It’s impossible to put Chinatown Slalom into a box. The Liverpool-based quartet are the masters of weird wizardry — after meeting at university, they got together to exchange beats, smoke a ton of weed, throw massive raves, and ultimately assemble 2019’s brilliant Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? that sounded like a crate-digger’s dream. Samples upon samples and a knack for impressive arrangement earned them comparisons to The Avalanches and Gorillaz, but name-dropping these acts won’t give you an understanding for the type of controlled, beautiful chaos that descended from their first LP — you simply have to listen to it.
Enter Meet the Parents, their new EP out today that is bound to take over the summer. Meet the Parents takes a significant step back from their rapping and sampling background and introduces a new kaleidoscopic pop sound that is similarly undefinable. At first listen, one can hear traces of Glass Animals (at times, lead singer Liam Nolan’s voice is a dead ringer for Dave Bayley’s) or Still Woozy, but on top of that might be bossa nova horns, or scattering trap beats, or rave synths that’ll shake your skull. It’s one of the most eclectic and awe-inspiring releases of 2021, and you’re bound to obsess over any of the songs on it if you give it a chance. With Meet the Parents, Chinatown Slalom has simultaneously refined their sound into something more palatable for the general public while also maintaining their artistic integrity and their “anything goes” attitude. We chatted with the band on the eve of the EP’s release day to talk about their writing process, the EP, and how it’s better to just embrace weirdness:
Melodic Magazine: This EP is ridiculously dense in its influences and arrangements. Were you all listening to anything in particular as you were putting it together? What does your writing process look like to arrange all of this?
Ricky Crawford (multi-instrumentalist): A lot of it is a stream of consciousness for both the writing and instrumentation; we’re literally just sitting in a room most of the time putting a hundred different things together and seeing what sticks.
Liam Nolan (vocalist): We just found that if I sit down and try to write something intentionally I cringe, but if I don’t know what it’s about I feel better and more fun! I prefer for people to take their own meanings away from my lyrics, anyway; I don’t want to be writing about how I’m sad, or happy, or mad all the time just because it makes it so insular and all about me. Let’s write something indiscernible that anyone could gravitate towards.
Mikey Woods (guitarist): We actually don’t listen to a ton of modern music — like, we all have our individual tastes and playlists, but we tend to be pretty focused and just zone in on whatever we’re doing at the time. I do think that this EP has a little more structure to it, though, which we were very intentional in creating when we were writing these songs.
Liam: I think that structure makes it feel more mature than the last album – the singles were poppier, and we think of that as the structure, but people still called them super weird, which we really don’t mind at all. Better to be super weird than boring.
MM: Meet the Parents largely gets away from the sample and rap-heavy nature of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?, and I feel like there wasn’t a review of that album that DIDN’T talk about things like the Jai Paul sample. With that shift, do you feel any pressure or nervousness in putting this EP out, or did you view it as an artistic necessity to create something like this?
Ricky: Yeah, I think there’s a little bit of that pressure going on. But that’s not why we changed it up — for one, samples are fucking expensive (laughs). Moving away from that allowed us to flex our songwriting muscles a bit and really push our songs in a more expressive direction. We just dove into a load of really weird textures and sounds with no idea what was going on, but that is what has made this EP so interesting is that constant bit of experimenting that we got to do by ditching the old.
Liam: We’ve never obsessed over what our sound actually is, we just are what we are in the moment and roll with it. We’ve grown up a bit, too, since our first record; we aren’t hearing sounds in the same way that we were when we were 20, which makes it more fun to piece everything together in new ways.
Mikey: To a point, that’s what the EP is about — meeting the parents, dressing up and changing things a little bit. It started subconsciously but it quickly became a conscious, intentional decision to push these tracks in this way.
MM: On that point, you all have described the EP and its title as a sense of “playing ball with the music industry” — almost like a Trojan Horse that’d get your foot in the door.
Jake Brettell (drummer): We wrote a lot of mad music that’s ready to come out soon, but there’s a lot of shit that we want to put out now — so we’re down to play the game and refine what we’re doing to reach more people right now.
