Spanish Love Songs: “Who doesn’t want to sing along to something terrible?”

A night in Amsterdam with pop-punk's most "mildly inconvenienced artists"

Spanish Love Songs: “Who doesn’t want to sing along to something terrible?”

By Rob Barbour

Aug 10, 2023 11:10

It’s a balmy Thursday evening in early July and merrymakers crowd the narrow streets of Amsterdam. Enjoying a fleeting taste of Summer, the city’s outdoor terraces are packed out, leaving many of its tiny bars themselves empty. At the back of one such bar, in the trendy De Pijp district, Spanish Love Songs frontman Dylan Slocum, along with keyboardist/guitarist/general vibe merchant Meredith Van Woert, has found the quietest spot in an already quiet spot.

A typical Dutch “brown café” – not a euphemism – Café Gollem serves modest pours of deceptively strong regional beers which go down like lemonade and hit like prescription-only sedatives. Empty bottles bedaubed with candle wax huddle on the dusty wooden shelves lining its dark mustard walls, the decor reflecting the bar’s weeknight vibe – easygoing and quiet. Muted, even. 

In theory, it’s the ideal venue for a long conversation about Spanish Love Songs’ remarkable new album, ‘No Joy’. That is until the only other patron in the bar begins a Facetime call with his phone speaker at maximum volume. 

“If you want to know the true essence of me,” Slocum says, “it’s that every time I hear that sound, I’m flexing with anger.”

He pauses for a split second before taking a second pass at that last phrase.  

“I’m hulking out emotionally.”

Understated yet comically exaggerated, it’s a characteristic response from the singer, songwriter, and creative force behind the Los Angeles quintet. A physically imposing presence – there’s a reason the band’s 2015 début album was called ‘Giant Sings the Blues’ – in person, Slocum is reflective, funny, and pathologically self-aware. 

There is a perception in certain quarters – of Spanish Love Songs generally, and of Dylan specifically – as being overtly serious and self-consciously miserablist. Fuelled by his unflinching lyrics about depression, addiction and late-stage capitalism, there’s a sense that Slocum is shouldering the burden of conveying not just his own trauma but that of a generation. One recent review described him as “the first poet laureate of late millennial malaise.”

“Who the fuck wrote that?” He asks, laughing. “Listen – I like the hype. I love being talked about as a writer. I’m a narcissist, it’s fine. But it’s also silly because on the one hand, no I’m not! I play in a shitty band! I’m writing stupid songs. On the other hand; Yeah, sure. Make me feel important!”

It’s certainly hard to reconcile who and what people might assume Spanish Love Songs to be with the two goofballs sitting across the table. Over the course of an hour they – among many other things – praise Blink-182 as “high-level comedians”, conceive of a Car Seat Headrest cover band called “Car Crash Singalong”, and describe their career using multiple, protracted references to the 2016 movie ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’. 

As a writer himself, Slocum is conscious of how his words might be represented in print. He chooses them carefully, even editing his own grammar in real-time (“I can’t be on the record sounding like an idiot!”). He’s also disarmingly forthright in a way many musicians seem wary of being. 

“I love to feel important, and I also never want to talk about how good it makes me feel that people like our band. But also, we’re not shy about the fact that we want to be loved.”

He pauses again, aware that he’s about to deliver the kind of pull-quote that gets used to promote features like this one.

“What’s the fucking point of being in a band if you don’t want to be the biggest band on Earth?”

The next step towards Spanish Love Songs’ world domination is the release of their fourth album, ‘No Joy’. Having been robbed of the chance to promote 2020 masterpiece ‘Brave Faces Everyone’, a should-have-been breakout album whose touring cycle was kiboshed by Covid, Slocum’s taking this one in his stride. 

“I’m not going to be dramatic,” he says. “I’m happier with this album than I was with the last one, so that’s a positive spin on it. And we grew a little bit over the pandemic so it’s not like we were just stagnant. People discovered us.”

