Sad Lovers & Giants are an atmospheric post-punk band that formed in Watford, England in 1980. Though largely ignored by UK music critics, the band amassed a strong international cult following; their song “Things We Never Did” currently has over 2.6 million views on YouTube. SLAG embarked on their first North American tour in the spring of 2016, which began in Austin’s SXSW and concluded with a headline show in LA’s goth-haven at The Echoplex. In 2018, they released their seventh studio album Mission Creep via their own label Voight-Kampff. Now, fresh off a string of sold out gigs in Athens, the band is recording their next album. In this interview, frontman Garce Allard talks about the band’s history, the Watford music scene, and plans for 2020.
What sparked your interest in making music and how did this lead to the formation of Sad Lovers & Giants?
I went to see Slade at Wembley in 1972 and decided I wanted to be a rock star. I realised I would need to play the guitar so I swapped a lawn mower engine for an old acoustic from a friend at school. From then on I was listening to all the ’70s bands like Genesis and Pink Floyd, Roxy and Bowie, but because I wasn’t a gifted guitarist I couldn’t get into the bands at school. Then Punk happened and you didn’t need to be a good guitarist. I was playing in a band called Suspect Device supporting The Traumatics at a gig at my old school, they didn’t have a singer and when they auditioned for one I got the job. From December 1980 we played about four gigs at local venues then changed our name to Sad Lovers & Giants in February 1981.
How did the band name come about?
Our guitar player at that time (Tristan Garel-Funk) co-edited a fanzine called Spitfire Parade. But SLAG was one of many names proposed for the fanzine before it was finally decided that Spitfire Parade worked best. Spitfire Parade is a Swell Maps song title (Robert Dellar, one of the other editors was a huge Swell Maps fan). But later, Tristan came up with “Sad Lovers & Giants” one day whilst idly messing around with random word combinations that matched the acronym SLAG. Seeing it written down, we knew it was the right name for us.
How would you describe your experience in the Watford music scene?
There were a few punks like The Bears, the Passion Killers and Anorexia initially, but there was soon an explosion of bands after that it was great fun to be a part of that scene. Some of these bands got together to produce a compilation LP called The Thing From the Crypt which Josh Cheon recently re-released on Dark Entries. There were local fanzines, like Spitfire Parade and Breach of the Peace and pubs we’d all hangout in so it was quite a creative scene. There weren’t many music venues but when you weren’t playing a gig you were watching your mates in other bands playing theirs.
SLAG grew to be a cult favorite in the post-punk genre but wasn’t well received initially. Did you ever feel particularly disenchanted with making music because of this?
We split up the first time in 1983 largely because of the indifference of the music press to our music. We wanted to be well received because we believed we were good enough but all the attention seemed to be going to bands from Manchester and Liverpool at the time. John Peel, the legendary BBC radio DJ was perhaps the only exception and he gave us a live session which kept us going for a while. When we reformed we found a new audience in Spain and France and we began to create a US fanbase through college radio stations who also played a lot of our music. The States has always been big for us, we just never got to play there until 2016.
The band’s 2016 North American tour included a live debut at Austin’s SXSW and a show at LA’s beloved Echoplex. How were these shows?
SXSW was a career high, equal to doing the John Peel session nearly 25 years earlier. We were reviewed favourably in the Austin Chronicle the day after the gig and I felt very emotional when I read it. The Echoplex gig was the last gig of our 2016 tour, which took us up into Canada then all the way back down the west coast. We were due to be playing the smaller venue but as we approached LA through the desert from Phoenix, Michael Stock the promoter, emailed us to say they had to bump us up into the larger Echoplex hall due to the unexpected demand. Stepping out onto that stage, to a large appreciative audience with a fantastic light show felt incredibly comfortable, after all we’d had enough time to perfect our stage craft!
Like many new SLAG fans, I discovered your music on YouTube fairly recently. What is your reaction to people discovering your music after so many years?
One of the most pleasing things about our rise over the last 10 years has been the new younger fans and this isn’t just something in America. We recently sold out two nights in Athens playing to an audience who were largely in their mid twenties, but we still get the old fans who saw us play the Melkweg Club in Amsterdam or the Marquee Club in London in the 1980s. It will always be good to see the diehards.
I imagine much has changed in the band’s creative process through the years. How did the band approach writing and releasing the latest album Mission Creep?
Absolutely nothing has changed in the bands creative process strangely enough, which is probably why we are still a creative unit and not a tribute act to ourselves. The key to our longevity is that we love writing and recording new songs and enjoy each other’s company both in the studio and on tour. We took our time with Mission Creep because we wanted it to be taken seriously and to make people sit up and listen.
Were you working on any side music projects during the band’s periods of inactivity?
I suppose the biggest period of inactivity was from the split in the mid 1990s to our Italian gigs in the 2000s and during that period we recorded and released Melting in The Fullness of Time even though we weren’t gigging. Our guitarist is part of Above & Beyond of course, which rose to prominence around the same time. Curiously our biggest periods of growth have been when we haven’t been gigging.
What’s coming down the pike for the band?
We are currently recording our next album and apart from European gigs we hope to return to the US for a festival and a gig in LA next September.
What is your favorite album to listen to from start to finish?
The album Pawn Hearts by Van Der Graaf Generator. The track “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” is as near to therapy as you can get without having to pay for it.
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