Slow Dancer

Simon Okely is lost in time. Or at least, his songs sound that way: warm, near-whispered indie-rock love letters to the 60s and 70s rhythm and blues records his parents would play on family car rides down Australia’s winding west coast, heavy on nostalgia and even heavier on imagination. “I try not to be too caught up in trends and what’s popular in music now and just focus in on my passions, my influences,” grins the Melbourne songwriter better known as Slow Dancer, whose 2014 debut Surrender was a melt-your-heart, Fleetwood Mac-with-Neil Young licks “pop postcard” from another time, another place.

Returning in 2017 with new single ‘Don’t Believe’ and a new album, In A Mood, due in June on ATO Records, Okely is aiming even higher on his new material, featuring a “more expansive, more ambitious” sound that’s “less about the stories we tell ourselves when in love and more about the moods that can come creeping over a relationship” at any time. “It’s a little more tasteful, involving new instruments, like drum machines and strings,” says the 31-year-old, whose lush tales of new romance, awkward courting and “scraggly, mangy love that’s fading and waning” have been striking a chord with fans of Mac DeMarco, Tobias Jesso Jr, Connan Mockasin and more.

Okely grew up near West Australian city Perth, in a “tiny farming town” where, as a small kid, he would bring a toy ukulele to church every Sunday and strum along as though he was playing the hymns. After growing up and learning the guitar aged nine, he inheriting his grandmother’s piano and gradually becoming fascinated with the intense, intimate folk of Nick Drake, rhythm and blues vanguards Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and his parents’ favourite Van Morrison (an artist he “loved as a child, felt disgusted by as a teenager, then came to adore again as I grew older,” he laughs now).

In 2013, he moved to Melbourne and began to hone his craft live. “Something about the place resonated with me,” he says, though musically it’s the “rugged, beautiful coastal surroundings” he grew up in that continues to shape him. “A lot of people talk about how Perth has permeated artists’ music from there. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see how it has permeated mine,” says Okely, whose childhood there was “very adventurous” and saw him constantly “trying to soak in the landscape” and local music. “A lot of bands I adore, like The Triffids from the 80s, a band called The Panics from the early 00s and even Tame Impala – the place is very present in their music, how expansive it is. I feel like that same feeling is probably present in my music too, even though now I live and create in Melbourne.”

After moving to Melbourne, Okely began writing as Slow Dancer in 2014, naming the project after a lyric from a song on Surrender that was “essentially an instruction manual for slow dancing with someone who is experiencing apathy. I really liked the sentiment, and thought it fit quite well with the overall sound.” Key to that sound in the environment Okely writes and records in: alone, entirely at night, in a bedroom that “somehow crams in a drum kit, a piano, some guitars, and a bed,” he laughs. “I couldn’t really face the songs during the daylight hours. There’s something about 11pm on a weeknight when everyone is winding down, slumped out in front of a television or in bed… I really like walking around at that time and writing at that time. It’s the time of day my mind is most awake.”

“Come as simple as the sun and as steady as a breath,” sings Okely on melancholy new single ‘Don’t Believe’ over a smooth, slow groove, tremolo chimes of guitar and heartbreaking strings. “Let the evening come undone, and the thoughtful take a rest,” he sings on the track. His ambition with this new batch of songs and next chapter as Slow Dancer is similarly simple. “This has always been my journal, my love letter to the music I love. My concentration will always be on making the music that pleases me, and if it pleases other people too, that’s also great. It’s been a wonderful ride so far.”

Simon Okely is lost in time. You should get lost in time with him.

This record is kind of the apology, the confession and the acceptance of the ways I've felt shame in my life and trying to share it with others,” explains Petal lead singer, Kiley Lotz, of their new album, Shame. The melodically driven, indie rock record draws influence from Death Cab For Cutie and Pedro The Lion. Each song has its own sound but with tight drums and forward vocals, the album is cohesive in a beautifully textured way. Though Petal has stayed true to the sound fans have come to appreciate from the previous released EP, Scout, in 2013, this record shows growth with heaviness in both sound and content.

Lotz took three years to write the songs on this record and wrote them all with the underlying theme of dealing with her mental illness and seeing how it affected those around her. Discovering through her writing that everyone has shame and guilt, she started to wonder if the world might be different if everyone were more open and willing to accept help. Camera Lens is the first song on the record and deals with just that, her acknowledgment and apology for not asking for help when she needed it most. But the record isn’t just a sad experience from beginning to end. Heaven and Photo Booth are both honest declarations of love and compassion for another person. Lotz shines with her ability to express her feelings in such real ways.

It comes as no surprise that Lotz is able to express her emotions being that she comes from a theatre background. She moved to New York City after graduating college in Scranton, Pennsylvania to pursue a life on stage. She made her Off-Broadway debut last spring and even wrote a song from the perspective of a character she once played. “It triggered a lot of things for me personally that I wouldn’t change or regret. But it definitely made me write from a more honest, less scared perspective,” she says of her time since moving to the city. Luckily for Lotz, she’s also been helped by her friends and fellow musicians that make up Petal. Ben Walsh plays guitar and drums and Brianna Collins plays bass and co-wrote The Fire for the album. Collins also offers incredible harmonies on the record, which is a major draw for listeners of Petal.

Shame is the culmination of everything Kiley Lotz has experienced and learned over the course of the last three years. Though the title of the record is Shame, it seems that Petal should be anything but when it comes to how they should feel about what they have accomplished as a band.

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