That’s not surprising considering that Spanish Love Songs inadvertently wrote the perfect soundtrack for facing an uncertain future, feeling isolated and afraid. For many people, ‘Brave Faces Everyone’ was THE pandemic album, which speaks to a key pillar of the band’s appeal; the ability to write deeply personal songs about highly specific situations which nonetheless feel like universal experiences. 

In fact, Van Woert considers lyrics to be so key to the band’s appeal that their fanbase can be divided into two distinct cohorts; those interested purely in the music, and what she describes as “lyrics fans”. It’s this second group who she thinks have found ‘Brave Faces Everyone’ to be such a salve over the last three years. 

“Predict is the wrong word,” she explains, “but the album came out and then a pandemic hit. And people felt like, “Damn! How did you know this was gonna happen?” Because all those songs related to how they felt during the pandemic. And I think there are things on the new album, post-pandemic, that people will find a way to relate to.” 

“Yeah,” Slocum agrees. “The whole point of the lyrics are to be so specific to my own life that it almost becomes general to someone who’s hearing them. Because they have no fucking clue!” 

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the assumption that he’s always writing about himself, or from his own perspective. While that was true on their first two albums, his writing on ‘‘Brave Faces Everyone’ and to an even greater extent ‘No Joy’ is more concerned with telling stories. I suggest that their brand might be too well established for people to fully process this transition. 

“Storytelling is cool but I also don’t give a shit about some story if you’re not in it. There are two different parts to it. Sometimes I’m very obviously telling a story, but from a first-person perspective so people are like “Oh that’s clearly you”. And other times I’m saying “you”, in the second person, but I’m actually talking about myself – looking at myself and criticising myself. Songwriting is personal, it feels like a poem and most of the time – lyrically, at least – it’s coming from a singular voice.”


As Meredith returns from the bar with three Ijwit beers – a speciality of Amsterdam’s own Brouwerij T’Ij, its ABV a robust 6.5% – Slocum expounds his thoughts on the relationship between artist and audience. 

“That’s the power of songwriting. It’s weird, because when someone writes a TV show you don’t think [‘Breaking Bad’ showrunner] Vince Gilligan must be selling meth!”

The obviously-autobiographical nature of Spanish Love Songs’ earlier material set a precedent, though, but it’s not something that overly concerns him. Like an actor inseparable from their highest-profile role, he explains, “you are the character that you’re playing – and singers are playing a character too.”

“I’m very clearly playing a character, but it’s not a big character. It’s the character of me in this band – because if I was myself all the time, it would be a disaster. I’m a human being. I can be annoying and weird. That’s not what people are at our show to see.”

“It’s a very emotional art form,” he concludes. 

Over the course of three albums, this approach has earned Spanish Love Songs a reputation for giving voice to the anger and frustration felt by a generation who grew up in the wake of 9/11 and graduated into a world forever transformed by the 2008 financial crash. But Dylan’s lyrics have always been set to recognisably pop-punk adjacent music. ‘No Joy’, however, is a very different proposition. 

“Some of our friends think the album is going to surprise people,” Dylan says with a smile. “In a good way.”

“Fans who are very much into the music will be surprised,” Meredith agrees. “It’s a lot more synth and a lot less guitar wall-of-sound.”

While it’s not exactly Radiohead following ‘OK Computer’ with ‘Kid A’, the album is nonetheless a departure: A shamelessly New Wave influenced indie-pop album on which Slocum has written the best songs of his career. While still unmistakably Spanish Love Songs, the distorted guitar hooks and barre chords that characterised their first three albums take a back seat to layered textures of synths and acoustic guitars. 

Given the band’s strong association with the pop-punk/emo scene and, more specifically, the bands to which they’re usually compared, this feels equal parts like an evolution, and a deliberate choice. 

“I think it was deliberate in the sense that none of us are satisfied repeating ourselves,” Slocum agrees. 

“Everything has been done musically. So we can do our thing but if we repeat what we did before, that had also already been done. So it’s really diminishing returns emotionally. Because it’s a copy of a copy of a copy… it gets boring.”

Instead, they leaned heavily into the influences of the Americana and 80s music on which they grew up. And perhaps more importantly, the instruments the band members had used to keep themselves entertained during their enforced hiatus. 

