Swervedriver: "As it goes, the feeling is that it's some of the best material we've ever done. And to be honest I was never in any doubt that we would deliver the goods."
Compared to other recent rock band reunions, a new album by the English seminal shoegaze band Swervedriver isn't exactly a huge surprise.
Their initial late '90s split was not an acrimonious one and their subsequent resurgence played out like it was no big deal. Shows were booked, tours were completed and frontman Adam Franklin stayed active in recording under the name Bolts of Melody. Swervedriver rode the reunion wave for a good fives years before recording a new single, "Deep Wound". Not long after that they began work on I Wasn't Born to Lose You with John Catlin, an associate of Swervedriver's longtime producer Alan Moulder. The fact that the album has now landed feels like it's all part of some standard operating procedure. But the Swervedriver struck gold where it truly counts: meaning, the album is quite good.
Just before embarking on a tour in support of the album, Adam Franklin took a few minutes to answer some questions from PopMatters about Swervedriver's recent turn of events. He confirms what some fans probably already assumed, that all the band members involved just slipped back into their old roles with no fuss. I Wasn't Born to Lose You features that falling-off-a-log greatness that bands the world over aspire to, to just sit in a room together and effortlessly carve out more spellbinding sounds. Opener "Autodidact" sounds like nothing has changed since their last album (in the best possible way). The new single "Setting Sun" wastes equally little time beaming in bright rays of chiming guitars. Even its b-side, a cover of Television's "Days", is downright radiant.
Together with guitarist Jimmy Hartridge, bassist Steve George, and new drummer Mikey Jones, Adam Franklin has woven together another irresistible web of noise and melody; possibly an unintentional panacea for indie rock that gets caught up in its own cleverness. Never mind the fact that these sounds were born from a different time, the fact that they are still being made now should be the celebratory fact. And as you'll see from Franklin's answers, he doesn't dwell much on the past anyway.
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What spurned the Swervedriver revival?
The band got back together in 2008. There had been talk about it and although we all thought we'd never get back together and play those songs again, for some reason it seemed right at that time. Everyone was excited about it and it's been great to be doing it again. Obviously things have been ramped up further by finally getting around to recording a fifth album which everyone is super excited about.
Bands that return from a hiatus will often feel the pressure to match our outdo past achievements. Is or has Swervedriver ever been concerned about such pressures?
Well, there was pressure to come up with something that lived up to the anticipation and also to the quality of the past records. So there was pressure there to an extent but I think if we'd felt we hadn't come up with anything exciting then we would probably have just dropped it. As it goes, the feeling is that it's some of the best material we've ever done. And to be honest I was never in any doubt that we would deliver the goods.
Have any band dynamics shifted this time around? Or do you find that everyone is pretty much where you left them?
Things are pretty much in place as ever, yes. Everyone has a unique roll within the band and although we were working with a new drummer, the core members seem to have retained the same taste in, and attitude towards music and the kinds of sounds that we want to make and feel that Swervedriver represents.
Who produced your new album I Wasn't Born to Lose You?
All the albums after Raise were produced by Alan Moulder and so he was our obvious go-to guy to approach about mixing/producing for this record. The thing is that Alan has gone on to great things in the intervening years (he produced the live Led Zeppelin album which we know completely blew him away!) and he's constantly in demand so we weren't sure that we could really afford his services.
Alan's still a good friend of ours though and was keen to work out a situation whereby he could oversee production and he was keen for us to mix in his Assault & Battery studio in London that he co-runs with Flood. So Alan and Karen his manager worked out a situation whereby we worked with John Catlin, one of the great studio guys that has worked with Alan and who has learned a lot from Alan and Flood and inherited their sense of humour.
When it came down to it we realized we didn't actually need Alan there because John was doing such an amazing job. So we would all have lunch together everyday and then Moulder and Flood would pop their head around the door every now and then to have a listen and give thumbs up. There are of course a lot of technical nuances and personal taste involved when you work with anybody but most important is probably the attitude and a feel for the material and we knew from day one we were in the safest hands possible with these guys.
Could you go into some details on the recording sessions?
Five songs were recorded in Melbourne at Birdland studio with Lindsay Gravina and five at Konk in London with Dougal Lott. The Australian session was one day in the middle of a tour we were doing there and we got five songs down live. The drums and bass were keepers as were a lot of the guitars. The London session was a bit longer. I think all drums and bass were done in two and a half days and again a fair amount of guitars stayed but Jim and myself then spent maybe another five days recording guitars for all ten tracks. Vocals were recorded in Oxford with Mark Gardener at his studio and the album was mastered in Oxford also by Tim Turan who was the guy that recorded the very first Swervedriver demo in 1989 (which we handed to Mark and he passed on to Alan McGee and which got us signed to Creation Records). So in many ways we were "bringing it back home" with this album in terms of who we worked with.
I know that you guys have had label trouble in the past when A&M dropped you in the '90s. Given the current climate of the music business, would a label like A&M be more open to the sound of a band like Swervedriver? Or is everyone still struggling to sell to short attention span music fans?
I have absolutely no idea or interest really. A&M don't exist anymore, the same as all the labels we've worked with in the past as someone pointed out to me recently. I don't spend too much time or energy pontificating on the nature of the music business. Great records are still being made, great bands and artists still exist and that's all that matters. We're music fans with short attention spans ourselves and I listen to mixtapes (or, uh, playlists) the same as anyone else and cherry pick tracks but I still listen to new albums all the way through. The difference is if one track's not doing it for you, you can skip it a lot easier than back in the day but I still feel the listener should honour the artists' intended sequence to begin with.
You covered the Television song "Days" as a b-side to your "Setting Sun" single. Are you guys fans of the Adventure album? Has the Verlaine/Lloyd duel-guitar attack had an overall effect on Swervedriver?
I must admit I'm not familiar with Adventure any more, if I ever was. What brought "Days" back to me was Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub posted it on Facebook one night a few years back. If any of Teenage Fanclub posts a song, you should listen. Gerry [Love] has posted a lot of killer tunes also, and I played it and then remembered how much we'd all loved that song a long time ago. I ended recording a cover of it at home just for the hell of it and Jimmy Hartridge heard it and of course he knew the song inside-out so it made total sense to record a version. We did think it would be cool for Swervedriver to cover Televsion too, yeah, they're very much this dual guitar band with one guy playing a Jazzmaster so there were parallels there.
What do you miss the most about the first run of Swervedriver in the '90s?
I don't know. I've never really thought about it. Those were great times, we were playing cool shows, meeting lots of people and having a good time. And it's nice to meet some of these people again all these years later, it brings a sense of purpose or something perhaps. Everyone keeps rolling on.
What do you miss the least?
Again, it's not something I think about too much. London could be quite stifling in some ways when all the bands and journalists were running around town off their heads and causing trouble but everything seemed quite easy and was a lot of fun too. Things got a bit crappy just before we broke up, which is why we broke up, but everyone just switched their horizons around for a few years and then, well, this is where we came in isn't it? This interview just went full circle!
Splash image: press shot of Swervedriver