Por: Saúl Robles Ríos
Especial para PuertoRicoIndie.com
Aún mantengo vivo el recuerdo de escuchar Just for a Day –el debut discográfico de la legendaria banda inglesa Slowdive— por primera vez, y haberlo entendido. Sentí que no había escuchado nada parecido hasta ese momento en mi vida –música que te lleva, que levita, que dice mucho con pocas palabras. Fue mi primera exposición al subgénero del rock conocido como el shoegaze.
Para el 2014, tuve la oportunidad de ver a Slowdive tocar en vivo en el Terminal 5 de Nueva York, tras veinte años de separación, y no decepcionaron. Aquella noche sentía la música en el aire rodeándome –casi podía tocarla. Tal vez no haga mucho sentido eso de tocar el aire, pero cualquier persona que haya tenido la oportunidad de ver a Slowdive o a otro de los grandes grupos del shoegaze, My Bloody Valentine, seguro entiende la referencia. Luego del concierto, mi amigo Gardy Pérez (de Un.Real) y yo pudimos hablar un poco con el guitarrista Christian Savill acerca de su equipo.
Y ahora, unos años más tarde, pensé que sería una buena oportunidad para conversar con Christian nuevamente y darle inicio a esta serie de entrevistas con guitarristas de algunas de mis bandas favoritas que hemos titulado Volumen 11 y que estarán publicándose a través de Puerto Rico Indie. ¡Esperamos que las disfruten!
Puerto Rico Indie (PRI): Christian, how did it feel getting back together with Slowdive after 20 years to play live and how did your approach change in playing those same parts after so long? Did you have to learn them all over again or was it muscle memory?
Christian Savill (CS): First of all it felt really nice to be all together again. Some songs came very easily, and some had us a bit mystified –tunings and stuff like that. It was fun trying to work out what we played years ago, but also playing some songs from Pygmalion that we never played live.
PRI: Slowdive just played the Festival Nrmal in México. How was the response from fans? Did you get any time off to do some sightseeing?
CS: Ever since we reformed we’ve had a huge amount of requests to come and play in Mexico. So it was lovely that Nrmal gave us the opportunity to come out and play. The people we met were lovely and the reception was wonderful. Unfortunately, Neil and Rachel were both really sick. Rachel was unable to play the gig the day before in Los Angeles. We’d really like to come out and play again, maybe when we have a new record. Some of us were lucky enough to have a couple of days off and we had some friends who showed us some of Mexico City and also the Teotihuacan Pyramids.
PRI: Sorry about that Levitation Fest gig being canceled… Did you guys find another venue to play in Austin? Any bands you wish you could have seen at the festival?
CS: Thanks, mate. Yeah, us and Brian Johnstown Massacre did a gig together. It was great playing with them. Neil and Rachel have been good friends with them for 20 years. They are such sweet guys. We play with them in Athens soon too.
We were really excited to have been asked to play Levitation Festival. Strangely, we’d never played Austin before. The line-up this year looked incredible. Obviously seeing Brian Wilson perform Pet Sounds would have been an experience as well as seeing Sunn o)))).
PRI: How was that Austin BBQ food?
CS: I’m vegetarian so the BBQ food wasn’t for me!
PRI: Do you feel like the live shows up ’til now have been more of a practice ground for you guys to blend as a band again?
CS: No, I don’t think we’ve looked on any of the shows as a practice ground. We rehearsed pretty hard before our first gig. I’d say that by the last week of the US tour in October/November 2014 we were totally on our game. Obviously if we don’t play for a few months it’s a little harder. Those gigs are fun too as sometimes a bit of chaos and unpredictability makes for interesting shows.
PRI: How is the new Slowdive material coming along?
CS: I’m super excited by the new Slowdive songs. It’s taken some time but hoping we’ll get a chance to play some of them live in the near future. Honestly, I’m excited like a kid by them.
PRI: Reverb and space are such a big part of the Slowdive sound. I just watched the Pitchfork documentary “Slowdive – Souvlaki – Pitchfork Classic” again, and you mentioned that there was a turning point when working on the song “Avalyn” were you “just turn the reverb on the amp all the way and there was all these space”. Today there are so many great reverb pedals to obtain and basically imitate that type of sound, have experimented with any of them on new recordings or live?
