Trial & Error:
Tracing the Evolution of a College Band with Kyle Bann of Slothrust

Words by Steve Melone
Photo by Shervin Lainez

Three albums deep into their career, rock trio Slothrust is pushing full steam ahead in 2017, with a stack of tour dates on deck including a slot at Lollapalooza this summer. Bassist Kyle Bann took a breath in between gigs to dissect the band’s creative process on their latest album, Everyone Else, and detail their recent rise to headliner status.

Bann speaks over the phone from bright and sunny California after finishing the first leg of a lengthy touring schedule. “We just finished our first real headlining run across the country”, he explains. “We’re in recovery mode right now.”

Headlining is no small feat for a band with any significant reach. For Slothrust members it’s been a long time in the making, dating back to when the three were college students. “We went to Sarah Lawrence in West Chester, New York”, he shares. “We were music students, floating around, studying jazz and blues. We played experimental hip-hop things and weird [improvisational] groups, all types of stuff. We weren’t even necessarily playing the instruments that we’re playing in the band now! A lot of late night jam sessions in the basement of a house that Will and I shared for a while.”

For most bands, there’s an incubation period that takes place, and it’s crucial to success. With a long history, the three musicians started to build on their sound, continuing to grind away- that never changed. Before making the move to California just months ago, the trio battled to make a name on the east coast, downtown.

“We all lived in Brooklyn for several years, ground our way through shitty jobs and played a lot of shitty gigs”, he recalls. “We had a solid couple years where it’d be two or three shows a weekend for months at a time.” Those local weekend gigs gave rise to ideas and practice that helped the group become who they are now. Headliners.

I ask what it’s like making the jump to that level. “It’s a really exciting move”, Bann admits. “It’s nice to be able to stretch out, play some of the older material, have a little bit more room in the set list where we can drop a track from the first album. It’s great when it’s your fans who are really into your tunes and you have that room to experiment more.”

Kyle, vocalist/guitarist, Leah Wellbaum, and drummer, Will Gorin, recently put out the third Slothrust album, Everyone Else, last October. Looking back, it’s a release that shows how far the trio has come in their creative pursuits.

“When we had made our first album [Feels Your Pain] we had barely been a band, we were figuring it out as we went along”, he says. “It was a big experiment, the whole process of it. Listening back, I feel like we had a pretty good success rate. There’s been a pretty natural progression as we’ve gotten to know each other better, and know our sound.”

The process isn’t the same for every band, but often there’s a learning curve that gets addressed between releases, and it’s no different here. “With the later records we spent a lot more time playing the songs live before they got recorded, and a lot more time on the recordings themselves”, he explains. “The more you play them live, the more they naturally develop.”

That development as a band carried throughout live performances, writing and recording. ”You make adjustments, especially after touring on the material for a little while”, Bann adds. “It gets a lot tighter, more defined. So when we did hit the studio we had a much clearer picture of what we wanted the final product to be.”

The writing for Slothrust relies heavily on front lady, Leah Wellbaum, to act as the wellspring of lyrics. The music though, is largely collaborative. “They’re definitely Leah’s tunes, the lyrics are a hundred percent her”, he explains. “She brings in the tune with guitar parts, lyrics, vocals, and we work on the arrangements. We write our parts together, figure out the grooves. Not every song that gets brought in necessarily gets on the record. There’s a bit of a selection process and we work it out in band practice.”

Another aspect that defines Slothrust’s sound is the fact that they’re a trio. Something that may seem like a limitation, but only makes them more unified in execution.

“There’s a lot of space for us to fill”, Bann shares. “That’s what kind of makes it fun for us. You have that responsibility but you also have a lot of space, because each instrument is the only instrument performing its role.”

Before ending the call, Bann continues explaining the creative process and wraps up his sentiment with one last truth, “We get to play music that is challenging and interesting to us, so I can’t really ask for much more than that.” | Everyone Else