top of page

ISSUE 3.3 COVER STORY: Slow Hollows' Austin Feinstein Turns a New Leaf [Interview]

This piece originates from Penny's newest print issue, Penny 3.3 ft. Slow Hollows (released April 12, 2024). Read the full issue either HERE or via PENNY'S ISSUU.

Write-Up by Erin Christie
Photos by Emma Valles

The concept of change, and growth within that change, is undoubtedly daunting. Despite this, it’s a premise that Los Angeles musician Austin Feinstein knows all too well. 

While Feinstein is perhaps best known for his break-out contributions to records from the likes of Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean, for fans of laid-back indie-rock sunshine, his work as the frontman of the band Slow Hollows sticks out most. With records such as Atelephobia and Romantic (respectively released in 2015 and 2016), a teenage Feinstein and his bandmates helped usher in the late 2010s Tumblr era of self-aware, honest, and ultimately feel-good, tried-and-true “indie rock.” Amidst sonic experimentation and recurring motifs of heartache, isolation, loss, rumination, and self-discovery, each early Slow Hollows record has stood the test of time as the go-to soundtrack for young people just starting to get their footing. They time-stamp a very specific period in life when feelings are felt heavily, lessons are learned the hard way, and love is given and taken away at the speed of sound. For that reason, Slow Hollows is held near and dear to many listeners such as myself, who can recount soundtracking their most emotionally burdened moments with tracks such as “Condition” and “Luxury of Lull.” 

2020 saw a very different temperament in the Slow Hollows camp, however, with the swan-song release of their album ACTORS (out October 2019) marking a melancholy and abrupt end to the project, much to the shock of listeners. Apart from the melancholy air surrounding the record (it being the supposed last time audiences would hear from Slow Hollows), it still simulated a positive, refreshing change in pace for the group, finding them incorporating shimmering synths, dance-inducing grooves, and standardized indie-pop electronic flourishes. In the years following its release, the status of Slow Hollows — and of Feinstein as a practicing, public-facing musician — hung in the balance indefinitely.

Earlier this year, a hopeful air returned to the Slow Hollows narrative, after much speculation. As marked with the arrival of Bullhead, his new album under the Slow Hollows moniker (released via Dangerbird), Feinstein has once more taken the reins on the trajectory of his musical journey, returning once more to this project’s creative drawing board but this time, poised as a solo entity. 

“I don’t know nothing ‘bout nothing,” Feinstein admits on the record’s first single, “Old Yeller,” setting the tone for this record’s core tenet: admittance of unknowing, and willingness to embrace the potential of what could be learned and gained thereafter. As Feinstein recalled, creating Bullhead subsequently served as an entry-level refresher to songwriting and song production in general, given the time he’d allowed his guitar to collect dust following ACTORS’ release. 

During the initial pandemic lock-down, he felt a spark of inspiration to pick things up again while holed up in his home, melting into what he described as “alone guitar vibes.” Then, he reacquainted himself with the process of creating as an individual without the aid of anything aside from what he had readily available. With an appreciation for this period’s simplified yet intentional mode of song production, he ultimately made the informed decision to keep the record stripped-back overall, abandoning the computer-driven elements and rich synths that were relied on heavily to shape the last Slow Hollows record. This choice ultimately contributes to the overarching intimate feeling that reverberates throughout its tracklisting, allowing Feinstein’s painstaking and care-filled process of re-learning to shine.

“I wanted to do something different this time around, especially with having some time away and thinking that I wouldn't want to do anything with that band name ever again,” Feinstein described. “I guess, ultimately, [it was a process to] pick up the guitar again and try to find a home base feeling with myself.”

In the process of reconnecting with his roots and essentially starting from scratch, Bullhead finds Feinstein digging around the recesses of his brain to recall the fire he felt when he first began writing. In an attempt to reestablish his music identity, he takes things deeper than he ever has before, taking a critical lens to his past habits and morphing them anew via a mix of earnest lyricisim and dynamically lush instrumentals. In turn, the resulting record displays a commendable amount of vulnerability and catharsis amidst its laid-back soundscape. Throughout, Feinstein employs diary-entry-like songwriting, bravely revealing the hard-earned emotional revelations and existential musings he fought hard to unpack during this time.

Track one, “Bullhead” — which Feinstein noted took the longest to perfect — serves as an ample introduction to the reflective headspace he was in during this album cycle. The single describes restless nights and exhausted mornings spent ruminating on the past and wondering if what’s ahead might ultimately need to be different. The namesake for both this track and the entire album stems from terminology Feinstein adopted from his grandmother, who defines being “bullheaded” as being stubborn to a point of unwillingness to change (despite recognizing that, to grow, you may need to stray from what you know). Throughout Bullhead’s creation, Feinstein was constantly reminded of this self-sabotaging quality within himself, inspiring him to use the record as a vehicle to rip the bandaid off, balancing its universal theme of re-learning (in terms of musicianship) with un-learning, too. Of course, this wasn’t an easy process by any means, which led to moments of pause, and almost total upheaval.

“I definitely quote, unquote ‘quit’ again by myself truly a couple of times,” he admitted. “With this record, nothing was seamless, and we came up against a lot of walls. The demoing process was kind of debilitating for me and my friend Nick Norman, who engineered and produced, because there was like a year and a half or two-year period where I just didn't have it in me but was still trying. And on all the demos that we'd laid out from that period,  you can hear it.  hey are honestly  not good [laughs],  and I just didn't  have what you need  to make an  album.”

Over time, Bullhead’s pieces began to come together, but not without a good amount of support, namely from the ones Feinstein holds dearest. Throughout moments of practically beating his head against the wall with writer’s block and emotional fatigue, he recalled finding peace and burden-withdrawing with his girlfriend — her presence, guidance, and words of encouragement served as a huge grounding element throughout the process of reigning everything in. This can be seen clearly in the sappiness “Tired,” which Feinstein says contrasts the record’s outstretching, somber melancholy. “I wish I knew you every step along the way / I’m tired of everybody but you,” he admits on the track, breathing out a sigh of relief.

As seen with tracks such as “Tired,” Bullhead’s juxtaposition between moments of existential, inside-churning turbulence and picturesque visions of tenderness is a well-known hallmark of the Slow Hollows modus operandi. There’s always been a poetically romantic quality to this project’s releases, which makes this record’s open-hearted quality more than welcome, a homecoming for the formative

sentimentality of classic Slow Hollows.

For example, early single “Idle Hands” celebrates “the kind of love you keep from rats, a love that eats you whole” (c’mon, that’s ROMANCE, people!). Moreover, arguably the most romantic day of the year, Valentine’s Day, found the release of the tracklisting’s most bluntly heartfelt cut, “Soap.” In its desperate tone, the track — which he wrote in the midst of falling in love with his girlfriend — relays a fear of letting one’s walls down, but an ultimate acceptance of the necessity of this ritual with someone you care about. “Why is it so awful to pretend?,” Feinstein questions, subsequently allowing himself to be laid bare as the song unfolds. Contrasting “Bullhead,” this song came together in the shortest amount of time, evidencing how its inherent catharsis flowed freely, without as much hesitation as the more difficult emotional revelations discussed on other cuts. The track also marks Feinstein’s return to his prior affinity for early aughts guitar music, its cinematic nostalgia bringing the Slow Hollows musical timeline full-circle.

In taking the time to digest difficult feelings, make important decisions regarding his future endeavors, reassess what’s most important to him, and recalibrate his life, Feinstein returns to the limelight not with a vengeance nor something to prove in spite of it all, but utter enlightenment and inner reverence. Armed now with lessons learned at the peak of a challenging but rewarding transition, he shares some of his most reflective, intimate, and heart-string-plucking material ever through Bullhead. And especially given the last few years’  impossibility of receiving new Slow Hollows material at all, this comeback is all the more meaningful.

Today, the future of Slow Hollows is rather limitless, with a new era of the project now in its infancy. Regarding his goals for the project, and goals for moving into the rest of 2024 in general, Feinstein chuckled as he said: “I would love to just do more touring, and hopefully have another record coming out after this a little bit sooner than the gap with the previous one.” 






bottom of page