Slow Dress on Radical Politics and Radical Friendship

By the end of their run with Boston-based indie band Jakals, Katie Solomon and Bredon Jones developed a talent for taking minimal, guitar-driven rock songs founded on Solomon’s fiercely-pointed social criticism and building them up to ceiling-shaking intensity (take the blistering finale of their 2019 track, “Marvelous Houses”).

In their new duo configuration, dubbed Slow Dress, they still have plenty to say about the state of the world–their single “Everyday Affair” leaves no question about Solomon’s feelings on the failures of electoral politics and the U.S.’ industrial model of education. But with the founding of the new project, they’ve also taken to softer, more thoughtful soundscapes; more introspective music for what has been, in some ways, a more introspective time.

Released this week, “Back Into My Body” is quietly hopeful piano pop, and it’s also the third single they’ve shared from a fortuitous recording session back in the early spring. Before the collapse of live music in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, they’d managed to track six songs in Nashville with producer Collin Pastore, and they’ve been releasing them one at a time ever since.

Though they’re currently separated by geography and life circumstances–Jones is in St. Louis, where he’s undergoing cancer treatment, and Solomon is in Boston, where she’s remotely pursuing a graduate degree in mental health counseling–the two have held onto the bond they built through music.

“Back Into My Body” is available to stream and download now, with proceeds split between Brookline Mutual Aid and National Bail Out. Before the release, the duo spoke to The All Scene Eye about the radical politics and radical friendship that powers their output.

How have you been coping with the stress of the times?

Jones: [laughs] I think prior to the pandemic, prior to quarantining and everything, I would have told people that I’m a little bit more of an introvert than an extrovert, but what’s happened is that now I’m communicating so much more with people than I did when I could see people face-to-face. I have a lot of regular phone calls with friends and family, so that’s been kind of a surprise, that that’s been the main thing for me. 

I mean, basically right when the pandemic was hitting, I also got diagnosed with cancer. I’ve been going through treatment since July, so it’s hard to tell how much of my extra communication is because of the pandemic and how much of it is just people checking in on me. But yeah, I’d say–because I’m pretty useless with the treatment knocking me out, I’m not really doing much else. [laughs] I’m just resting, getting treatment, talking to people on the phone, doing Zoom calls and FaceTimes and things like that. That’s really my primary–almost only–coping mechanism at this point. 

Solomon: I feel like I was really isolated for a long time before this pandemic started, and was sort of starting to come out of that place. But I was in a pretty dark place for a while, so in a certain way, this doesn’t feel that different [laughs] which is kind of sad, but I think I feel a lot healthier. I’ve been lucky that I’ve stayed healthy and that I have resources to be able to not be going into work. I have a remote thing, and obviously there’s a lot of privilege there.

I also started meditating, like, kind of right before the pandemic. I’ve continued and gotten more into that, and that’s been really helpful. My body had been in this really panicky state for a long time, even prior to this, but definitely a lot of my anxiety gets manifested in hypochondria stuff and thinking that I’m dying all the time, so the pandemic can definitely be an added, like, “Shit, do I have COVID today?” [laughs] But I actually think I’ve been much better about navigating that. I think meditation has been the most helpful thing for me.

Whether it was the pandemic, or Bredon, your treatment, everything set in before you had released your first single and before you’d started getting out as a duo and performing. What has it been like launching this project under the circumstances?

Solomon: It’s been weird, but–Bredon, maybe you would disagree, but in some ways, I think we were lucky. We had been in a band together for a while, but I feel like our friendship really grew a lot over the last year and a half or so, and I think that was really important for this project. I’m really grateful that that happened before this pandemic because I think it would have been really hard if we had tried to keep up any sense of momentum or excitement about this prior to really forming a really strong bond and love for each other. 

We got really lucky that we recorded right before; I feel like that keeps up the momentum and excitement because we’re able to release stuff, even though it’s hard to get new listeners. That’s been hard, to figure out how to do that when you can’t tour, but it’s still been exciting.

