Singer/songwriter Slim took time between gigs to discuss his new album “ Gallows Tree Tales.”
Gallows Tree Tales is an album that will dance around your head for days. I know because I have the album and I play it every day. Whether you are using high quality headphones or huge speakers, this is a must have for audiophiles.
Slim is our artist of the week.This is our second ‘meeting’. I discovered his music a year ago through TradConnect, a social network for lovers of traditional Irish music. He was networking with trad. performers who played on the album. He shared the rough mixes of the tracks to potential fans through his Soundcloud account. Now the album is finished. It promises to please many listeners. Gallows Tree Tales has epic hooks, catchy melodies, and a mastering done with impeccable taste and precision. This is a great addition one’s music library – a timeless album to listen to again and again across generations. Here is our interview.
Slim at last the album Gallows Tree Tales is out! Now tell us about your memorable experiences recording these wonderful tracks.
Yep, the album’s out – after over three years of hard graft, it’s here. There’ve been so many magical experiences, - getting the bones together of the first track I wrote (‘Til My Dying Day), and releasing a rough demo of that to my fans on Facebook, and getting just the most beautiful feedback from it, and realizing right at that very point that this project had LEGS! Also with this project, although I didn’t have a working band when I started it, I really didn’t want it to read like ‘Slim plays all the instruments’ – I wanted it to be a classic folk-rock record, with loads of different artists on board, lots of different sounds and talents.
So as I was developing each song, I was adding session players to the mixes, and before we even get on to the gospel choir, there’s getting on for seven musicians on most of the tracks. Dan Clark plays some beautiful lead guitars, there are some stunning bits of Celtic pipes, flutes, and whistles, some beautiful backing vocals, and since I record everything myself, those ‘lightbulb’ moments when each player started up recording for the first time brought many shivers down my spine – I hope everyone else hears and feels these too.
Tell us about the choir. The choir appeared in the album giving it a gospel feel.
The choir (Singology Gospel Choir) are actually only on one song – ‘Peggy Gordon’ – which was one of the last songs that we cut for the record. It was a dear friend of mine, JR who suggested a gospel choir for that track. Since I’ve been doing the Gallows Tree Tales record for a fair while, I’ve been bouncing rough mixes, sketches and the like off my friends and family for so long – and probably ad nauseum in some cases – to get their take on things. These people should get credits really for all the ‘it needs a middle eight!’ / ‘you can sing that better!’ / ‘let me do some harmony vocals on that one!’ comments that I’ve got over time! Anyhow – Singology are one of my friend Reese Robinson’s community choir that she runs in London. And I just asked if they’d be up for doing a track. Very simple really.
The logistical side was a bit tricky – there were getting on for twenty of them, and my studio’s in the loft conversion in my house in Hackney. So we had the lounge as the green room, where they rehearsed, and then we got them up in groups of three or four to record the parts and sent them down again, while I plied them with pizza, and then we crammed them all into the loft for a final ensemble piece with claps and the works. Toni’s arrangement of the parts was spine tingling, and we doubled everyone’s parts so in effect you have about thirty people singing on the final mix. They graced me with their singing at the launch gig in August at Proud Galleries Camden, and we’re using that video footage to make a promo video which will be stunning. We’ll definitely get them on board for more than one track on the next record – Celtic gospel folk-rock – we’ve invented a new genre I reckon!
The songs are very catchy, adult alternative radio oriented but also very Irish. How did you come up with these songs?
I wanted this record to be like one of the classic seventies rock records. Not just a couple of singles and some filler, but a journey record crammed full of hooks and moments. And I didn’t just hole up in the studio for two months and rush through writing eleven songs, as I’ve had to spend a good chunk of the last three and a half years working (running my home studio, playing session guitar, getting drunk!).
So every song has had to pass through a lot of stages before it made the cut. And I made a conscious effort to give EVERY song a massive hook, a chorus melody that you could sing. ‘Til My Dying Day was the germ of the project, and that came from a great trip to Cork to see some friends back in November 2009, and when I got back to London with Irish airs bouncing around my head (mainly from my mate Donie who’s always singing after a few ales), that kind of informed the whole enterprise.
I got Orlaith McAuliffe and Colman Connolly on the record to give some real Celtic flavours later on which just blew me away – the Uilleann pipes that Colman plays at the start of ‘Til My Dying Day were actually just him checking his tuning and warming up, and it was one of those ‘stop! – we’re using that for the intro!’ moments right away. That first song was like an old yarn that I made up, and I thought, why not do a whole record of tales, which is what we’ve got now. I’m actually as proud of the lyrics as the melodies on this record – I think it all holds together really well.
I like the play of tempo in your track arrangement. The album starts with a ballad then ends with a ballad. In between are energetic tracks that will sure to get people up their feet. Who worked with you in the track order?
