Slam Donahue Is "Nice" At RappingBy Tess Duncan
Slam Donahue doesn't limit themselves to just one genre or style of music. They could never pick just one, because they do it all: electronica, folk, hip-hop, rap, and even sometimes country. One over-arching theme, however, is pop. All of their music is fun, energetic, and catchy as hell. It's pretty much impossible to get most of their songs out of your head.
Since moving out of a middle-of-nowhere town in Connecticut to NYC, they've released a few EPs. With producer Ayad Al Adhamy of Passion Pit on their side, they're getting ready to release Hemlock Tea on Cantora Records on August 21st, an EP that promises to deliver even more perfectly structured melodies, pop hooks, and tunes that won't let you sit still.
I recently heard the new song, “I Turn On,” and it’s so awesome!
Tom: Oh yeah, I’m happy with how that’s going. I mean, I almost strangled the producer the other day, but that happens sometimes when you’re doing a creative thing. Just kidding; it’s been going well.
Yeah, the producer is Ayad Al Adhamy of Passion Pit. How did you guys meet?
Dave: He found us when we were in Connecticut. He just heard our band and he wanted to originally sign us to his label, Black Bell. That kind of fell through, because we weren’t really active in the New York music scene, but when we came here, we got reconnected.
Tom: One of our friends from Bear Hands played him real crazy early demos of us—actually, one or two songs off of what we released a few months ago on our website. He was the first person to reach out. We totally blew it. I’m so happy that we finally got the chance to work together after two years. Imagine this bullshit: you’re in a shitty band with nothing going on and you get a message from this hot new band, Passion Pit. It was right when they were blowing up and all our friends were listening to the record, doing whippets and ecstasy in the summer. We just got this random MySpace message, when MySpace was still a thing. It encouraged us to go a little harder too. A little recognition, you know.
He produced all of Hemlock Tea, right?
Tom: He did the whole new record. It’s being mastered by the guy who did the new Team Spirit EP, Joe LaPorta. I’m happy to be working with all of these new people. It used to be Dave and I, every single note. We started with home recordings, which was our first flailing attempt at a studio. Ayad is the kind of person who challenges you too. He challenges the structure of the songs. These were things that had been set in stone in my head, because I’m stubborn, but I think we came out with something better than what we came in with. I’m really happy about it. You hate when someone’s like, “I don’t think this part should be here.” Well, then why did I put it there? Sometimes, someone saying "No" to something challenges you to do much better, and I think that’s what happened. I think it captured the same essence of what we had before. He really connected well to what we were trying to do. I think the reason is because he’s known us for so long.
Tom: We’ve been in New York for two years now. Doing pretty well, putting out a record on a label—that’s pretty good right? A lot of people struggle for a long time, so I’m happy that everything is picking up quickly.
Dave: Well, I like to think that I’ve struggled for 22 years.
Tom: Yeah we’ve been writing songs forever, we’ve known each other since we were 13 or 14. So, ten years now? We were in tons of bad bands, rotating lineups, our library goes back real far. We’re still trying to locate band members, I don’t know what the hell’s going on.
Dave: We’ve been playing with this new Italian drummer since our drummer is in Fort Lean also, so he’s touring right now with them. He’s super busy.
Tom: It’s going well so far, except our new drummer almost killed Dave the other day. On the 4th of July, Dave woke up nude in a bathtub bleeding.
Dave: I don’t know what happened, I had cuts and bruises all over me. We played a 4th of July party at this art gallery/living space in Brooklyn, which is really cool. It’s a friend’s house and he has a small stage and they have art shows there too. It was sponsored by some rum or some shit like that, and it ended horribly.
Tom: He sent a text message to a number that doesn’t exist that said, “Ah help, this sucks I might get arrested.”
Dave: I have no recollection of that. Seeing the police or anything.
Tom: That’s how we came to be in a band. We played all house shows. We grew up in a small town in Connecticut, so there were no venues. It was nostalgic and life-threatening at the same time.
Dave: Yeah, I was really excited to get back in our element and I pushed it too hard, I guess. Our drummer was just feeding me liquor, egging me on. Everyone was real excited and it just went way too far. That’s definitely the craziest thing that’s happened to me in a long time.
Tom: Closest to death, right?
Dave: Yeah, I definitely almost died.
Tom: Your survival instinct was just enough to not die.
Dave: I don’t know how I got home. I could have been driven home by the police.
Tom: Police might have been involved. There’s been broken instruments—ne guy went through Dave’s keyboard one time. It smashed and it was crazy. There’s been police and shutdowns, all sorts of things. All of them tend to blend together, because they’ve been fueled by liquor. The 4th of July was the most recent episode, though.
You guys are from a small town in Connecticut called Wolcott. Was there much of a music scene there?
Tom: No, there’s not really anything there. There are just buildings with people inside. There was a small scene of bands and support and that kept us going. There were a few kids who would throw shows at ice cream shops and wherever you could play. There was a decent little thing going on for a small group of people and that was it. When we moved to New York, it was just to get more of an audience. There was limited potential where we were.