Jones: I agree. There’s always a couple different ways of looking at things, and we can be really sad that we can’t go out and share music in ways that we’re used to, and we feel limited additionally because we’re not in the same place right now–we can’t do a lot of the live streaming and video stuff that other groups are doing to keep getting by–but I think a more positive way of looking at it is that I need to be concentrating on my health. So in a weird way, this pandemic has given me an opportunity to slow down and take care of myself, and for Katie–I mean, she’s been contemplating going to grad school for a while.

It was kind of like, well, yeah, the best grad school experience would be one with people in classrooms together and forming a bond that way, but from the perspective of the band, it’s kind of the best time for her to do it. If she was to do grad school when I was fully available and we could tour and everything, we would be limited by her schedule pretty severely. 

So, I don’t know, I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. I feel really disappointed that we couldn’t do what we wanted to do, but I have a hard time connecting with that because so many things are going so wrong for so many people in this country. Not that those things weren’t going on before, but it’s amplified, like, a thousand times by the pandemic and by–I hate to say the Trump word, but obviously, our president is a little nutty.

[laughs] Putting it mildly.

Jones: Yeah, you know, I feel like it’s pretty safe to be critical of President Trump with you, but I don’t know–we’re trying to not make that a thing all the time in every conversation we have with everybody.

Solomon: Oh, wait, really?

Jones: Let’s just say things are really messed up right now, and it’s hard to feel bad for ourselves with all of our privileges and all the things we do have going for us during this time.

You recorded these six songs all in one go in Nashville with Collin Pastore. How did that recording project start?

Solomon: So, we were in another band together before this, and we did some DIY recording, and we had recorded at a studio, but we had never worked with a producer before. I think we came to a place of–just having another outside ear felt like it would be really exciting and helpful. We were just really excited; we got a chance to start fresh, and this was this new project.

We were looking into a bunch of producers, and both of us really love Lucy Dacus’ album Historian, and we found out Collin produced that. We ended up reaching out and got a response back, and then we sort of–we had written a shitload the past winter, so we had, like, 30 songs, and he helped us pick the ones we were going to do. We were pretty set on a few of them, and then with the others, we were like, “Hm, could go either way,” so that’s kind of how we ended up on those ones.

I feel like I write some really overtly political things and some not, and I definitely wanted some clearly political stuff. Because in our last project, Jakals, it was clear to me that a lot of what I was writing had my beliefs in there in some capacity, but it wasn’t necessarily obvious. I really wanted it to be more obvious [laughs] so I wanted to come out strong with that on this project. Other than that, I think we just wanted to have a mix, but definitely have some really intimate songs–like this one, for instance. Because Jakals was much harder. We were a lot louder and a lot more–I don’t know what another word is. More aggressive, I guess. [laughs]

You have a group of songs where there are different aspects of Slow Dress you want to highlight, but is there anything that you think unites all of them?

Bredon: I don’t think so.

Solomon: You don’t think so? I do, just in the sense of–well, sonically, there’s something that we really like playing with, which is almost a pretty musical sound with sort of darker lyrics. I think there’s a cool juxtaposition in that, and I think that that kind of applies to all of the songs.

Bredon: I would agree with that. I think that as a group of songs, and in contrast to the stuff we were doing with Jakals, they are prettier, they’re catchier, a little poppier maybe, overall. I think “Back Into My Body” is probably the most positive of them, but even within its own positivity, there is a little bit of a melancholy edge to it. I think the other five, and we can almost also throw “Stew,” the first single we did with a different producer, in there–it’s thematically darker, and I think that is pretty consistent. Katie doesn’t really write happy songs. [laughs]

Solomon: Yeah, but I do think there’s more hope in these songs than I’ve ever had in songs. I think my lyrics with Jakals were just like, “Fuck everything” [laughs] “this world is really dark,” and I think with all of these–most obviously in “Back Into My Body,” but even in the ones where there’s more anger and frustration–I feel like there’s a sense of feeling lost that pervades all of them, but I think also, at least in my head, there’s a twinge of hope throughout.

