Formed around 2002 (exact date unknown), SLT was initially a musical project put together by myself and Vikki. She already played bass, so her role was pre-determined. After years of playing in bands with varying degrees of success, I really felt like this was a make or break situation. As a result, I decided that this was going to have to be a project with no rules and no compromise. My vision of a cool rock band was either going to work or die trying.
Some unusual people were on the periphery of this first version of the band, most notable a guy called Phil Cilia from a band called Waterfront who had a massive hit in the USA during the 80s and toured with Michael Jackson. He was full of encouragement and had a bigger impact on us pursuing our goals than he probably ever realised.
A few years prior, I had achieved an arts grant which was used to buy the first versions of computer recording equipment. What comes as standard and is taken for granted these days was the height of sophistication and cutting edge technology around the turn of the millennium. This was used to record the first piece of music, a song called “Asshole” which was inspired by the Denis Leary song of the same name.
It was crazy, bonkers, bizarre, energetic, unique. Everything we would ever be called could be aimed at this track alone. It was a good springboard and became the opening track of our first EP, “The Pop Shot!”, so-called in honour of the final act in any decent porno.
We started our own record label, Megabucks Music, to release this EP ourselves. We sold it via SMELLYOURMUM.COM and on CD Baby which had recently started. We also shipped it to various radio stations, magazines and music websites around the world. It was – and remains – unlike anything else so got a lot of attention, most of it positive.
This was a real boon to us. We had no egos. Mine had been battered into submission through years of failing upward in bands, so this positivity was a real vindication that we were not wasting our time. In fact, it inspired the first song I wrote for the follow up, “(I Feel So) Vindicated”, a track that has the most monstrous intro I recorded until we got to our final album a decade later.
“Anarchy For Two” was the title of our second EP. Another four tracks, getting closer to the style that became our own. The stand-out track was one called “Trust Your Instincts”, which ended up being recorded three times with my original bedroom job remaining easily the best version. This track got us noticed nationally and even a mention on BBC Radio Two where DJ Kevin Greening classed it as “Glam Goth”.
Again, we sent this CD far and wide as well as selling copies of it. Eventually, it caught the ears of a record label boss who called us in for a meeting. He had been part of Island Records and had been responsible for signing some huge acts over his years in the business. He was now setting up his own label and offered us a five album deal.
By this point, we had decided that we wanted to play live and put a “proper” band together, ie recruit drums, guitars and keyboards. We achieved this in no time at all (gaining the only other long-term member, Vile Gilez on drums, who was there until the end) and played our first ever show (at the Metro in London) in May of 2003. The deal mentioned above came at this point in the band’s life and we had a decision to make. The deal was just for Vikki and I but we wanted to be part of a real band, so we turned it down. As it happens, that label folded shortly thereafter so it was probably for the best.
In 2004, we paid for our first ever studio recording session and spent a few days in London recording what would become the “Dragged Kicking & Screaming” EP. In hindsight, I don’t think it captured us. Recorded by a couple of guys that were in a successful pop-punk band, the recording distilled our sound too much and homogenised our spirit; taming the beast. However, it had good songs and the sonics were good. We had many friends and supporters around London who added the EP to their DJ set lists adding more fans to see our incendiary performances.
Alan James enters the story at this point. He was to become our manager, publisher and record label all in one. He had cut his teeth working with the Beatles and was instrumental in getting Twisted Sister to the UK and had subsequently worked with Alice Cooper and Van Halen. Contracts were shoved under our nose and, frankly, how could we say no?
Here is where the difference in the music business circa mid 00s compared to how it is right now. Back then your choice was either to sign a deal which was probably not great but would get your music heard vs. do not sign a deal and most likely languish in anonymity forever thereafter. We did the former and, for a while at least, it was certainly the correct thing to do.
Immediately, we were back in a studio recording our fourth EP, “Sleaze Sells…But Who’s Buying?”. A song called “Trick Or Mistreat” really stood out sounding like a bizarre Rocky Horror lost track. We shot a (really fucking cheap and nasty) video for this song. Most importantly, however, this EP was our first properly distributed record meaning that we could walk into music shops and see it on the shelves. This is a real moment to cherish in a band’s life.
We were added to the TotalRock Radio A-List; outsold Oasis, U2 and the Foo Fighters on Amazon; sneaked into the Rock Top 10 and were voted by readers of Kerrang! #7 on the “Best Unsigned Band” list in that year’s Reader’s Poll. Thanks to all of this, along with Alan’s involvement, we started getting more attention and better shows. MySpace was also at it’s peak, which helped our ascension at this point.
Around this time, it became necessary to fire our first member – the keyboard player – for theft. Unfortunately, it also meant that we could no longer play our most popular song as it was keyboard heavy, but it had to be done.
Alan wanted to ride the momentum we were building and wanted us to record our first album. However, the budget he proposed for it was ridiculous and, in those days, would have resulted in a shockingly bad sounding record. So, rather than invest in us right at the point where it would have made the biggest impact, he decided that we should package our four EPs together and release that as an album. And that is what happened. In 2006, “Scary Tales: The Collection” was released.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it was not well received by critics. When you are DIY releasing your own music on your own label, critics will ignore a certain amount of amateurishness. However, if you nationally release something through known distribution channels, a bit more is expected of you. Oops. Rather than building on the momentum, it pretty much halted all progress. We parted ways with Alan and also parted ways with our first guitar player.
