Home > News & Reviews > The Slow Readers Club

Building Back Brighter: The Slow Readers Club Rebound With 'Knowledge Freedom Power'

Thursday, 23 February 2023 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Trust A Fox Photography

Contrary to fantastical teenage dreams about forming a band and achieving life-changing fame and fortune, for most musicians the reality of their profession is a constant, unglamorous struggle. But even by past tribulations, the last few years have been especially hard on artists operating at a certain level without a financial safety net. Yet, if you had to put your money on one act to battle through such a tumultuous period, The Slow Readers Club would represent a pretty safe wager.

Often described as Manchester’s biggest cult band, thanks to selling out home town venues like the Apollo and Ritz without major label backing, or repeated national media exposure, while also having two top 20 albums to their name, Aaron Starkie, Kurt Starkie, James Ryan and David Whitworth know all about grafting to make ends meet while taking their band to the next level.

It wasn’t until after the release of The Slow Readers Club’s third album, 2018’s ‘Build A Tower’, and a hugely beneficial support slot with James, that the foursome were finally able to quit their day jobs and make the group a full time priority. With their foot on the accelerator ready to power forwards, ‘The Joy Of The Return’ was released on March 20, 2020 and landed in the UK top 10. At exactly the wrong time.

After three years in which they’ve had to return to their day jobs, while also releasing a lockdown record (‘91 Days In Isolation’) and trying various things to stay afloat, the group are back with an electro-indie rock blast of positivity, reflection and hope. If ever an album was capable of getting a band back on their feet, it’s one that’s as sonically propulsive, lyrically comforting and melodiously intoxicating as ‘Knowledge Freedom Power.’

We caught up with Aaron to discuss how they’ve been affected by such an unfortunate and unprecedented turn of events, the inspiration behind the album’s familiar but fresh template and why he doesn’t mind being compared to one of music’s most loved and loathed bands. 

Having been robbed of your ability to tour and make a living due to lockdown, combined with the financial crisis, how tough have the last few years been and what did you have to do to ensure your survival?

It was difficult. It came at a very unfortunate time for everybody, but particularly us because we had an album that was just out and a tour about to start as lockdown happened. We still managed to get a top 10 record but couldn’t tour it. So that was frustrating. We thought, ‘What can we do with this time at home?’ and wrote an album remotely and got it out that year, which was probably, commercially, not wise. We should have held it back and done another tour off the back of it, but we just wanted to do something with our time.

In terms of the business side, we’ve always been quite DIY and it was difficult because we’ve not been a limited company for long. We weren’t entitled to a bailout so we set up a thing through Patreon where people paid £5 a month for exclusive content. It felt like we couldn’t service that properly after a while and like we should probably close it down. So we went back to work and took on day jobs. We’re sort of back to where we were four or five years ago. We’re doing what we can, touring wise, and writing albums and things around nine to five jobs. It’s tough from a financial perspective but we’ve managed to keep doing it and the work we’ve been producing is, hopefully, still good. We’re climbing up out of the mire as we speak.

If being able to go full time was, as you’ve previously described, your proudest moment, how did you get your head around what must have felt like a regression? Especially as it wasn’t because the band had failed, but due to something completely out of your control.

You’ve got to roll with it, I suppose. It was a gradual realignment because none of us knew, when the whole thing was kicking off, how long we were gonna be shut in our houses for. We’ve since toured and the band makes a reasonable amount of money, but it’s reinvested into producing and marketing the next record. So it doesn’t make enough at the moment to sustain men that have got mortgages and families. It’s psychologically difficult. Music is a challenging business to be in anyway, for anybody. There’s so many disappointments along the way. Like turning up and playing to 20 people. Every band goes through those things. It takes mental strength to keep going and building and trying to find the next opportunity. So we’re looking forward to this record and hoping it opens more doors for us.

You were asked about the pressure of following up ‘Build A Tower’ prior to making ‘Joy Of The Return’, so after the greater success of that record, coupled with all those socio-political and economic problems in-between, did you feel extra weight this time because of all that rumbling away in the background? 

The lockdown album we did, ‘91 Days In Isolation’, had zero pressure on it. That was quite liberating. This one, because of all the machinery that forms around it, you know you’re going to be touring so it has a weight of expectation and needs to sell tickets for shows. But that’s secondary to writing the tunes. We take it song by song. Some of the stuff could have slotted onto previous records, some of it’s taken us forwards. So, I’m quite pleased with what we’ve done. We probably did feel some pressure but not depending on it financially, because of having day jobs, took some of that away.

You’re a songwriter who’s often written about a certain existential angst and, over the course of your records, expanded that to frame it within the context of an increasingly turbulent and fractious world. So I can’t imagine writer’s block was a problem for you during the pandemic with all that inspiration around?

One thing I was conscious of was that, if it’s all existential doom and gloom, it would have felt indulgent to write dystopian visions in a very bleak environment. The music’s always been uplifting but with this album there was a conscious effort on my part, from a lyrical perspective, to brighten the mood and explore.  I find that more challenging. Knowledge Freedom Power is like an exercise in sloganeering. It’s such a positive lyrical song, which is not my comfort zone. There’s another on the album called Sacred Song about this imagined goddess saviour. That’s really positive in its lyrical content, so there was an opportunity to explore different territory. 

To what degree did the events of the last few years inform the musical mood you’ve created, with all the electronic elements giving it a really powerful feeling of release? 