Well the last track (‘Reason And Rhyme’) was the first to place. My best mate Jim Gipson wrote the lyrics, and the sentiment of that song is just perfect for the end – ‘We’ve had our time, we’ve had our reason and rhyme’ – a positive break-up tune. I wanted a big Beatlesy singalong chorus to tower off into oblivion, and it’s the only track on the record with a fade-out. We did it live at the launch gig with the choir, with each band member leaving the stage ‘til there was just Singology Gospel Choir onstage singing their hearts out. Perfect.
As for sorting the order of the rest of the tracks, I actually bestowed that honour upon Andy Adams, my drummer. He’s been a tower of strength on this record – I bounce most everything I do off him. He’s fiercely opinionated, and I like people with something to say. So I just told him to go away and order the record, and there you have it. When you’re a solo artist it’s nice to offload some of the weight of responsibility for things!
Your songs have universal appeal. They all talk about the human condition but not confined to personal issues alone. There are also songs about history and places. Was the inclusion of these ideas intentional?
Some of the tales are fictional stories about the usual suspects (love, loss, booze, madness, drugs and the like). Jim Gipson wrote the lyrics to the two most personal love and break-up songs – Heart And Soul, and Reason And Rhyme – he writes in a very direct way, in a style that I don’t, and it’s great to carry that emotional burden for a moment when you’re singing them. There’s actually only one true story there – Cadogan 129, about the very first murder on Britain’s railways in 1864, which is focused on a pub round the corner from me in Hackney, London, which my mate Frank told me about as he lives next door to it.
The great thing about the interweb is once you’ve found a yarn, you can Google it to death, trawl Wikipedia and before you know it you’ve fleshed out a whole web of lives from the past. The middle eight of that song is the actual poem they’d read to the condemned murderer on the day of his hanging, ending with ‘May the lord have mercy on your soul!’, which was a nice touch. I’ll definitely revisit this technique of tale-telling for the next LP.
How do you see yourself 10 years from now as a musician?
In a very similar place to now I’d hope, as I really couldn’t improve upon these Gallows Tree Tales, how we wrote it, how it was recorded, the beautiful people who helped craft it – I’m just so proud of it. I’d definitely like to do more with trad. players from Celtic shores, and more work with the gospel choir, and I think there’s some more acoustic and pastoral places that I could go, but for now, I wanted to make this big, bold, technicolour folk record, that makes you laugh, cry, dance, and who knows what else all at once. I think we nailed it. The big job for the start of the next ten years is getting it out there.
Are you planning an album tour and where?
The next stage is getting this out there so absolutely yeah we’re gonna take this out on the road. London is the focus of course, but the tunes will travel. Definitely we’re talking festivals next summer and hopefully a good support slot or two. I’m gonna get the gospel choir thing rolling too, and the idea of having a collective of musicians that can come in and out and give their flavours. We’ll be doing another big night at Proud Galleries in Camden towards the end of 2012 with a bit more of an industry and press focus, and we’ve got a warm-up on October 7th at the Old Queen’s Head in Islington. Watch this space I guess. I’m off on a road trip from New York to New Orleans in September, so we’ll definitely try for some guerrilla gigs across the pond!
When you are not doing music, what are the other things you are passionate about?
Music’s pretty much the big deal for me – it’s all I do, and what I was born to do. I’ve got about a hundred other projects on the burner at any one time, and don’t devote nearly enough time to any of them. I do balearic electro stuff with one of me best mates Steve Lee (The Project Club), I play guitar with Reese Robinson who runs Singology, and we do kinda nu-soul acoustic tunes. It’s all about collaboration in my book – I met a great MC called Cozmost at Burning Man festival in Nevada last summer, and we’re gonna do a remote hip-hop-folk collaborative thing when I get time. This music thing is really all I live and breathe.
This is the second time we met in this interview and I don’t want to repeat myself. What are the other things you want to tell your listener that you think we haven’t covered yet?
The only thing I have to say to everyone is please get online and buy the record. I’m insanely proud of how Gallows Tree Tales turned out – and it’ll dance around your head for days and days if you let it! So go to www.slim-music.com and get on it, and of course befriend the Facebook band page by ‘liking’ it! www.facebook.com/gallowstreetales. And come and see us live!
Listening to the entire album echoes the passages in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. You travel through the depths of the human experience and you’re purged. Gallows Tree Tales has the larger than life themes that resonate through your soul. You just have to be prepared and you’ll come out of it more human, more honest and healed.
Slim’s band personnel:
Slim – vocals and guitar
Andy Adams – drums
Benn Cordrey – bass
jh – keyboards
Sam Kimmins – harmonica and percussion
Dan Clark – electric guitar
Seb Wesson – electric guitar
Emma Bowles – backing vocals
The Singology Gospel Choir conducted by Reese Robinson
To buy physical and digital copies (via Itunes) of Slim’s Gallows Tree Tales, get involved, and find out more, visit Slim’s official website www.slim-music.com
Teaser for the rest of the album tracks
The Celtic Music Fan would like to greet Baz Mcsherry a Happy birthday. You are now older and wiser Baz! Here you are with your great song: