Released earlier this month, Songs About Tanks is the new album from SLONK (real name Joe Sherrin) and it serves as an unflinching document of just how hard a break-up can be. Much of the record was written and recorded within just a week of the break-up, and though Sherrin's words are draped in all kinds of lovely, cosy-sounding instrumentation, you can hear that his wounds are still painfully fresh. Here, he answers some questions about Songs About Tanks and what was going on in his life during its creation.
The Album Wall: Please introduce yourself - who are you, what should we know about you, and where did the name 'SLONK' come from?
Joe Sherrin: My name's Joe Sherrin. I play in lots of Bristol-based bands, and SLONK is my solo project. 'SLONK' is just a nonsense word I used to use, e.g. "just slonk that over here please, Steve". I was pretty stuck trying to find a name for my solo stuff, so I just went with that - I like that it's silly and a bit weird. Turns out 'SLONK' has an Urban Dictionary definition though, so that pissed me off.
JS: I put the song We're Both Going To Be Fine up online in its original demo form (just guitar and vocals) back in November, and I put in the comments to my friends who found the song upsetting, "don't worry guys - the next batch of songs will be about tanks and harlots, like usual". That was a lampoon, though; none of the songs are about tanks. They're wetties.
TAW: Did you find it difficult to mobilise yourself and channel your feelings into a creative project so soon after the end of a long-term relationship? Or did it all come quite naturally?
JS: Yeah, it all came really naturally. It just sort of poured out of me, it was easy. It was just about the only thing I could do that month. That and liberal weekend indulgence. And quite a lot of running, actually. I kept myself busy.
TAW: If you don't mind me asking - what sort of break-up is this album the result of? Did the relationship come to a very abrupt end, or had it been a long time coming?
JS: Well, we were best friends prior to getting together; we went to school together; we lived together with our best friends; and it'd be about six years from exactly now that we got together. So it was and still is pretty devastating. It felt abrupt to me, yeah.
TAW: We're Both Going to Be Fine seems like quite a positive, optimistic thought with which to open an album that mourns the end of a relationship. Is that song's title supposed to be taken at face value?
JS: It is an astonishingly optimistic line, yeah. Optimism was how I tried to go about dealing with it initially, or at least that was how I portrayed myself as dealing with it. I don't think the line should be taken at face value, though; although it's also sweet and endearing, it's a really miserable song.
Saying that we're both going to be fine is more about hoping that we're both going to be fine. That's what people tell you constantly, don't they? "You'll be fine, SLONK, pull your socks up." Thankfully no one told me to pull my socks up...actually! My boss did in front of the whole office when I couldn't face going in to work one day. My socks are always high anyway. I have great socks.
TAW: Speaking of We're Both Going to Be Fine, why did you decide to end the album with a reprise of that song (We're Both Going to Be Fenne)?
JS: Whilst mixing the album, I played around with just soloing the vocals and seeing how the songs sounded with different instrumentation and stuff. On this one, I took out the drums and guitars and really liked the sparse sound - it made the vocals more audible, and I like the way Fenne, Oli and I all sound together here. It was just something I was messing around with, really, and I liked it enough to put it on the end of the album.
Also, having nine songs on the album made me feel uncomfortable, so it was nice to round it up.
TAW: Was making this album a kind of therapy for you? Did it help you to make your peace with what had happened?
JS: It felt good to 'get it out', as they say, and I'm pretty pleased with how the songs turned out. It's good that I managed to do something with my misery, but no, it hasn't helped me make my peace with what happened. They're just songs, aren't they.
TAW: Songs About Tanks was initially released as a cassette tape (which has now sold out). What is it about this format that appealed to you?
JS: The cassette itself was an afterthought. I put so much into making this album and I wanted to do something different for the release, so it's released on cassettes housed in handmade matchboxes accompanied with a photo album. It's just a nice little DIY package; it represents the album well I think.
TAW: What music were you listening to around the time you created this album?
JS: Mainly sad folky/country stuff like Songs: Ohia and Bright Eyes, and emo like The Promise Ring and Lync. I discovered Palace Music's Viva Last Blues last year and I was completely obsessed with it. Also Waxahatchee, Sharon Van Etten, Alex G, and the first three Modest Mouse albums, which I've not really stopped listening to for the last few years.
TAW: What does the future hold for SLONK?
JS: I'm playing with Happyness at The Louisiana next. That'll be with Fenne singing, Oliver Wilde on bass, Phil on drums, and Jamie on slide guitar, so it will be a good one! I'm also playing at Dot to Dot and have a few other gigs lined up.
TAW: Do you have any ideas for your next album?
I've got 16 songs for another album so far, but I haven't been able to write any lyrics for ages so I don't know when I'll get around to finishing them off. I imagine that'll be ready by the summer.
Thanks to Joe for answering my questions about his new album - Songs About Tanks is available from SLONK's Bandcamp page.