“We all bought a bunch of synths and toys and started fucking around with production techniques. I discovered my love for 80s new wave which was always my second musical love behind Bruce Springsteen. That’s a big part of it.”

“I have no knowledge of what people actually expect from our albums,” he continues, “I think what they might expect is for the song to just be really sad. And that’s kind of the baseline thing that needs to be there. I don’t think anyone’s like, ‘Ruben (Duarte) needs to be banging the shit out of the drums and there needs to be a wall of drop-D guitars. I don’t think there’s an expectation MUSICALLY to what we do.” 

I point out that, as usual, the internet might disagree. 

“There are people who still want us to be the Fest band that they fell in love with. But that’s… I’m a much different person now than I was when I was 28, you know?”

Van Woert acknowledges that fans who come to the band for guitar riffs and pacy pop-punk may be “surprised”, but the response to the four songs the band have already released suggests her theory about “lyrics fans” (perhaps better characterised as fans of songs over sound) holds true. As I write this, it’s less than 24 hours since ‘Marvel’ hit streaming services and Twitter (sorry, ‘X’) is already ablaze with memes based around its ear-worm refrain of “Stay alive out of spite”. 

Spanish Love Songs might have the strangest and darkest cathartic singalongs of any band around right now. It’s clearly something they discuss often. 

“I was listening to ‘No Joy’,” Van Woert says, turning to Slocum, “and on the bridge of the first song (‘Lifers’), you’re just describing a brutal car crash! “

“That’s definitely going to be a singalong,” he replies. “It’s a community, right? Who doesn’t want to sing along to something terrible?”

The band are rightfully feeling confident about the new album, and trust their fans to come on the journey with them. 

“People who come to the songs for the lyrics will get what they want,” she concludes. “And people who come for the music may or may not love it. I hope they do – but if they don’t, that’s fine too.”

Slocum, however, is less ambivalent. 

“If you come purely for the music, with no expectations, you should be the happiest you’ve ever been because musically, this album is way crazier than anything we’ve ever done. But if you come for a very specific type of music, you’re not gonna enjoy the album. And it’s fine. You can get off the train – it’s been nice, we love you, and we’ll still play some old songs.”

If you want to enjoy them as a band trapped in amber, playing pop-punk bops from 2018-20, that’s your prerogative. But Spanish Love Songs are looking to the future – a sustainable future. Dylan describes his ambitions with an unlikely frame of reference –  indie-folk band The Mountain Goats. 

“They’ve done what they want for thirty years. They’re at a level where they tour for half the year and spend the other half writing novels. That sounds like the dream.”

A large part of Spanish Love Songs’ appeal is in their lack of ego; having goals which are grounded in reality almost to a fault. But artists at their level are more concerned with the less glamorous side of rock’n’roll, like basic survival. They all have jobs outside of the band and although playing music full-time is the goal, Slocum is at a point in life where he’s not willing to suffer for his art. 

“Suffer is a strong word,” he reflects. “Be mildly inconvenienced.” Ah, yes. The romantic myth of the mildly inconvenienced artist. 

“Honestly! If there’s any description for me, as a human being, it’s “The Mildly Inconvenienced Artist”. Because it’s just music! I’m not doing anything of importance. The second it gets a tiny bit tough- I’m out.”

He also doesn’t want to be “forty years old, playing loud aggressive punk songs about getting divorced”. 

Flashing a grin, he glances at Meredith, his wife of almost three years. 

“Maybe I get divorced again..,” he jokes.

“Maybe you do, bitch!” 

As our conversation draws to a close, the natural storyteller can’t resist a final flourish to tie a bow on the tale of Spanish Love Songs’ evolution. 

“I have a very short amount of time on this planet and it’s getting shorter every day. And I have an infinite amount of things that I want to learn how to do. To waste my time writing the same song over and over and over seems like a waste of my time here. So I might as well try to do something that keeps me interested.”

He pauses one last time, aware that he’s about to deliver a trademark finishing move. 

“And when it’s done, it can just be done and I can go do something else. And then die.”

‘No Joy’ is released by Pure Noise Records on 25 August 2023