Photo: Tyrus Hill
It’s been almost two years since Liverpool’s rising band, Chinatown Slalom, put out their debut album, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? For months, fans of the four-piece have been waiting patiently for the group to release their EP Meet the Parents. Retaining their organized cacophonous sound and evolving a stronger sense of structure and self-identity, the band continues to create a sonic world full of fun and self-reflection anchored in intoxicating songwriting.
Ones To Watch was able to chat with the band, comprised of Jake Brettell, Liam Nolan, Mikey Woods, and Ricky Crawford, and discuss "playing the game" in the music industry, magic trees, and of course, Jack Black.
Ones To Watch: At the time of this interview, you’re about 24 hours away from the release of Meet the Parents. How are y'all feeling?
Ricky: The first two singles have been alright, so it’s just gonna be nice to see what people think of the rest of it.
Liam: And it’s been such a long time coming. Honestly, I don’t have any nerves at this point just because it’s just a relief to finally start releasing again. We see this as the first step on a ladder, rather than, oh, we need this to do amazingly. We just know it’s a long game, and we’ve got multiple moves to make.
Is touring something on the horizon for the band?
Jake: Yeah, we’re not really set on that right now. Not to rule any possibilities out, but at this minute, the touring scene is pretty bleak, especially in the UK.
What are the COVID restrictions like in the UK right now?
Jake: It doesn’t make any sense.
Mikey: It’s confusing.
Ricky: Apparently, we’re going to be opening up in two weeks -
Liam: but I wouldn’t get my hopes up!
Ricky: We’ll see what happens, but we’re not holding our breath.
Liam: We’re like 20 odd-year-old musicians, so we obviously view COVID entirely different from a 60-year-old who’s retired. We’re just riding this wave. It helps us play to our strengths of being bedroom producers. We were the only part of the music industry that could really keep working the whole time, so we just loaded up on tunes rather than worrying about touring.
There’s certainly been a surge in the DIY music scene because of the pandemic.
Liam: To us, it’s like punk. It really is the modern definition of punk. So, to do it yourself is the punkest thing.
Ricky: Yeah, and I think that’s why there’s such a big wave of it coming back through at the minute, because I know that it’s so easy for anyone to get into now, but like you just got to dedicate time to it, and you’ll get good eventually.
On Meet the Parents, it sounds like y'all have kept this organized chaos while also adding a bit of structure and solidity. While creating this record, what were some things you learned about yourselves as artists?
Ricky: I guess we focused a lot more on making them into songs. They were almost kind of like a musical collage for the first record. I think this time, from the point where they started, they had sort of chords and lyrics, whereas previously, it just been kind of -
Ricky: Yeah, total improv.
Liam: Yeah, and it’s just like how we were describing the EP. We knew we needed to dress up smart and kind of sell ourselves to the world. We kind of consciously did that with the tunes as well. They’re packaged a lot tidier than the first project. That was a conscious decision. I think structure is the biggest difference between the first project and the second one. That’s what makes it sound a bit more mature and a little bit more accessible. We want to play the game. That is kind of the whole point of the project. We’ve made so much music that that was wacky and weird, and the people we were working with were saying, "This isn’t the next thing." And then we ended up kind of just using that as a whole concept to make an entirely different project about having to play the game for putting your music out and getting our foot in the door so we can do all the weird things we want to do. It was a realization that, yeah, you can be all wacky and weird, but if no one’s listening, this is nothing.
In a Drop The Spotlight article about the EP, y'all talked about the reality of playing the game. You artistically translated that idea of selling out into everything from the title of the record to even your music videos. Can you expand on how you developed this concept?
Liam: I just always think about how Jack Black talks about the man in the music industry. We just kind of flipped the man into being this kind of parent that you have to go and win over before they are happy with you coming around all the time. Like you have to make good first impressions, and that is kind of the whole thing that links the entire project, because we’ve made so much music that the industry and the label didn’t think it was the right thing. So we were just like, fine, let’s play this game then. If they really want us to put out hard-hitting projects, then ok fine, but only if you let us put out all these other songs that are really weird and might be a bit more niche for people.
I know this is more of a common question, but I wanted to ask which track is your favorite and least favorite from the record?
Ricky: "Why’s You Wanna" is probably my favorite. And then least favorite…
And by least favorite, I don’t mean you hate it. Like maybe it was a hard track for you to solidify or was technically challenging.
Ricky: "Love Is Letting Go" has a particularly hard trumpet solo in the middle. It’s hard man, but I still love it. It’s very close to my heart.
