An Interview with Aaron Starkie of The Slow Readers Club
As Manchester band The Slow Readers Club release The Joy of the Return, their follow up to successful 3rd album Build a Tower, vocalist Aaron Starkie talks to David Schuster about it, playing China, the new Manchester scene – and the after-show delights of hummus…
You played more than 30 venues in 2019 and you’ve got a big tour of the UK and Europe starting in March. Have you managed to have any downtime in between?
Yeah, at the start of this year we had a bit of a break. The album was done and dusted; we recorded that last year. Mostly though we try and keep on it all the time; we’re always building. We don’t enjoy a lot of radio play; we have to get out there and spread the word as best we can. So, we’re always busy; if we’re not writing then we’re doing bits and bobs of graphics, chatting to people on Facebook, sharing stuff on YouTube and that kind of thing. We try and keep at it.
Did you get to have a family Christmas?
Yes. I’ve got a little boy and a little girl, so we had a really nice time. One thing I should say is that we used to do all this around our day jobs. That was very difficult, when we started to do tours and festivals; it was a hard balance.
“We try and do different things”
You didn’t give up your day job until relatively recently; was there an identifiable moment where you thought ‘Now’s the time’?
After the success of the last album, which got to 18 in the UK charts, and the last tour. We got to the point where we sold out the Apollo in Manchester, which holds three and a half thousand people. So, we were like, “Okay, it’s going somewhere!” That’s when we’re able to take the leap and go full time. That’s about a year and a bit ago now; we’re into our second year. It’s good to have a bright mind, you know. It’s very different to being in full time employment, practising in the evening when your head’s fried.
You wrote the majority of the new album, The Joy of the Return, whilst touring. Was that a very different experience?
It was more getting the germs of an idea than writing: We’d started in sound checks and things like that. I messed around with a little keyboard and a laptop in the back of the tour van, but it was mostly ideas; everyone contributes guitar riffs, bass lines and rhythms. We tend to record things on the spot, on our phones, and live with them for a bit. Then we’ll get in the practice room and build on top of that. I’ll ad-lib a melody and, eventually, find some lyrics.
Has it resulted in a different sound?
I think all of the albums have a mix of sounds really. We try and do different things; there’s one track in particular on the new record, which is quite heavy with a big guitar intro, but there’s others which are more our usual melodic indie-electro. Then David, the drummer, will drive us in the direction of funkier rhythms. There’s still a consistent thread in the subject matter, the lyrics and the pop sensibilities of it, but there are different genres. We’re just trying to make music we like; so, it’s varied and enjoyable for people to listen to.
As vocalist, do you have a favourite track to perform from The Joy of the Return?
There’s one lyrically that I’m quite pleased with called ‘No Surprise’; where I managed to get the word algorithms in! I don’t know if that’s a first, but it’s certainly not usual. It’s a comment on social media, how we all communicate with each other, and its power to move politics.
Is the Manchester music scene vibrant at the moment?
Yes, there’s lots of bands operating around Manchester; Blossoms, Lathums and our label mates Blinders, call Manchester their home. But it’s a peculiar time for guitar music, and it has been for a while really; certainly Radio 1 will pick a guitar band a year, it seems, to bring up to prominence. So, you have to be lucky to be that one band! It’s a healthy time; we’ve got lots of people coming to shows, so there’s vibrancy, I just don’t think anyone’s put a label on it yet, like Brit-pop, the baggy scene or the Hacienda days. Something like that.
What’s your most memorable gig experience?
Playing the Apollo in Manchester takes some beating! It was amazing; it’s a dream for any Manchester band really, to play somewhere like that. That, and getting out to Europe to play festivals, like Mad Cool in Madrid last year. Despite being up against the Smashing Pumpkins on the other stage, we had a packed-out tent, and it seemed to go down very well. We’re looking forward to going back there sometime.
“Maybe we should fight”
I’m intrigued; what was playing in China like?
It was good actually. We did a pre-festival show in Beijing. They’re quite a reserved audience; before we went out, we weren’t sure there was anybody in the building! They certainly reacted after we played, but they were quiet and respectful. As well as Beijing we also played at a city called Hangzhou, I think that how you pronounce it anyway. We did Strawberry Festival there, and it was crazy: After the show, we went out and did a load of photos with people. We were a bit of a novelty as the only British act on the bill, like being famous by default!
Your brother Kurtis plays guitar in the band. Do you ever have Gallagher brothers’ moments?
Ha! We’ve had the odd exorcism of childhood stuff, bringing up things from the past. But no, we get along okay. David, the drummer, and Kurtis were friends before we got the band together, and me and Jim, the bassist, played together in other bands. It’s good that there’s that dynamic as well. So no, we don’t fight. Maybe we should fight; get in the papers!
It’s eleven at night, you’ve just got off stage. What’s your go-to tour food?
I usually have a bit of pita bread and hummus.
To be fair, we’re creatures of habit, so on the last tour we’d get one thing that we all liked; Nando’s or Subway or something, and just end up always going there. And we have crisps and M&Ms, all sorts of crap to keep our energy up, to be honest. But most of the time you try to keep it healthy, so you don’t end up going all Elvis!
For more information on The Slow Reader’s Club album release and tour:theslowreadersclub.co.uk
Top image: Sonic PR; All other images: Paul W Dixon