Setting The Tone: Slowdive @ Laneway Festival

How do artists pick a setlist? Is it preconceived, or just about how they’re feeling on the day? Are there some songs that are unmovable, or is everything up for grabs?

To find out, DEXTER MURRAY spoke to Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and Christian Savill ahead of their performance at Laneway Auckland. The seminal English rock band were on the comeback trail after a 21-year absence, so planning the setlist was about balancing old staples with songs from their most recent album, Slowdive.

How much planning goes into writing your setlist?
Rachel: It depends how much time we have. How long we have to play for is the number one question. Then Nick usually writes a proposed one and puts it in our band’s WhatsApp group. He puts it in there, and then I try not to reply straight away. The others tend to hammer it out. If it’s a short set then we argue about what we’re going to drop.

Christian: We get there in the end, and most of the time we’re still talking to each other at the end. I don’t how bands who have 30 albums do it.

Rachel: It is hard because I personally want to play the new stuff over the old stuff. But then we’ve never been to this place before so it’s about getting the right balance.

Is there a reason why you prefer playing the newer stuff?
Rachel: I think it’s more interesting to play personally.

Christian: It’s fresh. It’s fun to play. I’m not saying the old stuff isn’t, but if you’ve played something literally 1000 times…

Rachel: Probably more than that now. Probably way more than that actually if you think about it.

When you’re having your little WhatsApp about the setlist, is there a certain pace? Do you like to start off slower or is it depending on how you’re feeling?
Christian: I don’t know really. We move things around a little bit, but our setlist doesn’t change massively every night. We’ve got a certain amount of songs that we just have to play. If we don’t people will just say, “Well, why didn’t they play that!” We’ve got a rhythm in which they naturally seem to work. It’s more about fitting the new songs into that.

Have you struggled with that, or has it all seemed quite natural?
Christian: Some of the new songs have been harder to play live than others, but I think we enjoy playing them. I think it’s come together pretty well.

PHOTO: GABRIELLE STODDARD

 

As you mentioned your setlist has been quite steady for the past shows. Is there a reason why that is?
Christian: We’ve tried other songs. People are like, “Why don’t you play more off your first album [Just For A Day]?” We did try.

Rachel: We never really played much off that record.

Christian: It just doesn’t sound good [live]. So we more think, “What are we good at playing live? What’s going to make a good show?

Rachel: Also the lack of time we have when we’re at home to have extra rehearsals. We don’t all live in the same place anymore … That’s quite a big factor. So we go with the old faithful. We’ve got about an hour-and-a-half worth of songs that we play live.

Does it vary between festivals and headline shows?
Rachel: Totally. We play for around an hour and 20 minutes at our own shows.

Christian: Also if we shift the setlist around some members of our band do get confused. [Laughs] Basically we’ll stop playing that song.

Rachel: And we’ll all look at that person going, “You haven’t checked the setlist.” We have to scrap around changing our guitars again because of all the different tunings.”

Have you ever had a time when you’ve gone off course?
Rachel: No.

Christian: No. We’re old and we get easily confused. [Laughs]

Do you have a song that gets the biggest response?
Rachel: ‘When The Sun Hits’ and ‘Alison’.

Christian: Yeah, they get a big response. But of the new songs, ‘Sugar For The Pill’ always seems to…

Rachel: It does, yeah. It has done really well.

“We’d finish a song and there’d be complete silence. We’d look at each other and be like … ‘Have we done something wrong?'”

Is there one song that you’re always excited to play?
Christian: It just depends on how the audience is. Sometimes you can get surprised by an audience. I remember when we played in Brazil…

Rachel: They were screaming like it was The Beatles.

Christian: They were singing the entire words so much so that I couldn’t hear Neil [Halstead] and Rachel singing. That moment was pretty surreal, especially for a band like us because we’re not a singalong band really.

Rachel: Clearly we are.

Christian: Well, c’mon other countries! Get your act together…

Rachel: I don’t think anyone can ever really compete with Brazil.

Christian: They’re very passionate and very vocal. Some cultures are a bit more reserved. We just played in Japan and they were so polite. Lovely, but you could hear a pin drop.

Rachel: Oh my god. We’d finish a song and there’d be complete silence. [Laughs] We’d look at each other and be like…

Christian: “Have we done something wrong?”

Rachel: Complete silence. Then applause.

PHOTO: DEXTER MURRAY

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