"Why be good enough when you could be a success?" snarls Haley Shea on the very opening line of Sløtface's second record, her vocals isolated before the track explodes with the livewire electricity that fans of the Norwegian pop-punk quartet have come to love and expect.
As an album opener, 'S.U.C.C.E.S.S.' is the perfect reintroduction to Sløtface; wrapped up in that fizzing energy is a strong social conscience, a fierce polemic against the idea that women or immigrants have to work harder to prove they're good enough. It's an issue that's close to Haley's heart, and sets the tone for the rest of 'Sorry for the Late Reply', which deftly combines the personal with the political.
"Going into this record, I decided to push myself to be more specific, and the best way to do that was to tell stories about things I've experienced," Haley explains. "I approached the band with the idea of making a more personal record about growing up in Norway as an American citizen with American parents."
Though by Haley's own admission she ended up digressing from the concept she'd initially envisioned, the theme of figuring out where you belong in the world is the main artery that runs through 'Sorry for the Late Reply'.
"My whole life people have asked me, 'Do you feel more Norwegian or more American?' When I come into the country through Norwegian passport control, I always have really high shoulders and feel very defensive, worrying that people are going to think I'm not Norwegian even though I've lived here all my life. I've had people say, if I was really Norwegian it would be on my passport, but I do consider myself Norwegian. I guess a lot of the other themes of the record, love and heartache and family, they all come back to that main theme of what it means to belong somewhere.
"Growing up during the Bush presidency in the early 2000s, I was ashamed a lot of the time to be an American. In Norway, there are a lot of stereotypes like 'Americans are fat', 'Americans are stupid', and a lot of those feelings came back to me when Trump was elected president in 2016. There's this weird dualism that's been there my whole life – I don't necessarily like Norwegians talking shit about America, but then I also don't approve of their political system or president."
As Haley works through her complex feelings of identity, the result is multi-faceted, opening the door to a much wider dialogue that explores self-acceptance and social guilt. Known for being outspoken when it comes to topics such as the environment and gender equality, 'Sorry for the Late Reply' sees Sløtface continue to use their platform to raise awareness, proving once again they're a punk band with a hell of a lot of heart.
No strangers to activism, the band's inspiring video for 2016's 'Sponge State' saw them perform on top of Norway's Førde Fjord alongside a peaceful protest against a mining company. Their second record features 'Sink or Swim', an affecting lament against the current state of the world with an unsettling accompanying video of ocean plastic pollution.
"We wanted to make a song that was about the climate crisis, but not in a preachy way. We're all living in the world, we're all using water every day, we're all using plastic (most of us), so it was important to present it in a more nuanced way and not portray ourselves as climate heroes, because we absolutely aren't. I wanted to write about the dread and anxiety but also the fact that I'm not necessarily doing everything I can to make things better. We're still a band, we still fly everywhere, so I was trying to describe that feeling of knowing you should be doing more, but not always knowing how to do more."
This multi-layered approach to the record's themes also applies to its sound. More sonically diverse than its 2017 predecessor 'Try Not to Freak Out', it was recorded in several sessions over the course of a year, allowing time to let things breathe and evolve. Produced by Odd Martin Skålnes who has worked with the likes of Sigrid and Aurora, it sees Sløtface further embrace their pop sensibilities - 'Stuff' for example, has slinky, minimal R&B vibes, while 'Laugh at Funerals' is a beat-heavy banger. 'Luminous' and 'New Year, New Me' have a meandering singer/songwriter feel, influenced by Haley's love of Phoebe Bridgers.
"We didn't think that much about genre, we decided not to worry about if something sounded like a Sløtface song or not, it was about what suited the song best. For this record, we worked to strip things down as much as possible, we wanted every element to mean something and not add anything that wasn't contributing to the song. It was important to have as fewer elements as possible but do those as well as we possibly could."
As well as road-testing the new album during their recent UK and European tour with PUP, the band had another interesting yet incredibly receptive audience to sound out their new material.
"We took part in a scheme called The Cultural Rucksack in Norway, where the Norwegian government sends musicians all over the country as part of the mandatory curriculum, which includes inmates that are receiving high school education in prison. In prison, you don't get much access to entertainment, so everyone watched intently, trying to soak up every moment of what was going on. As a performer, that's incredibly rewarding. It's also a good way to meet people who have a different life from you. However 'hippy' it may sound, music really is a universal language, you can talk to anyone about music."
Taken from the February issue of Upset. Sløtface's album 'Sorry for the Late Reply' is out 31st January.
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