Slaves are a bundle of contradictions. They make aggressive punk rock about being a prisoner to your paycheck. They’re covered in tattoos and simulate the worst sounding orgasms on stage. Yet, there’s a softer side to the Kent two-piece that’s equally badass. They admit to wanting to change people’s impressions about them, are environmentally conscious vegans, and feel a deep responsibility to do something positive with their work. We caught up with the pair in Williamsburg a couple of hours before they made their NYC debut. As you’ll read, guitarist Laurie Vincent seems to take the lead in conversation, while their live set features quite a bit of swaggering bravado from drummer Isaac Holman. See photos of their debut and read on for our chat.
Sidewalk Hustle: What’s your favorite part of New York City?
Laurie Vincent: At the moment, Brooklyn. I really really enjoy being in Brooklyn. It’s a bit away from the hustle and bustle and it feels like there’s a lot of creatives here.
SH: Have you been to other parts of NYC?
Vincent: Yeah, I’ve visited Manhattan and I like Central Park. It’s cool and the museums up there are good but I’m not really into Times Square and stuff.
Vincent (to Isaac): You stayed down here when you’ve been, haven’t you?
Isaac Holman: Yeah, I’ve been to Manhattan but I stayed in Brooklyn.
SH: We recently had Stormzy make his NYC debut.
Holman: Was it good?
SH: It was f*ckin’ great.
Holman: We really love Stormzy.
Vincent: We’re big fans. I live not far from him in South London. He’s killin’ it.
SH: We’ve had a bigger interest in grime in America recently. Any thoughts on that?
Holman: I think it’s great that it’s come and spread overseas. It was very UK-centric and it kind of still is but it’s great to see it branching out to other countries and people are appreciating it. It’s a great genre.
SH: There are some misconceptions about what grime is and its origins. Most Americans think it’s the UK’s rap and hip hop. Is that accurate?
Vincent: Nah, because there’s UK hip hop as well and we have rappers in the UK that don’t make grime music. Grime is a real specific style. It’s like punk rap. There’s quite a lot of unwritten rules of being a grime act and where you come from. In my opinion, the most successful grime acts are from London. So that’s one thing. I’m not sure it would be acceptable to make grime if you come from another area. I’m not sure an American artist could make a grime track.
SH: Drake might try.
Vincent: I don’t know though because I think he respects it but is still doing his own thing being around it.
Holman: He’s signed to BBK now, isn’t he?
Vincent: It was a joke.
Holman: Was it?
Vincent: ‘Cause he signed worldwide to major labels but I think they were just pissed and put it up.
SH: We were hoping it was true, not because he would make grime but because he funds projects that maybe wouldn’t get funded. The BRITS brought to light a lot of inequalities in the music industry. Do you think there’s a way to acknowledge that broad scope of British talent without pandering to artists?
Vincent: I’m not sure I understand, sorry.
SH: There was that apology from the BRITS about doing better but it seems like all talk.
Vincent: Yeah, I also think there’s people they’re not shouting out about. They didn’t just leave rap or urban artists out. Grime’s taking over in a really specific way to the mainstream media but there are great bands out there. Punk wasn’t there.
Holman: They left a lot of people out.
Vincent: The BRITS are primarily about pop music. What’s good is that grime is standing up and talking about it. SH: Do you think it should be representative of all British music then?
Holman: Most definitely. It should be everything.
Vincent: Currently it’s not representative of all English music. It’s what’s popular and a panel of people decide what to put in.
SH: A lot of your music can seem political, even though you’ve said it’s not. How do you explain it to new American fans?
Vincent: They’re songs about motivation and songs about forming your own opinions. They’re basically songs that motivate you to feel engaged with the world rather than us telling you what you should believe in because I think punk and rock bands should inspire people to make up their own minds. The reason we steer away from the political is because we don’t want to sound like we’re preaching to people. It’s an awareness. You can strive to achieve what you want. You don’t have to just be part of the system.
SH: Do you think musicians in general should preach?
Vincent: I think there’s a responsibility that successful musicians have. You’ve been given a chance to talk about something and I feel like you’re wasting it if you don’t talk about anything at all.
