Slow Runner is what happens when Star Wars or AV geeks grow up and form a band. The retro-swish sound of their first album, No Disassemble — released in 2003, then re-released in 2006 by Sony — with its funky late '50's/early '60's beat poet with a bit of Johnny Number Five thrown in, has established them as a favourite in my music collection. Their mature, hot-buttered-toast sound, with its interesting twists and the electronic odd-sounding bleeps, blips, and bloops give No Disassemble a funky sound and unique charm. Think Grandaddy’s grandson; all of the smooth, seamless indie pop but without the over-the-top quirkiness.
Slow Runner are renowned for the lyrics of frontman Michael Flynn, who won second place in the 2001 John Lennon songwriting scholarship contest and came first in the Flat Rock Music Festival songwriting contest later that same year. Flynn, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, is set to do for geek-rock what Zach Braff did for television sitcoms — re-define ultra cool and super smooth. With the release of their newest LP SHIV! I think they have a real chance.
And how did it all begin for this South Carolina-based band? Well, according to their bio it happened on a bright moon-lit night, in the woods when two friends, Flynn (singer-songwriter) and Josh Kaler (multi-instrumentalist), went for a walk and found a large stone with a sword jutting from the top. They climbed up this mountainous stone and together pulled the sword from it when suddenly the curtains of heaven opened, accompanied no doubt by a herald of angels singing, and they realized simultaneously that their musical destinies were harmoniously entwined and would involve a Casio, loud drums, and short pop songs about girls.
Their newest album SHIV! has more guitar rock than their previous release, helping them to achieve a much wider appeal, with less Star Wars electronics and more straightforward indie rock. Recently the uber-talented Flynn was nice enough to sit down with me for a quick chat. We talked about the failed contract with Sony, his love of the Iron Giant and of course SHIV!.
I’m confused. Slow Runner isn’t like a regular band, is it? It’s you (Michael Flynn) and your friend and a revolving door of musicians?
Yeah, it’s basically me and Josh Kaler who plays… well between us we play all the instruments on the record and then we have a regular band that we play live with. We add two other guys Scott Baumil and Jonathan Gray who play guitar and bass respectively. We have lots of really talented friends in Charleston… the band is basically Josh and myself and then whoever else we can talk into recording with us, we’ll get them on the song.
Do I understand correctly that SHIV! is actually two albums, with another part still due to be released?
After No Disassemble — we recorded that and put it out ourselves then it was re-released, so we toured on it for about three years. And all that time I was writing and by the time it came time to put out another record we had plenty of songs so we recorded all of them. And then we ended up just putting all the rockin’ ones on one record and the more mellow stuff on another record. So SHIV! is the rocking record and then the other record is going to come out this spring or late winter. Because No Disassemble had both, it’s really a wider scope.
So what is the second album going to be called?
It’s called Together We Will Out Sleep The Night.
SHIV! and Together We Will Out Sleep The Night are two very unusual titles.
Well, that (Together We Will Out Sleep The Night) comes from a line in a poem called “Insomnia” by Galway Kinnell. SHIV! is based on an inside joke. I do this thing where I like to attack people and say what I’m doing as I’m attacking them, like if I’m going to slap you I would say “open-handed slap” or “back-handed slap”. Sometimes I like to shiv people, I’ll just kind of get up in their grill and just whisper shiv in their ear and poke them in the stomach.
A shiv is a something that is sharpened into a weapon that they use in prison, is it not?
Exactly. And it worked on several levels because we feel like we got shivved by the record industry/label; and we wanted to shiv the listener.
SHIV! is a big departure from No Disassemble isn’t it?
Yes, but I think you can tell that the songs come from the same place.
Right, but the songs are kind of the same. They are a little weirder in some ways but… it’s a little different.
So tell me about your major-record label experience.
There were about three months when it was just lovely. There were things happenin’ and music was getting in TV shows and we were on the road all the time and everyone was doing their job and it was cool. That was three months out of a two year experience. All the rest of the time it was basically us sitting around wondering why they weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing, or waiting for them to do something they said they were going to do, or something they said was going to happen falling through and “ah, here’s plan B”. It was just a constant experiment in disappointment.
The label we were on, J records [part of the Sony BMG umbrella] is mostly American Idol type stuff, there was nothing on it remotely like us and so I don’t think… It was never a huge deal to begin with, we had no illusions that we were going to be a huge priority for them. I just figured “we’ll do this and see what happens, and get what we can get out of it”.
Okay, so now what? You’re not with them anymore?
Nope, now we are free agents again. So it’s good and bad. I miss the tour support, that was pretty nice – knowing you would at least break even on any tour, that’s a real luxury.
It got to the point where they were clearly wanting a certain kind of record from us, which wasn’t anything like No Disassemble and that I was… I went up to New York for a week this past spring and co-wrote with some people that they wanted me to write with. They were like “Oh yeah we got all the songs, we’re just missing that one radio smash”. So I went up there, and I knew it was going to feel bad but I was like “I’m going to go up their and I’m going to do it. I’m going to put my immature little holier-than-thou…. I’m going to ignore all that stuff and I’m going to try and do what they want me to do. And I just couldn’t do it. I tried. I wrote some songs with these guys and I hated the songs and they really liked them and they hated that I hated them…. And I think that pretty much spelled the end of our relationship.
If we are, we’re a complete failure.
Where do you hope that SHIV! will end up?
I hope that it will end up in the CD player of a car, with a guy and a girl in it, who are looking at each other amorously while driving down the highway.
Shouldn’t they be looking at the road?
Yeah well, I hadn’t finished my analogy yet. Just as they go over the cliff and fall to their death, they look at each other and say, “God I love this CD, I’m so glad it was playing at our final moment together.”
I mean that’s what it’s all about.
If you would like to listen to a few track from SHIV! and celebrate this fabulous music you can visit Slow Runner’s MySpace space. You can also visit their own website to learn more about what makes Slow Runner tick.