THE SLOW LIGHT: Timeline of Events and Experiences

The Slow Light

Australian progressive rock act The Slow Light has shifted from being an instrumental band with the release of their new full-length album “Liminal.” Prog Sphere talked with the mainman Jack Bolingbroke (vocals, guitars, synths) about the release, creative challenges, and more.

Define the mission of The Slow Light.

The Slow Light is a Progressive Rock band from Adelaide, Australia. It began as a solo project by myself, Jack Bolingbroke and eventually turned into a full band. I wanted to start getting input from the guys that were already playing in the band. We released an EP in 2020 named ‘Cinema of the Mind’ which was an instrumental EP, as at the time I wasn’t particularly confident in my vocal abilities. When those songs were finished it was still a solo project, however a lot of the drum and bass parts were changed by our drummer Rory and bassist Morris and additional lead parts were added by our second guitarist Tom, so it made sense to begin as a proper band. We’ve all played in different bands together for ages as well, so we know how each other play and we’re all close friends.

Our lineup is Rory Amoy on drums, Morris Ewings on fretless bass, Tom Pearce on guitar and myself, Jack Bolingbroke on vocals, guitars and synthesisers. Another one of our close friends Nathan Churches played piano on three of the tracks and will be playing piano/keyboards live for us.

We released our debut record ‘Liminal’ in August, and are now looking into doing a lot more frequent shows and hoping soon to tour off the back of the release.

The Slow Light - Liminal

Tell me about the creative process that informed your new release “Liminal,” and topics it explores.

Liminal is a very personal record for me as it acted as an outlet for quite a bit of grief and depression that I was going through at the time. The record is a concept album and reflects on a timeline of events and experiences that had happened within those few years it was being composed. Some of these topics are grief/loss, depression, existentialism and nostalgia – so quite a happy record!

Creatively I can’t say I have a particular process when it comes to writing. I’m someone who usually writes when I’m inspired by a feeling and/or experience, so it ends up being all over the place in terms of how exactly I approach it. I like to use music as a medium of compartmentalising my experiences and a way to process emotions. When composing I’ll sometimes switch up instruments each section or I’ll have one instrument done before I begin on the next one. It depends on the song. Sometimes a song is written in a day, a week or it becomes an idea that gets lost in the sea of other incomplete ideas.

Once the songs are finished in demo form, Rory and Morris then add their own flairs to their parts and also change them if they feel it is needed. This does often spark other ideas where a guitar part or a synth part might then get changed as a result.

There is then also a lot of inspiration creatively whilst recording the final record. I found sections where I could add extra parts and layers or change/remove certain parts once it is in the context of the songs surrounding it.

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

The songs were recorded as demos whilst they were written. As I handled the majority of recording and the mixing and mastering of this record, I had the ability to demo the songs up to a studio quality which helps a considerable amount in composing the songs and being able to have a reasonably close insight into how the record will turn out. Quite the same way as how we recorded the actual record, however I program the drums to get a rough idea and use a lot cheaper equipment when it comes to vocal mic’s, preamps and such ; -). Our drummer Rory and our bassist Morris then take their parts into their own hands and put their own spin on it or change it up entirely. Maybe an interesting point is that the mixes I develop for the demo versions of the songs eventually are used as a foundation for the final product. It’s cool, because you then have 6 or so different mix foundations to choose from as I mix each song differently to accomodate what they sonically need.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

I would say a huge amount of thought did go into the dynamic flow of the record, as it is more or less a concept album narratively. Aligned with the lyrics and the dynamic movement within the songs, the tracklist actually kind of just presented itself naturally and was solidified before we had even begun recording the record. I’ve personally always explored the idea of an overall record ark. Whilst the song’s have their own dynamic movement within themselves, I’ve liked the idea of considering the entire record almost as if it were one large song. Some songs act as crescendos, whilst others act as reflective points. So I did have that in mind whilst I was writing the songs.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

From the beginning of recording Liminal, I had a pretty set in stone idea of what I wanted the end product to be. Something that I wanted to improve on from our EP was appropriate and high quality source tones. Everything was planned before we began recording the record. After some planning sessions with our recording engineer Jack Hartley, we sourced a Yamaha Custom Maple drum kit that would fit the more ‘vintage’ aesthetic, as well as having an option of snares, kick drums and ride cymbals. It was interesting too, as we found a dusty old ride cymbal collecting dust in the back of the studio and tested it out. It ended up on the record. We also ended up making a creative decision of using two different kick drums depending on the song. We had a Ludwig kick that really suited the sound of the lower key songs and the Yamaha maple kick that suited the heavier songs.

Liminal is the first release we have had acoustic guitars, which we also recorded with Jack Hartley. We recorded ‘It All Lost Sense’ and ‘Liminal’ with a Maton dreadnought style acoustic before the studio’s converters unfortunately failed on us. As a result we ended up recording with an engineer named Jon McNichol at a studio here in Adelaide called Twin Earth. We didn’t have access to the same acoustic, so the songs ’Three Years Later’ and ‘Denouement’ were recorded with a Martin. The two studios actually turned out to offer a nice contrast of tones across the songs.

For guitars and Vocals, they were recorded at my home studio. The guitars were recorded with a Fractal Axe-Fx II unit. As we wanted the older style sound, the guitars used were a Gibson Les Paul and three different American made Fender Stratocasters (including a Jeff Beck Strat from the 80s(!) I was able to borrow from one of my high school teachers Patrick). The vocals I ran a nice 70s style chain of a Neve 1073 clone preamp, an LA-2A compressor and a very vintage AKG microphone, that I can’t recall the model of.

Morris tracked his bass parts at his home studio also with a Fractal Axe-Fx II using his fretless Ibanez and Nathan tracked his piano parts at his house also.

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

We have quite a diverse range of influences for this release. Some bigger more direct influences stem from bands like Porcupine Tree, The Pineapple Thief and Riverside. I have always found those bands amongst others, as a very emotionally driven experience whilst listening to their records. The way the songs develop through different dynamics and even musical styles was always something that massively fascinated me when I was first introduced to those bands.

70’s prog rock was also a massive influence for me in general, probably more so sonically for this particular record, but also some musical influence as well. Some of my favourite records come from that era, such as Genesis – Selling England by the Pound, Pink Floyd – Animals, Eloy – Ocean, Gong – You and Camel – Moonmadness to name just a few. These had a massive influence on how I approached the recording and mastering of Liminal.

There are also a number of influences drawn from artists outside of the rock genre as well. Some that come to mind are Sade, Apparat, Shpongle and Jon Hopkins.

What is your view on technology in music?

I think we currently live in one of the most accessible times in music when it comes to the technology that we have at our disposal. I’m not too certain where exactly I land on the analog vs digital debate, but I’d definitely like to consider the idea of getting the most out of both mediums.

For Liminal a lot of the guitar and bass sounds were used with a Fractal Axe-Fx II. These digital profiling amps are absolutely incredible, as they offer a tonne of different amps, cabinet IRs and effects. This allowed me to really experiment with sounds and tones I simply would not have had access to if I were trying to run the proper rigs. Whilst on the topic of digital, I have found that DAW recording softwares integral for the way I like to create soundscapes for the songs. To use the second track ’The Hourglass’ as an example, the access to automation for panning/volume effects, as well as automation for delay/reverb levels and decays made the middle section what it was. On top of the automation, I get quite a bit of satisfaction from extreme destructive editing, such as splicing/duplicating audio files and manipulating the source waveforms. This can be found pretty well over the entire record.

Whilst the digital era has made music far more approachable for engineering, there is definitely still some merit to be said for analog hardware and recording techniques too. I decided to take an analog approach to mastering and was able to master the record through some nice Neve EQ’s and bus compression and printed it through an Ampex 2 track 1/4” tape machine. Whilst it is a very subtle difference, I have definitely noticed that these analog hardware units act very differently and more musically to what the digital version of said units do – for better or for worse.

I also had the most astounding experience with the tape mastering. I wanted to utilise its characteristics of light saturation and slight pitch warble to add a bit of vibe and vintage aesthetic to the record. But upon listening to the completed master a bit later on in the night, I found that somewhere along the line the tape heads had bent slightly, maybe from the heat of the machine, resulting in some pretty obvious pitch movement. Somehow though, that was only present for the two softer songs ‘It All Lost Sense’ and ’Three Years Later’ to which I couldn’t believe my luck. Having this technical error made these songs something special for me.

To come back to the question directly though, I think we are very lucky to be living in a time where we have ease of use, inexpensive technology and the access to prior technology for creating music. Though, I do sometimes think the idea of this technology allowing the fabrication and fixing of performances to potentially be a negative. It is very easy now to perfectly tune pitch, timing and even punch in takes bar by bar or close to. I’ve always been of the opinion that that form of destructive editing compromises a lot of the song’s potential for feel, emotion and interesting details.

Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?

Personally speaking, I see music as a whole serving a huge purpose beyond the music itself. It’s always been probably the most meaningful thing to me in my life and I feel it really offers a way to almost document experiences and emotions – Whether this is from the nostalgia of a song you used to listen to during a certain time, or writing a song about a certain thing. It is of course a very subjective topic and a lot of people would have a completely different idea about it and the reason for it.

I hope that our music can be something someone may relate to or find comfort in, as the topics explored in the record are some that are often associated with concepts that a lot of people may feel to be isolating. I’ve definitely found my fair share of songs from bands and artists that have allowed me to find comfort in the idea that I’m not necessarily alone with my experiences and I hope to pass that on.

What are your plans for the future?

We hope to be playing a lot more shows in the future, as we’ve so far been quite casual with it (only playing once or twice a year). Aside from shows, we’re currently about halfway through a second record which we will hopefully begin recording before the end of the year or early next year. We’ll also be doing another music video for a song off Liminal as well as an extended improvised jam of the psychedelic rock section of ’The Hourglass’.

Liminal is out now; get it from Bandcamp. Follow The Slow Light on Facebook and Instagram.

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