Slow and Steady | Interview with Jacob Lawter
What we all desire when experiencing any form of art (e.g. a painting, poem, novel, etc.) is the moment of relatability. That key moment when our personal history aligns with what is being expressed and there is a metaphysical instance of existence, a duality of emotional response. A moment where we are more than ourselves, we are the artist and the listener.
This is what listening to Slow and Steady’s debut record In Time We Belong provides. In the very first song the lyrics push their way through you, resonating with truth in a simplistic summary of what we all have experienced or will come to experience:
“Welcome to your twenties, you’ve got a long way to go / It doesn’t help to know that everyone is miserable.”
Or in 35mm’s chorus:
“I’ve done things that I wish I could take back / I’ve promised the world when nothing I had could ever amount to that.”
We’re all guilty and these songs help us to realize that.
I caught up with Jacob Lawter, frontman and overall engineer for the band, to talk about his new project, his influences, and the catharsis that comes from bearing your soul.
Joshua Sorrells– Alright, so Slow and Steady is kind of your thing. You write the songs and then form a band around them. Can you explain that process? Is it something you prefer? Or do you sometimes miss writing with a band?
Jacob Lawter-When I wrote “35mm” (the first song written for the record) I didn’t have any sort of plan whatsoever. Slow and Steady was non-existent and I had no intentions to start a new project after putting Transient on an indefinite hold. I do, however, maintain a consistently updated note on my phone with short descriptions of ideas for the theme of a song, or just a one-liner, sometimes even a chord progression, that I think of while going about my normal day. “35mm” came together completely in one night. I had been humming/singing one of those one-liners in my head all day at work. I even went to the bathroom at work and sang the first two lines of the chorus into the voice memo app so I wouldn’t forget. As soon as I got back to the hotel that night I started assembling the chord progression, and essentially reverse engineered the song. By the time the night was over, I completed a demo of the song that differs from the album version only in terms of quality of recording.
It wasn’t until several months later, after I tracked “35mm” with the band in studio, sent the final mix to Brent from Broken Circles as a friendly, “you might like this because we dig the same bands,” exaggerated (read: lied) to him about having more songs, partnered with Broken Circles, and decided to do a full-length, that I really dove headfirst into writing the rest of the record.
Even in previous bands, I typically had a vision for what the full band would sound like as I was writing on guitar. In fact, I would say that my primary duty with my last band was shaping the songs, above writing guitar riffs or lyrics. I’ve been wanting to do a project for a while now where I have complete creative control, so to answer your question: I’ve definitely enjoyed it. It’s been really interesting to see how that freedom can actually be limiting, and the endearing effect that can have on the finished songs. I feel that really shines through in how minimal and simple the instrumentation feels on this record; that is definitely my natural writing style and was fairly deliberate with this release. I really wanted these songs to sound great and full with a full band, but also be able to stand on their own with only one instrument and my voice. That gives me a lot more flexibility in terms of what kinds of shows/tours I can handle doing, but also I feel taking away all the fluff and seeing what you have left underneath can be a good way to determine how good a song actually is. With that said, I already have plans to begin writing the next batch of songs with a set band.
JS-What were you listening to when writing the album? Did that music inform your own?
JL-I’ll preface this by saying yes; absolutely it informed my own. I take influence very seriously and shamelessly draw healthy inspiration from my contemporaries. I want the songs I write to be among my favorite songs. If you don’t love the music you’re writing and playing you should probably write and play something else.
The six months prior to writing “35mm” and thus beginning to write the rest of the record were some really tough months so naturally I did what any person does; I binged. I listened to the Dig Up The Dead by Mansions on repeat for almost all of those months. I also listened to Nothing Was The Same by Drake an arguably embarrassing amount. Believe it or not, those two releases have several things in common that helped me establish some goals for writing my record. Minimal, yet emotionally charged instrumentation, and transparent, vulnerable lyrics written with as little raw emotion filtered out as possible.
A few of the other records I was listening to at the time: the entire Bazan/Pedro the Lion catalog, (Although I seemed to lean heavier on Achilles Heel, It’s Hard To Find A Friend, Curse Your Branches, and the Bazan monthly songs during that time) Manchester Orchestra’s Cope, Weezer’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End, and Further Seems Forever’s The Moon Is Down.
JS-You wrote this record, or at least the majority of it, in Texas (right?). If so, what was it like writing a record removed from your home, living in an entirely new place? Did that displacement find its way somehow into the music?
JL-I did write almost all of the record in Austin. It was quite an experience, as was the displacement by itself. Needless to say, not knowing many people or places, I had a lot of time to myself during those first few months. A lot of my time was spent in and out of hotels, in different cities before I finally settled in Austin. So many things happened in the ~2 years prior to me moving to Austin that I never really had a chance to sort out or deal with. Being alone and completely isolated from all forms of familiarity forced me to actually learn how to identify, confront, and move past my problems. It was during that process of taking emotional inventory that I wrote “35mm”, and through continuing it, I wrote the rest of the record. I wholeheartedly recommend removing yourself from comfort and familiarity to anyone who has issues with confronting their problems. Then, after you wrap your head around all of that, maybe write a record about it.
JS-I think you played a few solo shows out in Texas before really bringing them home (to SC) for the first time. What was it like to play these songs that are so personal in nature for people you didn’t know or barely knew? People you didn’t have a history with?
JL-There were only two people at my first show as Slow And Steady that I was even remotely acquainted with prior to that night. That was a very strange feeling, the polar opposite of any “hometown” show I had played in a long time. As for the content of the songs, I thought it was difficult to play them for strangers until I actually played them in South Carolina. Looking back, it was probably just a lack of confidence in these brand new, unrecorded songs, coupled with the general nervousness resulting from playing a solo set of original songs for the first time in my life.
JS-And what did it mean for you to bring these songs home?
JL-This is what I discovered to be the true challenge. I found it very difficult trying to sing these songs in a room full of people who either participated directly in the events that inspired the songs, or people who are looking directly at the ones whom they suspect the songs are about. Part of my process for making sure I don’t zone out and forget lyrics in the middle of a set is to completely ignore the crowd, and then attempt to immerse myself into the subject matter of the song. I probably don’t have to explain why that is difficult.
JS-Slow and Steady is a bit different from your former band, Transient. Is that something that happened organically or did you make the conscious decision to take a step away from more aggressive music?
JL-I was already well on my way out of listening to “aggressive” music by the time we even started Transient, so this was definitely bound to happen. The simple fact of the matter is that I do not listen to aggressive music. There are maybe five records that I come back to a few times a year when the mood strikes me just right, but aside from that, I do not listen to it at all. My “Top Ten” list hasn’t included a punk/hardcore record in several years. Since I had no band, no solo project, no plans, no preconceived notion of what kind of music I should come up with when I wrote it, 35mm is probably the most pure representation of the style of music my brain and heart actually wants to play. With that said, my focus in writing the songs is relatively similar.
Transient and Slow And Steady are the same photograph, but we used an Instagram filter on Transient, and I just don’t think Instagram filters make photos look better anymore. Sorry, that is the best way I could think of to explain it.
JS-So, the album has a constant theme, both musically and lyrically. It’s all very personal, very honest. How does it feel sending something so intimate out into the world for other people to experience?
JL-Honestly, it feels incredible. I almost feel as if I don’t have to carry the burden of a song’s subject matter anymore once the song is released. At the same time, knowing people will be listening to and potentially reading these songs makes me extremely conscious of the words I am writing. The idea of my songs coming off as self-pitying absolutely horrifies me. I hope the record properly conveys that any bitterness I feel is directed inward more so than towards anything or anyone else. Overall I do feel that vulnerability is humbling and gives me a healthy perspective on how little most things actually matter.
JS-How do your personal experiences shape you as a songwriter? Listening to these songs it’s evident that you have really put yourself into each one. Is that a way of confronting issues in your own life? Or is it a way of avoiding them?
JL-This record is all about confronting my issues and feelings head on. Typically it’s when I am not writing songs that I am actually avoiding my issues. The album plays like a documentary of my early twenties if you listen all the way through, which is absolutely the way I recommend listening to these songs. So I would say that rather than shape me as a songwriter, my experiences probably define me as a songwriter. In a long quest to become emotionally self-sufficient, songwriting has become my sole method of dealing with the crushing reality of being human.
JS-When is the official release? Are you playing anywhere soon?
JL-The official release date is August 14th, but everyone can definitely expect to hear more of the record before that date. As far as shows/tour, we have some things in the works, but confirming them is hinging on getting the vinyl in our hands. Vinyl pressing plants are extremely bogged down right now and lead times are extremely long and unpredictable. We submitted back in April and the August 14th release date is looking like a stretch with where we currently sit in the production timeline. Since we unfortunately have day jobs, we can’t afford to go on tour or play “release shows” without a record to (hopefully) sell.
JS-Can you tell me whom you recorded with? Who did the mixing and mastering? Are you with a label? You know, all the important stuff we all are dying to know.
JL-I tracked the record with a mutual friend of ours, Jay Arrington, at his studio called Greenbriar. He engineered and mixed it and I suppose you could say he and I “produced” it. TW Walsh mastered it. He is mostly known as being the only person other than David Bazan himself to be a permanent member of Pedro The Lion/Headphones, and has mastered/otherwise worked on countless classic releases and he’s a fantastic songwriter, fronting a band called The Soft Drugs as well as putting out a fantastic solo album.
The record is coming out on Broken Circles Records, and honestly, Brent Lakes is 90% of the reason this project exists in the current form. In a rapidly worsening industry full of terrible, greedy people who don’t give a single shit about music or the bands, this guy stands alone. Extremely proud to be a part of this label, alongside Bandit, Ivadell, Triathalon, Nest, Adjy, and Bloom. Great bands, great people, great label.