In the late 90’s some friends got together in Oxford, England and bonded over their love of loud guitars and American rock’n’roll. That band was Shake Appeal, then members included guitarists Jimmy Hartridge and Adam Franklin. A few years later they’d changed their name to Swervedriver and began to pass around their cassette demo to all the record labels they could find. A cassette got into the hands of Creation Records’ Alan McGee, which led to a deal with Creation in England and A&M Records in the States. After four albums that documented the band’s evolution from loud and atmospheric to brighter and pop-ier arrangements Swervedriver called it a day in 1998. Singer/guitarist Adam Franklin continued to make music as Toshack Highway, under his own name and currently as Bolts of Melody. Swervedriver’s fifth album, and their first in 17 years is I Wasn’t Born To Lose You. Recorded between live dates in Australia and back home in London, the album touches on all that Swervedriver are known for: hazy moods, poetic lyrics, deceptively strong vocals, layers upon layers of guitars and melodies that hold onto your heart long after the speakers cool.
On the new album Franklin and Hartridge play off of each other with more clarity and thought than before, bassist Steve George holds the epic melody down and drummer Mikey Jones (also of Bolts of Melody) adds some welcome skill behind his kit. Aut0didact and Last Rites are pure Swervedriver, bright and uptempo; For A Day Like Tomorrow has some wonderful twanging guitar and vocal melodies; Everso and Lone Star are dramatic and evocative. Before heading on a plane to the States, Adam Franklin took some time to answer my questions.
When did your interest in music become a passion for creating it?
Maybe five years or so after I first got into listening to it. When I first got a guitar I was more interestIt cain writing songs than learning chords and so at first I had some weird tuning where I could create chords out of the top four strings and I had the bottom two tuned down for bass notes so that I could record using two tape recorders, overdubbing myself very crudely. I used to use a stylophone but we can’t talk about that any more.
I hear many influences in Swervedriver and in your other musical endeavors such as soundtrack sounds, sunny California pop and more. Where did these influences come from and how do you think they’ve become part of the Swervedriver and Bolts of Melody sound?
Where do the influences come from? Well they just come from listening to various different things, different styles and then wanting to get inside them and figure out what’s going on. You might listen to a Beach Boys song or an Ennio Morricone soundtrack and sit down and figure out what’s happening and then apply it to your own idea. There’s a Scott Walker influence on this album but you won’t necessarily notice it.
Your lyrics are very visual and often dark, then paired with more upbeat music. What are some of the lyrics you’ve written that you’re most proud of? How do you think you’ve improved on your lyrics writing over the years?
Oh I don’t know. The lyrics on this new album are all good though, I have to say. If you can squish together meaning and imagery with good syntax then you’re doing okay but there are T.Rex songs I’ve known for forty years where I realise I still don’t know exactly what he’s singing. Luckily when you google them it’s always something cool but it’s gotta be rhythmic because you’re basically just counting out the meter. It’s important to get a couple of chuckles in there too I think. Dark lyrics over upbeat music is at the heart of the best rock’n’roll and pop music isn’t it? Dark lyrics can be funny also though.
With both Jimmy and Steve continuing on with you since 2008 and Mikey Jones on drums for the past few years, how do you think they’ve grown as musicians in their playing. What new approaches have you all introduced or improved on for the new songs?
Everyone has their role – Steve’s usually cracking the whip in the rehearsal room, Mikey’s the horse power that Steve’s whipping on. Jimmy’s surprisingly cerebral when it comes to arrangements – you think he’s fallen asleep but actually he was deep in thought and he’ll come out with a great suggestion of a way to do something that had never occurred. It’s all mainly visceral with Swervedriver though – you’ve gotta feel it and a lot of things are really quite off the cuff or only happened at the last minute and if you’d been recording the song the next day it would sound quite different.
What are some moments when making the new album you all just had to just take a breath and go “that just blew my mind!”?
One moment that kind of blew my mind was getting home from the pub one night just before we were about to fly to Australia and Steve had sent an mp3 of what became Everso. We were trying to figure out how to end the song that became Lone Star and Steve had been playing around with it and reversed the recording and added drums and other elements going forward and he said “maybe the song could end like this?” and I replied “I dunno about this being the end of that song, this has just blown my mind and sounds like a whole new song in its own right!” I didn’t have a clue what was going on or how we were gonna play it but it just sounded great.
Did your appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s show bring a whole new audience to Swervedriver? What were some reactions from fans new and old of playing on national TV?
It seems like it, yes. There are certainly people telling us they weren’t that aware of us before or they were but hadn’t particularly been into us but now they’re really into the new stuff.
You and Mark Gardener go way back, from him giving your tape to Creation’s Alan McGee to a few years back his contributions to Deep Wound and Dub Wound. What was your reaction to learning of Ride’s reuniting? Did you offer any advice on touring and such? How fun was it working with him on those songs?
