For a band that hasn’t released too much music and is fiercely independent and grassroots, The Black Swamp punch above their weight, and then some. They’ve previously scored an international support slot for American southern metal supergroup Hellyeah and followed it up with a support slot for Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach as well as Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society. In 2015 they partnered with Brisbane’s Bacchus brewing company who crafted a Russian stout named The Black Swamp in their honour. It’s thick and heavy, much like the music its namesake creates.
Blank editor Samantha Morris spoke with guitarist Jesse Kenny ahead of the band’s debut full-length album I Am.
Jesse and I are drinking a beer as he skites about his recent travels to Morocco. I’m not impressed. He’d just finished recording with his band The Black Swamp before he flew out of the country. The band is his night job. He’s a Council natural areas worker during the day.
“Brendan (Woodley) just needed to get the recording process out of his system,” Jesse says of the recording process adding that they were in the studio for two months.
It’s a classic story of musicians juggling careers, family and recording commitments. Brendan took a week off to track drums but mostly they recorded on weekends.
Brendan has a young son, just turned one and Grant (Scott) has two young girls. Jesse raves about the contribution Brendan makes to the band.
“He generates so much for us,” he said. “Artwork, graphic design, emailing, business stuff, booking tours, tour dates, he’s so organised and generous. Right now he’s trying to get his board approval for architecture too, booking a tour, raising a child and working. And pushing out art, lyric videos.”
“I’m the same, but I don’t have a child to look after. Grant’s similar. He has his hands full too.”
“When we started we said this band would only ever work as fast as the slowest member wanted to work,” Jesse said. “So, yeah, guys have kids and want to take time off. It’s meant to be fun.”
“The way we did this album was very much focused on having a live feel,” Jesse said. “So much heavy metal recently, feels very mechanical. Our band is very much wanting to be in the blues influence side of heavy metal where there’s a real organic-ness to it.”
“To track the drums, Brendan and I played live together, but we were only really interested in his take. And then everyone layered over that.”
Jesse is the main songwriter but explains that the band really “shops” their songs.
“You bring the song to the band and it’s pretty apparent quickly whether a song is a goer or not. If the group latched on to it – it will be a song that ended up making it on to this album.”
The album, recorded at Core Studios and titled I Am is the band’s debut full-length release, due out 29 September. Its release sees The Black Swamp hit the road for a ten-date national tour. It’s a raw, visceral heavy metal offering and follows the earlier EP Foulness (2014) and single Cold Dead Hands (2014).
As it’s been two years between releases, I ask Jesse what has changed for the band. He said the biggest change has been around songwriting.
“That first EP feels a bit stagnant or just a little bit as if we’re just fumbling our way through it,” he told Blank GC. “I’m not really proud of it. Even when we were recording it, I wasn’t even that favourable of it – but it just felt like we had to have music out.”
He said this album sees a connection across theme and a selection of songs that serve each other.
“They serve an a-side and a b-side,” he said. “Rather than just any old collection of songs, there are songs we wrote for this album that didn’t make the album because they didn’t serve each other. There was so much intent.”
The band named the album two years ago and set the tone.
“We new what it was going to be about – thematically,” Jesse said. “We’re pretty different people in this band. There’s some different viewpoints, ideas and we knew we needed to write something that resonated with all of us so that when we were playing these songs we could feel connected to it all and the whole album.”
“So much of it is just being purposeful around the way we wrote and definitely making sure songs served an idea of an album – the way people used to write albums when they were limited to 50 minutes and two sides.”
There’s no question the album was made for vinyl and pre-sales are steady, although Jesse says there’s a challenge around fitting it all in. “Two tracks are ten-minutes,” he said. “The b-side, we’re struggling to get it cut.”
While Jesse says the album is very intentional in its themes, he’s quick to point out that there’s also “nonsensical general metal stupid stuff,” included too.
“The album talks a lot about identity from a very small scale – a very personal idea of identity,” he said. “All the way through to larger ideas of what does it mean to be to be part of a community. But we’re still a beer-drinking, just a fun band, that’s what people like about us – we’re a fun live band. This album has a lot more content that just talks about those issues in a bit more of a contemplative way.”
The national tour takes in Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney, Woy Woy, Melbourne, Bendigo, Gold Coast, Gladstone and Bundaberg. Brendan booked the tour and the Melbourne and Bendigo gigs see the band supporting Never.
The Black Swamp is Brendan Woodley (drums), Jesse Kenny (guitars), Grant Scott (guitars), Rohan Downs (bass), Stuart Wren (vocals).
_ _ _
The Black Swamp will launch I Am at Currumbin Creek Tavern on 11 November with AZREAL, Black Rheno and Baltimore Gun Club in support. The album is out 29 September and available for pre-order now via theblackswamp.bandcamp.com.