Call them grunge, blues, or post-punk—Slothrust’s music draws from a spectrum of humility and honesty regardless of tempo and guitar plucks. What started as a mere invite to smoke weed out of a pumpkin bong somehow spun into a sludgy rock trio that sought to be anything but monotonous.
Originally attending Sarah Lawrence College as a writing major, singer-guitarist Leah Wellbaum sidestepped into the music program and began playing in jazz and chamber ensembles. She was a definite newcomer to the program, sure, but not to music.
“Kyle [Bann, bassist] and Will [Gorin, drums] went to Sarah Lawrence for music, and had been playing for far longer than I had, definitely,” Wellbaum says over the phone from Nashville. “I did musical theatre as a kid [starring as Fantine in a competitive production of Les Misérables], and my family are classical musicians, so that was sort of my reference point.”
As a child, Wellbaum collected toys, [music] and took guitar lessons. Unfortunately, those lessons were less than encouraging thanks to a teacher she says “totally sucked and just wanted [me] to learn Foo Fighters, and [I] wanted to learn blues and jazz.”
Although she didn’t start off knowing the ins-and-outs of jazz and blues, she plunged into it all and began playing in college with people who were better than her; people whose talent intimidated her, but made also her unafraid “to fuck up and figure out how to make it work.”
A serious fan of fingerpicking and “harmonic complexity,” Wellbaum says Elizabeth Cotten and John Fahey are big time influences, and Everyone Else’s framework follows suit—take “Mud” and “Sleep Eater” as examples.
“I really like to utilize jazz and classical tones, but harmonic complexity is something I’ll shoot for regardless,” she says. “If I know it’s not there and I think it will serve the song then I’ll try to add some notes that will grab my attention more often, you know, a dissonance that you don’t hear as much in rock music. I like dissonance a lot.”
Sentimental Vomit, by Magenta Phillips (Leah Wellbaum)
There’s also an artistic DIY-aesthetic to Slothrust’s work, which can be noted throughout the band’s music videos. Wellbaum also explores this kind of artistry as Magenta Phillips, the alias she uses for her visual artwork.
Her fond devotion to childhood, toys, imagination, and delivering earnest lyrics can all be noted on “Horseshoe Crab,” where troll dolls, My Little Ponies, and furry creatures are rounded up and re-birthed on the beach, as seen in the song’s video; there’s a sort of metamorphosis taking place.
“I’ve always been looking for an opportunity to either photograph all of this stuff I’ve collected, inappropriately for the band, or make a video, so ya, I did,” explains Wellbaum. “I think there’s a certain kind of magic you experience as a child that definitely fades as you get older, but it’s still possible to access those parts of your imagination that are more free, that stream of conscious type thing.”
Drawing inspiration from one of her favourite artists, Mike Kelley, Wellbaum’s love of re-contextualizing youthful imagery is met with an equal adoration of the ocean, and with the help of her friend CJ and beach-y Florida, the “Horseshoe Crab” video came to life.
“Something I see in a lot of music videos is fancy things that are very, very redundant or it feels like they’ve made the video for the purpose of just making the video, as opposed to wanting to make a new piece of art,” she states. “I really care about turning out videos that are intentional and have an aesthetic soul to them.”
It’s not just the video and lyrics of “Horseshoe Crab” that hold an aquatic influence; the entire album has water threaded throughout.
“Thematically, this record deals with bodies of oceans, which are greater than us, and dreams, too,” she says before tapping into some evolutionary introspects and noting, “we all came from water. We existed in the womb, and that’s your first experience, you’re weightless in there and you don’t feel anything, it’s like a deprivation tank… I hope this record takes people outside their selves and they remember that [beginning].”
The visual arc continues with the video for “Like a Child Hiding Behind Your Tombstone,” which sees one rose being placed in various locations. Wellbaum snapped over 100 pieces of footage of this one rose, in fact.
“I love to just shoot and record shit, but with this it even got a little crazy at the end ‘cause I’d be leaving Waffle House and thinking ‘over there’ and then would start placing [the rose] with one of the paintings or the soup of the day, or something so random,” she says. “Still though I’m not one of those people that’s like ‘oh everyone hated my obsessive rose video, oh no’, I’m glad it got done.”
Her ‘no care’ motto comes into play in a wider scope too, where she believes humility and confidence are simply parts of being a musician.
“There’s kind of a place you have to get to if you want to be an artist, where you have to stop giving a shit if that’s what you want to do. If people get it that’s great and if they don’t—cool too. I also think that’s the way you should be as a person—personal rejection or whatever, and knowing what you are more or less then running with it.”
She adds: “It’s also important to push yourself as a writer and not let things marinate too long in your head, get it out, regardless of the reaction.”
So, if you’re into audiovisual plots with deadpan vocals, and a tempered mix of string-to-cymbal resonance and rage, you may just fall in love with Slothrust.