When Austin Anderson—the lead singer and songwriter of Slow Hollows—stumbled upon Los Angeles punk-rock venue The Smell a few years back, it would be difficult to predict just how pivotal of a moment it’d be in his music career. Having picked up guitar at age 10, Anderson released his own music under different names for years. But when he discovered the lo-fi, DIY energy of the LA-based music hub, Anderson brought that work together into a project called Slow Hollows—a dreamy post-punk band that blurs the lines between indie, pop, and R&B.
Since Slow Hollows' 2015 debut Atelophobia, Anderson has made enormous waves in music. He’s sold out legendary venues like the Echoplex, played at Coachella, and collaborated with Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean, to name a few. And after three years of work with bandmate Daniel Fox, Anderson is finally ready to share their third album, Actors, with the rest of the world.
The record features diverse collaborators like Peter Bjorn and John’s Björn Yttling, Tyler, the Creator, Ryan Beatty, and Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor who helped push Anderson outside of his comfort zone—an obstacle he had to overcome in the process of creating the work.
With Actors out today, a tour with The Neighbourhood starting soon, and a Slow Hollows headlining tour set for next year, read our conversation with Austin Anderson below.
What are some prominent themes on Actors?
There are a lot of songs written about members of my family, a few songs that are about a cousin I grew up with. [The album] is more personal than the ones before, a lot of personal family stories and more about myself.
Is there one particular memory you draw from?
Not really, it feels like all the songs are putting a bunch of thoughts together about different memories or different things that have happened. It’s never that one song is one memory, or one instance. They always draw from different trains of thought, because if you're trying to keep it one thought all the way through, it's hard to focus—or at least for me, it's hard to focus on one thing the whole time.
What’s your relationship with your family like?
I think it's really good. I mean, there are parts that aren't great, obviously, like there are people there are issues with—just natural family stuff. But I wouldn't say it's bad. I feel very lucky with the family that I have being my direct family and [my chosen family], the friends that I've grown up with and are close to.
Your music has always had this great nostalgic, dreamy energy. Where does that sound come from?
I don't really know. I think it's my subconscious wanting things to sound that way, if it comes across that way. I try not to think about how it comes across too much, and just try to think about just finishing the song. [Laughs] I think it's also direct inspiration from growing up in LA. A lot of the music that was made here when I was growing up and a lot of the bands I was inspired by from here—they all kind of had that sound and tone to them, so I wouldn't be surprised that still has an overarching effect on my music.
The music scene that I grew up in, there were cycles of genres and bands that would come in and out, but it was primarily very beachy—not that I listen to or try to make surf rock by any means. But I think that was always kind of the starting point to writing a song, because writing one of those songs is very simple—not to take away anything from them—and if you do it well, it's great. So it was like, "Oh, I can write a song like this and it doesn't sound stupid." It doesn't sound like I'm trying too hard because there's a playfulness to that kind of music to begin with.
So that style was really your foundation, and you built off of that.
Yeah, because you can build so much off of it. And there were different iterations of bands that were like, that kind of music meets synthesizers, or, "That's the band that does that but has a fucking trumpet."
On Actors, you also have a really diverse set of sounds and collaborators that work on the album. How did that contribute to your work?
It was really inspiring to be able to have all those people to help me. It wasn't that we wanted a new person to work on every song, but it just kept it.... when you're making your own music, it can get kind of stale sometimes, especially if you're the one that's primarily writing all the songs. So taking a song to somebody that you don't normally write music with makes it a whole different thing. They'll add production that you wouldn't think of, and other things you never thought you could’ve done. It also makes you rethink the other songs you were making so that it all flows, and add elements that you wouldn't have normally added.
It pushes you outside of the framework of what you're comfortable with.
It's supposed to be fun at the end of the day, and that makes it really fun. We got to work with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear on a song. That was pretty crazy because when we first started recording this album a few years ago, I remember we would watch this video of Grizzly Bear recording in a church in Brooklyn for Veckatimest, and we were just like, "Fuck, this is so tight. Why can't we do this?"
And then we got lucky enough to meet him. Our managers somehow knew some mutual person, and I got to meet Chris, and he produced “Heart (Reprise)” which we had already written and released as a live video. But he made the album version, and it sounds crazy. I always envisioned somebody like him being able to make that song really be something, more than I could do.
What was your creative process for bringing such diverse musical influences—including everyone from Chris Taylor to J Dilla and Pharrell—into your work?
If I was listening to something one day and was inspired by something, I would try to use elements from that, or find my own way of making a song in that vein. Not that all the songs are super standout different from each other, but just trying to think of what only one person would do or what I would do. Making sure that you think about advice you've seen other artists give in interviews, and just kind of all put that together, no matter what. Even if it's something that a rapper said, maybe apply it to your indie rock song.
So it wasn't even just necessarily how a song sounds, but more taking principles or energy of a certain artist.
Exactly, because they've already made those sounds. They've already written those songs. And I'm sure there are parts where there are obvious influences on our album, but it was more about what principles did they go by to make a good song? It's nice when you have a lot of time because then you can do dumb shit like that. [Laughs] What would this artist think about my song?
What risks did you take with this record?
Maybe putting different instrumentation in songs that I normally wouldn't have. Or being okay with making something that you really like, but maybe nobody else is going to like it? Not changing that. Just leaving that and saying, "Well, it's me." Even though people might hate this, at least it's me. I wasn't trying to do somebody else. That's kind of scary sometimes.
Between really slow, emotional songs like "Cowboy" and bouncy tracks like "Blood," there’s a ton of range on the album. Did you have to shift your process to create these different styles?
Honestly, I didn't really have to do anything. It was whatever the song felt like it needed to sound like. If it was coming out as a really slow song—sometimes it would change, but usually I would stay in that sort of vein, of whatever story had to be told, and not try to get in the way or overthink it too much. It's really about just trying to overthink it while not overthinking it at the same time—it's all about finding that balance.