Musician, songwriter, sound engineer – one word is never enough to describe Rob Slater who’s just released a self-titled EP as Carpet. Rob devoted himself to music long ago: he started his band The Spills when he turned 16, studied Music Production at Leeds University, recorded fellow musicians in his home studio and later joined Greenmount Studios. On and off, Rob played with great Wakefield bands and entered a bigger music industry with a Leeds-based 4-piece Crake. Carpet’s songs are evidence of what a mature and masterful songwriter Rob Slater became throughout the years of writing for his band and working with incredibly talented musicians. Born out of striving to go away from loudness and angst of The Spills, EP “Carpet” is a record crafted with care and love for a detail which still makes you feel things.
On the 9th birthday of Gig Islands I talked to Rob Slater about how Carpet became a getaway to creative freedom for him, what it was like to write on his own and survive the lockdown, what his perfect day in Leeds is like and many more things you didn’t know you want to know about.
All about Carpet
In June you presented your new project Carpet. Let’s talk about how it started. Was it a spontaneous decision to go solo or were you carrying the idea for a while?
I started flirting with the idea whilst I was still writing for The Spills last record. I felt a bit lost with guitar music, and had been writing for the same project [The Spills] for a really really long time (albeit one that had changed and evolved over a decade or so). Both stylistically and logistically I felt a bit stagnant and trapped, and the idea of Carpet just felt like total freedom, which is what originally drew me to recording. I felt like I had this huge pool of resources that I’d stopped myself from taking advantage of a long time ago for various reasons.
You are known as a member of bands like The Spills, Mi Mye, Crake. Did you find experience of writing and playing on your own different to being in a band?
It just felt very freeing – obviously a bit scary too, but to be honest when I started there wasn’t really any pressure for anyone else to hear it, and it was just fun to break away on my own, and also regain some independence in the studio, feeling some ownership and mastery over my environment instead of being reliant on others. I’m quite disciplined and ambitious when it comes to making music, so I do still put the pressure on myself in order to get stuff done, but it also just felt like play a lot of the time, which is how it used to feel when I was a kid. As for the writing side of things, myself and Chad [who was] the other Spills writer had been writing pretty separately for quite a long time by that point, so that side of things I was pretty used to already.
You are also known as a vital part of Greenmount Studios team. Do you think making your own music is different for musicians who work in sound production and engineering like you and those who don’t have this kind of experience?
It’s certainly different for me because I basically just do everything myself. So yeah, it means spinning a lot of plates but also means a huge amount of freedom in the process and how and when I work. I’m hugely grateful to have access to the studio and be able to work so casually.
Your debut EP “Carpet” has just been released. Bandcamp says that it was “recorded over a long period of time at Greenmount Studios, Leeds”. What was the process of recording like and who joined you on the record?
I basically started working on stuff as soon as The Spills ended back whenever it was. I’d just go into the studio on weekends or whenever it was free in-between sessions. I got very into the tape machine and just having the luxury of time to mess around with stuff like keyboards and fun textures that made the songs feel different to The Spills. I was kind of hankering after these soft, fizzy sounds and a lighter touch generally after the hardness of The Spills. I just worked up a huge bunch of songs, with no real urgency to finish any of them.
I took up boxing and got really into that, and just felt this new found independence of having free and not trying to make this band work anymore. So yeah I kind of had a little break from ‘music’ as I knew it, and just worked at my own pace. I wasn’t obsessing over stuff every day, I was just doing it as and when I felt like it. In that time Crake also became a much more active band, and we went on tour around the UK and Europe with Big Thief, which was obviously huge for us. That became one of the main things I was doing with my life as we started to enter the larger music industry. After that tour I went straight into the Greenmount re-build, which had been started whilst I was away.
Once we had the new space my good friends Chad (The Spills/Mi Mye) and Morgan (Mi Mye) came and added parts to a bunch of the songs. They were the first people to add things that weren’t me, which was amazing, but also kind of scary in its own way! I trust them both so much as musicians, but was aware of their time and energy of the project and didn’t want to mess them about.