Liam: It was our way of playing the game but being self-aware – we know we got to go play to the man, sweeten the deal, and whatever. But what we want to do is walk in, smile like the penguins of Madagascar, and just blow shit up. Sometimes you have to put on a nice suit to get to where you want to be.
MM: Something I’ve noticed about you is that you all are incredibly intentional about every move you make.
Jake: We don’t like doing it wrong, so I think we might be perfectionists rather than intentionalists. We also equally don’t care at the same time, so it’s this fun “who gives a fuck” attitude, but we do, but we don’t.
Ricky: We just really see other people doing what we want to do and we’re like “we can do it better than that”, and then we apply everything we can to make it happen.
Liam: My motto is this — just visualize what you want to happen and you keep saying it and bam, it happens. I feel like it’s incredibly important for all bands to have that vision, because if you don’t, then what are you really aiming for?
MM: With that intentionality…let’s talk about your music videos. They’re so weird, man, and I love them.
Jake: (laughs) We can’t even take credit for that! That’s our director Harry Deadman — the man is brilliant.
Liam: We had all these insane ideas, and Harry just brought them to life – we just told him anything about a conflict for “Why’d Ya Wanna Come and Act Like That” because the lyrics touch on a fight, and he came back with this insane Deep Sea Diver guy.
MM: So there’s nothing that the Deep Sea Diver represents?
Liam: No, man — it could’ve been that or some sea creature, or a merman, I don’t know. He is ours now.
Ricky: Jake was supposed to be turned into a broccoli stalk in the video, but Brexit caused broccoli costumes to be super expensive so we made him a carrot instead.
Liam: You know, sometimes I just wonder about what the fuck is going on with what we’re doing, and I find that I’m still discovering that with my music
MM: Do you see any shows happening in the future as COVID slowly resolves?
Ricky: Argh, there’s been so much back and forth over here [in the UK] and no one knows what’s going to happen next, so we’ve really just been DJing a ton. Live shows have never been the hugest priority for us-
Liam: We never played as a band before we made the album, so I think always in my head we were never like, a touring band. COVID made us realize our biggest strength was production – we were able to lean into it and really push it while we made this EP and worked on other things, so we’d probably return to our rave roots before immediately jumping into a tour or something like that.
Jake: Yeah, the gig circuit can be absolutely miserable, too as you’re starting off. I’ve got friends that will put up all the money to tour overseas and play to fifty people every night, and it’s just hard to keep things sustainable and not feel like you’re running in place. We’d like to get established, put out some music, and make things exactly how we want them before we launch into something like a tour.
Liam: We just view our music to be grand and cinematic — almost like a spectacle, and we want our shows to recreate that same spectacle. And we want to figure out how to do that and make it happen before pulling the trigger on it.
Mikey: Don’t get us wrong, we love playing shows. That’s good energy. For a period there, we did free parties and raves and had a blast and I’d love to keep doing that.
Ricky: The production is so grand so the live show needs to be grand as well, and we’ll get there eventually.
MM: Liam, you said previously that “the last album was a musical handshake, and this EP is a musical hug” and I love that quote. Care to expound upon it at all?
Liam: (laughs) That was fucking brilliant, wasn’t it? Nah, not really. I just think that this one is a lot more revealing and personal. The last one was us walking into the party and trying to impress everyone, and now we’re getting to know people more with this one — I’ve got my heart on my sleeve for fuck’s sake!
Ricky: Or maybe, when we were making the LP, that was the handshake between all of us getting to know each other better whereas we are hugging now, all the time.
Jake: Always hugging, this one. Can’t get him off of me.
MM: We’ve talked about what you’ve taken away from this record — what do you want listeners to take away?
Liam: I want people, when they describe us and this EP, to never really settle on a sound — I want them to have the confusion and excitement of what this is and what the next project will be.
Mikey: I want them to go “well, that’s different”. I don’t want them to just move on.
Liam: Lyrics-wise, I don’t really care at all what people take away, I just hope they take away their own inspiration and meaning, and hopefully it’ll resonate in a way beyond what we could imagine.
Mikey: I listen to songs and don’t even know the words half of the time, and it still hits me.
Liam: Good music hits even if you don’t understand the words or aren’t listening, and I want this to hit hard for people.
Meet the Parents is out now and can be streamed at your platform of choice here.