The song we just put out called “Everyday Affair” is definitely angry, like, “Look at this system, it’s so messed up,” and “I’m a part of this,” and blah blah blah, and there’s a lot of frustration there. But at the same time, I feel like at least I’m trying to get across, like, “We could fight this. There is power here that we could utilize.” Power in ourselves, not–you know, not war, whatever. There is a hope there, but there’s frustration. So maybe that, even?

You talk about being more overtly political, and that song is this very blunt critique of capitalism. Where did that song start, and has your relationship to it changed over time?

Solomon: I wrote those lyrics probably or three years ago, or something. I have a lot of lyrics that are like poetry, I guess–it starts as me venting frustrations. Particularly, it started out as looking at our education system: what we value and put on kids, like, competition and all these things. If you look at that, it’s like, “Of course this is what our world looks like,” and I feel like that’s the lens that my radical politics grew out of, was looking at children and my frustrations with that. 

I don’t know if how I view that has changed. You know, there’s different songs where I think, over time, they’ll mean different things to me or I might not resonate with them quite as much, but I’ll still appreciate where I was when I wrote it. But with that one, I sort of imagine that it’ll resonate, and I think I’ve only gotten more politically radical since I wrote that song.

When you released that song, in some blurbs about it, you talked about the way that “we have to do more than just vote and expect others to make real changes for us when they’ve proven they won’t.” In your view, what action beyond voting should people take to make things better?

Solomon: I definitely think people should engage in direct action and organizing mutual aid stuff. I think that we were really taught that there’s this one way that we have a voice, which is to vote, but really, that’s bullshit. You don’t have a voice in that, it’s not democracy, and we need to organize and engage in helping each other. As the world is completely falling apart, with climate change and all these things, we need to recognize our power to fight against oppressive systems and also our power to be there for each other. Recognizing that the majority of people are not helped by this state, but are deeply hurt by it, and then recognizing our ability to be helping each other, and just how important that is–in a pandemic like this, or as climate change continues to get scarier, we just really need each other.

Jones: Also, giving money–I mean, for me right now, that’s a lot of what I can do because I’m limited, health-wise. I totally, 100% agree with everything Katie said about direct action and everything, but I also think, unfortunately, within the structure that we’re working right now, money is a very powerful thing. So, spending time educating myself on who has the right motivations and is taking the most effective action towards things that I believe in–those people deserve my support in one form or another, and right now, what I can do is give them money. It’s kind of a new thing for me, I actually sit around with the money that I’ve set aside for supporting organizations just figuring out how to spend it. It’s a weird, different kind of capitalism. Like, capitalism of ideas or something, you know? You give money to ideas that you care about and hope that they do something good with it.

The new single, “Back Into My Body” is a little bit more on the intimate side. When did you first write that song?

Solomon: That one actually–we weren’t actually going to record it. We had five songs, and then things went faster than expected, so we ended up recording that one, which I guess we had written pretty recently. We wrote it probably in the winter, right Bredon? That winter we were writing a bunch of stuff.

Jones: I would say we probably wrote that song about exactly a year ago.

Solomon: Yeah, and lyrically, I guess it came about because–I feel like that time was when I was emerging a little bit from this darkness. [laughs] I’d been experiencing a lot of PTSD stuff from trauma that had happened over the last few years, and had really lost connection with my body in a lot of ways. I lost a lot of weight, partly from–like, I developed an autoimmune disease, and also was having a lot of chronic pain, and in all these ways, feeling really unsafe in my body. Really out of control of it and just disconnected. When I wrote that, I was reading a lot about trauma being stored in the body. Have you ever read The Body Keeps the Score?

No, I haven’t.

It’s cool, it’s like–well. I struggle to recommend any book without being like, “But there’s some things I don’t like here.” [laughs] But generally, it was really helpful for me to think about the body that way. I just never really thought about both the connections of the mind and the body, but also the separateness, and the ways that, even if I thought I was connecting to my emotions, there are things that might not have–like, language that might be sitting in my body in ways that I couldn’t access in the normal ways I knew how to access emotions.

I was also reading a lot about pain science because I was working through a lot of chronic pain stuff, and it all really connects. I guess just understanding that gave me some feeling of hope. I had also moved into a co-op and I was feeling a little more connected to other human beings, so I was feeling a sense of hope that I hadn’t felt in a long time, and those lyrics came out of that–that feeling of, “I can do this. I can connect again.”

Musically, Bredon, I think that one came together really fast, right? I feel like you might have had some sort of thing you were diddling on and we ended up just writing it that day.

Jones: Yeah, it’s a short song. I don’t think we messed with the original musical theme at all other than to just arrange it in a certain order that made sense with your lyrics. I think it was also fast in the studio when we started working on it–Collin and his guys, they jumped right in. We just played it on the spot in the studio for them, like, “Hey, what about this one?” And they were like, “That’s the one.” They got really excited about it, and I think we pulled it together in, like, an afternoon. Super fast.

There’s a certain timeliness to releasing this song now. It was about a year ago when you wrote it, and lyrically, it mentions being right before the onset of winter, which is when the song is going to come out. Was that an intentional move, to bring it back around?

Solomon: Oh, yeah. [laughs] Thanks for noticing. Obviously, there’s that lyric, like, “Winter’s coming again,” but also, if I’m just listening to it, sonically, it feels like late fall to me, and I’m sure that that has to do with my own associations with it. 

In the past, we haven’t thought that much about the season when we’re putting out a song, just because we don’t necessarily have the freedom to do that all the time, but I think that can be important. I noticed, a friend of ours–like, a band we’re friends with–put out this song during the summer, and it was just such a fucking summer song. [laughs] Obviously, this isn’t always going to be the case, but I think it might be more likely people will be in a certain vibe and more readily willing to accept some sort of sonic landscape depending on the season or the time. Being intentional about that feels good.

You’ve mentioned that this song has taken on new resonance with Bredon going through cancer treatment. And so, Bredon, what has it meant to you to hear this song now?

Jones: I mean, when Katie originally brought the lyrics, I wasn’t thinking about it at all. [laughs] And then I think my preliminary diagnosis was in January–they didn’t know what was going on, but they thought it might be cancer, and I didn’t get the official thing until February or March, and just listening back to the final mix, I heard the lyrics. Not that I don’t pay attention to Katie’s lyrics–I totally do, but sometimes they can be kind of cryptic and specific to her experience, and I sometimes don’t get it right away. [laughs] I have to really listen, and sometimes I find meaning in her lyrics through conversations with her where she literally is like, “Look, dummy, here’s what it means.”

Solomon: Whoa, I would never say that! [laughs]

Jones: No, she’s never called me dumb. But sometimes we don’t talk about it, and I come to my own conclusions, which can be funny because then we do talk about it later, and she’s like, “Oh, no, that’s not what that is at all,” and I’m like, “Oh, I’m an idiot.”

Solomon: I like that though, that it can mean something different.

Jones: Yeah, and I think before we really talked about it, both of us had come to this realization that the song resonated with me and my health situation. We’ve been talking a lot about cancer, and you know, Katie is–she is my best friend. I know “best friend” is a category, but she’s a superfriend and has been there for me with the cancer every step of the way, even to the point of annoying me.

Solomon: [laughs]

Jones: She’s got books about it, and we’ve had a shared growth of understanding about what cancer is and how to approach it, mentally and physically. I don’t remember which one of us stumbled on this or which book or article or whatever it was, but at some point, we came across this idea that you’re not really fighting cancer.

