Tue 26 Apr 2011
There’s something about the whimsy and spontaneity of Total Slacker‘s fun-loving ethos and rocking out songs that makes a lasting impression. Their post-grunge pop, from shifty to boundless to creeping to outright thrashing songs, keeps the flame for energetic creation without necessarily having hordes of expendable energy. The New York trio come off as exuding both horizontally chilled out vibes and unrestrained enthusiasm. It’s a winning combo – they’re cool without even trying.
And people have noticed – they have been signed to Marshall Teller Records of London for their debut album, with a US distributor soon to be determined. Singer/guitarist Tucker Rountree explains that the impending release’s title, Thrashin’, is an ode to their show philosophy – “You have to thrash out when you play rock ‘n roll!”
Their detailed songs flaunt Tucker’s easy demeanor in his unhinged guitar playing, all extravagant jazz-style hooks embellished with his physically twisting wit. Growing up in the desert and the mountains respectively – drummer Ross Condon (brother of Beirut‘s Zach) and bassist/singer Emily Oppenheimer are from Santa Fe, and Tucker’s from Utah – they somehow sound like they have an outsider’s perspective. Their grainy pop is largely unaffected and instills quite a classic sound in its melodies. With a definite Nirvana style filtering through in songs like ‘Crystal Necklace’, their sound stretches further.
Emily says of her band-mate and boyfriend, “Tucker and I listened to a lot of Weezer when we first got together,” and “of course, we love Nirvana! I had no idea when we first started playing that we’d be a band that anyone might think was influenced by Nirvana, but that’s great by me. We’ve also all been listening to a lot of Beck recently, and Brooklyn bands like The Beets. We were channeling the Breeders, Pixies… funnily enough, Tucker had never really listened to Sonic Youth until he met me in 2009.”
New York is definitely a good spiritual and physical home for them, with Emily saying her favourite local bands right now are Friends, Widowspeak and Prince Rama. With a seemingly endless supportive community surrounding them, it seems natural that Tucker, Emily and Ross would bond so perfectly. Emily says they went from being friends to forming Total Slacker “almost simultaneously”. “The first thing Tucker and I ever did together was play guitar and have jam sessions, and the first time we hung out with Ross after (re)meeting him at a show was jam.”
Part of their success seems to come from Tucker’s endless bank of guitar hooks and entertaining subject matter that riffs on real life scenarios. “Tucker is especially prolific,” says Emily. “He’ll often come to me with four or five melodies, lyrical ideas or chord progressions in a single day. Ross and I work really well together rhythmically because, although we’d both been musicians prior to Total Slacker, we hadn’t played this kind of music in a band before, so our playing has evolved symbiotically. And Tucker can just play anything.”
Though only about a year old, the band seems closely-bound by a unique point of view that sees them writing songs about things like Facebook creeps. “Total Slacker has a very specific sense of humor – sometimes something will happen to us while we’re all hanging out, or a conversation will take a weird turn, and we’ll just look at each other and know that’s going in our next song.” But they nut the songs out as a group. “We write the songs together and shape the ideas together, except sometimes Tucker will have a total finished song that needs no changing.”
Each have varied backgrounds – Emily in historical and political theory study and classical guitar, Ross with college in Washington and Tucker with classical jazz guitar training. Like any blossoming band, they have ties to their home – which is New York’s bustling Brooklyn – the kind of adventurous, creative landscape that someone on the other side of the world can feel a weird sense of belonging to without ever having been there. With ambitions to tour other continents in the near future, they’ll always call New York City home. “Having been a part of it here, it’s difficult to imagine doing the same thing anywhere else,” says Emily. “I love Brooklyn for all kinds of reasons. I want to live in many places, but I imagine I’ll be consistently pulled back here.”
With their worlds right now revolving around the band, they’re definitely paying homage to their moniker in their daily life, but in an ideological way as opposed to a literal way. “Our world is completely immersed in music right now, and has been ever since about 2010. Playing shows, writing and recording, trying to stay positive and evolve our writing styles,” says Emily, who now goes to the New School in Manhattan. “We’re still pretty poor, but we’re able to pay most of our bills by playing shows – knock on wood!”
Reclaiming a life of leisurely pursuits has led them to create some highly memorable and relatable pop songs. “The band name is definitely inspired by the film Slacker. Tucker and I were both living in Williamsburg at the time we came up with it, bumming around and failing to find day jobs. We had the best summer, met lots of new people and spent hours making up silly joke songs in the park. Everything about what we were doing paralleled what went on in that movie, and we loved it. We didn’t want it to end, so we immortalised that whole summer’s vibe by using ‘slacker’ in our name. That was the summer of 2009 – too much partying!”
Thrashin’ will be out in late June on vinyl, CD and iTunes