Swervedriver: Catching Up

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The 90s musically for me were a bit of a wash. I didn’t buy into the whole grunge thing – of course I liked Nirvana and a few others you would consider grunge, but it didn’t change my world like punk and metal did in the 70s and 80s. I even remember discovering Uncle Tupelo and following that rabbit down the alt-country-folk hole. It seems as though everything had to have a label in the 90s.

Speaking of labels. One band that really stood out for me back then was Swervedriver – straight out of Oxford. I remember hearing their four song EP around 1990 and being mesmerized by the sonic assault of songs like “Son of Mustang Ford” and “Kill the Superheroes”. When their debut album – “Raise” – came out in 1991, I don’t think it left the cassette deck in my car for months.
Swervedriver was immediately labeled “shoegaze”, apparently because “shoegaze” bands didn’t really move on stage – they just –ah- stared at their shoes. I saw Swervedriver live and I don’t remember if that was the case, but I do remember they were awfully good live. Anyway perhaps it helped being categorized as something other than grunge and being mentioned in same breath with bands like Slowdive, Ride and My Bloody Valentine. But for me Swervedriver always stood out from the pack – they had a heavier sound, infused with melody, layers of wicked guitar, and songs made for a drummer.

The band did quite well and even toured the U.S. with grunge darlings Soundgarden on the strength of “Raise”. After that tour they switched out the rhythm section before recording another EP – “Never Lose That Feeling” and their second full-length record – “Mezcal Head” in 1993. Another record – “Ejector Seat Reservation” was released as an import only in 1995, followed by “99th Dream” in 1998. However, after a good run the band went on hiatus until they resurfaced in 2007, touring festivals and the like without committing to recording. So, it was quite exciting to hear the news of a new single “Deep Wound” last fall and rumours of a new record planned for 2014.

We were fortunate to have vocalist/guitarist Adam Franklin answer some questions.

It’s good to see you’re back! Although the band never really went away; what have the guys been up to?

The band did go away for ten years but the interest in the band increased, luckily for us. I moved to the US and was doing Toshack Highway and solo stuff and collaborations like Magnetic Morning, whilst touring in Europe with Sophia – which Steve did also for a time. He was in New York for a while too. Jim was having babies and going to India and things. Just life stuff really.

Swervedriver’s lineup changes (particularly drummers) have these infamous stories around them. I was actually at the Lee’s Palace show in Toronto in 1992, but didn’t realize that it wasn’t the original lineup. What happened?

Yep, drummer Graham famously left the tour bus at the border going into Canada. He went for a sandwich and didn’t return and ended up in San Francisco playing in the first line-up of Brian Jonestown Massacre. Anton spotted him on the street and pulled over and told him to get in so he literally left our bus and got onto theirs!

I’ve heard Swervedriver referred to as “the unluckiest band in the world” – can you elaborate on that?

I don’t buy into it myself personally as there were plenty of our contemporaries who never got beyond playing shows in London even though they were great or bands got picked up by labels who then rejected their albums and made them go back and record something more commercial or whatever and their original vision was lost in despair and litigation.

Swervedriver got a lot of exposure from being on a cool indie label in Britain and a major label in the US though, so people got to know who we were and still know who we are – we’re still around 25 years later so we’ve not done too badly out of it. We’re also extremely lucky in that we sound better than everyone else!

Swervedriver has always been labeled “shoegaze” but you were originally called “Shake Appeal” after the Stooges song. What were the bands’ early influences?

Well, we’re sometimes labeled shoegaze but not always. Some people argue in pointless online debates that “Swervedriver’s not shoegaze man!” and then there are plenty of sensitive indie shoegaze-types who we scare the hell out of and who find us to be far too ‘rock’ for their tastes.

I would say the glam rock sound of T.Rex, Slade etc in the 1970s was certainly a formative influence on myself and Jimmy when we were kids. Then punk came along and when we formed Shake Appeal in 1985 the style of that band was very much in the Stooges/MC5 vein – my brother Graham was the singer with his Rob Tyner afro, writhing around on the stage like Iggy. So that might explain the loud guitars.

Then we started listening to US bands like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr and Hüsker Dü and the band mutated into Swervedriver. In the meantime there were guitar bands in the UK who also had a psychedelic/Stooges kind of sound but made it more kind of ‘swirly’ and somehow that ended up being called shoegaze. We don’t really mind or care either way – it’s actually great exposure for us to appear on a “best shoegaze records ever” list because people who have never heard of us will check us out.

There has certainly been a resurgence of garage and psychedelic rock in the last few years, has anything new influenced your writing?

The ‘psych’ tag is pretty close to running its course too, isn’t it? It seems like there is a new “Psych Fest” springing up every week! I like psychedelic though and always search out those exotic sounds – or whatever it is that makes something psych. I really dig the Ghost Box label, if that can be called psychedelic. I love a bit of Dead Meadow, Deerhunter, Deerhoof – and that’s just the early ‘D’s section! I dunno if any of those necessarily influence our writing, mind you – you’re probably better off being influenced by a TV jingle or a book or two seconds of an Abba B-side than just copying Spacemen 3 riffs or whatever.

When you hear new music these days, do you hear Swervedriver influences?

The thing is I usually don’t like the bands that people say sound like Swervedriver! But I know there are plenty of cool bands and cool guitarists who like us and have told us we inspired them, even if you wouldn’t necessarily know it. If you’re lucky you’ll end up transcending your influences.

Swervedriver released a new song – “Deep Wound” in late 2013 – how did this recording come about?

We had been sending ideas back and forth and in the middle of the night one night, I was in New York and the others were back in England and I got the idea to match this riff I had with some lyrics that had been knocking around for an unused Magnetic Morning song. I recorded it and emailed it to Jimmy and Steve and I’d totally forgotten about it until they both emailed back one word responses the next morning. Steve’s said “beautiful” while Jimmy said “nasty!” – so we figured were onto something there.

The band also enlisted Ride’s Mark Gardner to create a version of the song called “Dub Wound”, that is significantly less sonic, quieter; is this a concerted effort to change the band’s sound for 2014?

I would say that that Dub Wound is actually significantly more ‘sonic’ as it probably has a wider sound spectrum than Deep Wound – the bottom end is deeper and the top end brighter I think. In fact me and Mark were laughing about it and calling it “A Journey Into Sound”! But yeah it sounds less rock, has electronics and less guitar and sounds more like a ‘krautrock’ Neu!-type thing.

I had messed around at home with reversing the Deep Wound demo and then we all added bits and pieces and removed bits and pieces until it became a cool alternate version. Mark helped mix both tracks and did some vocals and me and him had a blast on Dub Wound for sure. It’s not really an indicator of what the album sounds like though, just an interesting diversion.

Having said that – what’s in store for 2014?

We’ve been recording a new album and it’s shaping up very nicely. We recorded some tracks at Birdland studio in Melbourne in late 2013 and then some more at Konk in London this year – two great studios. Both times we recorded we had just played shows so we were kinda smokin’! We’re still finishing that up and will be playing live shows again later in the year. At this point the album probably won’t come out until early 2015 although maybe we’ll release another single before the year is out. Apart from that, just more of that living stuff.

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Stephen

Domestic now, but spent early to late 80s playing drums in a hair metal band in Toronto. Since then I've lost the hair and have found new ways to scratch the rock and roll itch.

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