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Slow Joy

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When Esteban Flores started releasing singles under the moniker Slow Joy in 2020, it didn’t take long for his music to gain momentum. In particular, a pair of 2022 singles, “Crawling” and “Soft Slam,” connected with fans thanks to an evocative, sensitive combination of soaring space rock, noisy shoegaze and dynamic post-rock. “I only shared my music because I wanted people to hear it, not because I was trying to get a career,” Flores says. “Lo and behold, the universe then let me have a career out of it.”

Despite this initial success, before the release of Slow Joy’s debut EP, 2023’s Wildflower, Flores was unsure whether he wanted to continue doing music. He was working in marketing and looking at settling down, buying a house and exploring other hobbies. But while talking with a therapist to process his mother’s death, Flores had a change of heart. “I told my therapist, ‘I keep wanting to write songs, but I know it’s not good for me,’” he says. “And she was like, ‘Why is it not good for you?’ And once it clicked in my head that it wasn’t a pursuit, it was an art project, I realized, ‘Oh, okay, this is the music that actually matters to me.’”

The passion and heart that Flores pours into Slow Joy shine even brighter on his second EP,Mi Amigo Slow Joy.Although the EP’s underlying influences are similar as that of past releases, the arrangements are crisper and each instrument is more defined within the simmering mixes. This leads to poppier moments such as the fuzz-coated “4U” and a towering chorus on the Foo Fighters-meets-Pixies “Pulling Teeth,” while the sonic highs and lows of “Lay Me Out, I’m Out of My Mind” and the urgent, anguished “King Cowboy,” are bigger and more emotional.

“I always say there’s a beautiful art in making a song so simple—or so distilled, I guess is a better way to say that—that even a person who wasn’t into your other stuff would understand it,” Flores says. “Instead of writing the most complicated song, it’s like, ‘How do I distill this emotion to the simplest form so it has a depth and gravity that anybody will feel?”

Flores accomplished this puzzle by recording Mi Amigo Slow Joy with a dream collaborator, producer Mike Sapone, at New Jersey’s Barbershop Studios. “I’m such a creature of habit when it comes to creative things, that I’ll just keep reproducing the same thing in the same room,” Flores said. “It was good to be in a different spot entirely.” A long-time admirer of the producer’s work with bands such as Taking Back Sunday, Boston Manor and the Front Bottoms, Flores was thrilled with the entire recording experience. Sapone fostered an encouraging environment, including by posting inspirational quotes around the studio as motivation. Working with a solid team at the studio also allowed Flores to focus solely on the creative process. “I had never gotten to a place where I had the time to experiment—or felt safe to experiment—in a nice studio,” he explains. “This time, it felt really open.”

Knowing he was going into the studio with someone he deeply respected also pushed Flores to refine his songwriting. “I wanted everything to be better,” he says. “Making cool rock songs is one thing—but making lasting, great music is something that’s really important to me.” In the past, Flores would bring completely produced demo songs into a recording session. However, this time around, he took musical ideas—a portion of a song, or half a verse, or a chorus and pre-chorus—and finished them in the studio based on feedback. In fact, Flores welcomed this deeply collaborative process. “I wanted other influences in there,” he says, “because you can only do so much with your own voice.”

Musically, Flores turned to enduring inspiration—specifically the pillars of alternative rock—as touchstones. “On Wildflower, I was drawing from the music that I was listening to growing up,” he explains. “This time, I went to the grandfathers of those and just kept going back until I found where the sounds that I enjoyed truly came from. I measured my music to that; it was kind of the target.”Flores grew up in a religious household and missed out on hearing a lot of these seminal bands when he was younger; as a result, hearing them as an adult gives him a unique perspective that further distinguishes Slow Joy’s sound. “It feels like my thing, instead of a thing that was passed down to me,” he says. “I dove into Pixies deeply, and then from there I went to their children, like Nirvana, and Modest Mouse, and Smashing Pumpkins. And they were incredible.”

In the process of looking back musically, Flores also shifted his lyrical perspective. “Wildflower was me dealing a lot with my mom’s passing,” he says. “I looked outward at external things. And on this one, I turned it around and looked in at myself and what I thought about the world.” For example, he describes “Pulling Teeth” as “basically an apology to my wife for me not being the easiest person to deal with all the time” along with being an expression of gratitude for her patience and support. “It’s one of those songs where it’s like, ‘Please don’t give up on me; I know I’m taking a little bit.’” On “4U,” Flores delves into the unique relationship his own parents had in order to understand their perspective.

In contrast, “King Cowboy” and “Lay Me Out, I’m Out of My Mind” look at the consequences of existing in a capitalist society, including challenging economic realities. The latter emerged from the anger Flores felt after being laid-off by a full-time job, while the former represents his foray into telling personal stories from the perspective of a character. “With ‘King Cowboy,’ I didn’t want to critique the American Dream in a way that was preachy,” he says. “So I thought it was interesting to put yourself in a character and say, ‘I’m the King Cowboy,’ which is such a ridiculous term to say. And ‘Lay Me Out’ was a similar concept where you’re saying, ‘Is this it? Is this how we live through life?’”

The EP’s visuals and title, Mi Amigo Slow Joy, are also meaningful to Flores, as they represent him making sure his art reflects his Hispanic heritage and culture. “Naming it Mi Amigo Slow Joy is like, ‘Hey, this is rock music. It’s serious, and it’s important, and it’s me.’ And one thing that is me is being a Mexican-American person, and being proud of that culture, and showing it off.” Growing up in small-town New Mexico as a fan of rock music—a genre that had next to no Hispanic artists at the forefront—he didn’t necessarily see himself represented in crowds or onstage. “It was hard for me to be the rock guy growing up,” he says. “My cousins would be like, ‘You’re a rocker, huh?’ I was a different kind of dude, and there were only a few people who we could look to.”

At a recent sold-out homecoming show in Albuquerque, Flores saw the profound impact Slow Joy is having on others. “I had a line of people come up and tell me that it meant so much to them that I was championing this culture in this scene,” he says. “And I think as we all continue to evolve for a better future, we try to just continue to represent ourselves and our culture as much as we possibly can. To me, the more representation, the better. And I’m thankful that the people who felt maybe like I did can now have more archetypes that they can say, ‘Well, if he can do it, then someone else can do it.’”

Emboldened by working with Sapone, Flores feels more confident than ever about the importance of making his voice heard—and sharing his perspective with the world. “Making art is an extension of you showing yourself to people, as opposed to you trying to do what you think people want out of you,” he says. “And it’s a tough thing, especially as you get more into making your money off music. But I think it’s important to stay in that zone, which is why Mi Amigo Slow Joy sounds a little bit different than the last EP. I didn’t want to keep just giving the same thing over and over. I want it to be an evolving thing.”

Jun 5
Slow Joy
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