Spanish Love Songs: “I’ll never be comfortable with death. But it’s also freeing, because you might as well just do the things you love”

Los Angeles punk rockers Spanish Love Songs have always focused on the sad parts of life. But on their ironically-titled fourth album No Joy, vocalist Dylan Slocum is learning to enjoy them a little bit more.…

Spanish Love Songs: “I’ll never be comfortable with death. But it’s also freeing, because you might as well just do the things you love”
Mischa Pearlman
Hannah Hall

Ever since he can remember, Dylan Slocum has been obsessed with death. Not necessarily with dying – although that’s part of it – but just death as a concept and a concern. It’s something that’s always informed the lyrics he writes for Spanish Love Songs: a band that, generally, has served as a vehicle for addressing his existential anxiety, both on a personal level and a more universal one. The songs on their new album No Joy are, as its title kind of suggests, very much in the same vein.

But when Dylan first began talking to his band – original members Kyle McAulay (lead guitar) and Ruben Duarte (drums), who started Spanish Love Songs with Dylan back in 2013, and Trevor Dietrich (bass) and Meredith Van Woert (keyboards), both of whom joined in 2017 – he pitched it as something slightly different. It was, he told his bandmates and wife (he and Meredith tied the knot in October 2020), an album of love songs. They thought he was joking.

“I tend to want to write albums with a big idea behind them,” he explains over Zoom, wearing – surprisingly – a Slipknot T-shirt. “Not thematically, but just as a way to wrap my head around the work. And the pitch for this album was that I’m just going to write a bunch of love songs. And that’s really what this album is – it’s a bunch of love songs to people.”

Don’t be fooled, however. These are Spanish Love Songs-love songs. Which means most of them have a somewhat morbid undercurrent.

“It’s love songs how we do love songs,” Dylan continues. “Which is like, ‘Man, I love you so much and I’m terrified of the day you’re going to die,’ vs., like, ‘Oh, it’s Friday and I’m in love with you.’ I love The Cure, but I want the dark side of The Cure, you know?”

Dylan’s lifelong fear of mortality has forever been a motivating factor for his songwriting. And yet he hasn’t really managed to quell any of the dread that comes with it. It really only helps him come to terms with it temporarily.

“It just helps me get the thought off my mind,” he explains. “I don’t know what it came from or why it exists, but it comes through in the songs and I just handle it in that moment and say what needs be said and then move on – until the next time it comes up and feels too overwhelming.

“I talk to people all the time who are like, ‘I’m comfortable dying,’ or, ‘I’m fine with death,’ and I can’t wrap my head around ever being comfortable with it. It happens, obviously. But I have an endless amount of things that I want to do, and I have a finite amount of time to do them, and that’s very depressing to think about in those terms. But it’s also kind of freeing, because you might as well just do the things you love. It’s trying to find the joy in what you’re doing. It’s my attempt at positivity, I guess.”

The fact, then, that this fourth record – which follows 2015’s Giant Sings The Blues, 2018’s Schmaltz and 2020’s released-a-month-before-the-pandemic outing Brave Faces Everyone – is called No Joy both is and isn’t ironic. It leans purposefully into the sad bastard, emotive punk rock-playing group of bands they’ve been pigeonholed with – the not-sonically-dissimilar The Menzingers, Jawbreaker, The Lawrence Arms, Iron Chic, etc – but it’s also tongue-in-cheek and ironic. Because while No Joy is still riddled with those familiar fears and anxieties, it’s actually a rather more positive and defiant album than might be expected. More specifically, it feels like the band – and Dylan in particular – are more comfortable within their sadness. Is that a fair assessment?

“Yeah, I think so,” he answers rather chipperly. Indeed, in direct contrast to how Dylan sounds on his songs, in conversation he cuts an easygoing, even cheerful, figure. “That’s probably fair to pick up on, because I think it’s a much happier album overall. Well, not happier, but more hopeful, I guess. That’s probably a better way of putting it. I don’t think it’s devoid of joy. It’s more of a little joke, like, ‘Oh, here we are, the band that is so sad and here’s our album where there’s no joy to be found.’”

That place of self-aware irony is where the whole record is rooted. Dylan, who recently relocated to Nashville from LA with Meredith, says that for once he was actually in a pretty good place mentally and emotionally, and as a result he was able to take a step back and take stock of things from more of a distance. None of the dark stuff that plagues him had subsided particularly, but he nevertheless felt slightly more ready to tackle it.

“I was in a fine enough spot to see some things with some clarity,” he recalls. “The pandemic shut everything down, and then people that I loved started getting sick or dying. And that really puts things into perspective very quickly. And it just became about reconciling this idea – and this isn’t anything new – that I have everything that I love, and the things you love can disappear in a moment. So I can sit around and complain about things, or I can sit here and try to appreciate the things that I do have. I think it’s definitely an album based in that appreciation and the gratefulness for the people in my life and the things I get to do.”

With that newfound (semi-)positivity, comes a sonic confidence as well. No Joy is phenomenal record that builds on the foundations the band had set on their previous three albums, but takes it, noticeably, to another level. While Dylan’s ragged, broken vocals still dominate, the production sees Spanish Love Songs move – cautiously but firmly – more out of the punk rock paradigm and into something more anthemic and epic. These are deeply dynamic and textured songs, ones that sound like they’re full of the life that they’re mourning the passing of, songs that capture the futility and the folly and the harrowing beauty of life. And somewhere in there is that appreciation and hope. It’s not that SLS aren’t concerned about the same stuff, and it’s not as if Dylan has brushed all those deep-thinking fears of his shoulders. He’s still as obsessed with death as he ever was. He’s just going to try to look more on the bright side of the darkness, make the most of what happens before the end, instead of just focusing oblivion. After all, what use is there in worrying about things that are out of everybody’s control?

“My goal now,” he concludes, “is to make it to life expectancy age. If I can make it to 73 or 74 or whatever, which I’m sure will drop off drastically as the climate crisis escalates. I get stressed out constantly about climate change, but now I always just joke, ‘But what a privilege to get to see the end of the world.’ There’s been all of this time of human existence and we are the ones who get to watch it all fall apart and end completely. So that’s pretty cool, I guess. We could have died of cholera, but now we get to get to witness something together. It’s like the greatest punk show of all time, just the world ending…”

He trails off. He’s joking. Probably.

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