The year was 1988 when Ian Durneen – a fuzzy-haired sixteen-year-old with Northern Irish parents, brought up on 60s pop – met Simon Scott, then seventeen. In the same art class at Hinchingbrooke School the two quickly became friends, and remain so. Their talents collectively manifested themselves at the end of their arms, however it was Simon’s drumming rather than his proficiency with a pencil that piqued the interest of first The Giant Polar Bears, and later, Slowdive.
This October, Slowdive will headline Simple Things Festival in Bristol – riding the wave of critical acclaim following 2017’s eponymous album, their first since 1995. It is an alignment of these threads that landed me the opportunity to interview Simon about his musical upbringing, early bands and foray into solo projects.
Sam: The music we listen to and the music we create has so much to do with childhood – what was on the radio, what our parents played, whose posters scattered our walls. Tell me about growing up. Who grabbed your attention?
Simon: My folks played country music. I found it totally alien and couldn't connect with it as a small child. My mum played really middle of the road music in the car too, such as 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree' as well as Barry Manilow. It wasn't until my older brother and sister started playing heavy rock music that I started to tune into what was on in our house. Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. My sister also played Kate Bush, Rush and David Bowie and I was soon playing along on a homemade drum kit (cardboard boxes and empty biscuit tins basically). I started to record sounds at around eight-years-old. I had a tape recorder and would record the soundscape around me, as it allowed me to scrutinise voices, birdsong and strange things such as the radio tuned between stations or the electrical clicks on my old TV remote control. My brother brought home an acoustic guitar and I felt lucky when my parents paid for a few lessons for me on drums and guitar at around eleven years old.
Sam: Can you remember the first record you ever owned?
Simon: The first album I bought was No Sleep 'til Hammersmith by Motörhead. I liked The Police and bought 'Walking on the Moon', 'The Trooper' by Iron Maiden and 'Happy House' by Siouxsie and the Banshees – I can't remember in what order. One day I went to the pub at lunch time with my sister and saw The Cure’s ‘The Walk’ and suddenly I was obsessed, buying 'Japanese Whispers'.
Sam: Before Slowdive you were a member of The Charlottes. To a 2018 ear The Charlottes sound just as rich and urgent as they must have done thirty years ago. The gorgeous Lovehappy 12” tops anything I’ve heard by My Bloody Valentine, for instance. What are your memories of signing to Cherry Red and receiving airplay on John Peel? It must have been pretty mind-blowing.
Simon: I was lucky to be living in a town with a ton of good bands. I fairly quickly became known as the young kid with Robert Smith hair who could play (and owned a kit). One day The Giant Polar Bears came to my house and said they needed a drummer, so I joined up. Graham [Gargiulo, guitarist] and I decided to form The Charlottes just after and it was fun for a while. John Peel was a big fan, Steve Lamacq (from Radio 1) gave our album Lovehappy nine out of ten in the NME (which was mind-blowing) and suddenly we were being asked to support The Telescopes, Darling Buds and to tour with Ride. I wanted to be on Creation Records or 4AD but Cherry Red came along and had just signed Felt so I thought it'd be a good label for us. Sadly just after signing to them, on our way to a London show, I heard a couple of members of the band discussing leaving to go to university, so I found myself plunged into despair. Fortuitously for me, our support that night was Slowdive, who were looking for a drummer.
Sam: The term “shoegaze” had a funny kind of notoriety attached to it at one point, which appears to have subsided nowadays. Was there a sense at the time of belonging to a specific scene, or were there Britpop-style divisions – any punch-ups with the House of Love?
Simon: No punch-ups with House of Love or any other bands, although 14 Iced Bears drank all of our rider in Brighton. We met some of The Manic Street Preachers once, who were at the time very polite and charming! We didn't feel part of a scene if I'm honest because everyone else was doing really well, getting lots of radio play and TV, while between tours we used to book ourselves into the recording studio and mess about with sounds rather than hang out at clubs. We were younger than Ride, Lush and Chapterhouse so we felt out of place, despite what the NME and Melody Maker wrote about us all partying together. I could see how ambitious all of those bands were and we stayed fairly humble, I like to think. After two decades the term “shoegaze” has strangely become trendy, despite the fact that in the 1990s it was used as a term of ridicule.
Sam: Accelerating away from the past and into the present, you have a new one-track EP available to buy right now: Grace. I would strongly encourage readers to plot a route to Grace via your previous solo discography. Softly cinematic, sometimes haunting, I can think of no better description than utterly transporting. What was your creative impetus while writing Grace?
Simon: I started feeding sounds and instruments into a modular synth (Eurorack) system that I was excited about playing and developing. I have generally been writing solo tracks on the road, as Slowdive have been touring since 2014, but Grace was simply written on a 12-string acoustic at home. Usually I use field recordings to initiate this process, but this song began on guitar and explores how my synth responds to my playing and vice versa. I wanted the initial part to expand in timbre and intensity, so I recorded pipe organ at the Unitarian Church in Cambridge to develop it. I wanted the pastoral start to grow foreboding and I used recordings of both the room and contact microphones of the organ to blend with the core of the song. The new album Soundings (out Feb 2019) is a sonic voyage that starts with 'Hodos' in the Fens where I live, and takes the listener all over the world as a result of utilising field recordings from Japan, Australia, Los Angeles, Argentina, Porto, Moscow and the Arctic Circle.
Sam: Finally, who are the most exciting artists, upcoming or otherwise, you’ve had the pleasure of listening to this year?
Simon: Gas, Ryley Walker, Caterina Barbieri, Vorhees, Laraaji, Philip Jeck, Survive, Chris Watson, Daniel Schmidt and Yves Tumor.
Sam: Simon, thank you for your time!
Simon: Cheers Sam! See you in Bristol.