Adam Franklin has always been fascinated by movie soundtracks and atmospheres. From the opening chords of Swervedriver’s debut Raise, his treatment of guitar pedals and whammy bar chord bending and song structure has alluded to heat-hazed roads and desert landscapes, lyrics filled with stories of people in exotic places, getting out of town and racing into the unknown. His work following Swervedriver, under the Toshack Highway moniker slowed things down and showed a mellower, thoughtful approach to music with more emphasis on lysergic rounds and layering of melodies. His first “solo” album Bolts of Melody took off from those earlier demos into a fuller, lusher sound with now-classic rockers Shining Somewhere, Birdsong and the achingly lovely Ramonesland. Spent Bullets is an even more assured collection of rockers and mood pieces drenched in reverb and echo and the smoky haze of memory. His first album as Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody took the band approach to it’s reasonable conclusion and is his most upbeat and direct collection yet, with Yesterday Has Gone Forever and Sinking Ships displaying tempos and muscle rarely heard since his Swervedriver days.
This year we are treated to Drones & Clones, a collection of Franklin & Bolts songs sans vocals, reflecting Franklin’s love of instrumentals and movie scores. And recently releases is the latest Bolts of Melody album Black Horses, Franklin further instilling himself as a world class troubadour with his smoky vocals and textured guitar melodies, accompanied by Mikey Jones (also in Heaven and tour drummer for Swervedriver). And if two new releases aren’t enough good news, Swervedriver will be touring Australia this fall.
Black Horses continues with your interest in creating an atmosphere of wonder and nostalgia and beauty in music. This time I can hear much more usage of acoustic guitar. Was there a conscious effort this time around to use different textures in guitar? You ARE known for your guitar pedals after all. I have the red shirt.
I’m actually not sure there’s any more acoustic guitar on this album than recent others although When I Love You (I Love You All The While) features mostly acoustics of course and the only electric guitar on it is the held notes drone guitar thing. I think I was inspired to write that after a Cheval Sombre show in London. And Shining Somewhere is just acoustic and voice with cello and violin played by Gordon and Cathy Withers. So yeah there’s always desire to create textures with the guitar but sometimes if the electric guitar isn’t required and isn’t missed then there’s a nice sense of stepping out into uncharted territory for a bit. I really like the textures on opening track Asha though and in fact there are only two electric guitars tracks on that but it sounds like tons because we tracked it through three amps with two mics on each amp and I got Charlie Francis the engineer and assistant Lewis Griffiths to operate the pedals live with their hands as we went to tape. I just stood back and played the chords and they wah wah-ed and change the frequencies on the EQ pedals, slammed reverb on and off etc. We did it twice and inevitably panned them left and right and it sounded amazing! The only other guitar on that is a sample of one of the woozy slide guitars from She’s Closer Than I’ve Ever Been on the last album.
Who are some guitarists that you look to that are versatile, whether with knobs at 11 in an arena or plucking an acoustic guitar while sitting on a stool?
Nels Cline is amazing isn’t he? And a Jazzmaster player to boot – extremely versatile. Acoustically, Bert Jansch is always worth a lend of your ears I think.
Black Horses opens with Asha, a song that sounds like it could easily have been a Swervedriver song. Is there something that connects you to your teenage self that has fueled your fascination with making music over the decades?
Well, Asha came about very spontaneously from listening to an Asha Bhosle track which kicks off with a solo sarangi part which is an Indian stringed instrument kinda like a cross between a violin and a sitar. As soon as I heard the opening bars of that I could hear a chord sequence to go with it and picked up the guitar. In the end the song Asha is as you say, an upbeat Swervedriver-esque song and I just still write a lot of songs like that I guess. It’s sort of in the blood at this point. But everyone should be in touch with their teenage self I think. Never Lose That Feeling was all about that I think. One of the best lines to sing at Swervedriver gigs is when me and Steve sing the line “It’s April, I’m 18 / And Flying with the birds in a dream” from The Birds. But music just has that effect on you, more than any other art form it can just take you back somewhere because you’re quite passive listening to it and it can control your moods. I recently listened to the I’m Your Man album by Leonard Cohen and was instantly taken back to an ex-girlfriend’s flat in Camberwell in South London, cooking rice meals and hanging out.
Will we hear new Swervedriver songs soon? Please?!!!!!
Oh I think so. There are some good’uns too.
With Bolts of Melody you have some very talented musicians. Do you all get together and jam or send pieces of music back and forth? What is the writing and recording process? The end results are always incredible.
A bit of jamming and a bit of sending back and forth. Everyone’s pretty spread out and Ley’s in Toronto. There’s less of him on the actual recording of this album but I always send him the stuff and he emails me back his thoughts. He came up with a lovely Boards of Canada-type part on Long Way Home. With the last album, me and Mikey and Matt jammed as a three piece at a lovely little studio on Franklin Street in Brooklyn for a few days before going in the recording studio – I’m not sure where Josh was at this point. This time around, it was just me and Mikey laying down the bass and drums at Stratosphere in New York and built it up around the demos. Guitars and drums were done in Cardiff. Will (Foster) from ‘the London Bolts of Melody’ recorded some lovely piano at home for I Used To Live For Music.
You seem to be with a bunch of musicians that really get your ideas. Can you take us behind the scenes and give us an instance when you were truly amazed and pleased at your fellow musicians’ input towards Bolts of Melody music?
Well, Mikey’s drumming is always amazing but then so is Jeff Townsin’s who played drums on Spent Bullets and Matt from Sianspheric who played drums on Bolts of Melody. Matt Sumrow played bass last time but also played some great piano on Guernica and Carousel City. My demos can be quite tightly mapped out but there’s always room for people to come up with parts spontaneously in the studio and that’s where a lot of the excitement comes.
Where can we find the Bolts of Melody members when they’re not with you? What bands should we look for and do you have links for us to follow them?
Mikey and Matt do Heaven whose album is also being released by Goodnight Records, two weeks after mine. Fuck Blur vs Oasis, this is Bolts vs Heaven! Ley’s old band Sianspheric are playing again although I don’t think he’s with them at the moment. Jeff and Will play with me in Sophia and Jeff’s also in Madam who I used to play with and occasionally add some guitar sounds to the recordings. Will’s also been playing with Fratellis for a while, Matt Round has been playing bass with Billy Bragg, Nick Bergin has his band Altai Rockets, Josh plays with Jody Porter from Fountains of Wayne. There are Bolts everywhere.
Do you have any downtime and if so, what are some of your pleasures? What is your favorite dish, drink, author, hobby?
I cooked some chicken fajitas recently which were a success and also experimented making some salad dressing too. Drinkwise I’ve been getting into cider a bit lately – must be the weather. Authors? I love Milan Kundera but for some reason I keep reading rock bios – I must be a glutton for punishment. Just finished a great book on Suicide – that was a good read. I like to swim although you couldn’t tell.
I’m sure you’ve received thousands of questions about your gear, but not many asked about your voice, which only gets better. On the slower songs you’ve got such control carrying the melodies and your voice is at least as important as any one instrument. What do you do to keep your voice tuned? Are there bands and singers and songs you practice singing to?
Umm, I don’t really do too much, just try and hit the notes. It’s an interesting thing though – you write a couple of lines and then you have to try and deliver them and make them sound natural. Me and Will always have a laugh at the Manic Street Preachers’ expense – they’re a band from Wales – because famously the other guys write the words and then the singer turns them into songs and whilst they have some fabulous lines – Life Becoming A Landslide is a brilliant song title – the syntax is often hilariously ridiculous! They’re the band that once said they hated Slowdive more than Hitler but I heard something new of theirs the other week and it was completely shoegaze. Scott Walker is an amazing singer – some people find his voice too rich but his delivery is always spot on. I’ve recorded a bunch of his songs – you couldn’t try and sing like him but it’s probably worthwhile practicing his delivery.
How did the acoustic guitar and strings version of Shining Somewhere come about?
I’m not sure. I just wanted to try that song slowed down – maybe I was trying to work out songs for an acoustic set – and then I recorded it and then started playing around with strings and mellotron ideas. Some years ago we were sent a cello version of the song Duel which I thought was interesting but somehow the name of the person that recorded it got lost and I couldn’t track them down and then last year Swervedriver played a new song Deep Wound on the Jimmy Fallon show. Then three days later we played a show in DC and after the show someone brought in a CD that they’d been handed and it was the same guy and he’d recorded a cello version of Deep Wound – three days after he’d first heard it! I thought that was pretty impressive and this time I got his name and that’s Gordon Withers. I asked him if he’d be up for playing some stuff on this version of Shining Somewhere and he kindly obliged and did an excellent job.
What made you decide to release a collection of instrumental versions of your music? I’m enjoying hearing all the instrumental interplay in a different way. The songs really hold up well and Guernica is a wonderful choice. In college I did a report in Spanish class and I chose to talk about Picasso’s painting commemorating the Nazi bombing of Guernica. I’ve also read Mark Kurlansky’s The Basque History of the World.
Yeah just the word Guernica is almost a byword for peace really isn’t it? I actually listen to a lot of instrumental music and quite often prefer listening to the instrumental versions of my own recordings! Perhaps you’re less self-conscious and it can just wash over you more. So I’d been thinking about doing that for a while and then just thought I’d upload it. There’s one album I’d love to hear an instrumental version of and that’s Misery Is A Butterfly by Blonde Redhead. Not that I don’t like the vocals because I love ’em but I would just like to hear it instrumentally. Sam from Interpol is friends with those guys and he once said to me that he’d ask them if they have the instrumental mixes but I didn’t want him to do that.. Felt a bit cheeky.
You’re touring Australia this September performing Raise. Since your reunion you’ve played many of these songs live. Are you playing any of the songs differently, adding new things or are you attempting to keep them as close to the recorded versions as possible? Are all of the old pedals still working? How does the band sound? When you’re finished practicing together before a tour or for kicks do the years just melt away and you’re 21 again?
A lot of the songs have different parts that have developed over the years I imagine but they’re all pretty much true to the original recordings. There are some interesting sections though towards the end of that album – Feel So Real hasn’t been played for about 20 years and Lead Me Where You Dare has never been played live so I’m looking forward to that. I did play it live once in Texas with the guys from Lift To Experience but it will be a Swervedriver debut. A lot of the old pedals are still firing although you’ve just reminded me my old reverb pedal appeared to be on the blink the other day. I must test it.
Who will be on drums for the Australian tour? Mikey did a fine job last time through the States.
Yeah Mikey’s playing this time.
When might we see you and Bolts or Swervedriver on tour in the States?
Soon, I hope.
What are the current Swervedriver members up to when not touring?
Heaven only knows.. There seems to be some big party going on at Jimmy’s house every weekend. He went to India recently and spent a whole week in a hotel room drinking cough medicine or something. Steve gave up drinking recently but where he lives in England is the smallest pub in the world, so maybe it’s just as well. This pub only has enough space for four people inside or something.. How they stay in business God only knows.
(Interview by Bret Miller)