Wilmington’s latest indie-folk duo Slow Dance, made up of Justin Lacy and Sarah Royal, ended 2016 by debuting a self-titled EP—often haunting, a bit quirky and all-out emotional. Though, Lacy admits, New Year’s Eve isn’t a typical release date for new work, he says they wanted to “leave these songs in the old year.”
“It was actually Sarah’s idea,” he clarifies. “Being a bit of a prude pragmatic, I at first debated the idea of releasing an album on New Year’s Eve.”
“Being the more sentimental one of the duo, I thought it would be very meaningful to release the album in 2016,” Royal adds.
It was the year the duo formed. It also encapsulated a lightness they tapped into, something Royal says went south after the election resulted in dour political discussions. “For us, this year was so magical but also so devastating,” she notes, “and this album truly embodies that. We wanted to face the new year with a fresh perspective.”
Slow Dance will continue to celebrate the EP with a special show at Gravity Records this weekend. Though the EP can be streamed or downloaded from SlowDanceOfficial.Bandcamp.com, Lacy and Royal wanted to do something special for their release party. They will have 50 limited-edition cassette tapes of “Slow Dance” (printed at National Audio Company) available.
We interviewed Lacy and Royal about the upcoming event, which will take place February 5, with guest performances by Emma Nelson (The Umphs, Brown Widow) and Sarah Beck (Pinky Verde). Here’s how the interview unfolded:
encore (e): Tell our readers more about this collection of songs and how they represent this new duo?
SR: It’s kind of scary how organically these songs came together. I personally was new to working face-to-face with someone on music and was kind of timid and vulnerable at first, but Justin created a space for me to really embrace those feelings and channel synchronicities through melodies that weaved seamlessly into his fingerpicking. We were very sensitive to each other while improvising, and weren’t afraid to flow through our emotions in the presence of one another. To me, the songs represent those feelings and give listeners a peek inside those fleeting moments when we fully embraced being present and open. “Slow Dance”—both the album and the duo—represents the harmony found within the duality of femininity and masculinity.
e: These songs often have Sarah at the forefront; is having a strong female lead what you both had in mind?
JL: We didn’t really have anything in mind in the beginning. We just started improvising together one night. At first, I’d try to sing here and there, but our most fruitful collaborations came forth when I focused on fingerpicking my voice through the guitar, while Sarah focused on her lyrical and physical voice.
Usually, when I’m writing songs alone, I depend on improvisation to get a seed of an idea going. But working with Sarah, we often improvise entire songs in full-form. At a nice slow tempo, they come out unpolished, but sincere in their simplicity and impromptuness. That’s the way we like them.
SR: Since we improvised most of these songs or based them off of poetry I had written, they inevitably adopted a feminine perspective. Justin’s voice creates some much-needed tension for my vocals, and in some instances, forms a container for my leaky breathiness. His guitar definitely holds the “lead” in some songs, like “Not Hard to Find.”
e: Tell us more about the songwriting, such as collaborations and stories behind them.
SR: “Library Baby” was actually a song I wrote on guitar and recorded in my bathroom before I even met Justin. I showed him the recording, and he loved it but heard ways to embellish it instrumentally—so it evolved into the surreal, jazz-esque song it is now.
JL: On the other hand, I brought in a mostly lyric-less “Too Bad I’m Dangerous.” We were stumped on it for a while, but after watching the 1962 film “Lolita,” we cowrote these simple lyrics that sort of effortlessly dissect the dichotomy of male and female and contrast dark overtones with a summer-day, pool-side languidness.
Usually, though, our songwriting is based almost entirely on improvisation. We’ll set up in front of a microphone, hit record, and start playing with no pre-meditation. Then we’ll dredge through the recordings later to see if any are worth saving from the abysmal hard drive. “(I Guess)” was completely improvised from scratch, and came out nearly complete one night on my front porch.
SR: Justin and I were sitting in rocking chairs on his front porch on a rainy spring evening to the sound of Justin messing around with harmonics on his guitar. I zoned out on the white picket fence he has in front of his house, and heard these specific notes that almost triggered some sort of empathetic energy toward my grandmother. She has always been a housewife since she was my age. She never really got to fully explore her identity or the world because she was tied to the typical life of a 1950s housewife: caring for five children, cooking and cleaning with little to no support, except financially from my grandpa, who was never really around. This surge of sudden energy was channeled through me and out came “(I Guess)” with very slight changes in lyrics afterward.
JL: “Not Hard to Find” was mostly conceived in my typical fashion: over a long period of time, with lots of separate ideas coming together at the right place and right moment. A couple years ago I improvised the music in the woods, loved it, but never did anything with it. Later, I was living alone and feeling alone. I tried writing these very isolated lyrics, contrasting the idea that, due to social media, I’m not that hard to find. At the same time, I felt so disconnected with people. Separately, I’d been working on another song with the goal of using as few lyrics as possible to incorporate this peek-a-boo imagery.
Slow Dance will debut their EP at Gravity Records on Sunday. Gravity owner Matt Keen will open the space for Bloody Marys and light food provided by Rx Restaurant and Bar.