Pedals and Passion: An Interview with Adam Franklin of Swervedriver
Swervedriver, a quartet out of Oxford, England, began connecting to music fans the world over with a collection of singles that culminated in the release of their debut album Raise in late 1991. Their music videos were played on MTV, and for those that stayed up late on Sunday nights to watch 120 Minutes, minds were blown, plans were made, instruments were picked up, bands were conceived, and a new favorite band was found.
Swervedriver‘s genius was found in their combination of noisy, textured guitars that chugged along like the sounds of a revving muscle car engine then took off on flights of guitar hero fantasy that sparked our imaginations. Singer/guitarist Adam Franklin sang tales of alienation, hope and dreams and getting in a car and driving just for the shear adventure of it all.
In September of 2017 Swervedriver will return to the States for a short tour where they will perform Raise and revered follow-up Mezcal Head from beginning to end, treating fans to songs never heard live before or in many years. Something Franklin seems excited about, to relearn songs originally written over 20 years ago and to breathe new life into them. The band is also working on a new album for release in late 2018, something their fans are truly looking forward to with anticipation.
While Adam Franklin prepared for the tour, we spoke about new pedals, revisiting old songs and performing with lifelong friends.
You’ve got Mick Quinn on bass for the tour, will he be on the new album?
It looks like he will be, yeah. He’s gonna be hanging out in Australia at the end of the year but we’re gonna be getting some work in before then so we’ll see how it goes.
What progress have you made on the album? I’m excited about that.
It’s yet to be recorded, but we’re working on it. We’ve just launched this Pledge campaign which is how we’re going to do it this time and hopefully have an album out.. well I won’t quote an exact date! I did an interview recently about the Bowie-Motorhead 7-inch single and then was asked what was going on with Swervedriver and I said “we’re looking to record another album” and then the title of the piece became “Swervedriver are recording another album” so it was suddenly cast in stone, in black and white! But 2018 for sure.
That’s funny that you mentioned your single because around the same day or two was released a video for Motörhead’s cover of David Bowie’s Heroes, from a covers album coming out soon. I’m also hearing a song from you that sounds eerily familiar and then I hear the lyrics for Thursday’s Child.
Motörhead’s cover of Heroes, it’s not bad. I guess they recorded it for some album session and it just remained in the can all these years, as they say. I thought it was interesting that Lemmy had done that. Along with the fact that Lemmy and Bowie died within a few weeks of each other there was also a photograph of them together but it turned out to be a photograph that somebody mocked up, a fake photograph.
You can’t go wrong with Motörhead and Bowie and Adam Franklin. Swervedriver and your music has all that DNA in it, doesn’t it?
Those songs had been recorded on my laptop over the last two to three years or maybe longer. The first time I had ever played that Motörhead song (Iron Horse/Born to Lose) was an acoustic gig I did in LA. I did a solo acoustic gig at the Mint in 2005 or something. My girlfriend at the time was with me and my friend and his wife, and we all went to Disneyland and we’ve got to get to this club and do this show and on the way, driving in, he says to me “Hey man, what are you going to play tonight? Any Motörhead songs?” as a joke. I said ‘Maybe I will’ and he said “I bet you won’t” so it was like a bet, really. I’d always played around with that song. So to win a bet I gotta play the song on stage at the Mint and he had to buy me a shot or a cocktail or something in the end.
So you both won.
Exactly. Everyone’s a winner.
How has music made you a better person?
I don’t know that its necessarily made me a better person. You feel like you’re helping people sometimes. I found myself awake in the middle of the night a few nights ago, I had to get up to go to the Embassy and there were two messages that arrived on Facebook and it was people who are going through health issues – both messages were related to their being fans of the music and I replied today. You hope that you’re making people feel a little better. It’s the music, really. It’s humbling at the same time. People talk about certain songs or certain records getting them through certain situations. Some people say “Hey man, high school was a hard time for me and your records got me through it” – that makes you feel like you’re doing something for the greater good, shall we say. And that comes from music. So that’s a good thing.
You lift peoples’ spirits. I remember I had a breakup and I listened to this one album over and over again. This musician that went by the name of Bows.
I interviewed him for the album and he said all the synth sounds were actually guitars.
A friend of mine played on the album and then the last time I saw Luke (Sutherland) we played with Mogwai up in Glasgow, maybe three years ago and he was there. It was nice to have a chat with him. I mentioned the album and the mutual friend. It was nicely packaged, that album.
Let’s get back to Swervedriver. Am I remembering this correctly, that you played Raise in its entirety a few tours ago?
We did it in Australia and then I think a couple of shows in the UK as well. This was 2014 I suppose. The thing was, that we recorded half of I Wasn’t Born to Lose You in Melbourne and five were recorded in London and the five that were recorded in Melbourne were done on that little tour were we were playing Raise. We had a day off and we went into the studio and arranged to record there. So playing Raise live was really good fun and it focused us into how the new album was programmed and it fed into the making of the new album. And the half of the album that was recorded in London was the day after playing the Raise show in London. So it was fun to do that.
I think the interesting thing from the band’s point of view is that there are going to be one or two songs that you’ve never actually played before or you played them back in the day for those tours but never again. On Raise there’s a little jam that happens before Sandblasted which is basically just me and (drummer) Graham Bonnar and this tremolo guitar. And listening through – Feel So Real, what’s the tuning? Lead Me Where You Dare, never played ever – it was played once in the studio and that’s it. So that was a really fun challenge. That song was a cool way to round out the set because normally you’d finish the set with a big chord “Bruuuuhhhh” “Good night, thank you very much!” and that would be the end of Sandblasted but because the album had this coda, like a little thing added on the end, the album finishes on that tune and then sort of dissolves into Jimmy’s backwards guitar thing at the end. It’s a fun album to play, I can tell you that much.
But the thing about the tremolo thing before Sandblasted – that was really cool, like “Wow, I forgot all about this and wouldn’t it be fun to play this” and working out the chords and then developing it so it had a separate life thing because although the album is 25 years old, there’s new life being breathed into various sections of the record. Sci-Flyer – at the end of that it goes into a jam thing that mutates generally speaking and that’s a cool thing. The album is kept alive because there’s cool stuff, cool shit going on.
One of my questions, and you already answered it, was are you and Jimmy relearning the songs that you haven’t played for a long time or if ever? It sounds like it got you excited.
A lot of the Raise songs we had been playing around that time. Deep Seat is a a long jam but not really, it’s tightly structured with all these things happening at various points – it’s open and expansive. Sunset with that great middle section, it just takes that journey.
So the songs have room to improvise and change.
We’ve generally always played the songs differently. There was a period when Rave Down got really slow almost like stoner rock or something and we realised it had got way too slow. Just using different effects pedals on Sandblasted or whatever changes things around.
I’m also looking forward to hearing Mezcal Head in its entirety too.
So let me move on to Mezcal Head, which we’ve never played in its entirety. Blowin’ Cool hasn’t been played in a long time. The things that interest me: Harry and Maggie – I kind of prefer the 93 Million Miles And Counting version.. do you know that single, which is the same song but played in a sci-fi, glam rock kind of way? It’s the same words and the same chords but played in a different style. Anyway Harry and Maggie itself hasn’t been played since 1993 or whatever. The whole section at the end is quite fun! I listened to it the other day “thinking what’s going on at the end?! Oh yeah, there’s a lot of cool stuff going on here, actually”. A Change is Gonna Come also hasn’t been played in a long time but I did do that song as part of a thing I did a few years ago where people requested exclusive versions of songs (released as It’s All Happening Now, 2014) so I did record a version of that. It got me back into playing that song. The one song that hasn’t been played from Mezcal Head is the last song on that album You Find It Everywhere. The other real question with Mezcal Head is that the album, in our mind, is the UK version, so it finishes with You Find It Everywhere. The US version ends with Never Lose That Feeling/Never Learn on the end. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to the US version of the album from start to finish. It feels like a weird running order because you’ve already had the long Duress then you’ve got a little respite with a couple of fast songs then you’ve got this slow play out of Never Learn. But I guess that’s the album. What are you gonna do? You can’t not play Never Lose That Feeling I suppose.
That is correct, Adam.
But if you play Never Lose, you can’t not play Never Learn.
It‘s like it sounds strange to not hear We Are The Champions after We Will Rock You.
Did that Queen album have a different running order in the UK? Back in the day there were plenty of records that were quite different (than in the States). The Beatles‘ and the Stones‘ early albums were knocked together for the US.
Stone Roses’ Fools Gold was added to their debut. That song became very popular, and it was ten minutes long and somehow that was the copy I bought. Maybe it took us a little while longer here to catch on. How long have you known Jimmy Hartridge?
Probably since ten years old.
What did you initially bond over? How did you know you’d be friends?