Dave: The scene didn’t exist in Wolcott. It was more in Watertown and surrounding areas, New Haven and stuff.
Tom: You had to leave to find places to play. We could have played to horses where we grew up. We’ve found a good home in New York. We’ve been accepted with open arms, played over 30 shows, and put out the other couple records since we’ve been here.
Tom: Dave had an anxiety attack when we moved here. He was freaking out during the move. He was underneath blankets smoking cigarettes.
Tom: And then, all of a sudden, he wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world.
Dave: I don’t wanna go anywhere now! Home just becomes home eventually. Thank God, I’m so glad the rest of my existence isn’t like it was in that car ride. If I was just chain smoking under a blanket for the whole time I was in New York, that wouldn’t be too much fun.
So how did you get out from underneath the covers moving here?
Dave: Just getting to know people. I’m not good at adjusting to change. It’s taken a good year and a half to settle in.
Tom: Now look at him! He’s at the parties fucking getting shots poured into his mouth.
Dave: But that’s just another sense of anxiety.
Tom: I gotta drink, but then you go too far. “Oh this guy can really hold his liquor!” WRONG.
Dave: We’re just recovering. It’s still fresh. Still got bruises and scars.
Tom: I’ve got scars on my shoulder and my knee. It was so funny. I swear he spent a half an hour trying to get in the door. The keys fell like 90 times while he was trying to get in.
Dave: I have no memory of that. I was Zombie Dave.
Tom: It’s a new person who comes out; he’s uncontrollable. I should watch over that guy make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble.
Before coming to New York, you guys were in some other bands together. What kind of bands were they? Were they similar to Slam Donahue at all?
Dave: No, not at all. That’s why we’re doing this: because we hated what we were doing before. I was always folky by myself, and that gets boring after awhile. Tom was doing some much stranger electronic experimental stuff. We reined each other in to a pop-electronic-experimental group. The elements just weren’t put together yet.
Tom: It did lead up to it, though. It was like college for us. Music college. Work and independent study by yourself so you’re able to get a career going. We recognized each other as talented people. There weren’t many talented people where we were located.
Dave: Nobody else really did anything. We were the only ones who were constantly releasing stuff.
Tom: Now, moving to New York, the competition is so great. It makes me even crazier to want to write, because I want to beat everybody. Dave was the only one I wanted to beat before. And then we ended up working together. You find the best.
Dave: It wouldn’t have worked, anyway.
Tom: Exactly. I would have won.
Dave: We would have been stupid to stay there. It’s so dead end.
Tom: I would have been walking my dog and working the same job. That’s about it.
Didn’t you guys tour the US together when you were younger?
Tom: Yeah, we took Dave on tour when he was 14. It was mania. It was the most bootlegged tour you could ever imagine. One of our friends just wanted to tour. You know how people want to do things, but they really don’t know how to do things? He was one of those. It was totally the wrong idea. Everything was done wrong and not right. But we formed so many good memories that bonded us together, that it was worth it in the end. No productivity. It was a blast, though.
Dave: I had to ask my dad. I joined Tom’s band and I was just playing bass. My dad said "Yes," and I was so psyched. I can’t wait to do it again for real this time.
Tom: Yeah, that was like tour fantasy camp. Six guys in a Ford Explorer. It was probably the foundation for what we’re doing now.
What’s the craziest story you have from that tour?
Tom: We destroyed everything. We almost got our asses kicked in Birmingham, Alabama, because Dave almost destroyed some instruments. I pulled down a chandelier in Florida.
Dave: I bled all over this dude’s bass.
Tom: Too many blood problems. Dave got chased out of Birmingham, Alabama for misusing some equipment. I wrapped a mic chord around a chandelier and accidentally pulled down the whole light fixture.
Dave: It was a nice chandelier, let me tell you.
Tom: There were good memories, too. Like sitting in the back of this truck and eating watermelon when it was hot and we had nothing to do.
Dave: I remember when we got to Florida and we were just standing outside trying to cool off from the car and everybody’s shoes melted to the ground.
Tom: Yeah, there was no planning, so we showed up to Florida and only had jeans. It was a disaster. It was 110 degrees! It was crazy! Good bonding moments throughout that whole trip.
Dave: I think we had a hotel room one night.
Tom: Someone’s foot got run over that night, too. Just a million things. But it just adds to the whole “Je ne sais quoi” of the situation. I guess we liked it enough to keep doing it. We’ve taken trips to South By Southwest now two years in a row, and we’ve got the tour coming up in the fall. I guess something went right. I’m looking forward to tour very much.
Dave: I wanna go overseas somewhere. I’ve never been out of America.
Tom: We’re so broke. We’re below poverty level.
Dave: We looked it up using the six brackets of income.
Tom: If we find a good support system to do it, we will, which is totally possible. We’re actually not releasing the EP in the UK at first, because our deal is only for America. We’re working on a release soon for that.
