Slade came across in the interview as unguarded as he is in his songs and as
easy to enjoyably listen to. I asked, "What
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do you think makes your music good pop music?" It was the one question that made my student who helped me formulate the queries uncomfortable. As if it were insulting. I asked
the coolest band out there with the coolest clothes or the best video,"
Slade said soberly but not defensively. "I do
know that if somebody wants to criticize us for sounding too much like
somebody else or not being innovative enough, not digging deep enough -- sure, I can hear all of those criticisms. But they can never accuse us of
lying. We always told the truth in our lyrics and made music that
sounded true to us."
While their songs examine the more emotional side of life, most tunes getting radio play, he thinks,
aren't telling the truth. Most songs brag about how much money the musicians
make or how cool they are, he points out with a sense of humor, "or how badly you're going to want to lay
them as soon as you start dancing with them in the club."
tends to be candid in interviews. So the right question for someone so
seemingly open seemed obvious: What won't he say? What's too personal?
"You want me to
ask myself a question I won't ever answer?" Duh! He laughed heartily, "I
like your style, Liz." There are certain questions, he admitted, that you
either have to know the person well to answer; otherwise, you have to involve alcohol in the conversation. "If you buy
me a drink, maybe we can get to those questions." He kidded, "I'm drinking ice water
right now." Well, possibly kidding. Slade is still surprised
at their success and laughed in agreement when I said, "Isn't it always
really surprising in life when you do well?"
Their latest album, Scars and Stories, was released this February. "I think scars are sexy," he admits.
"They're a treasure map of where they come from, where you've been, who
you are, essentially." He referenced the scene in Lethal Weapon
when Rene Russo and Mel Gibson try to impress each other with their
scars. "They end up half-naked, making out on the floor, showing each
other what they're made of. There's that moment in every relationship
where you show your parts and let the person know who you really are and
what you've been through." He calls it a pivotal moment in any pairing,
"where the person politely excuses themselves and never comes back or
they stay and things get very interesting."
"Be Still" is a song
that really speaks to my student, who interpreted it as the experience
of being true to another person. When I asked where Slade was
mentally when he wrote it, he was happy to share. His little brother was
having trouble sleeping and called Slade for comfort. He didn't know
what to say, so they talked for a bit, he fell asleep, woke up, and started
playing this song. Writing a song on the spot in that way is something that he'd done
only one other time. "By the second time I started singing it, my
wife started singing along." Even so, he didn't think it'd work for the
record, because it was different from the rest of the songs, but the
band liked it, and in it went.
Slade grew up on late-'90s
college rock: Counting Crows, Bush, Better Than Ezra, Pearl Jam, and
Wilco, even admitting to discovering U2 later in life. When I mentioned
they'd be sharing the stage with one of their influences at SunFest,
Slade was surprised; he didn't realize Counting Crows was on the bill. Though also a fan, he's now
friends with singer Adam Duritz. He said casually, "Thanks for the heads-up. I'll shoot
him a text."
Besides eating stone crabs (likening the stone
crab restaurants to Mafia joints), another thing Slade likes about South
Florida is finding spots out of the sun. "We love the beach
collectively, and by we, I mean three of the guys. I sort of scurry
between palm trees because I burn so badly." You may find him this week lying
around in his boots, jeans, and long-sleeved shirt. But, he said seriously, "I read
a book in the shade like it's nobody's business."