I discovered Slydell at The Mint, a small venue in Los Angeles on Pico Blvd. famous for being the stage that hosted artists such as Jeff Buckley, Ben Harper, the Wallflowers and Jack Johnson long before they were on the radio.
Playing The Mint doesn't guarantee a band success, but they don't book just anyone. It is the best sounding small-room in town, with a friendly staff and an old Hollywood, speak-easy vibe. While only ten minutes from the Strip, it seems like a world away.
I had been to a Slydell show before, but it was at The Mint, when they did a residency last summer, that I became a fan. There they were, a incredibly solid bluesy, rock band, with two beautiful brunettes singing backup straight from their souls, fronted by a man possessed with the fires of damnation, but with a voice from above.
I'll always remember the evening, much like when I saw Jack Johnson play there, his mellow vibe flowing through the room like water. We all knew he was on his way.
I feel the same way about Slydell, but their road will be a little bit more interesting, more like the "slow overnight success" that Ben Harper now enjoys. Slydell might never be exactly "mainstream," but the struggle towards success will make the band's journey that much more rewarding.
How do I know that Slydell is special?
It might be the way guitarist J. Soda's fingers move across his old fashioned electric guitar, nailing every song without a touch of ego, despite his brilliance. Or it might be the way Davey Latter pounds his skins with ferocity, without ever playing too hard. Perhaps it is lead singer B Roam's impassioned delivery and poetic lyrics straight out of yesteryear. He needs the perfect band to pull off the songs, so let me quickly describe the rest of the seven-member group, each person being equally important.
By F. Reda
Leah and Chandra, the twins, bring beauty and grace to the lineup. They are the backup singers, but what they add to the sound and overall presence of the band can't be measured. The Mysterious adds organs to the mix, never overpowering the rest of the group, but adding the vital ingredient of the keys. Bassist Mattie Fitzel is the unsung hero, as he remains in the back, at least on the small stages the band performs on right now. His intricate bass lines and quick finger action hold the songs together, which range from hard driving Black Crowes' "The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion" type powerhouses to fragile ballads of love, betrayal and loss that sound like lost Bob Dylan tracks.
After playing the club circuit in Silverlake, Hollywood and Hermosa Beach for the past three years, self-releasing one album, Crazy Anymore and a four song self-titled E.P., Slydell is presently hunkered down in Steakhouse Studios recording their second full-length album.
Roam is excited about the work, "We’ve never been able to capture what we do live on tape – I've never been able to hand someone a CD and say, "this is what we sound like live." Now we’re in a big studio and we're working with a producer named John Wooler. He's done all these John Lee Hooker albums, and he is just a badass. He's the nicest guy; he was at Virgin for twenty years and understands our music. He knows all about gospel music and the blues."
Roam and I are sitting on a patio outside a nightclub in Silver Lake called Tangiers, where he has just finished a solo gig, opening for his friend, Atlantic Records artist Joe Firstman, and we are talking about religion, music and sin over vodka tonics and Guinness.
Forrest: Who, what, or where is Slydell?
By Natalie Sud
Roam: Slydell is a little town outside of New Orleans. We have this friend, a girl who is a friend of all of ours, who is from Slydell, and she was always telling us stories about Slydell while we were forming the band. When we were coming up with names for the band, one of my picks was "Dog," and the twins were like, "we're not going to be in a band called Dog."
Forrest: God bless the twins!
Roam: Yeah, (laughing) So we kept searching, and we were trying to pull words out of the lyrics like "two tone," or "wingtip," or "pomade," just stupid words, and then, I can't remember who, suggested Slydell. And we'd all been hearing stories about Slydell that seemed to match what we were doing.
All those names kind of describe what you would find in Slydell.
That's right, because all the lyrics have a certain tone to them, ya know, that has to do with real, dirty, familiar images. For me, images that resonate from my childhood like shoe polish, and certain types of shoes, stuff from the ground, from old grandpas.
It's stuff that we know about, but we don't really know. Something that was almost a generation ago, when things were a little bit different, when people got their shoes shined a lot, wore wingtips, and drove Cadillac's.
Somebody said that to me, that my lyrics reminded them of the 1950s. There's a romance about that, nostalgia. I used to roll around town with my grandpa. He was a Pentecostal preacher, and he was like, old school. He would take his salary out of the offering, so he would always have a fat wad of cash in his pocket, and he drove an old Lincoln, he was this old cat, ya know. I think a lot of the stuff that I write is informed by my old experiences with these old guys. It seems like my grandparents lived a generation behind the times.
By F. Reda
How long have they lived in Los Angeles?
Actually they all live in St. Louis and they are all part of a religious tradition called the Pentecostals. So they're like really coming from a way of thinking that is a few generations behind the mass culture. I grew up with no TV, no movies, not listening to secular music, all that kind of stuff.
It's fire and brimstone...
Yeah, It's an apocalyptic religious tradition. The emphasis is on the end of the world. The whole idea is that the world is about to end, and you need to get your soul right otherwise you're going to miss out on the rapture.
When everyone disappears...
Yeah, and although I've rejected all of that, theologically and philosophically, the imagery is really dramatic, and beautiful. And it's more beautiful when you don't have to be subject to the fear that it invokes.
Right, and then those memories of childhood became the Golden Years, despite how rough they seemed at the time.
Yeah, you start looking back with nostalgia. And there was always something to look forward to. That was the other thing about the Pentecostal tradition. Every sermon was predicated on the idea that at any moment, Jesus is going to come back. So you're always holding your breath in expectation for something amazing that is going to happen. That part of it is kind of exciting, except that you can't continue to live that way, but the notion of it, in general, is pretty cool.
By F. Reda
I didn’t mean to lead you off subject...
No man, that's part of it. I feel that a lot of my lyrics have to do with reconfiguring my language, and the concepts of my religious background, so that it makes sense to me living in a secular world because I'm not in that any more, I'm a worldly man. (Laughs)
Was there innocence lost when you left the church?
Yeah, yeah. There is an innocence lost. When you are part of an absolutist religious tradition, you are defined as either in or out. And if you're in you're saved – if you're out, your lost, you're damned. When you leave, because you don't think that concept defines the world in a particularly healthy way, you still tend to fall prey to that definition of the world, even though you've rejected it. You start to live it out. And I think that for me, writing lyrics was to keep myself from falling into the abyss, the dark side of my upbringing. It was a way to handle that imagery in a beautiful way.
Even though people might say that you've fallen out of "the grace of God," the songs that you write show what you’re feeling inside, and they are very spiritual.
Right, there’s a documentary by this British guy, called "Seven-Up" who finds these kids when they are seven years old, and he starts documenting them, and he meets them again when their fourteen, then when they are twenty-one, then twenty-eight, then thirty-five, and he follows them, and his whole principle is, "give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man."
By Natalie Sud
He believes that we are defined by the time we are seven years old as human beings. So, if you’ve had all of these concepts put into you by the time you are seven, then you got to deal with that shit for the rest of your life. You can't stop, erase and start over. You've got to keep what you’ve got and learn to make it work for your life.
And so, that’s what I feel that writing for me, is about. I'm trying to make that shit work for my life. Because I can't deny it, I can't pretend that I'm not that that, I am that. I'm still as much a Pentecostal as I've ever been, even though I reject the theology, I'm still that person.
You’re definitely preaching on stage...
Yeah, (laughing) there's no way to get away from that. So, you just have to be creative and redefine that, and figure out a way to live in a happy and healthy way.
Slydell has a nice mix of style, musicianship and good ole fashioned rock and roll. It seems like everyone contributes to the mix.
Exactly, the other guys in the band bring this music that I never knew to the table. J. Soda is from the desert, the desert jamband scene. He loves Stevie Ray Vaughn, Hendrix and Clapton. He brings the refined sound to the group. Mattie loves The Doors, The Beatles, Zeppelin – classic rock.
Did you know guitar at all when you started singing with Slydell?
I knew about three chords so that I could play to the lyrics that I had written. But all my songs were in E, when I first started playing, they were all in the same progression with just different tempos. I met J. Soda and other musicians that were like "we could take some of these lyrics and put them to more complex melodies," but then I didn't develop my guitar playing, because J. Soda is a really great guitar player.
By Natalie Sud
You can say that about him, he is really good.
He is brilliant, ya know, he really is.
How did the band form?
What happened was, that I was playing out on acoustic, with the twins. I got the twins to sing backup for me and then J. and I became friends and he said, "I’d like to record some of my songs" and I said that I’d like to do the same, and we found a friend of ours that had a recording studio out in Silverlake in his basement called the Filthy Door – the home of Ship Records, and J. and I decided that he would record his music, and I would record my music and then we started putting stuff together and we ended up recording a bunch of songs together and it became our first album, Crazy Anymore. That’s when Matty, the bass player came in, and he started writing some songs.
By F. Reda
Does he play guitar too?
He just plays bass with the band, but sometimes he'll write a song on guitar and bring it in, and then play bass to it.
How do you guys write together? Do you write lyrics to the melodies, or do they read your lyrics and write melodies to them? Your lyrics seem like they could exist as short stories.
It depends. There are a few different approaches. Sometimes I'll come in with lyrics and melody, sometimes with lyrics, sometimes I'll come in and J. or Mattie or both will have melody and I'll have a little lyrical deal that will fit. We've even had songs that I've brought in a melody and lyrics, and the melody has been improved by the band. Tonight I played a song, "Stone Faced Baby," which I played the old way, a basic three-chord melody, because I don't know how to play it the new way.
By Natalie Sud
I thought I recognized that song.
Yeah, (laughing) I guess it was the demo version.
When did you start writing songs?
I was writing songs when I was a real little kid. Then I moved to Phoenix and started a band, a funny band, soul music, funk-jam, a little bit of rap, but then I found out about Tom Waits. We were riding in my friend’s truck, and he popped in the album Big Time, and I was like "what is going on here?" Later he gave me a Velvet Underground CD, and I was blown out of my mind. I memorized all of Big Time, and really got into the Velvet Underground, especially "Pale Blue Eyes."
By F. Reda
Later, I was in Prague, I met this musician named Julianna, and she was singing "Pale Blue Eyes" at a bar in Prague. I fell for this girl, but we got torn apart, and years later, man, I was in London walking down the street with my new girlfriend, and I hear this voice, singing aloud. And my knees went weak, I almost fell down. I had told my girlfriend about her, and she said, "is that Julianna?" We turn the corner and Julianna is there on the corner, with her guitar case open, singing Lou Reed on the street in London.
Wow, that's quite a moment, what happened next?
Well, I couldn't talk at first, I was so blown away. My girlfriend was so great, she gave me a few minutes to talk with Julianna, but there was so much distance and pain between us at that point that we couldn't reconnect.
That's a great "song" story.
Julianne McCambridge, she's a singer and she's great.
How long after that moment did you write the song, "Julianna?"
It was about three years later, we were in the basement studio and J. was playing, he recorded this music and we put it on a tape. I went to get us some burritos, put on the tape and this flood of imagery came to me. By the time I got back, I had the entire song and we laid it down.
I was at The Mint when you told the crowd about the origins of "Murder in the Backyard." Would you tell me again so that I don’t get it wrong in my recollection?
Ok, what happened was I was driving from St. Louis to Missouri on the freeway, and I see a hitchhiker, a woman. I pull over and this hitchhiker gets in the car. She's kind of a broke-down looking woman, and smells like she's been drinking. So we get to talking and she has tattoos all around her and she's showing me her tattoos, and she says, "I have this tattoo that is the Rose of Death."
By F. Reda
I said, "What’s that all about?" and she says, "Do you want to see it?" and I say, "OK," and she says, "It's right here on my hip." She shows this tattoo that's on her hip, and it's a rose, but it's all in black ink, and it's a rough looking tattoo. And I go, "Where did you get that tattoo?" and she says, "In prison." I said, "How do you get a tattoo in prison?" And she said, "Well what happens is the missionaries bring in Bibles and we take the ink out of the Bibles and we melt them down or burn them and you get the ashes and you can mix it up with tooth-paste and then you take a needle and then you give yourself a tattoo with the ink."
I was so blown away by it, because the idea of using the words of the Bible as the medium of a tattoo is beautiful, man! And that just sat in my head for a while and then one day I was trying to write a song and that image was in my head, and I had the idea of "who is the person that ends up in jail and puts tattoos from words of the Bible on their body?" Who's that person, ya know?
So then it all went backwards, it became this person that saw something and he didn't know what it was and he forgot what it was and then he started becoming a person that acted in a certain way, and he didn't know why he acted that way. It was because he'd seen shit that he didn't remember. And then he ultimately gets to the end of the line and he's in prison and he's getting this tattoo about his mom and he remembers what the fuck he saw, and what he saw was his mom murder his father, years ago. And then he ended up murdering the step dad and it all finally fucking comes together, and it's like a holy revelation. It becomes clear. Even a guy like that, ya know, ultimately there's a moment of sanctification or salvation for this guy. And in my mind that's what happened. When he realizes why, a light turns on, he understands himself. Self-realization. For the first time in his life, he understands what it is that's been driving him his whole life, what's been compelling him to be such a dark force in the world. I have a friend, a writer, who used to always say to me, "Salvation is for sinners only so if your going to write a song about somebody getting saved, he better damn well be a sinner." If you're writing about people that don't need salvation... even Jesus said. "I come not for the well, I come for those who are sick." A doctor doesn't come to administer to the people that are well; they come to administer to the people that are sick. So, for me, it's always been far more interesting to think about the people, or to talk about the walks of life that are suffering, that are fucked up. I find that much more compelling, for me personally (laughs). I'm thankful for, and I honor, the people that aren't that way, but they're not very dramatic and they're not very fun to write about, ya know what I mean? (Laughs)
By F. Reda
I think your background, and who you are caters more to the "salt of the earth," then the people with, "two TV sets, and two Cadillac cars" (from VU’s "Rock and Roll").