He was friends with my brother (Graham) more than me. He and my brother had a band. I knew him from school and stuff. He used to have a band with my brother, The Roadrunners and I was in a band called The Splatter Babies. The bands were quite different, The Roadrunners were like the Rolling Stones-type band in a way but the early Stones like the harmonica playing R&B stuff – like the song Roadrunner. Whereas The Splatter Babies, we felt we were much more post-punk, Echo & The Bunnymen, Joy Division-y stuff. Amelia Fletcher was the singer – she went on to form Talulah Gosh who were this jangly but punky kind of thing which actually inspired Riot Grrrl quite a bit. The band split in half. She was into doing that kind of stuff while me and (drummer) Paddy discovered the Stooges, MC5, alongside my brother and Jimmy discovering it. So it was kind of like, let’s ditch our respective bands and let’s get together and do this Stooges thing. Me and my brother joined together in a band, because it was him and Jimmy and me and Paddy on the other side – Paddy was the original drummer in Swervedriver and that’s how it came about. I knew Jim but he was hanging out in a different scene, buddies with my older brother.
What has kept you two friends this long? I know there’s the music, but what is it about Jimmy that you appreciate?
Jimmy is a very easygoing guy. He has a great temperament. I was out recently with his kids, Jimmy’s got three kids and they’re now of drinking age. Sometimes they’re around and there’s a thing going on and Jimmy and his girlfriend leave and then the kids look at me and go “Come on” so I end up drinking more with Jimmy’s children than him these days.
You’re Uncle Adam.
I hope they don’t think of me that way – their Uncle Tom is quite enough! One time we were just outside this bar smoking or something and we were talking about Jim. I said “I imagine he’s been a pretty cool dad all these years?” – we’ve all in one way or another lived with Jim for many years! When things piss him off though he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He’s quite diplomatic. He’s a great guy, a funny guy and a great guitar player. That was the other thing – it was cool being in a band. I had been in a band with two guitars. The first band I’d ever been in was with Mick Quinn’s brother, who is playing bass with us now. He’s from Supergrass but back then, my band – we’re going back before The Splatter Babies and The Roadrunners, we’re going back to The Suspects, which was a band I was in, and The Bogarts, was the band Jimmy was in. Both of these bands used to rehearse in the Quinns’ family cellar. Simon Quinn, who is Mick’s older brother, he was the other guitarist in The Suspects. So we would rehearse down in their basement and every now and then Mick would come down and Mick was like ten years old. We’d be like “Alright Mick” and ruffle his hair. The first time I ever played electric guitar plugged in was in Mick Quinn’s basement. I already had this Les Paul copy and they asked me to join this band and I was like “great, I actually get to plug this guitar in!” They had an amp and I plugged it in and the first riff I played was Silver Machine by Hawkwind. That was the start of me playing electric guitar.
Hawkwind had a hit single in 1972 in England with Silver Machine, which Lemmy sang. It’s a great tune – I think when the Sex Pistols got back together in 1996 they opened one of their shows with Silver Machine, which is kind of funny. Because that was a hit single, and we would consume songs that were in the pop charts, me and my brother were then listening to their album Space Ritual when it came out. I was probably about six years old, five or six years old and it’s a pretty wacky album! There was a lot of stuff about space in the charts back then – man had just walked on the moon, Bowie did Space Oddity which then got reissued after he had a hit with Starman, Elton John had Rocket Man. It seemed like every other song was about space and stuff. So hearing Space is Deep by Hawkwind … we would sit down and stare at the record going round and round as we listened to it – at five years old! It’s pretty mental, I suppose.
I remember listening to a Kiss album with a friend as a kid. It seemed exotic at that age, with the fantasy cover art.
Kiss never had any hits in the UK but I guess that’s because we had Slade. Slade and T.Rex were the big things back then. And The Sweet and Mud and all these bands had different levels of hipness over the years but you didn’t care about hipness as a kid, if the guitars sounded fuzzy then you kind of liked it. You listen back to a lot of that stuff, The Sweet and their b-sides because their a-sides were all written by a songwriting team but their b-sides were their own compositions. They were trying to break out of their bubblegum thing and they wanted to be Deep Purple. So there’s some great b-sides – Man From Mecca was a great one.
