The Slits; Unleashed Animal
It’s been 30 years since the release of The Slits’ influential debut album, Cut. Ari Up, only 14 years old when she started the group, was a woman destined for greatness––after all, she grew up in a household that became a stomping ground for punks and, well … her stepfather was Johnny fucking Rotten of the Sex Pistols. In 1981, The Slits released their sophomore album, Return of the Giant Slits, and split shortly after. These chicks left their mark and inspired a whole generation of bands like The Gossip, Le Tigre and Sonic Youth and even spurred the riot grrrl movement of the 90s. In 2005, Up reformed the band with original Slit Tessa Pollitt and brought a few new members aboard. Together, they are about to release The Slits’ first full-length album in 25 years titled Trapped Animal. I had the awesome opportunity to interview Ari. I had a feeling it was going to be an entertaining conversation … and she didn’t disappoint.
SLUG: Why do you think The Slits are still making an impression on music today?
Ari: The Slits provide something deeper for specifically, women, but even guys, too. I think people have grown [in] appreciation over the years, especially due to the riot grrrl movement. We have to thank them––we should make a tribute to them. I’ve always wanted to do some kind of convention like the Star Trek people have … a Trekkie convention.
SLUG: Like a Slitsicon?
Ari: Yeah … a Slits convention … all these girl groups come and play, old and new … I just want a whole bunch of people. There are some of these girl groups that I really like, I even appreciate something like the Pussycat Dolls’ music. I don’t mind these girls who are just singers and get produced by industry. They sound good, they look good and they got to get by, right?
SLUG: Uh … sure.
Ari: Good power to them, but it is really difficult when there’s only space for those types of groups. It’s very important that The Slits exist and that we’re out there––it gives something to girls and it empowers them.
SLUG: The Slits split in 1982. Why did you and Tessa Pollitt wait until 2005 to reform the group?
Ari: The Slits just haven’t finished their mission. This is our purpose. We are supposed to be doing music in such an important female group. It’s bigger than life now—it’s become a responsibility. There are too many people into it and dependent on it.
SLUG: What was the writing process like on the new album, Trapped Animal?
Ari: I’ve written it, basically. The rest of the band, they are not in the flow right now. Tessa’s picking it up slowly but surely. With Hollie [Cook, (daughter of Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols)], I had to force her to show me a song. She is reluctant to show me anything. When she finally did sing to me, I told her it was lovely and I wrote a bass line and beat for it and it ended up being the track “Cry” on the new album.
SLUG: That’s the nice downbeat track at the end?
Ari: Yeah, I really pushed it into her. She didn’t have the confidence. Tessa also didn’t have the confidence, which isn’t true [to her character], because back in the day, she would just whip up a great bass line and contribute to a lot of great melodies. Tessa and I wrote the melody for “Had A Day.” The next album, she’ll have a lot more songs.
SLUG: So there will be another Slits album?
Ari: Oh yes … I’ve got a million songs. I did write some new ones for Trapped Animal—for instance, “Pay Rent” and “Lazy Slam” were written very recently.
SLUG: I personally enjoy the title track, “Trapped Animal.” It’s different for The Slits.
Ari: Yeah, that’s really a great one. It gets pretty funky in the verse, right?
SLUG: Oh, yeah.
Ari: It’s like the musical Oliver. Hollie sings that bit, you know? She sings the verses while the rest of us sing backing vocals. We deliberately made it sound like a musical.
SLUG: I also enjoy “Issues”––the subject matter is about abuse. Where did the viewpoint come from?
Ari: Oh, I’m glad you really like “Issues.” I think that might be my favorite. I went through relationships like that. What I like about “Issues” is it’s an unpredictable sound … it’s like a poppy R&B song, which is not expected by The Slits. I liked the contrast of the poppy sound with the controversial lyrics.
SLUG: Have you read the upcoming book, Typical Girls? The Story of The Slits, by Zoë Street Howe, and what are your thoughts on it?
Ari: Basically, any press or any book about us at this time is good, but I haven’t read it. It’s good to be remembered—in one way we are remembered as a band, in another way we’ve been written out of history. In every punk book … there’s hardly any mention of The Slits and the whole reggae punk connection. There’s a link missing—I think The Slits are the link.
SLUG: So you’re concerned about having your place in punk history?
Ari: Not only punk history, but as a phenomenon-changing band altogether. Nothing was the same after us. We changed the way women dressed and the attitude about wearing clothes and hair. It changed through us—what we did changed music forever.
Listen to The Slits’ new album, Trapped Animal below.