Well I knew the Ride thing was gonna happen because I’d been working with Mark and there had been all these discussions going on. Mark was blown away by Everso when I was doing the vocals with him – I thought he’d fallen asleep too but then he said that song had got him thinking about hanging out at music festivals back in the day and it made him really excited about Ride playing together again. I dunno about offering advice but I bumped into Loz at Slowdive’s show in London and he asked what it felt like to get back onstage and play those old songs and I told him it was amazing! Me and Mark had a lot of fun mixing Dub Wound – we were referring to is as our exploration into sound.
What roles do each member of the band take on when you get together? Who is the joker, serious one, smartest, shyest, etc?
I think all those roles relate to all of us to an extent but we’re never too serious and never too smart. We all like a laugh and can all be quite shy sometimes too. None of us are natural show-offs so being onstage it’s sometimes misconstrued that we’re acting aloof but we’re not, we’re just digging what we’re doing.
What are some memories of recording in Australia and back home? Did you work day and night or have a standard amount of time rehearsing, recording and then off to the pub and a good night’s sleep? How much time did you all spend in the same space jamming out these songs?
In Australia we worked one day I think. One rehearsal, one day’s recording and five songs down. We just jammed the songs that day, recorded them all two, three, five times and then picked the best versions. In London it was a little longer, maybe three rehearsals and two days on the drums. Myself and Jim then spent maybe another five days doing guitars for all ten tracks. Both recording sessions were in the middle of playing shows so the energy levels were super high – the new version of Deep Wound has a lot of energy.
What are some Franklin standards and new artists that your fans might want to be aware of?
Okay I’m gonna make the most of the fact that this is an email interview and give you a whole playlist – because when you get asked that question you can never think of what you’ve been listening to.
This playlist is called dozetrance and you can fall asleep to it after a while:
An Open Letter To NYC – Beastie Boys
Hotel Blues Returns – Last Ex
Shadows of Tomorrow (instrumental version) – Madvillain
Ascend and Ascend – Death and Vanilla
All Tomorrow’s Parties (Extended live version) – Nico
Blue Veils and Golden Sand – Delia Derbyshire
A Raga Called Pat – Part IV – John Fahey
Crux – Martin Duffy
This Is Not My City – Dirty Beaches
Celeste – Donovan
The War Is Over (Sleepers -Epilogue) – Scott Walker
Planet Caravan – Black Sabbath
Expecting to Fly (Live at the Cellar Door) – Neil Young
The Gallops – Broadcast
There Is A New World Opening For Me – The Kinks
Everyday’s A Carousel – The Minders
Double Act – The Day Ravies
I Got You Babe – Sonny & Cher
Experiment! – The Advisory Circle
Blessed (live) – Simon & Garfunkel
#3 – Aphex Twin
Swimmer – Four Tet
You and Jimmy are well known for the effects and pedals you take on stage to reproduce your full sound of layered guitars. What is the old reliable and what are some of the newer products you’ve used since 99th Dream? How is the new technology better or worse than a good old fuzz pedal and whammy bar?
We’re really not pedal obsessives to any extent, we’re more into guitars and amps. We don’t have pedal boards that you step into because we like to just have stomp boxes at our feet and that’s why we mostly just use Boss pedals. I do like a volume pedal and setting a delay on 10 so that it sounds like an electric shock is fun. I went through a phaser period where I had a Small Stone and Univox but all you really need is a wah wah and some imagination – and a whammy bar, as you say. A touch of phaser is good on vocals in the studio though.
How has album creation and the music business changed since you first started Shake Appeal, through the making of the first four Swervedriver albums and your solo work to the new album? Was it more or less stressful to make the new album than say Mezcal Head?
Well that’s a bit like asking a caveman what’s changed since the dinosaurs got wiped out. We don’t really feel we’re in the music business, we’re just musicians who listen to records and who get to make records sometimes too. Listening to music never changes – I listened to Heart of Gold by Neil Young the other day and it took me right back to my dad coming home with the seven inch single of that in 1972. Blockbuster by The Sweet always reminds me of going to Basildon with my nan and her buying me Wrigleys chewing gum and me eating the whole pack and feeling sick. Recording this album wasn’t remotely stressful – the basic tracks were all completed in three days.
You’ve got some very faithful fans, I met one guy that saw four of your 2008 reunion shows from the east coast to the west coast. So I speak for them when I say thank you for making new music and continuing to tour all these years later.
Thanks for taking the time Bret!
(by Bret Miller)
Swervedriver 2015 Tour Dates:
03/04 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah
03/05 – Los Angeles, CA @ Roxy Theatre
03/06 – San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
03/08 – Seattle, WA @ Neumo’s Crystal Ball
03/09 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
03/12 – St. Paul, MN @ Turf Club
03/13 – Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon
03/14 – Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall
03/15 – Grand Rapids, MI @ Pyramid Scheme
03/16 – Cincinnati, OH @ The Woodward Theater
03/17 – St. Louis, MO @ The Duck Room @ Blueberry
03/19 – Dallas, TX @ Club Dada
03/20-21 – Austin, TX @ South by Southwest
03/23 – Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West
03/24 – Durham, NC @ Motorco
03/25 – Washington, DC @ Rock & Roll Hotel
03/27 – Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
03/28 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair