Interview: The Pastels on latest studio album Slow Summits
Stephen McRobbie on recent work and the Glasgow band's much-anticipated new material
This article is from 2013.
When confronted with a promise he made last time I interviewed him for The List in 2007, Stephen McRobbie, aka Stephen Pastel, smiles and squirms a little. ‘There will be new Pastels music released this year,’ he had assured us, referring to his band’s by then already long-awaited fifth studio album, the aptly-titled Slow Summits, which finally arrives this month. ‘I think we just sort of put it on ice a bit,’ McRobbie concedes, somewhat understatedly.
But it’s easy to forgive that, fairly spectacular, deadline fail, considering the myriad other ways in which he and his musical/life-partner, Pastels drummer Katrina Mitchell, have kept their share of Scotland’s creative lifeblood pumping in the meantime. Such as recording 2009’s spellbinding collaborative LP Two Sunsets with Japanese duo Tenniscoats, managing Domino imprint Geographic (most recent release: Electric Cables, by Teenage Fanclub/Pastels member Gerard Love’s Lightships) and co-running one of the UK’s last great independent record stores Monorail.
The Pastels might be British guitar music’s most misunderstood cult band. Widely considered the quintessential C86 shamblers, and credited as a major catalyst for a DIY indie movement that’s probably bigger today than ever, the Glaswegians tend more often to be judged by what they inspired than where they’re at. ‘Everybody likes to have a quick response to everything these days,’ says McRobbie, ‘and for us the response is often: “eh, C86, something indie.”’
But anyone familiar with the band’s output since the dissolution of the first Pastels line-up circa 1991 will recognise a shift away from trashy aesthetics, via the likes of their decorative score for David Mackenzie’s 2002 film The Last Great Wilderness, towards a sound on Slow Summits that’s sunnily melodic, softly psychedelic and, well, pretty groovy.
McRobbie identifies a particular standout characteristic of their recent work as being Tom Crossley’s fluttering flute, which beatifically brightens all from the mellow ‘Secret Music’ to the sassy ‘Check My Heart’. What would the Stephen Pastel of circa 1987 make of those songs? ‘Some things I’d find quite hippy maybe,’ he laughs.
The Pastels perform at Doune the Rabbit Hole