It took us a while to recover from this. We had a new guitar player to find and, whilst that was happening, Vikki and I worked out what the hell we needed to do from this point on to continue our march forward. We came to the conclusion that we needed to spend some proper money to record a proper album then see if we can get a deal.
New guitarist in hand, we performed a great many shows around the country and then recruited a producer to record our first real album. This was to be a month-long process which turned out to be very expensive. Very, very expensive! The end result was “We Won’t Hurt You (But We Won’t Go Away)”, 12 of the best tracks I had written to that point.
I forget the exact order of the events that occurred around this era, but a few things happened which would really help. First up, a support slot with The Misfits. We had supported many named bands in the past, but this was the biggest in the biggest venue. It also lead on to us appearing at a new festival called Hard Rock Hell. Still unsigned at the time of performing, we were voted very highly by attendees when asked to rank acts.
This lead to us first hearing from Lena at GMR Records in Sweden. One of her bands had been at Hard Rock Hell, so I guess she saw us and liked what she saw. A deal memo was sent over and we figured we would sign with her. However, the actual deal itself was very slow in coming forward. In the interim, two other manager types had reared their heads. Gary Raymond (who sadly died early in 2017) had achieved great success with a band called Koopa, who became the first act ever to chart on downloads alone. Another was a guy called John. He was connected to a label called “Transcend” and he reckoned he could sign us to that.
And that is what happened. In lieu of any final deal coming forth from GMR, John stuck a deal under our nose that promised all sorts of good things – a decent amount for promotion being among the most important to us. Artwork and fancy photos done, the album was in the hands of Transcend and set to be released late 2008, but not before a single release.
Our cover of “Sweet Transvestite” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show had become a life favourite and was also a natural partner to “Trick Or Mistreat”, which had been re-recorded for the album. So, we shelled out a bit more dough to give the label something they could use as pre-promotion for the album. It was an inexpensive gesture of goodwill on our behalf. However, the way it was received and dealt with set of alarm bells.
Bearing in mind that we paid for that recording, we have never seen a penny from it. All money made through the sale of that single went straight into the coffers of the label. Not a life changing amount, by any means, but it still should have been ours. When it came to the release of the album itself, the only promotion that occurred was that which was generated by ourselves. We paid for our own video. The money that was written in black and white in the contract we signed never materialised. John left the label and we were left pretty helpless.
So, here is what happened. Despite being promised a re-release of the album with full label support, we were told early in 2009 that, in fact, the album would not be pushed and, if we wanted it back to try and get a deal elsewhere, we can have it. For £1,000. In other words, despite being in breach of the contract that was signed by us in good faith, the head of the label felt that extortion should be his parting gift.
This was negotiated down to £500. We have all receipts and email trails to prove everything I have alleged above. It was a shameful way to treat a band that was trying it’s hardest to make an impact and I will never forgive those involved. However, we were at least now free to try and get a deal elsewhere.
If you have ever tried to get a deal for an album that has already been released, you will appreciate how hard it is. We now had a German manager, Ralph Graupner, who went back to Lena at GMR and, miraculously, cut a deal with her. “We Won’t Hurt You (But We Won’t Go Away) – The Ultimate Edition” was to be released across Europe with bonus tracks and a cool poster. Lena was brilliant. GMR was the label we should have signed with in the first instance and, although I don’t like to live in regret, that is one of my biggest “ah well” moments of the band.
Now we had a bit of a following in Europe, a Swedish label, a German manager and a new German publishing deal with the company behind the Wacken festival, things were finally looking up. Or at least they were, right up to the point where I had to fire the guitar player. Unfortunately, his ego had gotten the better of him and he felt he deserved a larger share of the pie, which had always been split evenly among band members. This did not sit well and, when an ultimatum was issued, his bluff was called and he got his marching orders. A real shame.
This gave us a matter of weeks to find a new guitar player, get them up to speed with all of our songs, teach them the material which had not yet been recorded and generally break them in. Rob Riot fulfilled that role and entered at what would turn out to be the most exciting period in the band’s life.
After seeing the “Anvil” movie, I got in touch with producer Chris Tsangarides. He was in the movie as he had produced Anvil’s early albums. In the intervening years, he had become a Grammy nominated producer and I determined he was the one for us. Luckily, we could afford him so dates were booked to record the album “Normalityville Horror”.
Nineteen days is what it took to record that album, with me present for just about every second of it. I loved the whole process, loved hanging with CT and it remains the best time I had in the band. Within a day or two of the album being finished, Rob had his debut with us at the Hard Rock Hell Roadtrip Festival in Ibiza! Just as the tan was fading from that, we headed off to play a festival on the Channel Island of Guernsey arriving back in time to mix the album and get it mastered. You see, we were booked to play at Wacken in Germany. Anyone reading this who knows what Wacken is knows what a Huge Fucking Deal that is!
The hope was it would lead to a deal for the second album. It didn’t, but noises made by Chris during the recording of “Normalityville Horror” suggested that he was starting his own label and wanted us on board. This became reality early in 2012 when we signed to Dark Lord Records, the label set up by Chris and Strawbs founder/frontman Dave Cousins. Artwork complete, video shot, single released and then the album itself…
My book – “A Life Amid Crisis” – documents the years 2010-2014 in detail so I won’t go into it here. At the time, we all thought it was the start of something really big. As it turns out, it was the beginning of the end which, although never officially called was, for all intents and purposes, 2014.