INTERVIEW: Slowey and The Boats

Slowey and The Boats are pioneers of Philadelphia’s Hawaiian jazz scene. A five-piece instrumental concern, SaTB deftly blend elements of traditional folk melodies, western swing, ballads, tangos and Hawaiian party classics – and all before you’ve finished your first Mai Tai. 

Most recently, the quartet released their holiday album, Merry Christmas from Slowey and The Boats, on Hi-Tide Recordings. The new album features classic holiday songs, such as “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas”, and “Sleigh Ride,” all decked out in a Hawaiian Jazz style.  The album also features a cover of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” Listen to the album now at

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Isaac Stanford: Thanks for taking an interest in the new album! All things considered, I’ve been pretty good. 2020 has been a weird one!

From all the Christmas songs out there, why did you choose to cover Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”?

IS: I decided to give This Christmas a try after our label, Hi-Tide Recordings, teamed up with Donny Hathaway’s publishing company Primary Wave. The Donny Hathaway Christmas song was a little outside our wheelhouse, but I love doing anything with a cool melody. I love the spirit in Donny’s music and it put me in a great mood working on the song. It’s actually the 50th anniversary of the song this year, so I figured it was a good time to record a version as a tribute to Donny.

What was the approach you went after with this cover? How do you go on balancing the original with your own take?

IS: I was picturing the song being played at a Christmas party in a tiki bar. I slowed it down from the original, which mellowed it out a bit and gave it more of an island vibe. Since we were all stuck at home quarantining, I couldn’t book studio time for the band so I worked out all the parts by myself and then had Fred record some percussion on it. The original is so iconic, I knew I wanted to try and capture the joyful feeling of the song but wanted to change up the feel in an unexpected way. I think the latin percussion and slower  tempo give it a pretty nice groove.

The cover comes off your new album Merry Christmas From Slowey and The Boats – what’s the story behind the album?

IS: The band plays a Christmas party every year at Dawson St. Pub in Philly where we’ve had a seven year long residency. Ever since we’ve been doing our yearly Christmas show I’ve had a dream of doing a full length Christmas album. The album is a collection of a couple of different recording sessions we’ve done dating back to 2017. Whenever we’d book studio time, I’d end up throwing a couple Christmas songs on the list. The album is a collection of all those songs.

The Donny Hathaway cover is part of the Christmas album, but it’s not on the LP itself. It’s a digital download bonus track that comes with the LP and is available on streaming platforms also.

How was the recording and writing process?

IS: The album is all classic Christmas songs. Because we’re usually an instrumental quintet, I’m always thinking about what songs have instantly recognizable melodies. Most Christmas songs are like that, you can hear just a couple melody notes and you are immediately singing along. We usually invite a couple friends to sing with us at our Christmas parties here in Philly, so we invited Shannon and Steve to record with us on some of these. We do everything live when we’re in the studio. We just set up in the same room and perform the songs. You can’t go back and fix things later, but I love the authenticity of recording records that way.

What role does Philadelphia play in your music?

IS: Philly has been a great home base for the band. There’s not really any other groups playing the type of music we play, so it’s a nice addition to the music scene. Being in Philly is also great because we are right down the road from where our label, Hi-Tide Recordings is based. They really understand the group and have been able to get us into some cool venues and get our music to people that really appreciate it.

What else is happening next in Slowey and The Boats’ world?

IS: We’re laying low like everyone else right now, waiting for this pandemic to blow over. Definitely looking forward to hitting the ground running once it’s safe to do live music in venues again. In the meantime, the timing of this Christmas record is perfect. With so much uncertainty this year, I feel like this album can provide some sense of normalcy this holiday season. Put it on the turntable and it’s the next best thing to being at one of our Christmas shows at Dawson St. Pub.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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