Slutterhouse Interview: Inside the mind of a music junkie.
on Jan 18, 2012
Once elected Artist of the Week on MTV World's "MTV Iggy", Slutterhouse has been described as “better than Justice and Daft Punk combined” [Premonition.fr]. Beirut.com sat down with the voice behind the electro-pop band, Rabih Salloum, to pick his brain. A philosophy major and music junkie (the one addiction we so very lovingly condone), Salloum’s passion for melody and philosophic approach often coincide in his posture and mannerism, even when he fervently denies relating the two in his songs.
How do you describe the progress between your first and second album on a musical and social level?
Musically, I think it’s definitely different. You will still recognize the band’s sound, it’s still really there. When you hear it you are going to know it’s Slutterhouse. On the other hand, it has much more personality, because in the first one, we didn’t really know what we were doing. I would like to say that it is experimental, but not experimental music. It is pop music, but, we were experimenting, because I was a rock and roll guitar player and Nabil was an electronic musician and we were like, ok, why don’t we try something, and I wanted to sing but I have never really sung professionally before. So were just trying things out. The first song was really random. We were surprised by the results actually. Even with the voices, I was trying to ask Nabil to work the voices like he works any other instrument, to add effects, to mask the voices and do all these sorts of things that we don’t do anymore because two years after I toured a lot, the success of the first album gave me a lot of confidence as a singer, so I grew as a singer.
Socially, the second album is always the hardest album especially if the first one was well received. I don’t want to be dramatic but, you are in a no-win situation. Because if I do the same thing I did on the first one, they are going to say “oh he is repeating himself because he saw that it worked”. And if you change, you will have people saying I prefer the old shit better because it was more original. But I am very confident because the few people who are close to us and heard the album, the record label and journalists who heard it so far were all more than positive and they could all clearly see the progression.
Did you have any professional music critics doing musical analysis on your work?
We had numerous ones.
Which of them is the analysis that you feel most adopted by you, whether positive or negative?
To be very honest, musically, there are some very flattering ones. One was made by ‘premonition.fr’, probably the biggest electronic music French website, and said “Slutterhouse […] is better than Justice and Daft Punk combined”. It was about the first album, and we didn’t take it seriously, but it was very flattering. Now on the other hand, to be honest, I don’t give it much thought because, I, myself, don’t look in a very critical way at other people’s music. I listen to songs that could be anything by anybody. I either like it or don’t, just pure intuition. Many people expect me to give underground bands and very technical opinions when they ask me about what I listen to, but it is not the case. I really listen to anything, it could be very underground eletronica or it could be hip hop. I listen to hip hop all the time. I try to avoid getting into critical opinions.
How open are you musically?
I think I’m very open. It doesn’t mean that I like everything. I never judge something by the reputation, the label or the history. I am always ready to listen to anything. I listen to radio music as much as I listen to stuff that very few people know, and as much as I listen to my friends’ bands. To me it doesn’t matter who does it or why. It is very instinctive.
When you compose, do you try to keep it in one progression or genre, or do you seek variety and fusion?
I try to keep it in one genre. I love pop music and grew up listening to it. I like loops and catchy melodies. My main focus is always the melody, trying to find one that sticks in your head. What makes Slutterhouse different is that their melody lines are radio friendly in a way, but to me, the music is much more subtle and much more interesting than most pop musicians you hear today.
How do you think that your music should change people’s lives, and how much do you consider that while writing?
Basically, the reason why I make music is because of what I felt growing up and listening to the musicians I love. I grew up looking up to Marc Bolan from T. Rex, Mick Jagger from The Rolling stones, Slash from Guns N’ Roses, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith… I used to listen to them and let myself go and I always thought that it would be amazing for someone to write a 3-minute-song that could make so many people feel good. The outburst of feelings is what matters to me. If there is one person in the world who listens to my songs and feels that way, it is definitely worth it.
About the second part of the question, I don’t really consider that at all because I always believe that honesty reaches out to people no matter what. I always saw these guy who I look up to acting genuinely and I used to think that they were very honest and it mattered so much to me because to me they were real, so I try to be as real as possible and I played music ten years before releasing the first album because I was never satisfied with what I used to do. I’ve recorded with so many bands, but for you to be able to release an album at some point in your life you have to reach a moment to say “ok, this is me, listen to it, I hope you like it, but if you don’t, I really don’t care because I can’t change it since this is who I am”. So what I do is that I try to be as genuine as I can and I just hope that people will love it because this is why I do it. It always comes out a bit wrong when someone I know or I just met tells me that he wants to listen to my songs and I tell him “ok, you go listen to it and if you like it, please come tell me about it and if you don’t like it, don’t tell me anything”. And then they think that is because I don’t like criticism which is not true. I’m just not interested because I can’t please everybody, but I would like to please as many people as possible.
You have an ongoing PHD in philosophy. How does your knowledge of philosophy affect your lyrics and the way you approach music?
Zero percent. To me, I make music to get away from that stuff. Maybe I’m trying to make a certain point, but I really don’t know what it is. So everything that’s related to being rational, thoughtful, trying to communicate something concrete to someone else is what I do in my academic studies in philosophy. But in music, I really don’t see it that way. In music, I use words that have certain meanings in my mind, and put it in songs hoping that people will understand the same thing so that you make yourself understood. In my music melody comes first. A lot of times I use words that could mean anything and with no specific meaning to communicate. I am not saying that it doesn’t mean anything. It could mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people.
Does that mean that you let people make their own projections in your songs?
Yeah of course, but I don’t try to make it easy for them. I just give hints here and there of what I am trying to say because I know that no matter how much you try, you can never communicate to others how you are really feeling, so what you can do is give hints in words, and most importantly, melody. It is something that I can’t find in philosophy. I use words that sound good musically. When you say ‘chair’, there are two movements. The first one is the word regardless of the meaning. The second movement is the meaning that it carries. I pay more importance to the first one. There are two types of poetry: one that gives importance to the meaning, and the second one to the musicality of the word and how it sounds rhythmically. I have always felt closer to the second one.
How do you describe your relation to Oriental music?
I grew up in a family that listens to Arabic music. But apart from the fact that there are some songs and some artists that I really relate to because of nostalgia, I don’t listen to anything. I can never see myself doing any oriental music. I never judge anything but it doesn’t talk to me that much. In the pop music I like the whole vibe. When I was growing up I wasn’t only attracted to the songs, but the whole attitude and the way they looked, and I used to see them as a whole.
If you were European, would you have same judgment regarding Oriental music?
No, probably not. I would probably be attracted to the words and how they sound, to the exotic melodies, the whole set of arrangements.
I understand that you like Feiruz. Which of her songs do you prefer?
I like the older ones rather than the jazzy ones. That’s probably because I grew up listening to the old ones.
Do you research in Oriental music and do you think that you will ever use any of its elements in your music?
No, I’m not curious in that sense. I don’t want to go there. A lot of people ask: why don’t you use it and mix it with what you do? I am really not interested. I really don’t want to play the whole Middle Eastern card. We toured for one year in Europe where everybody thought I was French and nobody knew that I was Lebanese. You know how they look at you and “exoticize” you. I want to get exposure for the right reason, which to me is music. I have my opinions regarding Lebanese politics, but they have nothing to do with my music.
What do you think about during your performances?
I think I become more self conscious than I should be. I do actually think about lots of things, but I would rather not. I would like to focus on letting myself go rather than worrying about the surrounding and whether the guitarist is going to forget his solo or not.
Interview by: Ilya D. and Ryme Assaad
Edited by: Reina El Turk