Slothrust, the blues-grunge trio of singer-guitarist Leah Wellbaum, bassist Kyle Bann, and drummer Will Gorin, used to be a Brooklyn band. They moved here in 2011 after graduating from college, spending the next few years grinding through three or four shows every week on stages across town. Their fanbase grew as more people came to appreciate a sound that has been described as what would happen if Kurt Cobain learned guitar from BB King and then hired Metallica’s rhythm section.
But Slothrust haven’t really called this place home for a while: Wellbaum decamped for Los Angeles earlier this year, and Bann and Gorin, who’ve been living in Philadelphia lately, are soon to follow. “Honestly, I just like having space, and not having to interact with so many people in a day,” Wellbaum tells the Voice of her relocation. “In Brooklyn, I had a room with no windows, and in between tours I was coming back to a situation that didn’t feel like a good space to create in. Now I have that.”
So, when Wellbaum and her bandmates headline Rough Trade on November 1 to celebrate the release of their new album, Everyone Else, it will be a homecoming — and also a farewell — for a band that, having outgrown New York, is navigating a future far from the place where they matured.
“They just played everywhere,” says Mal Blum, a songwriter who has toured with Slothrust, of the band’s early days in New York. “Bars and venues where the sound sucks and you’re not getting a fair cut of anything and it’s just a grueling hustle.” It served the band well: Slothrust concerts today showcase the group’s telepathic anticipation of each other’s moves, the crushing precision of the rhythm section opening space for Wellbaum’s shredding guitar solos. “New York is a great place to cut your teeth, because you can play seven nights a week if you want to, and you can’t do that in almost any other city in the U.S.,” Wellbaum says. “But once you start drawing a certain number of people, the bigger rooms that can accommodate that don’t want you to play that much.”
Slothrust’s affection for loud-quiet-loud dynamics, classic-rock-meets-metal riffs, and lyrical alienation sometimes get the trio siloed as a grunge revival act. That’s not inaccurate — Wellbaum cites Nirvana, Hole, and the Pixies as inspirations — but it fails to capture the band’s frothing superabundance of stylistic influences. They’ve covered “Electric Funeral,” “Happy Together,” and “…Baby One More Time,” inflecting each with a dry delivery and thunderous crescendos. At Sarah Lawrence, where the trio met as music majors, they bonded over a shared love of jazz and were briefly part of a hip-hop band. A Spotify playlist they posted this month of their tour-van listening preferences ranges from Chopin to D’Angelo to Pavement.
With their instrumental virtuosity and lockstep navigation through swerving signatures, Slothrust is too technically disciplined to bear much musical similarity to the shambolic slack of that last act, but Wellbaum does have a Malkmusian lyrical tendency, disguising her punches with off-kilter humor. “I like cats — do you like cats? Of course you do, you sassy motherfucker,” she sings on “Crockpot,” a song off their second record. “People who don’t have a sense of humor drive me insane,” she says. “The darker stuff is kind of the funniest, because it’s relatable in ways you don’t really want it to be.”
Everyone Else was tracked last June, and the band spent much of the following year-plus interval obsessively working to achieve the sound they had in mind. The result is the apotheosis of a Slothrust album: Tender fingerpicking passages lurch into crashing speed-metal crescendos, loping country-western equestrian odes edge into menacing horror-movie pizzicato and back again. Wellbaum’s deep, earthy vocals are as deadpan as ever, but her lyrics have become more contemplative. As she sings on “Horseshoe Crab,” “Sometimes I think that I’m a horseshoe crab/I don’t have anything in common with myself, except that I came from the sea like everyone else did.”
As the band gigs its way across the country back to New York, their thoughts are turning to the next phase of their careers. Gorin says he’s eager to start touring outside America — “ready to see the rest of the world.” Wellbaum, at 27, wants the band’s success to be sustainable, not destructive. “So many of the musicians I admire get sick and die because they have mental health
issues or drug problems,” she says. “It’s been hard to find people that you can look up to outside of their musical ability, and to be like, also, their life landed OK.”