Holman: You’ve got a platform and you can inspire people so why wouldn’t you? SH: Your band’s name is about being a slave to your circumstances, whether that’s your job or the government, etc. Do you think there’s a way out of that servitude? Should there be?
Vincent: Yeah, and I think we’re examples of it. You can lead an alternate existence and do things that aren’t part of the way greater society does it but I think it’s really hard to push everyone into that really quickly. I think you have to have quite an open mind to start with.
Holman: To change everyone’s way of thinking is impossible.
SH: There’s a cool relationship between the way you look and the music you make. You really care about people’s impression of you. It’s a bit unusual in your genre. Do you think your music and your appearance are equally important?
Vincent: The music is more important. People have had the wrong impression of me my whole life. I think lots of people can relate to that. If people are going to judge you, good. Then you don’t have to deal with them. You don’t have to talk to them. That’s one less person you need to bother with. You just have to make music you enjoy making. You can’t live your life by people’s perceptions but that’s one of the hardest things for humans to become comfortable with.
Holman: I concur.
SH: Do you care to change people’s impression of you?
Holman: When people pipe up on social media, say that we’re pricks and stuff, I’d like to sit there and actually speak to that person. Because I don’t think we are pricks. People have a perception of you, they listen to your music, see photographs and they might think you’re a certain way. If they sat down with us, had a beer with us, they might enjoy our company.
SH: Has a fan ever confronted you personally?
Vincent: That’s not a fan then but yeah they have. It’s interesting. Why spout a lot of negative energy at a band that are actually trying to do something positive when there are so many deeply negative things in the world we could all be using our energy towards. It’s like people think it’s a bigger victory if they hit out at the small guy again. Which is typical of our society, isn’t it? It’s really telling when people make an instant snap judgment because they’ve listened to your music and looked at you. There’s a lot more to it than that.
SH: Do you still consider yourself a small act even though you’re on major labels?
Vincent: In the U.S., most definitely.
Holman: I don’t think we’ll ever consider ourselves a big act.
Vincent: We can sell tickets in England. We’re becoming a big band in England but until you’re selling out arenas, you’re not big, are you?
Holman: We were talking about this earlier. When do you feel like you’re a big band? I can’t imagine every really feeling like that. It still feels like we’re on the grind, trying to make it. I think it’s always going to feel like that and I always want it to feel like that.
SH: Maybe when you get paparazzi following you.
Holman: I don’t think I would like that. I wouldn’t be into that.
SH: You’re about to start working on a new album.
Holman: We’re working on it yeah.
SH: Have you written all of it?
Holman: We got more writing to do but we’ve done a lot.
SH: How long do you expect it to take?
Holman: We’re taking our time but hopefully sooner rather than later. We’re kind of just eager to get more music out.
SH: What’s your approach like? Do you write on the road?
Vincent: We struggle to write and record on the road. We find it hard. We always want to but the day that you finally get to do it, someone needs to fix something. Then you have soundcheck and you don’t really have time. We write pretty fast when we’re at home. It’s hard though because we always have new ideas but it’s quite hard to know when to stop and go “Right, this is what we’re going to put towards an album.” We’ve never really thought about our music before and I feel like we’re thinking about it more than ever now so it makes it even harder. You just analyze everything. This is definitely going to be a challenging record to make. I’m looking forward to it.
SH: Will that change the quality of your music if you’re constantly analyzing it?
Holman: It’s always gonna be changing. You’re never gonna be writing the same way forever. How we wrote a few years ago is different than the way we’re writing now and in a few years down the line, it’ll be completely different. You just gotta keep moving.
SH: Is there anybody you want to collaborate with?
Vincent: In terms of production, yeah. We were up for collaborating with other artists but we’re back at the point where we just want to make another Slaves album.
Holman: I’m not fussed about collaborations. If the right one came along, I don’t think we’d turn it down but we’re just really into what we’re doing.
SH: Last question, what’s your favorite live act at the moment?
Vincent: Saw the DMAs the other week and they blew me away.
Holman: I think Crows are really good live but I don’t think they’re my favorite.