Mikey: My favorite’s probably "Arrow in the Thigh," and I reckon my least favorite is probably “Bet Your Hat.” I don’t know why. It’s hard to choose cause there are only five pieces.
Jake: Yeah, it’s tricky because the reason we put them all on the EP is because we like to go against the grain. I’ll have to say that “Love Is Letting Go” or "Arrow in the Thigh" is my favorite, and my least favorite is "Bet Your Hat" because it’s a little bit more poppy.
Liam: Yeah, my favorite is "Love Is Letting Go" as well. I think it’s the best-written song. It’s just on the nose, and it says exactly what I wanted it to say without me even realizing what I was going on about at the time. It just worked really well, and the structure is interesting. Like that drop at the end where it all hits in. I just love it. Some bands, and even when we were showing this to our management, said that the drop should come in earlier and that it was coming in too late. They said that people wouldn’t wait that long, but for us, that’s what it’s all about. You have to stick around if you want to hear it, and then you have to replay it again if you want to listen to it again. So I love that one. My least favorite, I would probably agree that it’s "Bet Your Hat." I don’t know why. I think we always thought when we were putting it out that everyone would think that we were selling out and that it was too poppy. And then we put it out, and all the magazines and stuff said it was a wacky tune, and look how weird this is. Then we realized that how we view it isn’t how the rest of the world views it. We thought it was super poppy, but it was weird to normal people.
So it’s safe to say that "selling out" is a subjective term.
Liam: Yeah! And we talked about consciously crossing this line a little bit to play the game, but it’s not going to be this way forever. You have to play. We always wanted to come out and say our opinions on everything and be these outspoken people. But The Beatles didn’t come out talking about how they were against war and all these political things. They first put the suits on, and they played the game, and they got to a certain place where they had the freedom and the influence to say what they want and affect things.
"Love Is Letting Go" happens to be one of my favorite tracks, and the live Magic Tree Session y'all did for it was absolutely stunning. Where was this shot, and what was that experience of shooting in an actual tree like?
Ricky: It’s this super cool tree in this park near where we live.
Mikey: Yeah, it’s two trees that have sort of grown into each other. It’s almost like a bird’s nest.
Ricky: It has a spiral staircase, not an actual staircase, but it’s made of branches.
Mikey: Yeah, a magical staircase in the magic tree.
Ricky: But it has a proper little plateau in the middle that you can all sit around.
Jake: Yeah, like a little grotto.
Mikey: I did have a sore bum by the end though. But anyway, we’d love to do a proper gig in that tree. There’s a hill that just goes up away from it, so it feels like it could be a cool festival spot. Or you could do a DJ set.
Are y'all gonna be releasing more Magic Tree sessions, or is the live version of "Love Is Letting Go" going to be a stand-alone release?
Ricky: Yeah, we got some more coming. We recorded each track from one of these weird little locations. So they’ll be coming out soon!
Out of the songs that haven’t been released yet, which one are you most excited for people to hear?
Jake and Mikey: "Arrow in the Thigh."
Ricky: It’s "Vitamins" for me.
Mikey: Yeah, but "Arrow in the Thigh" is the first time we ever did that free flow. We’ve gone jazzy.
Jake: Yeah, free flow, bro.
The transition on "Arrow in the Thigh" around the 2:40 mark feels like it preps listeners for the rest of the record. Like you’re going down a rabbit hole.
Liam: Yeah, the bit where it all kind of like goes away for a bit and then comes back for the final verse. All those verses, I didn’t even realize I didn’t even write any of it down. But there’s a real poignancy in those lyrics. I don’t know why, but every time I listen to them, they resonate with me. I think that’s a sign of hopefully really good poetry, where it’s not immediately obvious but it still affects you.
Is there a lyric that strongly resonates with you on the record?
Mikey: "Everywhere I look, I see / The patterns form in front of me / I can’t help noticing / It might be for something more than this." That one I like.
Ricky: "None of my flowers grow in my house." I like that one.
Mikey: Where do you say "naughty step," Liam?
Liam: "Just leave it there, by the stairs, on the naughty step."
Mikey: Yeah, that one!
Liam: My favorite is from "Why’d You Wanna Come And Act Like That?" It’s like, “I’m setting up my painful lessons / That could make a man a legend / If I want.” And I think the lyrics on "Love Is Letting Go" sum up the whole idea of how the grim lessons in life that are at the moment horrible, like, when you look back, it just made you, you. So yeah, that’s my favorite. Oh! I also love that opening line of "Vitamins." “So I go to the house / With my bludgeon and trowel / I wanna dig some dirt, I wanna dig some dirt / I wanna pick some brains and ask them what they know.” I love it because it all came out in one go, and I was like, “Oh my god, the bludgeons are for the brains and the trowels for the dirt.” I was just amazed it worked, and it surprised me that the lines actually made sense, because it’s so weird. Like who says bludgeons and trowels?
