Photo by Chris Sikich
“I do what I want. I say what I want. I wear what I want.” Those are the words of Leah Wellbaum, guitarist and vocalist of the band Slothrust. This lyric derives from their track “Double Down”, off of their fourth (and most recent) record, The Pact. Leah uses that individualistic approach not only with her music, but with her art as well. Leah’s art ranges from intriguing marker-work with reoccurring themes of living species, to designing merch for the band.
Infusing different elements into their music, Slothrust (Wellbaum, drummer Will Gorin, and bassist Kyle Bann) utilize their background in music to truly make one-of-a-kind pieces that keep listeners on their toes. Slothrust’s newest single, “Cranium”, does just that. Proving that they cannot be confined to a particular genre, Slothrust push themselves with their new single, showing that their creative direction is something to anticipate.
Leah was kind enough to sit down and talk with us, as we discussed band progression, name origin, art, identities, and what it takes to truly make scenes safer.
Where did the name Slothrust come from?
The name is more or less nonsense. I used to make music under "Slothbox" by myself originally and then with Slothrust, I just liked the way the word looked. I love band names that have a word that feels like a picture and makes it stand out.
When making music, is it more about instinct or do you find yourself relying on your formal music training?
I think it’s a combination of all of that. There are definitely songs that I’ve written with the knowledge of what I’m doing theoretically and have intentionally created changes that push things harmonically for me. But I also read a lot of music intuitively, and I’m not thinking about the analytics when I do that. It ends up being a hybrid of all of that but in the end, I treat each song like its own piece of art. You kind of have to try and let it finish itself. The more I try and do that the more it’ll blossom into its best form.
Slothrust’s sound is unique and constantly changing. Is that a conscious decision every time you make new music?
Yeah, I personally really enjoy pushing into new territory with each song and really embracing the differences between them and seeing where you can take them. There are different influences in each song and record and it’s what makes it interesting. You pick up something different when you listen, and it makes each piece special. It’s just not the same format each time.
How do you find inspiration for your songs? Do they come to you randomly or do you set aside time to focus strictly on brainstorming and writing?
I definitely get my ideas randomly I would say. I don’t have a particular amount of control as to when that happens. This next record we have coming out has two different songs on it that just came to me when I was in nature and didn’t have any instrument or anything like that. The songs just came through and I made some notes in my phone and didn’t revisit it until weeks later. That’s honestly some of the most satisfying writing I would say, when it just flows through you and you’re just truly inspired.
Authenticity and being true to your convictions play a huge part in your music. How important is it to you to be vulnerable and really submerge yourself in what you’re creating?
I think a lot of people would say that vulnerability is what makes great art, for sure. I just don’t really think about it in the process for me, what is the most effective process is to keep flowing and moving with everything and not think about the intention as it’s going as much. There are times that I am very, very intentional during my process. But I find that I am my highest functioning and create material that feels the most authentic to me when I’m not censoring myself at all. I have no obligation to anyone to put something out if I don’t want to. I think about that when I’m going back and sorting through my work, vulnerability is always going to be relevant in some capacity.
You’re also an artist as well and do a lot of commission work, how’d you get involved in that?
I’ve always been really into art. I was one of those kids that was attracted to crafting in general and that’s something I’ve brought with me into my adult life. I love ink and have been obsessed with markers for as long as I can remember. I love the way the ink saturates the page and it’s always something I’ve been drawn to. I didn’t go to art school or have any type of formal training in art, it was just something I’ve developed myself and it’s always a fun process creating something and working with someone on a commission. Taking an idea someone has and re-imagining it into something that still feels collaborative, like we’re both drawing on the page, is a great feeling.
There’s been some progression in the scene in terms of calling out harmful behavior such as violence, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. but there’s always room for improvement. How do you think we can move forward to make scenes safer in that way?
I think one huge thing I don’t hear people talk about enough are the venues. You need to be accountable for a lot as an artist. I’ll do everything I can to keep people safe at our shows and I hopefully attract people that have a similar ethos. But it’s really the venues who need to be on top of the treatment of people and holding everyone accountable. They need to make sure everyone is safe in those spaces, from the artists, to the bartenders, to the people attending the show. Call out the behavior and have the integrity to be a good human and make sure everyone in the space feels safe. On top of that, I think taking the time to explain to whoever is causing the issue why they’re making someone uncomfortable is really important. It takes a certain level and style of communication I don’t think is easy, it can actually be exhausting at times, but having that conversation and saying “Hey, you know what? I don’t appreciate what you just did, or the way you touched me.” The more people can start doing this and get on board, the better chance we have of seeing some changes.
Has there been anything you’ve learned about yourself in the last year during the pandemic?
There’s been things I’ve been forced to come out of denial about. It’s harder to cover it up when you’re with yourself all the time. I’m used to being on the road a lot of the year and being really active in entertainment so when that’s taken away, you see what it is you’re working with. It can be very uncomfortable at times, but you’re also kidding yourself to think that it’s not there. I’m trying to move into a space where I can be really honest with myself as things come up and recognize where I still have things to work on. I think a lot of people in the industry have had to face that over the last year because music really is your identity. You’re making music, you’re on the road, you’re doing all of these things for the band and yourself as a musician and now that it’s been taken away, we’ve kind of had to figure out who we are outside of that realm. It’s almost been like a new awakening for a lot of people.
What’s next for Slothrust?
We’re just focusing on the new record right now. We’ll be making some music videos which will be really fun. Videos for me are a great opportunity to explore something I’m personally curious about with the support of a team behind you.