CS: I remember before we recorded the first Slowdive EP I bought a primitive reverb rack mount unit from a mate of mine who found he had no use for it in his heavy metal band. That is what I used on “Avalyn”. When you turned it to maximum it had this really nice warm chimy sound. It worked well on that song. Now it’s amazing what all these pedals can do. Neil and I have got various reverb pedals. We both use a Neunaber WET Reverb as a kind of base. It’s not set to a huge reverb or anything, although obviously you could do if you wanted to. Neil relies more on delays than reverb, whereas I’ve been using a Strymon BigSky for some textures.
PRI: Noise and tunings… How do you approach each of them? What tunings do you regularly use? Do you overlap (use more than one) dirt boxes to obtain your noise sound?
CS: We use a few tunings, hence a few guitar changes when we play live. They’re not wild in a Sonic Youth way, but they work for us in that we get a kind of blend of drone and melody. Most of what we play is fairly simple. We use a variety of overdrives and distortions. Some of them will be used to just give a volume boost without getting too messy. Sometimes we combine them when we keep building like at the end of “Golden Hair”. I’m still hunting around for distortions that work with the Slowdive sound. I keep changing the pedal board all the time. Still searching for perfect tones.
PRI: You’ve mentioned My Bloody Valentine as an influence in your style of playing. I’m wondering if you have ever met or talked to Kevin Shields?
CS: When I was about 18, me and a couple of friends pretty much followed My Bloody Valentine around and were a total nuisance asking Kevin stupid questions whenever we saw him. I have to say that he was always so patient, kind and unassuming. I remember one time bumping into him and Jim Reid from The Mary Chain at the bar of a gig in Camden. He asked if I wanted a drink, but I was double star struck and had to run away and hide. I’m not sure I’ve met him since. But the others in the band have talked to him in recent years.
PRI: Tell me about your pedalboard. I know that when we last spoke in New York at the Terminal 5 gig you were trying some Strymon pedals. You also use a RAT Distortion, right?
CS: First of all I would like to say I’m not really a gear head. I don’t want to be blinded by science –I know what I want things to sound like and I don’t want it to be too complicated, especially during a gig. I see some bands playing and they have these ridiculous pedal boards and I can’t help feeling a lot of it is a bit unnecessary. I don’t use that many pedals, maybe 10 or something. Maybe that is a lot! I use a couple of Strymon pedals, the Big Sky and Dig. I have the Neunaber WET Reverb on all the time as a base, it’s quite subtle. Then there is a couple of different delays like Boss Space Echo and a few overdrives and distortions, but I’m still working on that side of things.
PRI: You usually use a Fender Jaguar but I think I’ve seen you use a Pure Salem Woodsoul as well. Do you have a preference between short scale (Jaguars) and long scale (Jazzmasters)? Why do you think offset guitars work so well for shoegaze?
CS: Well I think they mainly work cos they look cool. I had to use a hired guitar as a back up when we played in Moscow last year. They got in this heavy metal guitar. I think it was some kind of an Ibanez. The thing is it sounded great. Recently I got a couple of Jazzmasters and a friend put in really nice pick ups and now I like those better than the Jaguars. It seems to be a thicker sound. I’ve just always used solid body Fenders, so I just know exactly where I am with them. Also, recently used a Rickenbacker in rehearsals and I liked it. Sounded nice and a bit more mellow.
I like Pure Salem, they make everything left hand for no extra charge. When I was a kid, invariably if I walked into a guitar shop they would only have some kind of a left hand strat copy. So it’s nice that these guys are around. As I say I’m not much of a gear head and when people talk to me about all their pedals or guitars I either glaze over or have no idea what they are talking about.
Slowdive actualmente se prepara para lanzar su primer material discográfico desde Pygmalion en el 1995. Mantente al tanto de la banda a través de Facebook, Twitter o su página oficial, slowdiveofficial.com. Pueden seguir también a Christian Saville en Twitter (@schrodervenkman).