On a frigid February night, we sat down with Ryan Wise and Kristoffer Dover over a beer at the Jackpot, cramming their surly and viking-like frames into a booth, to discuss their upcoming aspirations. But for the most part, they discussed what irritates them. Part of this agitation is what prompted the two to come together and form one of the few solid rock bands in Lawrence.
The two are fairly active in the scene (Wise has been a sound engineer for several years), so they’ve both seen their fair share of cringe-worthy performances in the area. They made a pact to study other bands’ mistakes, and then steer clear of them. “We’re not wasting anyone’s time,” says Wise. “I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve seen where the band is going through all the same motions that bad bands do. Asking people to come up front, or play for an hour when you’re a local act, or play Journey covers. We just go right for it.” Dover agreed, “We’re not making music to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation, or desperate for attention.”
But, if anything, their bad tempers are what makes their songs so great. We’ve seen them scold each other during a performance, even storm off at one point. Being this frank with each other is what gets the job done. “I think we operate like brothers. I could kick hiss ass anytime,” Dover boasts. “I mostly want to kick his ass half the time.” Wise shrugs and agrees. “It’s great because when we get pissed off, it’s usually the birth of a song.” Dover pointed out this is the main reason they are, and will remain, a two-piece. “We don’t have to tiptoe through the tulips around each other. I don’t want any asshole’s opinion. If I’m doing something he doesn’t like, he’ll just tell me. We don’t care. It’s kind of like a married couple can argue and get things accomplished because you’ll still be married… even if it takes you four days to get over the argument.”
Finding A Method
One thing the crotchety musicians did agree on, however, was the new direction they took with their music last year. They put out The Loser EP after recording with Joel Nanos at Element Recording in Kansas City. This revolutionized their sound, and for the first time the band was happy with their work (so much so that they took down all previous recordings they had online). “We started working with Joel Nanos on The Loser EP, and we really liked his production method,” says Wise. “He gave us a fuzzier, well-rounded vocal and guitar sound that’s fatter.”
So now the band has their sights set on a new record (or three EPs, depending on their mood), and a slew of performances scheduled for the Spring. They’ll be headlining both I Heart Local Music showcases at SXSW and Middle of the Map Fest. But first, they’re heading to I Heart Local Muisc’s SXSW Bound Festival at the Jackpot on February 27th and 28th. That’s where they’ll debut (finally) some new music. The last time they played this event, all hell broke loose with their fans, and at some point one tried to chuck a monitor up at Wise while he was playing.
That’s a major attraction at The Sluts’ live shows. Their fans are absolutely out of their minds. If you go to a Sluts show, you will most likely get knocked around (just go with it). Their fans are a little bit intimidating, but definitely part of the draw. “They are awesome,” says Wise, recalling some of the wilder audiences. “There’s a few playful ones up from that like to lightly toss each other around… we just wanted to entertain people in bars.” Dover interjects, “It seems to me like all the best music fans in Lawrence have become Sluts fans that come out to our shows, and that’s the truth, man. Those 30 people that are up front, I’ve never put up that kind of energy at a concert.”
With all this support at their shows, as well as notable live events on the horizon, The Sluts say they never really planned to get this far. Dover says their biggest goals for the band have already happened, and everything else is just icing on the cake. “All we ever wanted was to play the Replay on a Friday night to people that we don’t know. That was our original definition of success, and we’ve been doing that for at least a year now. We’re just sitting on a golden egg, if you ask me.” But for Wise, the product means a little more. “It’s important to me because it’s my main creative outlet, is to write songs,” he says. “Going to play on Saturdays is a big deal to me. When it doesn’t happen, I’m bummed. We don’t do a lot of scheming to get rich off of this… We’re just going to keep doing this until the cool kids stop coming out or we’re just tired.”
Without a doubt, the kids will keep coming out for now. You can join them on Saturday, February 28th, at the Jackpot for I Heart Local Music’s “SXSW Bound.”
Words and photos by Fally Afani