Spanish Love Songs: “It’s a very joyous album; there’s a lot of hope”

Spanish Love Songs embark on a profound and optimistic journey with their new album ‘No Joy,’ blending existential dread with themes of hope and compassion.

Words: Rob Mair.
Photo: Hannah Hall.

“If I was to constantly worry about the past, I’d be a wreck,” laughs Spanish Love Songs’ Dylan Slocum, with something of an air of resignation. “I’m really not concerned with looking back because there are so many things that you might do differently; it could drive you insane.”

While the Californian punks are the masters of existential dread, their new album ‘No Joy’ hits a little different – certainly compared to the bleak ‘Brave Faces Everyone’. Indeed, it’s not hard to see their latest album as something more profound – optimistic even – although you have to work through the layers to get there.

In fact, it’s not unrealistic to think of ‘No Joy’ as a companion piece to the Menzingers’ paean to lost youth, ‘After the Party’ – as if the two masterpieces form opposite sides of the same coin. But, instead of looking back at the past and lamenting what has been lost, as in the Menzingers’ opus, ‘No Joy’ is a record preoccupied with looking to the future and thinking about what you could lose.

Both come from the same starting point and share philosophies beyond the blue-collar punk rock lineage, but the destinations are poles apart. While the Menzingers fight against the passage of time, Spanish Love Songs (completed by keyboardist Meredith Van Woert, guitarist Kyle McAuley, bassist Trevor Dietrich, and drummer Ruben Duarte) want to savour every moment for fear of never experiencing it again.

“What became crystal clear to me is that I have things that I can lose, and it’s going to suck when I lose them,” says Dylan. “Sometimes, it’s easy to forget about all the things you have and the things you would hate to lose. The flip side of that is, of course, that there are people who would hate to lose you.

“So, I pitched it as a collection of love songs to the band, and no one believed me. It’s like, ‘This is going to hurt, I don’t want it to, but I know what I’m signing up for’. It’s like that old Death Cab For Cutie line, ‘Love is watching someone die’. This is the precursor to that.”

“I have things that I can lose, and it’s going to suck when I lose them”

Dylan Slocum

Between these two ideas – the reluctance to look back and the desire to hold on to what you have – Spanish Love Songs cover an awful lot of ground on ‘No Joy’. From the precariousness of life on ‘Lifers’ to the notion of dying alone in ‘Pendulum’, or putting dreams on hold in ‘Clean-up Crew’, it’s an album of few laughs but unbelievable thematic depths. They’ve never sounded better, too; the raw punk edges of ‘Schmalz’ and ‘Giant Sings The Blues’ have been appropriately shorn to be replaced by a sound indebted to 80s power-pop and glitzy new-wave as it is punk rock.

In the case of ‘Clean-up Crew’ – the musical and lyrical standout – it’s easy to see Dylan’s journey in that of the protagonist. From a potential career as a baseball pitcher, via a journalism major and Hollywood scriptwriter, his route to punk rock stardom has been anything but straightforward. He jokes that he’s taken a “really dumb path,” but through a song like ‘Clean-up Crew,’ he gets to ask, ‘What if I stopped chasing all these unrealistic goals and settled for something simpler?’

“I’ve spent every ounce of energy since I was 12 chasing some sort of dream that no sane person should be chasing,” says Dylan. “The point of ‘Clean-up Crew’ is just like, instead of looking at the past thinking ‘what would that version of me have looked like’, it’s about thinking, ‘What would the me who moved to Des Moines, Iowa and bought a house in the suburbs and tried to forget chasing these dreams look like’?  

“And I did that exercise, and I was absolutely terrified… I would love to do it, but it’s not how I’m wired. Most people don’t get to live out their dreams to the full extent, and I’m trying to do it for the fifth time. And I never made it any other time, so why should this time be any different? It’s the delusion of trying to make it work – like chasing the dream is the dream itself.”

Given this, it’s unsurprising to learn that compassion also plays a big part in the record – both in terms of being kind to yourself and others.

“I have things that I can lose, and it’s going to suck when I lose them”

Dylan Slocum

The album is bookended by the songs ‘Lifers’ and ‘Re-Emerging Signs of the Apocalypse’. The former features the line ‘Don’t write yourself out of the equation’, the latter ‘We’re all part of the equation’. Naturally, such a callback is deliberate, says Dylan. More such callbacks were planned, but Dylan jokes that “Other bands had done it better than us”. Nevertheless, such a trick plays well for someone with a literary background.

“I like to play around with words, like flipping a line or a sentence in a song on its head,” he says. “Those two in particular – like ‘Don’t write yourself out of the equation’ – it’s a nice way to remind someone that you’re important and that you play a part in this system; but then, in the last song, it’s like acknowledging I’m part of this system – and we’re all part of that same system, but it doesn’t always run correctly. It’s beautiful, and it’s terrible, and we need to remember our place in it.”

Given the layers to the songs on ‘No Joy’, there’s plenty for people to latch onto. Fans of wallowing in despair will find plenty to satiate their needs, while those who like things more optimistic will discover kernels of hope buried at the core of every song. Appropriately, Dylan’s not into telling people which is the truth, more that life is both awesome and awful in equal measure, and ‘No Joy’ reflects that dichotomy.

“’Brave Faces Everyone’ was a pretty depressing album,” he considers. “It ended up being more depressing than I intended. ‘Schmalz’ has some humour, but ‘Brave Faces…’, I can’t defend how crushing it is. On this one, the album title is meant to be a joke – or at least ironic – because it is a very joyous album, and there’s a lot of hope to be found in it.

“Somebody once asked me if I sit down and try and out-depress my previous stuff – and it’s a joke in the band, too – like every album must be more depressing than the last. This, I think, is a more hopeful album – and I hope people find that hope.”

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things,” goes the line in The Shawshank Redemption, as a way to close off the fact that the protagonist, Andy Dufresne, had to wade through literal shit to get to freedom. In some small way, this a parable on the journey of life; of appreciating the liberties and love it brings and being mindful of what you can lose if they’re taken away. Spanish Love Songs may, superficially at least, display all the hallmarks of an existential crisis set to three-minute punk songs, but hope, in some shape or form, continues to spring eternal at the core of their message. ■

Taken from the September 2023 edition of Upset. Spanish Love Songs’ album ‘No Joy’ is out 25th August.