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Pedals and Passion: An Interview with Adam Franklin of Swervedriver

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.
Yeah, Luke.

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.