It’s hard not to look fondly back upon Adam Franklin’s earlier gig in beloved noise-rock pioneers Swervedriver, but after hearing Black Horses, his latest solo-ish effort with Bolts of Melody, you’d be hard pressed not to think that Franklin is still coming into his prime. That’s because Black Horses provides platform for Franklin to fully showcase a deft songwriting touch and compositional chops that might have been overlooked because of all the visceral thrills that his shoegazey grunge — or would that be grungy shoegaze? — has always delivered. Black Horses is an artfully constructed effort all the way through, bearing a consistently contemplative tone that’s punctuated just enough by Franklin’s signature guitar roaring. Better yet, it’s the sort of effort that makes you reassess Franklin’s earlier work, drawing out some of the subtleties in Swervedriver’s bold aesthetic when you go back to it with the benefit of hindsight. PopMatters caught up with Franklin to find out about the making of Black Horses, the possibility of future Swervedriver projects, and how Mad Men’s Jessica Paré ended up in one of his videos. PopMatters is pleased to premiere Black Horses, which will be released on 16 July via Goodnight Records.
PopMatters: The press release for Black Horses describes how the album recalls ‘60s soundtrack music and evokes a cinematic feel, which seems on the mark. How were you able to set that kind of mood and tone?
Adam Franklin: To me, there’s nothing quite like going to the movies — the whole ritual of meeting up, getting your ticket, buying some popcorn and then seeing a great film, and walking out at the end as if you’re a character in it and going for the post-movie drink and talking over the scenes. And so rock shows and albums should be similar, right?
So we really wanted to kinda evoke that spirit in the sounds, words, running order, and overall vibe of this album. I also liked the idea of disorientating the listeners and having someone ask, “What are we listening to again?” after song three! The length was important — classic vinyl album length, not overstaying its welcome, but also feeling like you’ve been on a journey. And lyrically, I usually just let the songs go where they’re naturally going and, consequently, they seem to reflect the kinds of life issues we all have to deal with, but without having been pored over too much.
Celebrating absent friends is definitely the theme of “Shining Somewhere”, but other songs are more fluid to me, lyrically. People losing their direction is what “Asha”, “Boocat Leah”, and “I Used to Live for Music” seem to be about, if I had to guess. “When I Love You (I Love You All the While)” is probably self explanatory and then the album has a sort of final scene with “Long Way Home” — I’d like to think that song will come on someone’s iPod unexpectedly when they’re miles from home in some strange place.
Musically I had previously gone through a bit of a heavy ‘60s film soundtracks period in the late ‘90s — particularly a lot of the European B-movie type stuff — which ended up informing the Toshack Highway album we released in 2000 and really there’s so much stuff out there it’s like the gift that keeps on giving. There are songs on here heavily influenced by Jean Claude Vannier or Serge Gainsbourg, and two tunes are pretty much rock ‘n’ roll interpretations of themes from the John Barry and Ennio Morricone soundtracks to Boom! and Vergogna Schifosi, respectively. I’d like to think there’s also a nod to the kind of themes that run through a lot of the Ghost Box record label’s releases, which is a label I’m a fan of, even though this is very much a rock record. The cover of Black Sabbath’s first album was also strangely inspirational!
I’d like to recommend this blog to all PopMatters readers: Nature Film, our friend Eric Lee’ blog and I’ve soaked up a lot of the mixtures he’s posted over the last couple of years. Eric ended up designing the sleeve for Black Horses.
PopMatters: There’s definitely a sense of continuity and a consistent tone to Black Horses, but you’ve claimed that the songs seemed “disconnected stylistically,” in your own words. How did you go about making the album come together in such a unified way in the end?
Adam Franklin: There was something nagging at me that seemed to suggest that the songs I was most drawn to were nagging at me for a reason. It’s always fun and quite rewarding when ideas that seem not to fit together suddenly do. In the end, it’s a mixture of songs and instrumentals; a couple don’t have drums on them — three don’t have electric guitars on them. In fact, although you don’t miss them, put a distortion pedal on a keyboard or play a fuzz bass and that’s all the electricity you need sometimes. One of those non-guitar songs does have a feedback drone sampled from a previous album though, and there are a couple of songs where I’ve sampled my own guitars from previous records — I’m a big fan of serendipity and throwing things together and hopefully being pleasantly surprised, if not totally blown away.
