The Slits' ‘Animal’ Instinct
Singer Ari Up talks inspiration, three decades of music and the revolutionary band's return, with their first album in 28 years.
Photo: Christopher Greco
The Slits formed in late ’70s London as part of the same scene that produced The Sex Pistols, The Clash and other bands from the first wave of UK punk. But The Slits were unique for a number of reasons, not least because they were women. The band’s core trio consisted of guitarist Viv Albertine, bassist Tessa Pollitt and singer Ari Up—all of whom were 14 when they began. Their debut album Cut, released in 1979, was notable for the way it combined punk with reggae as well as for its cover, which featured the band members sporting nothing but loincloths and mud. It contained such now-classic tracks as the opener “Instant Hit,” supposedly written about former Clash and PiL guitarist Keith Levene, and the hit “Typical Girls.” The band released one more studio set, 1981’s Return of the Giant Slits, before breaking up. Although their album sales were never huge, no one can deny The Slits’ influence on women in music.
In October, The Slits released Trapped Animal, their first disc of new material in 28 years. The band currently finds Ari Up and Tessa Pollitt joined by guitarist Adele Wilson, drummer Anna Schulte and keyboardist Hollie Cook, who happens to be the daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. My recent conversation with Ari Up took place not at a posh hotel or record label office, but rather on the steps of a tenement in New York City’s East Village.
Trapped Animal is the first album by The Slits in over 25 years.
Well, I look at it more as the third album, like no time has passed. Because we were really decades ahead of time anyway. Trapped Animal reflects everything we’ve ever been and [will] be. It’s standing by who we are, the roots that we started with, and it’s futuristic too.
One of the new songs that jumped out at me was “Pay Rent.”
That’s one of my favorites. It’s playing in the clubs in Jamaica now, especially the dance hall scene. It’s a new song—new lyrics, new melody, everything. A lot of the [other] songs on the album have been written over the years. It really bothers me that The Slits are so broke. We got no money and we’re trying our very best to keep it together just so that [we can] continue. But it’s so hard ‘cause [like the song says], you wanna make money with your passion. The thing you’re born to do.
What is it like playing with Paul Cook’s daughter after all these years?
People like Paul were like family [so] it’s a very natural process. Very normal for [Hollie] to be in The Slits. It just totally makes sense. I knew her when she was a little baby.
Who were some of the people that influenced you musically?
I was influenced by everything because I grew up in a hybrid family. My father was a singer, so I heard all the swing and blues from him, he was into Frank Sinatra. My mother was a rock promoter, so Jimi Hendrix walked through my living room when I was a little girl and I didn’t even know…who he was. And my Auntie was a ballet teacher, so I heard classical music. So really, I grew up with every [type of] music that existed.
Another one that I really like on the new album is “Cry Baby.”
Oh, “Cry Baby,” that’s so English. It’s lover’s rock reggae. That’s the one song I didn’t write. Hollie wrote that. She sang it to me and then I made a bass line for it.
Any thoughts 30 years later on the Cut album?
I love Cut. I think it’s a masterpiece.
Watch a retro video of their song Typical Girls below: