Why does Swervedriver have such faithful fans? People who are willing to travel to all four corners of the country to see the band on their reunion tour in 2008? Why do these people still adore a band that hasn’t released a new album since 1998, a band that only released four studio albums? There is just something about the music and the hard work of the band members to keep the music available to the public, that they remastered and rereleased their first three albums with b-sides and new artwork, on vinyl, CD and digital download and have undertaken two short tours on their own dime and will be doing it again this spring. Singer/guitarist Adam Franklin continues to create atmospheric, emotional and rocking music with his Bolts of Melody band, and has in recent years worked with Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino as Magnetic Morning. Franklin, along with Franklin, guitarist Jimmy Hartridge and bassist Steve George will be back with an undisclosed drummer. Jez Hindmarsh made it out here in 2008 and Bolts of Melody drummer Mikey Jones performed with the band last time out with original drummer Graham Bonnar behind the kit in the rest of the world.
I asked some Swervedriver fans about how they first learned of the band, what makes them so special and why they still follow the band over two decades later.
I first learned of the band, as did Jim Birbeck (more from him later), from MTV’s Sunday night show “120 Minutes”. The videos for “Son of Mustang Ford” and “Rave Down” expressed an energy that grabbed ahold of those seeking something new. Somehow Swervedriver were exotic, with Adam’s dreads, the shadowed representations of the band, at least in their earliest videos, and the sense of mystery with the layered guitars and epic arrangements. I was hooked and immediately headed out to the Tower Records on Sunset. I played Raise over and over digesting the dense production and cryptic lyrics. I’ve seen them many times since, caught them at their past two local shows and I even started their MySpace page in honor of Adam and the band.
“Rave Down”, the song that started it all:
Whitney first learned of Swervedriver when her then husband Bob, a member of Poster Children, brought a copied tape of Raise home. “These guys were SO good, I was really in love with their music after the first 3 songs of “Raise”. I kept thinking ‘damn, I hope the next song doesn’t suck’ and it didn’t!! I was amazed that every song was so consistently good! I sat right on the floor of the dining room in front of the boom box and listened to the entire 1st side without moving.
Then, that night, I saw them play at The Metro, the best rock venue at that time in Chicago IMHO… both Poster Children & Swervedriver were amazing. I think Graham was still drumming for them at that show, but not sure. And, I think Swervedriver pushed Poster Children (and Bob) to up their game and really “drive” the music harder, faster, louder, beyond. Both bands really put it all out there on the stage. I’ve seen a lot of shows in my life, but that entire Poster Children/Swervedriver show is burned in my memory… it was the kind of show where you’re riveted to the stage and don’t care about socializing, drinking, dancing, only watching a great show.”
“V” of promotional collective Ambient Airwaves, followed British New Wave bands and the Chicago Indie scene, seeing Smashing Pumpkins when they were an opening band. He says that Swervedriver combined the elements of bands from the past that he loved, “that [had an] atmospheric quality to it–like psychedelic parts of Led Zep. …When I first heard “Sci-Flyer” on CD when it came out, I was floored, that whole CD–because now we have a band that rocks and gazes!”
Veronica is a late-comer to Swervedriver, introduced by a friend some years back. “Since that time on, I was enchanted with their songs and I think they always deliver with such an intensity that they capture the crowd making us addicted to their music. I definitely want to keep going to their shows.
Why fans love Swervedriver is precisely why a wider audience never got them. Jim Birbeck explains: “What I love about Swervedriver is that they couldn’t be easily defined. They were too fast and rock and roll for my friends who were into classic rock and pop music. But they were too psychedelic for my friends who were into hard core, metal and punk music.” Whitney further describes the band’s strong points thus: “It has a chaos that strangely becomes organized. It is not accidental; it is intended that way, orchestrated that way. Just like an orchestrated piece of music, you can listen to Swervedriver again and again and hear something new you didn’t notice before.”
When Swervedriver returned in 2008 with drummer Jez Hindmarsh on drums, the fans were pushed up close to the foot of the stage, all the better to see Jimmy and Adam’s pedal array, all the better to feel the wash of power from their amplifiers. Their guitar lines created a wash of beautiful noise that brought visions of motion, of moving cars, of gunfights and car crashes and other cinematic thoughts.
The second video for “Duel”, from MTV’s 120 Minutes:
Brad Sears, who runs www.swervedriver.com expressed why he hasn’t missed a local show in twenty years: “After seeing them in Detroit on their Raise tour I became a fanatic and stay so today. The sound is both powerful and delicate. Adam and Jimmy’s guitar parts weave into something you must experience live. They create melodic shapes that interlock and fuse. Even after so many shows and 20 years I still stand there looking like I am watching tennis as I follow my favourite parts. I’ll have the biggest smile and the loudest cheers at at their show in New York.”
Jack Rabid, editor and publisher of The Big Takeover Magazine is a huge supportor of Swervedriver and had this to say about his favorite band: “I first heard of the band from reading the Brit weeklies, Sounds, NME and Melody Maker — they got a good many mentions in with the new scene i was falling for in the wake of my longstanding love of Cocteau Twins, House of Love, and Stone Roses, and much of Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, so anyone who was getting lumped in with Ride and Lush and Pale Saints and Moose and Boo Radleys and Catherine Wheel and Chapterhouse was totally up my alley. When I heard “Son of Mustang Ford,” I knew that Guy Chadwick of House of Love had raved about it because he also mentioned them to me when I interviewed them, and he told me Alan McGee was also really into the song. so it was a no brainer to buy it on import, and I was immediately hooked. I bought everything I could find from there, and considered each release a special event. Unlike Ride, they never put out a weak album despite steadily evolving. It was like the Stooges meeting the Wipers at time, with bits of the Who! Wow! I still love them, and I never miss their tours. I have seen every one they’ve done here since CBGB on the first go round. They are an awesome live band for sure.”
Set ending song “Duress” live in Toronto, 2011:
Jim Birbeck says he’s outgrown the bands he heard in his teens except for Swervedriver: “There is something timeless about Swervedriver, even now there is something contemporary about them. I tattoo for a living and I’m always playing music and a lot of the time I’ll be playing Swervedriver. Some of these kids who weren’t even born when Raise came out will be rocking in the chair and ask ‘Man, who is this?’ And I’ll tell them ‘It’s the best band you’ve never heard of. They’re called Swervedriver. Check ’em out.”
Tickets are on sale for all their upcoming dates. Find out for yourself why Swervedriver have such faithful and passionate fans when they come to the States this spring.
Mar 28 Philadelphia, Union Transfer
Mar 29 Boston, Brighton Music Hall
Mar 30 Washington DC, Rock and Roll Hotel
Mar 31 New York City, Bowery Ballroom
Apr 2 Cleveland, Grog Shop
Apr 3 Chicago, Bottom Lounge
Apr 4 Seattle, Neumo’s
Apr 5 Portland, Doug Fir Lounge
Apr 6 San Francisco, Slim’s
Apr 7 Los Angeles, Key Club
Special Thanks to Whitney, Jim, Brad, Jack, V and Veronica for help in putting together this article.