On the last album all of the Besnard Lakes guested on one song and it sounded fantastic, but then we ended up using Richard [White’s] guitar on a separate song and one of Kevin [Laing’s] military drum rolls on another. And then the songs that close each side of this album have both been around in some form or other for seven years or so, so you throw ideas away or think you do, but then you fish them out of the trash, polish them off, and see them in a new light.
PopMatters: Of course, you’re also known for your work in Swervedriver. Do you see the connections between the music you’re creating now and the Swervedriver catalog? Or do you feel there’s a clear distinction between what you accomplished in the past and what you are doing now?
Adam Franklin: There are always songs that exist on the borders of Swervedriver and Bolts of Melody, and others that clearly couldn’t be one or the other. I think in the end you have to keep faith with the ones that somehow reside within a certain group of songs. When I made the Magnetic Morning album with Sam Fogarino of Interpol in 2008, there was one particular song that Locksley pretty much pleaded with me should be a Bolts of Melody song — that was “Indian Summer”, one of my compositions for that album — but the thing was that that song was, for me, conceived to be part of the Magnetic Morning set and so that was all there was to it.
PopMatters: On your website, one of the options for purchasing Black Horses comes with a personalized recording of a song from your catalog of the buyer’s choice. How did you come up with the idea and have you received some interesting requests? Have your fans surprised you at all with their picks?
Adam Franklin: Well, as we all know, we’re well into a new age when it comes to how the music business operates and, although you could say a lot of it really sucks, there are actually some interesting new things going on, particularly when it comes to ways that the artists interact with their fanbase.
The idea really came from a “commission” I did a few years ago for someone. I was sent an email from someone telling me that it was he and his wife’s wedding anniversary coming up and would I be interested in writing something specially for them/her. What really piqued my interest was that his idea was for me to write a song about his wife’s grandfather, who had been in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War.
His ship was torpedoed by the Japanese in the South Pacific and many of the crew — the lucky ones — escaped from the burning hull onto rafts and then floated for three days before drifting into a harbour somewhere and being rescued. This made me think of the book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor’, an amazing adaptation into a novel of a true story of a Colombian destroyer that sunk, which Marquez reported on when he was working for a newspaper. I happened to have a song knocking around that I’d written whilst still at school about the Spanish Armada, which I immediately saw I could develop into this new song.
The thing that really struck me though was that it was like a private commission, the sort of thing that Dutch painters would do a few centuries ago and I thought that maybe this was a way ahead in the 21st century music world! Quite odd in a way, but quite fun, and, yes, there have been some really interesting requests including, inevitably, two separate requests for possibly the only Swervedriver song that I can’t exactly recall how to play. I shan’t divulge right now which song that actually is, but the good thing is that one of them was requested to be played in more of a Toshack Highway style, so that pretty much frees me up to do something completely different with it. Once I’ve relearnt it of course! (Which I think I have)
PopMatters: A few months ago, you released a video for your single “I Want You Right Now” featuring Jessica Paré, who plays Megan Draper in Mad Men and has a few musical projects going herself. How did this project come about?
Adam Franklin: Jessica’s really great and goes out with a good friend of mine and has been to a few shows. It turned out actually that she was a big fan, which I hadn’t realised before, and so one night I drunkenly demanded that she be in a video and she immediately said, yes, she’d love to be. I’m also a big fan of Mad Men as it goes, so we spoke with a video director friend of mine Lucy Dyson in Berlin and cooked up a plan for a video and then Jess just effortlessly shot her part in one day. The video had actually been shot by the time of the premiere of the previous Mad Men season (season five), which coincided with the release of the “I Want You Right Now (Kosmische Version)” seven-inch by Goodnight Records, but was yet to be edited and so we hung tight until season six had started before releasing it.
PopMatters: It seems like you’ll have a busy second half of 2013 with the release of Black Horses and a tour of Australia with Swervedriver playing Raise. Are there any plans to expand the Raise tour and any new Swervedriver projects in the near future?
Adam Franklin: We’re looking forward to the Australian tour a lot and figuring out ways to spike the set a little. The only thing about going to Australia is that you’re basically fucked for a week when you get there and sometimes there are people that expect you to juggle bananas and generally wave to the crowd when you get onstage, which is something we’ve never done — well, who has? We’ve always let the music do the talking anyway, but we have new songs written and a plan to road test some of that material whilst down there too. The band sort of imploded there back in the day anyway, so where better to get back on that horse than the place where you fell off it the first time?