And then, it’s a classic, but it was in lockdown that I actually got my act together. For the first part of it I didn’t have access to the studio, and it suddenly made me realise how lucky I’d been to have access to a studio all this time, and how I’d taken it for granted and become complacent. I made a pact with myself to actually go in and finish some songs as soon as I had chance.
Five of those initial songs I started became the first EP. Towards the end, Rowan from Crake and my good friend Sop from Wormboys also came and sang some backing vocals on a couple of the songs, which was amazing. They both have such cool voices, so I felt very lucky and also a bit silly that they weren’t the lead vocal!
You’ve just mentioned lockdown. Could you say that it had a real impact on your professional or creative life apart from what you’ve already described?
Obviously it’s affected everybody but I would say, aside from not being able to play shows, it possibly hasn’t affected me as much as other people! Work and the responsibility of running a business has been fairly terrifying at times. And I felt completely let down by the Tory government, but hey what’s new? The first few months of the initial lockdown were kind of a completely bewildering, scary, confusing little holiday from life, but I have been very lucky for the support network around me and for the fact that I’ve managed for the most part to keep doing what I love.
Were your first gigs as Carpet the first gigs you played after lockdown? How special was it for you?
I’d already played a couple of full band shows with Crake. One with an audience and one without. The main scary thing about the first two Carpet shows were that I did them on my own. I’d never really played a properly booked show before as a ‘solo artist’. I’d done bits and pieces in the past as Rob from The Spills, but never felt like I had much mastery over it. So just having to figure out if it was something I could even do was frightening!
The first one I did was in Wakefield for Emily’s (ex-Crake/Mi Mye) Bodys night in Wakefield, with my old friend Mike (Drahla/The Ainsley Band) with his new Soft Orca project. We’d both started our new project at similar times and bonded over 4-track recording in lockdown, and I’ve also just not got to hang out with him properly in years since he was off touring the world with Drahla. Emily and Jamie (Mi Mye/Greenmount) put so much love and care into those Bodys shows that I couldn’t have felt in safer hands. It was all pretty emotional and overwhelming. There were old friends that came from quite far away who I’d not seen in years. But I also couldn’t really chat to them too much because of covid table restrictions. So yeah, a lot going on! But a very very special night that I’m very thankful for.
Deer Shed was really cool because it just felt a bit bizarre that my second show was playing this actual real festival! So yeah that was a really cool experience and a fun weekend. Then we just recently had the first full band Carpet show at the Brudenell, which was an absolute dream. I felt so supported and the band are so lovely and so talented. I feel extremely lucky to have them involved and am so grateful for their apparent enthusiasm!
And that weekend you played Long Division which is a huge event for Wakefield, your hometown. There were 3 sets in 2 days, weren’t they?
Yeah we did 2 Carpet shows and I also did a Crake show. In post-lockdown terms that felt like 100 shows in 2 days! So pretty hectic. I’ve also been pretty unwell with what turned out to just be a bad cold/sore throat, so it was quite stressful with the constant testing and fears of cancelling or being irresponsible, and was really struggling to get through it vocally! I spent all of Friday [September 24th, EP “Carpet” release day] communicating with Rowan through iphone notes to try and save what little voice I had left! I think she quite enjoyed it. But yeah all in all it was a pretty great weekend. Felt really good to have the Carpet band so active and well-oiled, and realised as a real life working band. And playing with Crake is always just really fun. Feels like this odd little gang of ours. It’s one of the favourite things in my life. To be honest the Crake show was pretty disastrous in terms of organisation and technical difficulties, but despite all of that I just love playing drums and singing with my lovely friends!
Sounds very warm and inspiring! You’re surrounded with the amazing community both in Wakefield and Leeds. Talking about people, who joined you as Carpet on stage at Brudenell and Long Division?
We have Mike Osbourne from Bearfoot Beware on drums. He is brilliant as anyone who knows him will know. Cam, who I play with in Thank, on bass. Again, just a rock. He just shows up and already knows how to play everything. It’s pretty funny that I’ve assembled a noise-rock rhythm section, which then have to play these quiet, wimpy songs. Chad, my old school buddy from The Spills on guitar. His playing is so beautiful and he’s one of the best writers I’ll ever meet. And Sop from Wormboys on keys and backing vocals. The tone of her voice is amazing. She’s singing beautiful harmonies whilst having to do lots of intricate, weird little keyboard sounds and is nailing it!
