Thursday, October 16, 2014

Square Zeros #29: Leah Wellbaum (Slothrust, Slothbox)

"...Oh — you want that one? ...Yeah, alright, sure." — Leah Wellbaum, when asked if we could use Slothbox, "Did You Hear About the Devil?" for Square Zeros

Here at Square Zeros, we never claim that it's going to be easy to pull out old recordings and reveal them to strangers, or even your fans. We're continually impressed with our guests' willingness to pull out the tapes and blast those old songs; more often, we're impressed by how awesome those songs are.

When we contacted Leah Wellbaum of riffy Brooklyn indie rockers Slothrust about coming on the show, we got a positive response and one of those brilliant moments that reminds us why we do this:

p.s. my old project is solo and it is called Slothbox! I think there is a tape coming out of it actually. It's a lot of old casio keys and me singing about vomit and kidnapping.

The tape in question looks to be a cassette put out by Virginia Beach-based Custom Made Music, who apparently know exactly what's up. Slothrust is making all sorts of moves right now — we caught Leah right before Slothrust left on a month-long cross-country tour featuring dates with California X, The Menzingers, Cymbals Eat Guitars, and The Kills — and her prior project Slothbox is a total blast.

Leah warned us of the singular weirdness that was "Did You Hear About the Devil?" All the Slothbox tracks she provided were self-recorded during her first year of college, and some of the voices she takes on in "Did You Hear" are, let's say, improbable for an eighteen-year-old woman. There's definitely liberal use of "the Devil's interval" in this unsettling early track. It''s really rad. You just have to hear it to understand.

The promised Casios and vomiting arrived in "Necesito Vomitar Ahorita," which, translates roughly to "I Need to Vomit (This Very Instant)." Leah pointed out that her reference to the Devil in the prior song was likely a response to the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston and her interest in the quirky, mentally ill singer-songwriter. Something of his directness and naive vocal delivery come through in "Necesito," which layers bassy organ tones, chiming high notes, and melodic, vocals that overlap and repeat. The keys are just strange and simple enough to make a real earworm out of the desperate need to throw up.

And "No Eye Candy," the unlikely dance track! At one point in the interview, I asked Leah what her first-year-roommate thought of her musical pursuits — I could only imagine how the stranger who slept six feet from her might respond to a song like "Did You Hear." While Leah agreed that it was tremendously unlikely that her roommate would recall that song fondly, I could see "No Eye Candy" going over well with almost anyone. The beat is catchy, and the keyboards are slightly dissonant in all the right ways. Leah told us the line "Saw you on stage with a snake" was a reference to seeing Britney Spears in concert on television, and — while no one's likely to confuse the two — Leah's delayed, breathy vocals and low whispers on the track definitely flip that "Toxic" switch that all humans have in their brains that indicates that it's the correct time to dance.

If you didn't get a chance to catch Slothrust on tour, you need to set the rest of your life aside for a minute and take it. The record's great, but live, they're a whirlwind. Catch them strong off their month out at Thursday, October 23 at Bowery Ballroom with The Kills during CMJ. Thanks, Leah!

— JM

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