By F. Reda
Yeah, yeah, well that's what I love. We used to have guys from the halfway house come to my dad's church. They would be coming out of prison and trying to reintegrate into life and they'd come to the Pentecostal church and they'd be looking for God, and I love those guys. My heart would always reach out to those people because they were in need. They were the people that needed something. And somebody that needs something, that's the beginning of a story. Because the question is, are they going to get it? How are they going to get it, and what happens if they don't get it? Is the striving as valuable as what they are getting? Fuck yeah it is!
That's like most of the bands in L.A.
Yeah, that’s right! It’s like, how you behave under pressure when you are seeking something, it's like any character (in a book or movie) that is seeking something or desires something. That's who you want to think about.
That breeds the greatness too, I think, the striving.
I’ve got to say that I prefer hearing you live to the compact disc.
By Natalie Sud
Me too, (laughs) when I hear our CD after a show, I’m bummed out for three days.
I wouldn’t say it affects me that much! (Laughing)
We have tried to figure out how to capture what we do live on tape, and we haven’t done it yet.
Despite that, playing to packed rooms for three years, sounding the way you guys do live, I got to think that you've resisted some approaches by label types.
We've gotten small offers.
Were they just shitty contracts that you’ve never wanted to sign and turn over the rights to the songs?
For what we've been offered, it's never really even been an issue. And sometimes I wonder if that's been a mistake. Because, self-releasing a record is...you're going to get it out to certain number of people, but sometimes I wonder if it's not better to put it out to someone that can get it to the masses, and lose a bit of your power and control. At least then people hear it.
In this town it's tough for bands that actually play their instruments and have a lot of people in the band, and aren't in one specific genre.
I know that sometimes my stuff gets a little esoteric, evangelical, apocalyptic and stuff, whatever. If you're singing about things that are at the root of the basic fundamental experience of human beings; fear, love, jealousy, betrayal, lust, hope...if you are singing about those things in a way that is honest, and in a way that is particular to yourself then it's going to relate to someone else. I don't know what’s going to become of Slydell, but I do know that we haven't done anything that I am ashamed of and I feel that everything we've done so far has been true to our experiences, and has spoken to our experiences as honest and revealing as possible. There's something embarrassing about singing this stuff too, which is great.
By Natalie Sud
It's naked and it's raw, you are talking about drugs and betrayal and stuff that is so honest that it probably cuts a lot closer to the bone than some people would like it to in their own lives. And you are up there singing it. It's beautiful.
It's funny because you have to sing it with some element of humor. Because the shit is like, you don't want to even be thinking about that. You don't want to be hearing that (music) if it's done humorlessly. There's only so much you can handle. I think almost all my songs are funny, even the ones that are about murder and death and killing and prostitution and everything.
All those things are included in a typical Slydell night.
It's all there man! But it's got to be handled with humor, because ultimately there’s a lot of suffering and tragedy in the world and if you can take that tragedy and suffering and deal with it in a way that's beautiful or entertaining, then your doing something valuable. And if you never touch on that, I don't know how valuable your shit is.
A few weeks later I saw Slydell again, at Spaceland in Silverlake. Even on a Monday night, the place was packed. As the group performed one of its staples, "Cadillac Seville," the crowd sang along with B. Roam, with as much confidence in the bands future as he conveys on stage, even as the band's long, slow journey continues.
"My angels got no sense of rhythm, my demon's got no grace.
But it's hard to save a dollar, when you're barely saving face
I owe money everywhere, and I got none coming in
I hate being broke, worse then the Holy Ghost hates sin,
But can't you see me, coming over that hill, in my Cadillac Seville?
Can’t you see me flying over that hill?
In my shiny black, Cadillac Seville"
Slydell Tour Dates
Interview by Forrest Reda
JamBase | City of Angels
Go See Live Music!