Slade had great b-sides too. We finally met Dave Hill from Slade when we played some shows with The Wonder Stuff in the UK – we played a show at Bescott Stadium which is a football ground and Dave Hill from Slade was there. So he’s backstage and I’m Oh my God, it’s Dave Hill’ so I had to ask him a few questions. I said “Dave, I’m a big fan” and I asked him about a particular b-side, the b-side to Gudbuy T’ Jane, which is I Won’t Let It ‘Appen Again. And I said to him ‘that song has such a great guitar sound’ – the song has an almost post-punk reverb or delay on it and I was wondering what that was. So I asked Dave ‘How did you get that sound?’ and he said “You know what? What we used to do is just turn the amps up to ten!” So I imagine there was something else going on in the production of that song that maybe Dave wasn’t privy to! But I suppose they used to play their guitars loud and if anything Swervedriver is known for playing loud so I guess we’re carrying on Slade‘s legacy there.
I have a few questions from fans. Meagan Masingill asks what is one of your favorite tracks you’ve created and why?
I tend to gravitate towards our b-sides for some reason. The Director’s Cut of Your Life its a mysterious kind of song, the band is in a nice groove, there’s some great lyrics in that song – there’s something about “The vultures start to pout”, that’s the lyric. It’s got a great middle eight as well, a really good descending chord sequence and it’s the first time that crazy feedback pedal appears on a Swervedriver song I think.
Keith Eberl asks who would be your fantasy tour mates?
That’s a tricky one. Live or dead? I like the band Broadcast so it would be fun to see them every night because they don’t exist anymore. Trish Keenan sadly passed away a number of years ago.
Tono Magana asks what you think of some of the bands that are taking inspiration from Swervedriver and the bands that came out around the same time as you.
It depends on if they’re individually good, really. I can’t talk generally across a whole bunch of bands, just like you couldn’t back then!
Lastly, any new pedals or equipment you’d like to share for all the music nerds out there? I noticed you had a pedal for sale on your Pledgemusic page.
There’s Pete from The Dandy Warhols‘ signature pedal. It seems like all the hot pedals are coming from Portland, Oregon right now, because that one right there is the Charlie Foxtrot and that pedal is made by Malekko. There’s a good clip on Youtube of Pete demonstrating it. There’s also these great guys Catalinbread who are also in Portland. They’ve been awesome because the main guy Nick Harris posted something on Facebook about a clip of Kevin Shields playing a Catalinbread pedal and Nick posted “This is amazing! Kevin is using one of my pedals” and he said “The only thing that could complete this picture is if Swervedriver also played these pedals” so I contacted him and he had so many pedals that he wanted to push in my direction. I said there was a pedal that I liked the look of, the name escapes me but it creates this kind of like a Syd Barrett kind of sound.. I’m going to have to find that now, it’s going to bug me.. it’s the Echorec! And it’s creating this old 60’s Binson Echorec sound in pedal form. So they sent me this, and various other pedals. Then heartbreakingly, Nick was killed by a falling tree like two years ago which shocked everybody, people in the guitar community and beyond. Catalinbread has been so good to us, giving us pedals and I just wanna big up Catalinbread – they’ve come up with some great gear and are carrying on Nick’s vision I think. There’s another Catalinbread pedal called CSIDman which is kinda made to sound like a Discman portable CD player when the track sticks. It does this randomly using its own algorithms so it’s kind of fun because you don’t know what’s going to happen next, you just play things. It’s wild.
These pedals, they’re the things that update the songs in a way. Like you said earlier about playing these old songs and breathing new life into them by playing them differently. I think that the songs exist in their melodies, riffs, rhythms and words but the way they’re played has changed over the years. For example, in the late 90’s I got really into phase pedals and if you hear a live recording from that period the phase pedals have become part of the sound massively. It wasn’t there in the early 90’s and it’s not there now. You just go through phases and lose interest with certain pedals. The basic bed of it all is a good guitar and a good amp. We’ve always had distortion, wah-wah and a bit of reverb and you can get away with playing the set with those three pedals. If you listen to Thee Oh Sees, he’s just playing a Boss DD5 delay, distortion and Space Echo. So that’s what is bringing new life to the songs, playing them through whatever equipment you have at the time.
I play the Lexulous Scrabble – I quite enjoy playing a few games. I figure that was good thing to play [for the Pledge] – it was a more personable thing. We wanted to have things like sendng postcards from the road. I think it should be fun.
I’ll see you next month.
At the Teregram.
Who is opening?
Swervedriver is opening. We figured it’s a long enough set. We didn’t want to burn anybody’s ears out. We’re just going on to do the first album, have some crazy sounds in the interlude to get the party going again and then come out to do the second album.
(by Bret Miller)