Spanish Love Songs Are the World’s Most Anguished Great Band

On “No Joy,” the indie-punk group finds love (and synths) in its own bleak way

August 24, 2023 6:15 am
Spanish Love Songs, who just released a new album called "No Joy"
Spanish Love Songs
Pure Noise

On February 7, 2020, Spanish Love Songs released Brave Faces Everyone. It was a towering musical achievement if not a particularly happy one: The album was essentially a laundry list of anxieties and life regrets from frontman Dylan Slocum, who often sounds like he’s in the midst of a nervous breakdown, over a punchy emo/punk soundtrack that snuck in a little keyboard atmosphere (bleakly atmospheric, of course).

It was so bleak, it was actually cathartic. Critics loved it — yours truly named it the album of the year. And just when this emotionally gloomy LA band was ready to break into the mainstream, we all went into lockdown.

I honestly wondered if SLS would just disappear — they did, as they told me a few weeks ago, actually go back to their day jobs. That would have been a harsh but rather poetic end to a band that started in 2013 that had grown and even thrived on personal misery: We’d have made it except for a damn pandemic.

Thankfully, the group used its initial downtime to recreate itself. While intermittently touring over the next few years whenever possible, the band recorded several unusual covers that eventually became, natch, an EP called the Doom & Gloom Sessions, featuring both straightforward and off-the-wall renditions of songs by The Killers, Rilo Kiley, Jimmy Eat World, Grandaddy and Blink-182. 

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And they rethought their near-career breakthrough. The next album from the band came in 2022 — called Brave Faces, Etc., it revisited the group’s entire 2020 release with more emphasis on eerie synths, slower tempos, acoustic guitars and drum machines. It sounded somewhat like a John Hughes soundtrack fused with hints of Americana. 

And it wasn’t an aberration. Slocum and his bandmates (Kyle McAulay, Trevor Dietrich, Ruben Duarte and Meredith Van Woert) release No Joy this month, their fourth album and one that veers musically far more toward New Wave and indie rock, with Slocum injecting a hint of optimism (just a hint, mind you; there are still lyrics like “stay alive out of spite”) into his acerbic worldview, which leans further into Springsteen-style storytelling. If you like Bruce, The Killers, Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World or even LCD Soundsystem, you’ll feel right at home here.

We spoke to Slocum and Van Woert (they’re a couple and currently living in Nashville), where we discovered that 1) the band actually has a sense of humor, starting from the very self-aware album title to tweets like this and 2) it is possible to find your true self during a global catastrophe.

InsideHook: What was it like releasing an album that got some buzz and then hitting COVID the next month?

Slocum: At the time, it was like, well, everybody’s going through this so it doesn’t really matter. And it certainly wasn’t a time to make it about ourselves. But we started a Patreon, which was a good way to focus our energy and despair. And I think we created a nice little community for us to thrive in — probably to the point where we probably focused too hard on that. But it just made me more grateful and assured that playing music is the greatest career I could possibly have.

As much as I loved your last album, being the first band I saw when concerts started up again might have been a mistake. You’re not exactly uplifting.

Slocum: [Laughs] That’s a totally fair assessment. 

Van Woert: Yeah, I think our album spoke to 2020, like the vibe of everything being shut down more than reopening.

Why did you remake your last album?

Slocum: When everything shut down, the label was like, “Oh, you should do some acoustic songs.” And I went, no, we should reimagine the entire album, do something weird. And … we did. I think it was an exercise for us to bridge the gap between where we wanted to go and where we currently were. It was to prove we could dive into the things that interested us more personally as musicians. 

The new album really takes off from that reimagining.

Van Woert: I think we as a band have a pretty eclectic taste in music. I like some more dancey stuff; I love LCD Soundsystem and Bloc Party, things that have more of a synthy beat to them. And I think during lockdown everyone in the band bought different pedals and synths that they, I don’t know, wanted to get weird with. I think everyone was ready to branch out and try new things. 

Slocum: I grew up on Bruce Springsteen and Born in the USA, so I think that sort of leads its way in. And New Wave has always been my comfort spot — even if most people wouldn’t know it from the music we made previously.

When you guys do covers, they can kind of veer into interesting directions. You made “I Miss You” into something really claustrophobic and creepy.

Slocum: I think our general philosophy with a cover … there’s nothing I hate more than a cover that tries to act like the original doesn’t exist but doesn’t go far enough, so it’s just a shittier version of the original. So we try to pick songs that make sense of something we totally want to destroy. Nobody needs a doom-metal version of “I Miss You” but don’t need a vanilla version of it either. 

Do you ever wish the band had a different name for Google Search purposes?

Slocum: I wish we’d have known it was going to be an issue. We didn’t think about it when we were starting … the band wasn’t a joke, but it was just initially a weekend warrior thing. And then a few years in, right around the time of the second album, I was like, this sucks. Why did we do that? But you can’t change it at that point. But now it pops up first, and that rules.

You became a couple after being together in the band together for a few years. How do you juggle the personal and professional?

Von Woert: I think we’re a particularly unique couple in that we really like each other. [Laughs] It’s pretty easy, honestly. It’s a lot of fun. 

Slocum: We initially didn’t need to talk about it, but now it’s kind of central to the story of the album. But otherwise, we’re good at compartmentalizing. I have other friends who do it and it’s a disaster. So I don’t know, maybe you should ask our other bandmates [laughs].

So your marriage is the theme to the album?

Slocum: You know, coming out of 2020 and coming out of Brave Faces, which was a very angry album and sort of like, the world sucks and then 2020 happened and it’s like, well, I don’t really feel like singing about how bad the world is anymore. We’re living and it doesn’t matter. My complaints don’t matter and then the bigger thing from that was just this feeling of graciousness and just wanting to hold on to everybody. That could suddenly be taken away from you, and a career that could be taken away from you, and just like, how insignificant we all are, and how beautiful that is that we get to spend any time together and find people we actually care about.

So that’s what I pitched the band. I’m writing love songs. And they were like, you’re so full of crap, dude. It’s still depressing and sad and sort of grappling with the fact that everybody you love will die and you’re going to die alone. I guess it’s our version of what a love song is.

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