The distorted haze of Eric Slick's 'New Age Rage' - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

“It’s kind of like Pee-wee’s Playhouse meets art-rock,” explains Eric Slick towards the end of our recent phone conversation. While he is ostensibly describing the show he will be putting on this upcoming Saturday at Johnny Brenda’s this is, in many ways, an excellent encapsulation of the Eric Slick solo project as a whole.

Slick is a lot of things — world-class drummer, generous collaborator, kind and thoughtful lifelong member of the Philly music scene, despite taking up residence in Nashville in more recent years — but what interests me most is his burgeoning skill as a pure showman, in every sense of the word. His latest record, New Age Rage is evidence of an artist coming into his own and embracing all that it means to be a frontman, to be the star of his own show, Pee-wee exploring the playhouse.

Eric Slick - Anxious to Please

“I had people tell me that drummers don’t write songs, so I just had it in my head that it wasn’t something I was able to do,” says Slick. You have to imagine this very bad advice has been given to countless drummers over the years, the kind of “know your place” nonsense that probably reveals more about the stunted career of the speaker than anything else. Still, Slick had a hard time wrestling himself free from these constraints. You would be forgiven if the only thing you know about Slick is the records he’s played on and not the records he has made himself. This is, after all, a drummer who has been a primary member of Philly legends Dr. Dog since 2010’s Shame, Shame, and has played on songs by everyone from War On Drugs, Robyn Hitchcock, and Taylor Swift. Thankfully, in 2017, Slick decided to fully exercise the demons introduced by all those naysayers with the release of his debut record Palisades, a reverb-soaked record of heavy themes and tight psych-rock.

He would follow this up in 2020 with Wiseacre, a creative left-turn which found Slick embracing the bubbly grooves and sugary choruses of love songs of yesteryear, establishing himself as a songwriter with few constraints. And while this hasn’t necessarily slowed down his penchant for collaboration, he is always, in the back of his mind, plotting his next move as a solo artist. “I am always thinking about the solo stuff because it is the thing that I hold nearest and dearest to my heart and the thing that I pour a lot of my energy into,” says Slick. “There was a time when I had a lot of fear about writing songs and I had anxiety about putting music out, so I think it is really important for me to keep doing it all while doing stuff that puts food on the table.”

Only four years have elapsed since Wiseacre but, as we all are well aware, those years have felt just a bit longer. I wouldn’t necessarily call Slick a person for whom rage seems to be a motivating principle, but we can all be forgiven for giving into its warm embrace from time to time. “I doom scroll just like everybody else does,” says Slick. But if there is a rage boiling underneath the songs on his new album, it is almost always tempered with some form of hope. “Lose Your Mind” is a song Slick has called the album’s manifesto, it’s ‘80-indebted dance-funk the backdrop to lines like “waters rising, not surprising, we’re still alive and so let’s dive in.” Sure, there’s a healthy bit of defeatism baked in there, but there is a fine line between acceptance and cynicism, one Slick saunters along with ease throughout New Age Rage. To do this, Slick sometimes looks backward, like on “Philadelphia Lights”, a song that takes Slick back to a time when the “sun was in the mirror, everything was so much clearer”. Elsewhere, he embraces pure silliness to combate new age anxiety, as on “Ratboy Two” which imagines a sequel (or maybe “squeakquel”?) to the bizarro 1986 cult movie Ratboy. “If I get trapped in the whole of being online all the time I would just get cynical. I try to balance everything with some form of hope because that is a survival tactic,” says Slick.

Eric Slick - Lose Our Minds

What makes New Age Rage so impressive, aside from the pure songcraft, is how committed Slick is to bringing his consistent vision to fruition. He is clearly someone who has thought a lot about how to properly package and present a record as a cohesive whole and this is especially evident on the music video’s released alongside the record’s first few singles. Though New Age Rage is acutely focused on our present moment, Slick cleverly uses signifiers of the past – namely the distorted haze of ‘80s technology – to comment on our current age.

“Typically when you see something that is a VHS aesthetic, it is nostalgic for the VHS era. And in my mind, you know, that time period has a lot of terrible stuff going on,” says Slick. For the “New Age Rage” video, he brought on Demi Adejuyigbe, a writer and comedian who has worked on everything from The Good Place to The Late Late Show with James Corden. Embracing just the kind of wary nostalgia that defines the record, Adejuyigbe’s take on the song lands somewhere between local-access television and ‘80s comedy romp with Slick as the butt of the joke. It’s in keeping with his time serving as a collaborator himself that Slick is quick to credit every single person who helped bring New Age Rage to life – including Speedy Ortiz’s Andy Moholt, Kacey Musgraves collaborator Kyle Ryan, and, of course, his wife Natalie Prass.

Of course, it is his vision that wins out, even if he is characteristically bashful about taking definitive credit. Nowhere is this more clear than when we discuss his plans for the New Age Rage tour, which will bring him to Johnny Brenda’s in just a few days. Slick uses “ambitious” a few times during this part of the conversation, often as a double edged sword. “I am psychotically tired right now,” says Slick who, as we speak, is putting the finishing touches on the performance he says was, in part, inspired by watching funk legends Earth, Wind & Fire. “I just wanted to give people a show. I could go up there and play the songs as a four piece band, but don’t know if I am captivating enough. I want to have it be something really fun and really joyful,” he says.

While you’ll have to make your way to the corner of Frankford and Girard to find out what exactly Slick has in store, promises of a multimedia experience, costume changes, and arena-rock grandeur surely whet the palette. “I am trying to challenge myself to put on a show that I would never do before,” says Slick. In many ways, this is the defining characteristic of both New Age Rage and Slick’s solo career as a whole. For someone who questioned whether he had what it took to strike out on his own as a solo artist, New Age Rage is a record brimming with the kind of confidence that can only come with time, naysayers be damned.

Eric Slick plays Johnny Brenda’s on Saturday, April 27th with Toby Leaman and Mavis The Dog. Tickets and more information on the show can be found at the WXPN Concert Calendar.

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