English alternative legends Swervedriver were part of the original wave of pioneering ‘shoegaze’ bands that rose to prominence in the late 80’s and early 90’s, a sound defined by swirling, dreamlike atmospherics and smeared, heavily treated guitar sounds.
More ‘shoegaze on steroids’ than contemporaries such as My Bloody Valentine and Lush, Swervedriver weren’t afraid to embrace their love of noisier US fare such as Dinosaur Jr to create their own unique slant on a genre that continues to gain traction and respect with the passing of each year.
The band have certainly been no strangers to these shores, and on the eve of their latest Australian tour, Anthony Gebhardt fired off a few questions to amiable Swervedriver front-man Adam Franklin.
You seem to have a real love affair with Australia if the amount of times you’ve played out here is anything to go by. Do you recall how many times you’ve been to Australia, and do you have a favourite show or moment that springs readily to mind from across your tours here?
No, it’s all a blur. Maybe seven or eight? Probably the most memorable shows were the two nights we did back to back at the Metro in Sydney where we played completely different sets each night, staggering the ‘hits’ and album classics accordingly.
Adam you’ve previously collaborated with Heinz Riegler, formerly of Brisbane legends Not From There. How did this connection come about and will you be catching up with him again this time around when you hit town? Or is he off overseas at the moment?
A very good question. Not From There were the third band on the bill when we toured with them and Powderfinger in 1998. We just hit it off and he would come onstage when we played How Does It Feel To Look Like Candy? and make a noise on some keyboard that was lying around. When I did that Toshack Highway track Harlem I asked him if he would write some words and do a spoken word vocal on it. I think he may be overseas in Austria or somewhere at the moment though, like you say. Lovely track that.
Another Brisbane centric question..I read with interest of your love affair with the Jazzmaster guitar you borrowed from Tym Guitars in Fortitude Valley the last time you were here. Any plans to get your hands on it again this time around?
Tim is great and has helped us out a great deal over the years, letting us rehearse in his backroom and putting out singles – he did one edition of I Wasn’t Born To Lose You on transparent red vinyl that I’m hoping to get my hands on. He also put out the very first vinyl edition of my first solo album Bolts of Melody. We have a special 45 single that we’re doing with him for this tour actually.
Back in 1998 you played a show at Dingwalls in Camden Town, London, which stands out as one of my favourite gigs ever. You sounded enormous and there was some aptly killer footage of rockets launching into space playing behind you. Do you recall this gig at all or have I mythologised it out of all proportion?!
I think that was a pretty good show but yeah, it’s hazy also! I believe that may have been the show where the whammy arm on my Jazzmaster somehow sheared off in my hand as we were playing Duress. I was whammying away with my eyes closed and suddenly it felt light in my hand and I looked down and I was whammying thin air!
Have you been happy with how the latest album, I Wasn’t Born To Lose You, has been received? And where do you rate it in the pantheon of Swervedriver releases?Couldn’t be happier with the album and its reception really. It was exciting to be recording a new Swervedriver album and we felt that it was sounding killer when we were recording and mixing and couldn’t wait for people to hear it. People really liked Setting Sun when we put that out and were curious as to how the album might sound but it was when we posted the clip for Autodidact that the avalanche of love for the band really hit home and people were expressing how happy they were that we were back and how they were playing it on repeat. It’s my favourite album of the five.
Last time you were out here in 2013 you played your debut album, Raise, in full. Is this something you’d consider doing with another of your earlier records in the future? I dare say that Mezcal Head would be a popular fan’s choice!
I suppose it might be. I guess we have about five of those songs jostling for positions in the current set – six (or seven) if you include Never Lose that Feeling/Never Learn which was added to the US version – and five of those are regulars in the set and all sound great. Two or three of the other songs haven’t been played in a very long time and the last song You Find It Everywhere has never been performed live before, although we did play it in rehearsals not long ago. So it could be fun because it’s interesting playing an album from start to finish as there’s a different dynamic.
What’s your take on the number of so called shoegaze bands that have reformed recently? It feels like 1991 all over again sometimes! Do you think it has something to do with the reverence in which the original genre now seems to be held?
It’s bleedin’ overkill now isn’t it! To be honest, at this point you’re surprised when you find that a certain band isn’t back together. But we know how exciting and kind of emotional it is for bands and audiences to be reunited and I’m happy to see certain bands being lauded much more than they were the first time around. Rock ‘n’ Roll is for life and not just for Christmas now, it seems! And yes, the genre can now be viewed as having genuine longevity and influence not only on new bands and artists but also on music you hear on TV or even influencing movie directors who want to create a certain mood for their film.
Music wise is there anything in particular (new or old) that’s inspiring or moving you right now?
Let’s see.. I just recently bought some underwater headphones so I’ve been swimming to Thee Oh Sees Sticky Hulks, Four Tet Swimmer, Carole King’s original demo of Pleasant Valley Sunday, Sven Libaek Misty Canyon, Cocteau Twins Heaven or Las Vegas, Ennio Morricone Ninna Nanna Per Adulti, Broadcast Pendulum, The Stranglers The Raven ..I could go on. That’s just for swimming, mind you – those tunes appealed for listening to underwater.
Are you surprised at the ultimate longevity of Swervedriver and can you ever envisage a finish line for the band?
As someone said, we never sang about teenage obsessions in the first place and there was always a kind of world-weariness to the songs that we’ve kind of grown into over the years. But there’s also always been a kind of wide-eyed wanderlust going on and an exploration of new places and it’s certainly pleasing that the audience now is not just made up of the people who have known us since inception but also kids who have discovered us much more recently. There may come a time when the audience is too old to step out and see us play or when we’re too decrepit to stand onstage any more but the music itself probably won’t ever end.
Swervedriver will be reliving their epic back catalogue as well as showcasing tracks off killer new record I Wasn’t Born to Lose You when they hit Oz shores in June. They kick things off at The Triffid in Newstead, Brisbane on 22 June. Following on from that they’ll be playing: The Corner Hotel, Richmond on 23 June, The Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle on 24 June, The Factory, Marrickville on 25 June and Amplifier, Perth on 28 June.