Around the summer of 2009, Kristin Newborn launched Slothpop as a planned “side project” in which she was joined by Dan Zender and Lauren Eison. The band's name was a nod to “Sloth,” a nickname Newborn earned for her admitted predilection for doing things at a laid-back pace. Slothpop would not stay an occasional distraction for long. ---
Today, it's full-fledged Indianapolis-based band that includes Newborn (on vocals, guitar and piano), Eison (vocals and violin), Zender (guitar), Bryan Unruh (drums and percussion), Jeff Vyain (cello) and Drew Malott (bass and vocals). The group's self-titled debut record was released at the beginning of January. Although Slothpop really hasn't been a band for very long, they play and write with seasoned prowess.
“I had this (band) envisioned as songs that I wrote years ago and I wanted to make something of ’em,” Newborn says, talking via speakerphone as her band congregates pre-practice on a Monday night. “We just got together and started to put them together and work our own colors in. After that happened, we started writing as a band and that worked amazingly. Probably my favorite songs now are the ones we created as a full band.”
At its most basic, Slothpop's sound is restrained Indie Pop. The arrangements are tempered and utilitarian in design, the melodies are sweetly sonorous but not overbearing and instruments move in and out with clockwork care. Nothing sounds like it was spawned on the fly. The overarching minimalism also means that you have to dig around for nuance and listen intently to soak it in. Slothpop's sound tends to not come to you; you have to get closer to it.
Even with that interest in precision, the band’s sound never feels lifeless.
Slothpop's most prominent tool is Newborn's voice — a multi-hued, breathy thing that resembles the voices of Regina Spektor and Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis. Newborn can keep her tone slow and bare, ratchet it up to where it’s on the verge of a warble or lean in on her voice like it's almost about to crack and pull back at the last moment. Eison is a nimble vocal complement, one that's especially good for harmonizing. Instrumentally, all the strings shine, retaining a clean glow. Distortion and feedback are akin to ghosts.
Over the handful of press published over Slothpop's young career, “dreamy” and other variations of the word frequently pop up in descriptions. There's definite merit to that idea, as the sextet's work is kind enough to cradle you and make you a feel bit mischievous, but it's not exactly going to toss you into nightmare territory. Amusingly, “Leaping Over Books,” one of the songs on Slothpop, was directly inspired by a dream had by Newborn. It involved various books, leaping over huge objects, a gray city, waiting in line and posters with images of herself on them.
“I don't really remember my dreams all that much,” she says, “but when I do, I try to create something out of it.”
In keeping with the idea of this dream taking up its own track, bassist Malott explains that the band attempts to compartmentalize each song into a separate zone.
“'Kokoro' is its own genre. 'Sailing Bird!' is its own genre, so in each song, we would try to put ourselves in the world that the band was creating before I joined it,” he says. “The first thing that happens on the record (on “One”) is a really mellow cello note and then a vocal with no guitar. That's the world happening on that song.”
Eison adds that the group also tries to capture the moods of moments by visualizing them.
“There's multiple times when we'll be writing a song and we're trying to think of a part and we'll be like, 'Well, you're in a forest, then you jump off a cliff and jump into the water, and this is what it feels like at that moment,' ” she says. “We create scenarios within our songs.”
While assembling “Joker,” Eison adds, Newborn told her bandmates to imagine the ending of the song as a building being demolished and walls crumbling. The final product is similar to that description, with a climax featuring instruments that grow louder and less restrained (even if they never wholly lose control).
Despite only having a year and a half behind them, Slothpop's work is tuneful and smart enough to hold legitimate potential for breakout success. Newborn notes that there have been a few changes for the band in that span, too.
“We used to be considered the most quiet band in Indianapolis, but now we're a little loud,” she says. “The way we can come into a practice and just start jamming out comes so easily now. We all have really great chemistry and have developed a close relationship outside of music. We're just going to keep going forward, I guess. That's all we can do.”
SLOTHPOP plays a free show 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine.