Swervedriver arrives in town for a full performance of the Raise and Mezcal Head albums, kicking off their North American tour Thursday, September 7th at Metro. Singer and guitarist Adam Franklin checked in from the U.K. to talk about revisiting the albums and work on new Swervedriver songs for release via Pledgemusic in 2018…
It’s always interesting when a band’s reunion run starts to near that of their initial run.
The Pixies experienced it. After breaking up in 1993, following a run that started in 1986, they got back together in 2004. They toured repeatedly on a seven year legacy that produced four studio albums for nearly ten years before finally releasing new music in 2014.
Swervedriver formed in 1989 and ran through 1998. And while it took them until 2015 to complete their first new album, following a 2007 reunion, their’s was different.
To start, there was little of the acrimony that marks most breakups. So getting around to new music was never a major hurdle once band members started balancing the workload between their various other projects.
Swervedriver released I Wasn’t Born to Lose You, their first album in seventeen years, in 2015. The idea was to work with producer Alan Moulder, as they had on their previous three studio albums. But they wound up working instead with John Catlin, of Moulder’s Assault & Battery studio.
“The intention with the last album was to have Alan Moulder mix it but we couldn’t afford him!” said Swervedriver vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Adam Franklin. “The plan then was for Moulder to sort of oversee mixes but John’s mixes were so great we realized we didn’t really need Alan’s input after all.”
Unlike a lot of reunion albums that feel forced, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You picked right up where the band left off in 1998. It’s momentum that they’ll take back into the studio as they work on more new music for release via Pledgemusic in 2018.
Thursday night at Metro, Swervedriver kicks off a North American tour which will feature full performances of their first two studio albums (1991’s Rise and 1993’s Mezcal Head) for the first time in the United States. I conversed via email with Franklin about the process of looking back and reworking songs from both albums, utilizing crowdfunding technology for the first time and work on new Swervedriver music. A lightly edited transcript of that exchange follows below…
Q. You guys have done the Raise album in full on tour before but the Metro show will mark the first time you’ve done it in the U.S. Plus you’ll be doing Mezcal Head in full as well. What’s it been like looking back at those two albums and kind of reworking those songs for the new tour?
AF: It’s really quite enjoyable playing full albums live.
When the idea was first hatched to play Raise in Australia and the U.K., I wasn’t so sure at first. For some reason it felt like it was turning the record into a museum piece or something. But then I re-thought it and treated it as actually being like a performance of a great movie or something – and this time it’s a double feature!
But, in actual fact, it’s more like a play with certain improvised parts of the script because there’s enough breathing space in the songs to, as you put it, rework them and breathe fresh life into them.
Q. Is there anything about that process of looking back at those two albums that surprised you?
AF: There are certain songs we haven’t played either ever or for a long time and you kind of think there must be a reason for that. And there is – but at the same time there was also a reason why you wrote that song and released it on an album in the first place. So there have been some pleasant surprises – like “Oh, I forgot all about this section… this is great!”
Also, I think it’s a coincidence but some of the songs off Mezcal Head that we haven’t played in a while have more politicized lyrics than the others – with songs about refugees, neo-Nazis, globalization and climate change all in there. So that’s quite weird isn’t it? Or not weird – but it shows the same issues keep on going around and around.
The title on the tape box for “A Change Is Gonna Come” was “Bosnian Refugee” and “Girl On A Motorbike’s” working title was “Rise of the Right.”
Alan Moulder thought it was hilarious when we told him about that title change – he thought it was a bit like Nigel Tufnel’s sad, classical piece in Spinal Tap finally being called “Lick My Love Pump!”
Q. I talked to David Lovering a few years ago when the Pixies were in town and he said he remembered pretty vividly coming to the realization that the Pixies reunion had been going on longer than their original run and how strange that felt. You guys are pretty close to that point. What’s that like for you in terms of Swervedriver?
AF: I thought you were gonna say he remembered vividly coming to a Swervedriver show! All four Pixies came to see us play in Manchester once in about 1990 – we heard that they’d had a meeting with David Bowie earlier that day actually.
Anyway, yes, it had occurred to me that we have been back together now for pretty much as long as the first time around. It’s different though of course. Back then we were recording and recording and touring and touring. We released something like twenty-five songs in the first eighteen months, what with all the EPs and the debut album.
Although that’s not so prolific compared to 1970s or 80s terms when artists had a new album out every year. In the 90s, the cycle became an album every two years and, nowadays, four years between albums isn’t a surprise. But everything’s changed hasn’t it? In the 1980s you wouldn’t have dreamed of bands from the 50s or early 60s still being so active.
Would’ve been great to have seen the Ronettes or somebody rocking through a raw set in the mid 80s though!
Q. Swervedriver has announced a new album for release next year. How far along in that writing and recording process are you? Will John Catlin be producing again (as he did on 2015’s I Wasn’t Born to Lose You)?
AF: We have a couple of studios in mind. The intention with the last album was to have Alan Moulder mix it but we couldn’t afford him! He really liked the songs though and had been consulting with us all through the recording. When it came to mixing, we did it at his and Flood’s Assault & Battery studio. John was working there and he had kinda cut his chops working for those two and was familiar with a lot of their techniques.
The plan then was for Moulder to sort of oversee mixes but John’s mixes were so great we realized we didn’t really need Alan’s input after all. So we just had lunch together everyday instead and discussed football and Melody Maker and stuff while listening to Flood’s mixes for the TV show Peaky Blinders.
Q. A lot of times when I talk to bands that have gotten back together, they’re not overly excited about the fall of the major labels and the kind of necessity of DIY now in the indie world (because it requires more work). But you guys have had your fair share of label issues, especially here in America. So what’s it like for you operating now in a more hands on, independent world as you work on new Swervedriver music?
AF: Well, we had that major label exposure in the U.S. as well as the being-on-the-hippest-indie thing in the U.K. and that has all served us well in what we’re doing today – that and being part of a supposed “scene.” So we benefited massively there and people know who we are. And I think the DIY constraints are a good thing overall.
So much money used to be thrown at videos and most of the time the bands were kind of at the mercy of how good or bad the treatment was. But now you can record cool things on your phone if you want.
Recording is somewhat easier now too because you can go in the studio with a bunch of sounds already on your laptop, I suppose.
And releasing is kind of easier because any old Tom, Dick or Harry can upload their album on Bandcamp or whatever.
Getting yourself to shine out from the crowd has gotta be harder for newer bands now though I would imagine.
Q. The new album is scheduled to come out next year via Pledgemusic. Have you utilized crowd funding in any of your other projects or is this the first time? What’s it been like utilizing that technology for the new Swervedriver record?
AF: Nope. Never done it before but it’s something to embrace.
Some people can’t get their head around it and think it’s only gonna be available from Pledge’s website or something. Or they’ll say, “How come a label wouldn’t give you an advance?” when really what you’re doing is getting the advance from the fans who want to hear the music – which makes sense as a business plan and feels like a more honest and direct arrangement.
Then, of course, there’s the aspect of people expecting to get music for free – or for $7.99 a month – when it still actually costs money to make records! That’s not a sustainable platform but there’s an element of faith or trust in having people pre-ordering. We know we have an audience and they have faith they’ll receive something worthwhile and that’s a unique trade.
We did have to iron out some of the Pledge stuff though as the initial page had crazy shipping prices because everything was listed as being shipped from the US – which is actually more expensive to ship from for some reason. But now we have it so people in Europe and Australasia will be shipped to domestically so if anyone reading this was scared off by those prices please take another look as it makes a lot more sense now: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/swervedriver
The guys at Pledgemusic loved the video clip we made too and are now using it as an example to show other artists of how to make a fun video. We decided that the first rule of Pledge Club should be, “If you laugh at the video, you must pledge!”
Q. You guys started your career by releasing four EPs under sort of that idea of “record ‘em and release ‘em if they’re ready.” The music industry has kind of gravitated away from the album toward singles and EPs today so what makes a full album the right method for delivering new Swervedriver music this time around?
AF: Perhaps it isn’t.
I like EPs because they’re somehow more fluid, less cast in stone. You could totally screw around on the second side and people couldn’t necessarily grumble about it because it’s just an EP (and you should just be grateful they’ve thrown another couple of tracks in to make it more than just a two song single!). I had an idea for a six track EP last year but it never happened.
Perhaps we should do one next year instead.
– Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
(Details on Thursday’s Swervedriver show at Metro below)
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Doors open at 8PM
Show starts at 9PM
18 and over
*** Full performance of the Raise and Mezcal Head albums
Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 at the door
Click HERE to purchase tickets