The best way to approach it is to realign your body with its true nature, which is basically to say that the typical sort of American diet and the way we’re living, with all the stresses that we put ourselves under in this society, is basically cancer-inducing, and that to fight cancer, instead what you need to think about is getting your body to operate the way it should. Give it the inputs that it should have, reduce stress, live more naturally, and your body will take care of the rest, you know?

And so the lyrics–“Back Into My Body” is really kind of the ending of the song. She repeats it. I don’t think you say it until the end, and it’s really building to that point. It’s like, “Hey, I’ve been going through some tough stuff, and something has changed recently. I’m coming back into myself and being comfortable in my body.”

I don’t sit around listening to our music every day or whatever, but this particular song, I do. In fact, I rarely post on social media anymore, but I posted about this song recently to tell people to be on the lookout for the release, and I said, “This is like my favorite child,” or something like that. I got my Soundcloud app, and I listen to the final master every couple of days. It’s almost like a meditative reminder for me that I am working to get back into my body in the right way.

You’ve both talked about how working together has made you such close friends. For each of you, what do you most admire about the other as a musician?

Solomon: Ooh, a lot. Bredon also sings and writes his own music, and he’s an incredible singer and lyricist by himself too, but if I’m thinking about it in terms of working with him, I think he’s profoundly creative and has a super unique style of guitar. He does these weird timing things, but I feel like it’s very accessible at the same time as being like, “Oh, whoa, what just happened? That’s really cool.” Everything he plays, I’m like, “Oh, shit, yeah, that’s super catchy.”

I just so appreciate creating with him because I think we have a natural shared language of like, “Oh, let’s move this around here.” Because I don’t have any theory background–well actually, neither of us, but you more than me, Bredon–so I can’t be like, “Oh, do this.” I don’t even know what to say there because I don’t have any background. [laughs] But I’ll be like, “Oh, make that weirder,” or like, “now go to this kind of thing,” and we just sort of play off each other. I’m not good at articulating these things, and I feel like he’s very good at hearing me and is very open to changing stuff around and just being excited to explore with me, which I really appreciate.

Jones: I’ve had one other musical partner in my life–my friend Mikey, who Katie knows as well. I had a certain way of working with him, and I was really reluctant for that musical relationship–I mean, we’re still best friends, but just due to life circumstances, that musical relationship has faded away a bit, and when Katie and I started working together and writing together, I pretty immediately knew that we had a kind of chemistry. I really appreciate Katie’s–her sense of melody is, like, instinctual. Like she said, she’s not really thinking through things in a theoretical way. Very instinctual and emotional, and from the very first time that I heard her sing, I was captured by her style and her delivery, and especially also just timing and phrasing.

It challenges me and pushes me into new places with my songwriting because I don’t get it, and I say “I don’t get it” in a good way. It’s like, “Wow, I would have never ever ever done that. How did she do that?” In “Everyday Affair,” there’s this line in the bridge where she splits a word across two lines, and it’s not that I haven’t heard that type of thing before, but it’s the way she accomplished it. It works so well. “Voting for mind / less people to rule us.” The rhythm of it, the phrasing of it–it’s things like that, and there’s countless examples. 

I feel like for me, everything is really deliberate and on the beat. I sing a certain way because I’m playing the guitar at the same time, and maybe I’m sometimes a little limited by trying to coordinate both things. I think Katie is often freed up because she’s singing on top of something that I wrote, so she just kind of freeforms it. I don’t know, I’m just always excited and impressed.

Also, Katie and I have spent a lot of time sharing lyrics with each other and talking about them, and I always kind of feel like my stuff is not as good or as interesting or as creatively constructed. There’s an impressive depth and darkness, and she captures juxtaposing these different ideas. I’m always impressed and excited when Katie starts putting lyrics on a piece of music because I’m like, “Oh my god”–it’s like unwrapping presents or something.

Solomon: [laughs] Thank you, that was very sweet, Bredon.

Jones: Well, I was trying to outdo you.

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