“Seminal album” is an overused phrase in the vernacular of music reviewers and audio snobs. The word “seminal” itself is another way of saying influential, shaping, determining, etc. “Seminal album” is a description tagged on too many records these days, especially when talking about music recorded after the 1970s. Very few albums in the last few decades have truly influenced, shaped, or determined the way we play and/or listen to music. But there is an album that wholly deserves the “seminal” tag: the 1991 album, Spiderland by the Kentucky quartet, Slint. This is a record that changed everything.
Spiderland sounds otherworldly, as if alien musicians with superior brainpower disguised themselves as teenagers from Kentucky, and decided to make an album. Blending spoken word storytelling and angst-ridden screaming/singing over a musical landscape of quiet, inflective background layers that explode into loud-as-fuck bombastic crescendos, Slint rewrote the book of indie rock with this six-song masterpiece.
For reasons yet to be fully explained by the band, Slint broke up before Spiderland was even released, spawning conspiracy theories and only serving to grow the legend of this mysterious and almost mythological band.
With full disclosure, I will say that Spiderland is among my top favorite albums of all time, with the opening track, “Breadcrumb Trail” also holding a highly-rated spot on my short list of favorite songs ever recorded. I am emotionally moved every time I play this song and it lasts all the way through the album. Slint has reformed once for a short tour, but since then, all has been quiet in Slint-land. Then, out of the blue, there was a huge announcement. The big news is that Slint is on the verge of releasing a Spiderland box set along with a full-length documentary about the making of this album. My inner teenager just shit a brick, my favorite album by my favorite band, re-mastered and packaged with three CDs, a 104-page book of never-before-seen photos, two 180-gram vinyl albums, the 90-minute documentary, and more! I immediately forked over the 180 bucks and begged the label for an interview with the band and got it. The second before getting on the phone with my ultimate musical hero, Brian McMahon (singer/guitarist of Slint) I got super nervous and star struck, I could barely talk, I sucked and blew the interview. I guess it’s okay, but it would have been so much better if I didn’t act like such a fanboy.—Chris Cote
Why does this album have the staying power and effect that it’s had?
Well, I guess it’s its simplicity; in a lot of ways, it’s a really direct record. It seemed like we did our best to make the themes and content as universal as we could for kids our age–20, 21 at the time. We were trying to write a record that would stand up next to the things we loved. We did our best to make a classic record, (laughs) but we didn’t have any misconceptions, we didn’t play out a lot, and we didn’t get a lot of positive feedback when we did.
When I saw the teaser for the Spiderland documentary, I was shocked at how young you guys were when you made that album. I was 15 or 16 when I first heard Spiderland, and I thought for sure the guys making that music were like, adults or something. It tripped me out when I realized how young you were when you recorded that stuff—how did such mature music come from four kids from Kentucky?
You got me. We were weird kids. We knew what we liked and we were driven to be as good as we could be as a band and as musicians. I think we just had a goal of making a solid record and we did what we could to achieve it, even if that meant locking ourselves in a basement for months on end.
What was the band’s vibe when Spiderland came out? How did the general public react?
There were both positive and negative reviews. It’s not like it was a huge seller, and we actually broke up before the record was even released. We were happy with the result, but on the tours we had done before—we played some shows and house parties—it was hard for us to figure out if we would ever be able to work with a wider audience. As far as the band vibe went, after the record, things just kind of petered out because we all felt like we had achieved our goal to make an album we could all be proud of. Maybe we felt like we needed to move on. It’s been a long time.
I’ve heard a few conspiracy theories explaining the reasons why the band broke up, but there never really seemed to be an explanation from the band itself, which adds to the almost mythic and mystical aura of Slint—have you heard any theories or reasons why you guys broke up that tripped you out?
I mean, in the scheme of band mythology, not really. Thing is, there are much crazier realities to what happened than the myths that I’ve heard proposed about what happened to Slint and why the band broke up. You’ll have to watch the documentary to get the whole story.
What memories came back while revisiting that time during the process of collecting materials for the documentary and book?
It’s been really rewarding and I can’t say enough about the work that Jeremy Devine as well as Todd [Brashear] did; they pretty much instigated the whole project. Those two put a lot into it, which helped to facilitate and get myself and the other band members focused on finishing this whole thing. I can’t tell you how pleased I am with the box set and how accurately it captures the simplicity that we were working with on an artistic level. There are mixed emotions when I go through all that history—it was a crazy time.
What emotions do you have when you hear Spiderland today?
Well, it’s an intense record, and the re-mastering sounds amazing. I have to hand it to Bob Weston; he did a great job and the album sounds incredible. It’s a strange feeling. It’s still something from in our past and we’ve all done a range of other projects. So it’s not something that I feel stuck on, but it’s a really good document that has stood up through time. I’m very proud of it.
Well, here goes my fanboy moment. Thanks for making an album that changed my life. Spiderland marks a very specific sea change in my life, my musical direction, my emotional growth, and really showed myself and my friends a whole new world. Sorry if that’s weird, just had to throw that out there.
Man, thank you so much. That means a lot.