Apparently, you do! And "Vitamins" as a closer feels, at least sonically, like you can finally relax after a night of having to “meet the parents” and pretending to be someone else.
Liam: Yeah, exactly that’s the way it works, and it ties back into the whole idea of the project and trying to say like, “Oh, we’ll play the game. We won’t show our cards. We won’t show our full opinions,” and then “Vitamins” hits. That track is just totally honest about what we think about the world. The line “dig some dirt” and “pick some brains” is like us saying I want to find the truth. That’s what it’s really saying. I think that’s why it’s good to close, because, hopefully, it can lead to more projects about becoming more confident about being more blunt. When I showed this song to people I don’t think they realized just how blunt it is about the world we’re in right now. But then again, I kind of like that. I like when people don’t get what I mean, and it’s up for a whole different interpretation.
The music videos y'all have released for this EP also tie into the overall themes we’ve discussed. Everything from the colors to the camera angles feels intentional to the story. What was it like working with Harry Deadman?
Ricky: He’s so easy to work with.
Jake: He’s so efficient.
Ricky: Yeah, and I think we really liked him because of his color usage. Everything that he does just really pops.
Liam: Yeah, that and his camera usage. That really drew us to him. Working with a team of people around just always makes us feel weird. It makes us feel like we’re in… what’s the name of that Will Ferrell film?
Jake, Mikey, Ricky: Zoolander!
Liam: Yeah, Zoolander! That’s always the way it makes us feel. It’s kind of like an out-of-body experience with all of those people around.
Mikey: Yeah, but Harry is amazing.
Ricky: The house we were at for the "Why’d You Wanna" video was crazy. Some Bitcoin billionaire owned it. I think some Drill rapper hired out the same house to do a music video.
Where did you draw inspiration from while creating Meet the Parents?
Mikey: God, where to begin.
Rickey: I think we found inspiration from older stuff that we listened to rather than modern artists.
Mikey: Yeah, like more stuff from the '60s and '70s.
Ricky: Which I guess kind of goes with the whole concept of Meet the Parents.
Jake: Yeah, cause a lot of parents are from that era.
Liam: I think honestly, what makes us so so weird and different from other bands is that we kind of isolate ourselves musically, and we kind of obsess over our tunes so much that we don’t spend, or at least I don’t spend that much time listening to the other artists unless I’m like out for a walk. I honestly think that that’s what makes it original. Because we aren’t totally trying to find influences, we can kind of just experiment. And then naturally, because you’ve not been totally engrossed in other people’s music, I think it just sounds different to what’s being made at the time.
Ricky: Yeah, starving yourself with inspiration too.
Mikey: Yeah, it’s all quite subconscious. Quite subconscious in every sense. Like the way Liam comes up with the words and making a beat, you just kinda go with it.
Jake: Yeah, the song emerges from that.
Mikey: Yeah, and I suppose inspiration is subconscious as well. It’s in the corner of my mind somewhere, and I don’t know where it’s coming from.
Liam: It’s not like we sit down and go, "I want to make a song that sounds like this, about this." Like, I don’t think we’ve ever really done that. It’s always spontaneous and a bit random.
Mikey: Yeah, usually we’re putting it together like a jigsaw. We always used to say that we’re throwing glitter at the canvas and just shaking it. And we just keep doing that repeatedly until it’s finished, basically.
Ricky: It’s a slow process at times, but I think we come up with something interesting.
Mikey: Yeah, sometimes it comes in in a day nearly. But for others, we’ve also been making some tunes for almost a year-and-a-half, sometimes longer. The biggest inspiration is usually just a good catchy song. If it doesn’t matter where it comes from, but if it’s a sick, catchy song, that is inspiring.
Liam: We like the type of pop that transcends being called pop anymore, because they’re that weird but also that influential that it is just them. Like from The Beatles to Madonna, they’re all kind of pop but none of it sounds the same.
"Pop" is just short for popular or mainstream.
Liam: Exactly, but I think in most people’s heads, it has this sound to it, but I don’t think it does to us. Like, you can make it as weird as you want, and if a lot of people like it, then it’s pop.
Meet the Parents is available everywhere you can stream it.