With his longtime band Scissor Sisters on a semi-permanent hiatus after 2012’s “Magic Hour” and accompanying tour, Derek “Del Marquis” Gruen faced a predicament when it came to determining the direction of his latest solo project. Would he release his latest album as Del Marquis, a follow-up to a quartet of EPs he released between 2008 and 2009, or pursue another direction?
After collaborating over a two-year period with musicians like Rod Thomas (a.k.a. Bright Light Bright Light), Xaxier, Mykal Kilgore, former Scissor Sister members Chrissi Poland and Bridget Barkan and members of Prince’s New Power Generation in between world tours, Gruen eventually compiled what became a new project called Slow Knights, whose debut album “Cosmos” was released Tuesday (Mar. 26) on iTunes and through the band’s website on limited edition vinyl. Lead single “Shame” is available for free download on the band’s SoundCloud page , and Billboard has an exclusive stream of album track “Under Attack,” featuring vocals from Bright Light Bright Light’s Thomas, below:
“There was nothing I wanted to do less than put out another solo record,” Gruen says. “I knew how I wanted it to sound, and once I got to a point where there were enough songs to qualify for a record I just felt that it was collaborative enough to not be my solo record. I just wanted to get rid of any ego.”
The album is rooted more in futuristic, 80s-evoking funk pop, a departure from Gruen’s work as Del Marquis, which fuses a more familiar Scissor Sisters dance sound with elements of early albums from groups like Everything But The Girl and Style Council. Vocals are handled by a rotating cast of characters, including Xavier, Poland, Barkan, Thomas and Gruen, who takes the lead on “Legendary Children” but largely stays on the sidelines for the album’s nine other cuts, giving the album the feel of a semi-obscure compilation you’d find advertised in an old issue of NME.
The project was an equally refreshing departure for Thomas, who’d previously collaborated with Gruen on his 2012 debut “Make Me Believe In Hope,” an album that dabbles more in 90s dance and U.K. soul compared to the futuristic 80s funk-pop fusions found on “Cosmos.”
“It was quite nice because the structure wasn’t necessarily standard,” Thomas says. “It kind of forced you to be a little more creative than verse-chorus verse-chorus. And it was nice to have a different character – maybe a different personality. When we were writing ‘Shame,’ it was from a different point of view. I imagined myself as a big, lanky diva. It was a really cool challenge for me.”
The band’s amorphous identity carries over to everything from the album’s artwork (a pair of faceless sunglasses on top of a meteor shower) to the forthcoming music video for “Shame,” neither of which will feature Gruen or any of Slow Knights’ other members.
“I just wanted to destroy that kind of idea that you needed to have faces for certain kinds of music,” Gruen says. “There was a style of R&B when R&B went to outer space, when it was more inclusive, when people would reinterpret soul standards or reggae with a new wave or electro aesthetic. I just wanted it to come from a relative frame of mind rather than me in front of a microphone.”
Adds Thomas, “When you were listening to R&B as a child you didn’t know who was singing it, but you could still relate to them or find part of the album that fits your personality. It’s kind of romantic, in a way. It’s putting the discovery back in to music.”
However, a live show with many of the collaborators is planned for May 18 at Music Hall of Williamsburg, with other potential gigs to follow. “It would be a really difficult and complicated thing to tour, so I’m happy for it to exist in a minimal live way,” Gruen says. “Maybe I have the luxury or the perspective of being in a major-label band, and I know the reality of what you have to give up and what it takes to be accessible in that way. I’m making no assumptions this time. No one wants a solo record from people in a band, like ‘Oh God, that guy from Snow Patrol is putting out a record.’ I really wanted to dissolve this concept of it having to propagate this notion of me writing what people wanted to hear. I just wanted to write something I wanted to hear on the radio.”
- Pop-Shop