with the audience again. And we'll be out in the U.S., I think, in a couple of weeks. So it's exciting for us.

SIMON: And just for the record, do you actually spend a lot of time gazing at your shoes?

HALSTEAD: (Laughter) Well, I probably do because I'm, you know, one of the guitarists, so I definitely still spend a lot of time seeing what's happening with my pedals, you know? But possibly not the case for the rest of the band.

SIMON: Neil Halstead of Slowdive. The shoegaze band is out now with their fifth record, "Everything Is Alive." Mr. Halstead, thank you so much for being with us.

HALSTEAD: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOWDIVE'S "THE SLAB") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.