I heard that you’re working on some new music videos.
Tom: Yeah, we've got some weird shit coming up. We’ve gotta rent costumes and go on locations.
Dave: I thought of another music video idea last night, but I’ll tell you about it later.
Tom: Okay, don’t tell now. Wait.
Dave: I love making videos, because of the escapism factor.
Tom: The problem is that we come up with so many ideas that we don’t know which one to actually do. It’s cool and rewarding, I really like doing music videos. Any little videos. We have a short planned too, of Dave eating cereal. We’re going to do a video with Dap of Das Racist. We just had a meeting with him the other day. We’ve known each other for awhile. It should be really good, he’s really enthusiastic and one of the funniest kids I know.
You made all of your previous videos yourselves, right?
Tom: Everything was us before. We had no budget or support. It’s so good to have money now. We made those by ourselves in our rooms.
Have you started filming the new ones yet?
Tom: We’re planning. We have one treatment that’s going to be done by a friend who works at a company called Subvoyant in New York. The treatment is us in outer space, which I’ve heard is really hot right now. It’s going to be the same aesthetic with washed out black and white. I like the really rough look because…I don’t know, you should see our apartment. I think you just get used to things. I like the lo-fi quality of those old videos. Ayad refused my idea of recording three minutes of silence with the microphone and just adding that over the recordings. Just put it over the top of something to give it that air sound. It sounds really airy and lo-fi again. It’s real open sounding. It was just my dumb idea to make it even more open. There are also all sorts of new tricks and effects on the keyboard in the studio.
Dave: Yeah, I need to understand them so I can use them myself.
Tom: The problem with recording at home is you’re all stoned and drunk and you forget what you’re doing.
Dave: Yeah, but I understand my program and I know how to work it no matter how drunk or stoned I am.
Tom: It’s muscle memory. But it is nice having all the new stuff. New videos, new music, new shows, tours, new Italian drummers that almost kill Dave. New stuff is good; gotta be motivated.
So this concept for the video was your idea?
Tom: Yeah. You remember that video they showed in school called The Powers of Ten, where it starts at a family in a park eating lunch and then it zooms all the way out to the furthest part of the universe and then zooms all the way into the innermost part of his hands and it’s a carbon atom? I really like the aesthetic of it, so I developed the idea from that. And Mystery Science Theater 3000. Those two are the inspiration. And 2001: A Space Odyssey. Really vintage-y sci-fi stuff. Even though I’m not a fan of sci-fi at all; I don’t like Star Wars. Maybe that’s why I’m attracted to it: because it’s different. Dave likes Star Wars, if you want to get that clear in the interview. [Laughs]
What’s your favorite episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000?
Tom: I really like the one where the alien is wearing slacks and they keep talking about how the alien is wearing slacks. I think it’s Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. That’s my favorite one by far.
Dave: That sounds horrible and boring.
Tom: Yeah, it is. I don’t watch a lot of TV, so I have a really plebeian taste with television.
Dave: Imagine that written into a book. If you were reading that. That’s boring.
Tom: I’d rather read books.
Dave: Oh, I mean the story. You can’t watch a movie if it’d be a bad book.
Who are your biggest rap and hip-hop influences?
Dave: I like A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye West.
Tom: We’ve been really into pop-rap lately.
Dave: The-Dream! He’s put out just perfect records.
Tom: Curren$y, Big K.R.I.T, a bunch of pop-rap lately. I’ve been trying to avoid that really homogenous Lex Luger bullshit. I like the more poppy, melodic stuff. A Tribe Called Quest, that’s probably the biggest one. Except, have you seen Q-Tip lately? Oh my fucking God.
Dave: Yeah didn’t he get mad plastic surgery?!
Tom: Yeeeah! He looks fucking crazy. He looks like a fucking logo. But we still love him.
Dave: He’s not a monster in my eyes.
Tom: Real melodic hip-hop.
Where can I find you guys at your best when it comes to rapping?
Tom: We did some rapping for DJ Pogo on “The Wish.” The most famous rapper I know said we’re “nice at rapping.”
Who’s the most famous rapper you know?
Tom: Hima from Das Racist. Put that as a quote. Yeah, it’s really fun to stretch out musically.
Dave: It gets boring to do the same thing over and over.
Tom: We made all sorts of crazy songs of all sorts of genres.
Dave: We have a country song and a video with horses. It’s called “Five, 10, Fifteen, 20.” You know how good it is to count by fives? I was just talking about it one day.
Who’s your favorite country artist?
Tom: Nobody. I hate country.
Dave: It’s sad of us that we don’t appreciate country. I’m ashamed.
Tom: “Five, 10, Fifteen, 20” is the closest to country that we’ll ever sound.
You stoked for the Bushwick Walkabout?
Dave: Sunstroke, free beer, and vodka. Oh my god I’m ready. It’s gonna be disastrous.
Catch Slam Donahue this weekend in NYC at the Bushwick Walkabout! And keep an eye out for Slam Donahue's fall tour dates...
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