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My name's Clifford Stumme, and I explain the deeper meanings of popular songs. Let's have a conversation about what you think about the songs and go deeper together. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Slow Life" by Of Monsters and Men mean?

What does "Slow Life" by Of Monsters and Men mean?

Of Monster and Men 

Of Monster and Men 

"Slow Life" is the seventh track from Beneath the Skin, and it's infuriatingly difficult to puzzle out. The lyrics are vague and HEAVILY symbolic of something. Even if one understands the basic storyline, the event or thing being symbolized may still be beyond reach until Of Monsters and Men spills their secrets on their own. In the meantime, listeners will have to do the best they can to understand what's going on here. While the title is "Slow Life," the music of the song only halfway manages to accomplish the adjectival half of it. The song isn't especially slow; it's fairly quick and is engaging for that quickness. Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir is Of Monsters and Men's only singer on this track (apart from some punctuational background vocals), and her voice, as usual, is wonderfully eerie and haunting. Anything she sings takes on a whole new meaning and idea, giving a powerful mythos to "Slow Life" in particular.

Of Monsters and Men - Slow Life Symbol 

Of Monsters and Men - Slow Life Symbol 

"Slow Life" Lyrics Meaning

[Author's note: I honestly didn't know. And when I don't know what a song means, the first person I go to is Fiancee April. Within a few minutes of looking over the lyrics, she suggested "drug use" as the theme. Even though neither of us was certain, it's the best theory we could agree on that fits all of the lyrical clues. If you have an alternative idea, PLEASE comment below. We'd love to hear about it.]

The title "Slow Life" is a reference to the calming and slowing effects that marijuana or other relaxing drugs have on the mind. However, this song is not in favor of drugs; it's about a personal interaction held between two drug users, one of whom realizes they need to change.

As Nanna begins singing "Slow Life," she questions, "What are they talking about / On the weekends?" "They" refers to non-drug users who work regular jobs. She wonders how they occupy their time when they're not working and how they survive.

Concerning herself, she sings, "Lost in the forest of this heart / Is a foreign still." Her heart is a scary and dark place that she doesn't understand. She doesn't always know what she wants, and she's maybe not completely sure who she is. The "still" could refer either to a painting--a still life--or to an alcohol-brewing still. Going with the drug theme, it seems to be the latter. Thus, despite her not knowing enough about herself and despite the mess she feels she's in, she does get help from somewhere--from this still.

Beneath the Skin Album Cover Art
Beneath the Skin Album Cover Art

But those others that she wonders about are "shaking their heads," and she wonders why. As rebuttal, she explains, "We're stuck in slow life." Others may be judging her and her friends for drug use, but the "slow life" is worth the judgment because it calms the "beating of the chest / That makes us fear the rest." "[T]he rest" could refer to the rest of life or to the rest of the people who judge them. Either way, it seems to refer to an unfriendly environment that Nanna and her friends try to escape.

In verse 2, Nanna sings, "We're slowly sailing away / Behind closed eyes / Where not a single ray of light / Can puncture through the night." Going with the drug theme, this seems to be a reference to lighting up and entering a drug-induced stupor, one that no hint of reality can pierce to awaken Nanna and her friends. Interestingly, Nanna understands that "light" is on the outside and not to be found in the drugs, where she seems to only want to find darkness and peace or escape. For her, drugs dull pain, and she knows it.

The chorus seems to be about Nanna and a friend awakening from their drugged stupors to realize they are hurting themselves. They're in a "tide" that seems to be a reference to the "deep sea" (from verse 3) and are being swept along, but they catch each other. The "night" shelters them from life, but leaves them "[r]ed in tooth and red in claw." This could be a reference to the war they have to fight to survive in the real world when they wake up, or a reference to the fights they undertook that led them to seek shelter in the drugs. When they wake up, they see each other "in new light" that helps them to understand each other's struggles better and perhaps helps them to realize that they need to stop using drugs.

Of Monsters and Men on Tour
Of Monsters and Men on Tour

Verse 3's a little different from the others because it seems to be sung from the perspective of the drug itself: "Between the daylight / And the deep sea / Lies a swarm of silhouettes / Floating aimlessly." The daylight is the real world and the deep sea is the mindlessness brought about by the drugs. The silhouettes are those using the drugs; they can't completely forget everything but don't want to go back to the real world, so they're permanently stuck in between.

Nanna (a.k.a. the drugs) sing, "I'm a mountain / I am a killer." Just as no one should underestimate mountains, Nanna wants listeners to know not to underestimate the power drugs have to hurt people. She sings, "You'll get lost and buried deep / If you swim with me." She wants listeners to know that drugs are dangerous and will cause them to forget life, to lose everything to the hazy unreality that they bring upon themselves. By calling herself "a killer," Nanna highlights the deadly nature of drugs.

OMAM in Concert
OMAM in Concert

After another chorus, Nanna continues to the bridge where she repeats, "So look at you, look at me / All because we need to know." Not as the drugs anymore, she may be trying to snap her friend out of his drugged state and be trying to get her and him to focus on each other so that they can wake up to the things they "need to know"--the real world and normal life. They wish to use the power of their friendship to break the power of the drugs.

In summary, "Slow Life," based on a drug-themed interpretation, is about people who use drugs but are slowly realizing that they have to quit so that they can return to the "light" of normal life.

What do you think of "Slow Life" from Beneath the Skin by Of Monsters and Men? Did you think it was about drugs or something else? Thank you!

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