When are you going to play your next live show?
Got a couple of fun shows in the works, which hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about soon!
All about music in Leeds and Wakefield
Do you think of yourself as a Wakefield musician or Leeds musician? Is that kind of identity meaningful to you?
Hmmm that’s a good question. And a tricky one. During The Spills it was interesting because I lived in Leeds, and most or a lot of my friends were Leeds musicians, but I was so aware that I felt in many ways like a Wakefield musician, or at least like I was in a Wakefield band. The Spills were never a Leeds band. We didn’t even play in Leeds all too often. But since releasing as Carpet I noticeably felt like a Leeds musician, or should I say a Leeds artist, for the first time after living here on and off for 13 years. It’s nice to feel accepted, and just included and a part of something in the city I live in. I don’t really know Wakefield too well any more. Obviously it will always be my hometown, and there’s some really cool stuff and people striving for things still [like] Emily at Bodys and Dean and the Long Division team, and some of my best friends still live there, but I guess I don’t feel all too connected to the city any more. It still feels kind of relevant to play there though. I must still carry some part of that as my identity.
Do you think that the city where you live influences your sound, lyrics themes or the way you create music?
Personally I’m not sure how it affects my writing. I think who you associate with and are influenced by in any place obviously affects so many things such as your views, your tastes etc, but also in most big cities you can find those things. Growing up in Wakefield was hugely formative however, in terms of the people I met as a child at school and as a teenager starting to play in bands. There was such a ridiculous scene for a city so small when I was growing up. The ethos of those scenes and groups of people must have shaped the way I worked within music. Nowadays I’m still always looking for new music and am inspired by my peers, friends and loved ones, and people who I’m lucky enough to work with at the studio, some of whom from that list are still from Wakefield! So yeah, perhaps more about the people that you happen to meet in those places.
Both Leeds and Wakefield have amazing music scenes and music communities. Many musicians are multi-instrumentalists and tend to collaborate on each others projects. Support between bands is incredible. What do you think makes it so special? Is there just something in the water?
As I say, I’m not sure how specific it is necessarily to Leeds and Wakefield, as I don’t really have much frame of reference having not lived anywhere else. Leeds makes sense as it’s one of the largest University cities in the country, with various music and arts degrees – so makes sense with the constant influx of new young people coming in. Wakefield does seem special to me though. As I say I have no frame of reference for a fair comparison, but it always did seem to have pretty amazing stuff going on for a city of its size. I’m sure there’s cool people striving for cool stuff in loads of little satellite towns though!
Do you think that local studios like Greenmount Studios, The Nave, Blueberry Hill Studios (RIP) have their impact on development of music scene and creative community in the area?
Again it’s hard to be on the inside looking out sometimes! I guess the studios can’t exist without the bands. But the two must feed each other. The three of us at Greenmount have all come from the mindset of playing in bands, and started the studio with a pretty punk/indie ethic of wanting it to be affordable for people and accessible and non-threatening as a space. Chunk was a massive one for Leeds. They sadly lost their space through the pandemic, but I know there’s plans for some kind of rebirth, which would be really beautiful to see. Feels like just what I need right now. So yeah, DIY and community-minded venues that pump blood and energy back into the scenes.
Could you recommend more musicians from Wakefield and surroundings to my readers?
My dear friend Chad who I was in The Spills with, and has kindly started playing in the Carpet band is one of the best writers I will ever meet. And we met at school! He is just starting out with his new project ‘Death To Everyone’, and has his first show next Thursday [October 7th], which I can’t wait for. Russell who plays with us in Crake is also an amazing writer and musician. He’s a bit shy or uninterested in showing his stuff to people, but he did contribute a song to Crake’s “Four Tracks” EP, for which Rowan asked each member of Crake to write and record a song to a 4-track recorder. Check his song out on there. He goes by ‘The Toiling Sunbeams’. It’s unreal, and heartbreaking. Jamie and Emily are still dedicated to making really cool records with Mi Mye, and I’ve really been enjoying hearing and playing the new songs. Lot of care and quality gone into them for sure.
Wandering about Leeds and Wakefield
Imagine, you are asked to look after someone completely new to Leeds and Wakefield for a day. Where would you take this person as the must?
I don’t really know anywhere in Wakefield so I’d ask some friends about that – but I’ve heard news of both a very nice Ethiopian restaurant AND falafel place. Also some pineapple place where everything tastes like pineapple? Not sure – would have to look into. As for the Leeds tour. I’d take them to Piassa at the end of my street in Chapeltown. It’s my local Ethiopian restaurant and bar. I love it so much. Then we’d go to the Brudenell I reckon, and then it’d have to be Wharf Chambers. I’ve just described my dream evening.
Sounds like a really good night!
I’ve just realised you said DAY and not NIGHT! So I guess through the day we could have a wonder round some of my local parks. Could take them to see the studio. Maybe take them to my local boxing class. Where else is good? I’m a creature of habit and can’t seem to think of things that other people might like. Also a big fan of Thai Aroy Dee, my spiritual home. Could do that for lunch and Piassa for dinner, but might be a bit hectic. I’d show em a good time anyway.
No doubt about that! Let’s go a bit sad now. Are there places and venues which mattered to you personally and are gone now?
The places that I frequent the most all seem to have survived the pandemic. I was really worried Piassa might not re-open, and was also very worried about Wharf. It was really sad to hear about Chunk, but hopefully they can move on to bigger and better things. I miss my old boxing coach Tayas who I used to train with nearly every night before the pandemic. That was a huge part of my life, but hopefully we’ll figure something out soon. I’ve been very lucky really that I’ve managed to stay working for the most part. Would be nice to be able to tour again, but I’ve largely stayed doing what I love.
I’ve met people in the UK who think that Leeds and Wakefield is pretty much the same place. What differences between these cities would you emphasize?
They are quite close to each other but pretty different! I guess I only really expose myself to selected parts of Leeds, so maybe some of the more mainstream parts are more similar to parts of Wakefield. Leeds has all the cool sh/t you want to find – antifascist boxing gyms, amazing community-minded venues and cooperatively run bars. All there for you to find with minimal effort. Then I guess Wakefield you have to search a little harder or work a bit harder if you want cool things to happen in your city. One’s well bigger than the other with loads of students in it is the main difference I suppose.
What are the most romantic places in Leeds and Wakefield? Where would you recommend to go for the first date?
The most romantic places in Leeds are either The Angel pub or my bath. As for Wakefield, I dunno. Maybe that place where everything tastes like pineapple? Or just the cathedral steps. I guess it depends if you like pineapple.
Where should visitors to Leeds and Wakefield take a picture to have a proof they’ve been here?
Oooooh nice. Brudenell Social club sign, which would require a bus out of the city centre, but worth it for the photograph alone. Then Wakefield probably The Ridings if that’s still there. Or Lightwaves. Is that there?
Why I’ve never thought of it? Now when you said that Brudenell’s a perfect spot to take a picture I truly regret I’ve never done that. Anyway, let’s move to a final set of questions which is all about… Russia!
All about Russia
Would you like to visit Russia some day and what would be your expectations?
I would love to visit Russia! I’m afraid I know very little about the place so you’ll have to excuse my ignorance! I think I can’t even fathom it as a single place as it’s so big! I’m sure whatever synecdoche I’m using as ‘Russia’ is fairly worthless! But I guess I’d expect it to be cold… with amazing architecture? I would love to do some kind of communist pilgrimage sight seeing tour, and do some learning there, as well as a music tour of course! Sad to say one of the first things that springs to mind is the terrifying stаte sаnctioned hоmоphоbia, which I’d be quite frightened of, not that the UK isn’t rife with problems. But yeah even that I don’t know enough about. I’d be interested to hear how normal everyday people actually feel, regardless of the laws. Is there a good DIY community? I imagine it has to be pretty f/cking hardcore over there. Not just like drinking an aperol spritz at Wharf Chambers.
Hmmm I can definitely promise you cold weather in winter and amazing architecture whenever and wherever in Russia you come. The rest we’ll have to dig together! Well, this is it. Thank you for care and honesty which you’ve put into your answers. Good luck with your new project and take care in these anxious times.
EP “Carpet” is out now.