The Slits: Avenging the Past
2006-11-11

Back in the 70s, punk groups only had to waive an index finger or get into a fist fight to make headlines in one of the few select period publications. It sparked imaginative twists and legendary fodder for legions of fans seduced by their evocative actions. Simply put, snooty behavior was akin to a full-blown modern day promotional blitz. That probably remains true to this day, although you’ll need a lot more than crap shenanigans to leave a dent and remain stitched in the public’s consciousness— unless you’re an actual group from the 70s!

The Slits, a revered and highly influential group from punk’s finest period, have managed to maintain that endearing “fuck you” philosophy. After a 25-year hiatus, the Slits (featuring core members Ari-Up and Tessa Pollit) have returned to the scene with a rather charged North American tour, which seems to coincide with a recent 3-song EP called “Revenge of the Killer Slits”. Singer Ari-Up has since made it crystal clear that the tour was not some kind retro reunion, but rather a brand new revolution...

In hopes of relating the filth and the fury they shared during the early years of punk rock’s historic ascent between 1976 and 1979 to an all-new set of readers and listeners, I communicated with the group in the United States by telephone (the group’s immigration problems and sudden change of tour schedule had forced me to miss out of an anticipated in-person chat with the group). Traveling in a van somewhere in the state of New York, I spoke with Jennifer— the Slits’ tour manager— where we worked out an agreement for a (less than rewarding) email interview destined for Ari-Up. At this point, I still had high hopes she would unravel a landslide of unruly flashbacks.

The following day I received the completed email interview you’re about to read below. Though signed “Jennifer and the Slits”, it seemed apparent that the manager had dutifully answered the questions in her very own charming manner (and hopefully with the consent of the group). As you will accurately detect, she boasts a flat and extremely direct way with words— accusing me of living in the 70s somewhere in the process.

Despite the lackluster results, this remains a hilarious piece; especially when you compare my detailed and analytic questions next to Jennifer’s snappy low word count.

She did have a point; the majority of my questions and reflections did spring back to the group’s creative period in the 70s and early 80s. But to be realistic about all of this, the group had a mere 3-song EP to its name after a long 25-year absence; a release which actually featured “Number one enemy” (an unreleased 70s number with a revamped finish) performed with old-school buddies from groups like The Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees— so if you’re counting, that only makes two entirely new songs in twenty five years. So what the heck was I supposed to talk about, the strengths of Jamaica’s tourism industry? The eclectic variety of footwear one might find in their tour luggage?

Here’s the most charming interview on Panpot...thank you Jen and the Slits!


Before we get to the sounds you created some 25+ years ago, I want to touch on this new EP you’ve just released called “Revenge of the Killer Slits”. It’s a 3-song affair not to be confused with “The Return of the Giant Slits” from 1981. What were your intentions with this album? Had you decided to head into the recording studio long before agreeing to a North American tour?

Yes.

Your good friends The Sex Pistols returned to the scene on various occasions [beginning in 1996]. I think more people got the chance to see them on that first comeback tour than in the entirety of the 70’s. Did watching other similar groups rekindle the magic make it okay [or pave the way] for you to do the same?

No, we do what we want when we want.

‘Revenge of the Killer Slits’ features some big names from punk and post-punk history— notably Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Marco Pirroni (who’s performed with the likes of Adam & the Ants, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Sinead O’Connor). Was it just a matter of making a phone call?

We don’t use the phone, we use smoke signals and carrier pigeons.

I suppose this is a one-time deal?

Just like we said we do what we want when we want.

The Slits have always had this star connection— whether it was Palmolive and Viv playing alongside a young unknown Sid Vicious, or having reggae musician Prince Hammer or world-renowned trumpeter Don Cherry within the ranks. In the case of Don Cherry, or having famous reggae producer Dennis Bovell behind the board...did the record company make everything happen, or was it the group specifically requesting these associations?

See above.

In keeping with the new EP [Revenge of the Killer Slits], was getting someone [involved] that you already knew from that period of any real importance to you?

Sorry, what?

Judging from the three songs from “Revenge of the Killer Slits”- a lot of it sounds somewhat fresh and contemporary...”Kill them with love”, for example, sounds like something M.I.A. could have released...has that been a common observation to the new songs?

We live in the present.

25 years is quite a sabbatical. What’s life been like away from the spotlight?

Hectic.

I know Ari-Up now resides in Jamaica. Did the Slits penchant for “dub & reggae-inspired sounds” what drove you to discover Jamaica in the first place?

Reggae music was very much on the London scene in the mid to late 70’s and was much more interesting and inspiring than punk rock.

I heard that Tessa has become a lethal martial arts expert...what’s her domain of expertise?

Ass kicking stupid fucking questions.

You started out with the Slits sometime back in 1976 alongside the original wave of punk rockers...and amazingly you were just 14 years old. It sounds a bit strange, but it’s almost as if you grew up with the movement. Is that how you look back on it?

Yes.

The band has become widely recognized as one of the truly influential groups of its time...blending punk, reggae, dub and experimental tendencies for a very particular sound...The Clash also utilized Jamaican influences to great effect...how did reggae become so in vogue around that period in England?

Look it up.

The group also toured with the Clash, opening up for its famed 77 White Riot tour of England...what do you remember best from that experience?

Having a mud fight with Paul Simonon and being thrown out of the hotel as soon as we arrived and having to bribe the coach driver to take us on the coach.

That must have been the point when things started to break for the Slits?

It broke straight away.

You apparently weren’t very good musicians in the early going...how much of what’s been written about your musical abilities actually true?

Nothing.

You were mostly performing in small clubs in the earliest of days. What were some of those first concerts like?

Crazy like now.

Some recollections had you attacking bands like Sore Throat and Throbbing Gristle...was that just part of the shambolic experience?

I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Your debut full length titled ‘Cut’ remains your most celebrated work to date. It was released in 1979 on Island Records— quite late in the punk scheme of things. Some have ventured to make the analysis that only a group with limited skills could have created something so raw, inspiring and original...do you agree with that theory a little bit?

That music is very difficult to play, you should try it.

Aside from the music which included “greats” like “Instant Hit”, “So Tough”, and “Typical Girls”— the album cover for “Cut” was equally notorious for its bare-breasted picture of the group. With the power of hindsight— would you release the very same album cover if you had to do it over again?

Yes.

‘Return of the Giant Slits’ released in 1981 saw the group take on some new elements, such as African-influences and tempos. How can you best explain that evolution?

Evolution is natural.

The subject of female expression seems intertwined with your musical output...I’ve seen you highlighted by many female listeners with subject titles reading “Typical Girls”, etc. The inspiration is very clear. Did breaking through the obvious limitations on female musicians feel like a responsibility, or something you had to do?

There are no obvious limitations of female musicians.

Tell me the first thing that comes to mind when I say...

...THE PUNK ROCK MOVIE?

The one that we were in. Google it.

...JOHN PEEL?

RIP

...SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES? (Budgie, the group’s former drummer left the Slits for greener pastures)

He left for love.

...ADRIAN SHERWOOD?

We still work with him, he is family.

...CBS RECORDS?

Whatever.

...DON LETTS?

We still work with him, he is family.

What’s your fondest memory of JOE STRUMMER?

RIP

What records are you listening to now?

We are in the studio and we are listening to our own stuff right now, but everyday we listen to everything that was ever created...

Hope this helps, try to live in the present, the 70’s was a long time ago.

Thank You- The Slits



Interview by Eric Theriault