There’s two sides to it. Seconds Out was inspired during the time Russia was amassing tanks on the borders of Ukraine. That was obviously referencing the world. The others are probably more personal and trying to be uplifting. Sonically we leaned more into aggressive synth sounds and powerful beats. That was helped a lot by changing producers and having a different set of ears on things. We spent a week or so in pre-production, working on arrangements and the template for the album. People who write about us say there’s always a cathartic nature to our songs. You definitely get the sense that people are leaving their troubles behind when they’re at our shows, enjoying sharing the moment of being together in a space and enjoying music. We’re making music for ourselves as well as the audience. And we enjoy playing it. Everybody’s happy.  

Modernise immediately sets the sonic tone with those electronic elements more up front. You’ve described it as a techno-fear song. Can you expand on that?

It’s a good statement to open the album. I’ve been reading a lot about the rise of AI and how that’s gonna render loads of jobs obsolete. There’s been a lot in the press recently about ChatGPT, replacing people, and people being able to write 1500 word essays by putting in a little request. It’s quite frightening, the power of it, and it’s the same on the video side as well. You can get AI generated illustrators that can emulate anybody’s style. It’s going to be interesting seeing how all that pans out. Going back to work, from a personal perspective, you feel like you’ve got to constantly keep up with changing technology and there’s an expectation from society to be racing forward. What I try and do with my lyrics is figure out what people often think but don’t express and try and form a connection with them by sharing those thoughts.    

Sacred Song is of the most celebratory tracks you’ve done and also has a Coldplay vibe to it. They can be a bit divisive, so how do you think fans will feel about your evolution as I’m sure you have followers who just want you to make your first album again and again ad infinitum?

I think people might say they want that, but they don’t really. And we certainly don’t want that. Coldplay, a lot of people wouldn’t say they’re the coolest band in the world, but they fill arenas at the end of the day. Sacred Song, when we were writing it I called it Lemon for a while because Kurt’s guitar riff reminded me of a band called Lemon Jelly. They’re an electronic band. Flaming Lips was another reference I had in my mind. But there’s another track on the record that’s a bit more Coldplay called How Could You Know. That’s got quite a Coldplay style riff to it, but I don’t mind those comparisons at all. If we have a tenth of their success I’d be very happy.  

A colleague of mine reviewed your last album and made an interesting point I wanted to ask you about. He said the one thing that’s stopped you making the next leap is you haven’t written that stand out signature tune that’s crossed over. Do you agree with that assertion or do you think you’ve penned a track that should have done that, but didn’t get the exposure needed to make it happen?

There’s a few that could have done. Plant The Seed had some radio play in Ireland and when we went over there it’s like we were the Beatles. It was unusual, the amount of people at the show, and we sold it out super quick. There’ve been chinks of light like that but, yeah, we don’t have a Mr Brightside or a Yellow or that breakthrough track…yet. That could be a reason why, but I think we’ve got a good catalogue of music. If I leave this Earth and there’s no more records I’m quite content that we’ve put stuff out into the world that people have related to and enjoyed. The general quality of what we do is pretty decent. We don’t have a couple of tracks and then an album of fillers, but we’re still in search of that big breakthrough single. We might not have had a Mr Brightside but I’ll look on the bright side.     

With two top 20 records under your belt and the gigs you sell out in Manchester, can The Slow Readers Club still be classified as a cult band or have you left that tag behind?

When I think of cult bands I think of The Fall and stuff that’s a bit more serious than we are. I mean we’re fairly serious but we’re not like...different people from different walks of life, not just necessarily indie fans, would like our music. It’s melodic and there’s something in it for most people. It’s not often we make cult music, but people who get called ‘cult’ can fill certain sized rooms but operate under the radar. Obviously we’ve done the Apollo in Manchester and Scala in London and things like that. If we can get to a point where we’re doing Apollo sized rooms across the country, we're not a cult band any more, we’ve broken through. But we’ve got to get there yet.

The Slow Readers Club’s ‘Knowledge Freedom Power’ is out February 24 through Velveteen Records.

The Slow Readers Club Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu March 02 2023 - BARROW Library
Sat March 04 2023 - LEEDS Leeds University Stylus
Mon March 06 2023 - GLASGOW SWG3 TV Studio
Tue March 07 2023 - ABERDEEN Lemon Tree
Thu March 09 2023 - NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
Fri March 10 2023 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy2 Birmingham
Sat March 11 2023 - BRISTOL Thekla
Mon March 13 2023 - PORTSMOUTH Wedgewood Rooms
Tue March 14 2023 - LONDON Lafayette
Fri March 17 2023 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Fri April 14 2023 - BELFAST Limelight 2
Sat April 15 2023 - DUBLIN Academy

Compare & Buy The Slow Readers Club Tickets at Stereoboard.com.


We don't run any advertising! Our editorial content is solely funded by lovely people like yourself using Stereoboard's listings when buying tickets for live events. To keep supporting us, next time you're looking for concert, festival, sport or theatre tickets, please search for "Stereoboard". It costs you nothing, you may find a better price than the usual outlets, and save yourself from waiting in an endless queue on Friday mornings as we list ALL available sellers!

Let Us Know Your Thoughts

Related News

Fri 03 Mar 2023
The Slow Readers Club - Knowledge Freedom Power (Album Review)
Tue 20 Sep 2022
The Slow Readers Club Announce Spring UK And European Tour
< Prev   Next >