Self-described socialist punks, Slates, have come a long way since their start in the Edmonton punk scene in 2008, amassing a dedicated following that has seen them tour across Canada, Europe, and most recently New Zealand. This past year has been particularly big for the band, signing with Toronto’s New Damage Records (Black Mastiff, Cancer Bats, The Flatliners) and working with heavy-hitter audio engineer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, Jawbreaker) on their most recent release, Taiga.
Vocalist/guitarist James Stewart discussed the band’s influences, their start, and the band’s relationship.
In what ways does Edmonton influence the band?
It’s just in the DNA of the music we write. Walking through the dark and the snow to cram into a jam space and sing songs about tigers eating poachers, or about prairie folk heroes, or oilsand devastation, or to just have a few beers and crack jokes about how shitty the Oilers are. It’s in everything we do and it’s who we are.
Since Slates are so heavily influenced by Edmonton, what’s your guys’ favourite venue to play in the city?We love to play anywhere that cares about music, treats musicians fairly, and maintains a zero-tolerance safe space to keep creeps and dolts away. There are a lot of great spots throughout the city—love the DIY scene, SPACE is the place, RIP Artery. But of course our heart belongs to [Wunderbar].
On top of playing extensive shows throughout Canada, you recently toured in New Zealand and Australia. What has been your favourite place to play to date, and why?
We played a show in Wellington, NZ at what was essentially an office squat that was packed with people dancing from the first note of the first band. No one was self-conscious as it was totally a safe space. It was immensely rewarding to take part in something like that, to have that kind of audience participation. There was a show we played in Santa Clara, Cuba that was one of the greatest, too. Everyone was dancing, it was free to get in, it was in an open courtyard, everyone was clapping along and cheering, playing air guitar on their skateboards or dogs. We played with Eskoria, a legendary punk rock band with a long and incredible history of fighting against genuine state oppression. I sat with William Fabian afterwards, the real heart-and-soul Cuban punk rocker, and we shared a bunch of rum and spoke broken languages at each other with huge grins on our faces. “Fuck YOU!” He kept repeating while slapping my back. It was shortly after we returned home that we found he’d been killed in the same venue a couple weeks after our show. It was devastating news and I think about him often. It’s amazing the opportunities that music provides.
You’ve spent a lot of time touring, whether by road or by air. What’s the band dynamic like? Do you all get along?
We get along really well for the most part, just through the experience we’ve gained by touring as much as we have. Just don’t hold onto weird resentments or slights—real or imagined—and you’ll be fine. Learn how to talk to each other respectfully. Enjoy yourself. Give each other space. It’s so easy, but if you fuck it up, your band is toast.
Are there any plans for new music in the future?
We’re always writing. We are several songs into the next album right now, and it’s always my favourite part of being in a band—tweaking and agonizing and arguing and pulling crazy good stuff out of mid-air. If we just got together and jammed the same damn set-list once a week, I think we’d all quit.
What’s it like playing a festival like Sled Island here in Alberta as opposed to playing a show, for example, in Australia? Is there a different feel? Different dynamic?
No, not really. A touring punk band exists in kind of a bubble, where you meet people that you have a lot in common with musically, politically, philosophically. You make some really fast friends and it’s great to be part of the musical community worldwide. Sled Island is as much a part of that as anything we do. We love the festival.
You can catch Slates at Sled Island opening for Pissed Jeans at Dickens Pub on June 27th at 11:30pm.
Additional editorial contribution: Brnesh Berhe
Additional photo credit: Amy Leigh