It's been a life-changing five years for Bill DeMain and Molly Felder since the last Swan Dive album, but their new music is still warm and enveloping, often wistful and nostalgic, and always memorable.
"Korea avoid damage by Nashville love duo."
-- Bing online translator version of text from Korean press release for new Swan Dive album
Bill DeMain and Molly Felder are in a good mood.
It's the week the duo, who record as Swan Dive, release Soundtrack to Me and You, their 10th album of melodic pop soundscapes. It's been five long years since Mayfair, the previous Swan Dive album. Five years of life changes for both members, including DeMain losing most of his possessions in an apartment fire, starting his own business leading walking tours of the musical sights of Nashville (Walkin' Nashville), co-writing and performing with an array of other musicians, and releasing a solo EP. Felder moved with her husband and young son to an idyllic small town hours away from her Swan Dive partner, only to eventually return to Nashville.
Despite, or maybe because of these events, DeMain says of the new album, "A few of our longtime fans who've heard the record describe it as 'classic Swan Dive,' which I take as a good sign, but also to mean that there is the right combination of melody, poetic lyrics, spirit and soul. I hope so anyway."
Melody, poetic lyrics, spirit and soul is a good way to describe the music of the duo. It's warm and enveloping, often wistful and nostalgic, always memorable. With a firm foundation in Bossa and Bacharach, they haven't shied from exploring the pop tropes of the 70's and 80's as well, in addition to folk, electronica, and the occasional foray into disco, soul and ragtime, always with an identifiable "Swan Dive sound." A craftsman like approach to songwriting and recording has carried them through consistently strong albums, with popular early songs like "Circle", "The Day That I Went Home" and "Girl on a Wire", to "Tender Love" from their last album and the new Everly Brothers-influenced "Good Things", which they're planning on filming a video for soon. They've also appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and won Best Pop Album in the Independent Music Awards twice.
Bill and Molly spent part of a warm summer evening talking about the new album, the events of the last few years, working with other artists like Teddy Thompson and Don Henley, the origins of Swan Dive, songwriting, other musicians they're listening to these days, and why they're more popular in Asia than in their home country.
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Was there ever any question as to the future of Swan Dive in the years since your last album?
Bill: I think we probably both knew that at some point we would get back together and make another record, but I think a lot of it had to do with geography. Molly at that point was living in Indiana, you know, after we made Mayfair. And I was playing in a couple of other projects -- a kid's band and a side project band (Crackerboots). When she moved back here though, I think the motor started back up again. We started singing together and learning new songs and we got asked to come to Korea and then we got a new licensing deal, so I think it had a lot do with geography and that she was away and then she came back. We just sort of picked it up again, you know?
Molly, why did you decide to move to New Harmony, Indiana and eventually back to Nashville again?
Molly: Because we were visiting there a lot and my son was 18 months old and we thought we would move to a small town so he could just sort of experience that type of environment, where everybody knew him. Which they did and they still do. It was just sorta, honestly, like living in the Andy Griffith Show. It's a really, really beautiful place and we miss it very much. We still love it and we visit a lot but I missed Bill and I missed Nashville and my sisters were all moving here to Tennessee so we decided to come back, and I'm happy to be back.
On the new album, do you each have particular favorite songs?
Molly: My favorite song on the record is called "Missing". I love that one and I love Bill's vocal on it and I love the feel, that keyboard part that Larry Goldings did (Bill interjects "the Wurlitzer"). The Wurlitzer! It's so awesome! And our friend Jim Hoke did some flute parts on there and he just wanted to keep going, he never wanted the song to end. He just wanted to keep going and it's beautiful. I love everything about that one. That's my favorite on the record.
Bill: I think I like "Soundtrack to Me and You" and "Star-Crossed Lover" the best. It's not only because I like the songs a lot and because they say things that were personal and important, but I felt like those two songs might be two of my favorite vocal performances that Molly has ever done.
You recorded the album in a few days in January of this year. Was it a quicker album than usual to record?
Molly: It was fast.
Bill: Yeah, it was pretty fast. I mean, we cut pretty much all the tracks live with the band in the studio over the course of 6 days and then we worked on it at home a little bit for a month or two just doing some overdubs. Then we went back in and mixed it, so I think all told in the studio about 10 days. For records that we've made in the studio [that time frame] is pretty normal. There were a couple of records there, like Until, and William and Marlys that were just made at home on a computer. Those things take longer because you kind of piece them together.
Soundtrack to Me and You is available digitally, but that's the only format so far outside of Korea, where a label has issued a CD version. Will there be a vinyl or CD release for the rest of the world?
Bill: We're talking to a label in London right now that wants to license the record for early next year, so we're hoping that works out. We'll let them do the CDs and vinyl.
Molly: Which would be really awesome because that cover deserves to be enlarged.
About that cover art -- it's a really nice piece of work. What's the story behind it?
Bill: It's by a Spanish illustrator named Pere Millan and this is the third record he's done for us. The first one he did for us was for an EP called Words You Whisper that we made for a Spanish label called Siesta and Pere was sort of their in-house art guy. He did the cover for that and we loved it and stayed in touch with him. Then he did Mayfair a couple of years back and we hired him to do this one too. We've never actually met him and he doesn't speak much English but he has a really intuitive feel for our music and we didn't give him much direction on this one at all, we just sent him the music. In fact, it was a second version -- he did a version that he turned in first to us that we liked but we felt like he could go further with certain elements of it. And he did.