Interview: The Swayback
Thu, 04 Feb 2010 08:59:59
The Swayback are the kind of band that rock n' roll needs right now.
The Denver defenders of the faith are very cognizant of their influences, however, they conjure up a sound of their own that's fresh and fiery. Somewhere between The Cure's sensitive darkness and Led Zeppelin's epic bombast sits The Swayback's infectiously entrancing aural experience. They just finished a record with legendary producer and engineer Andy Johns—he worked on records by a few bands you may have heard of, namely Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Television and Bon Jovi. The Swayback are here, and they're here to stay…
The Swayback's Eric Halborg (bass/vocals), William Murphy (guitar) and Adam Tymn (guitar/keys/vocals) spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino about working with the legendary Andy Johns, their new album and so much more…
Don't miss them at the Viper Room in LA on February 16...
Do you feel like this album is at the crossroads of various eras in music?
Eric: For sure. Swayback never set up any finite parameters of what we wanted to sound like and I think that accounts for the wide range of musical eras you can hear in our music. Our record players jump from Billy Holiday to Bowie, Junior Wells to Murder City Devils, Steely Dan to King Tubby, Girls to Killing Joke to Nirvana . . . we let it all seep in deep and come back out of us freely. We listen to so many different eras of music that we become transmitters of sorts, I suppose. That wide spectrum of influence combined with Andy Johns' classic production style gives the album sound a distinct blend of the old and familiar but at the same time totally new and different.
Adam: Definitely. It can range from a late 60's Bread sound, to swanky 70's Stones to early 90's Sub-Pop recordings.
What's the story behind "What a Pity?"
Eric: What a Pity is about being disheartened by how people treat each other. The song basically tries to ward off dream killers, smack talkers, malicious ladder climbers, and people that want to pigeon hole other people--it's a little spell we can cast on record and on stage for protection.
Bill: Most of the lead guitar work for the song was done at Capitol Records, through the Les Paul echo chambers, and on a Les Paul Custom guitar. Capitol Studios has subterranean concrete bunkers built 30 feet underground--the recording engineers direct the sounds through the chambers, and the acoustic properties give the tracks a rich and unique reverberation. The reverb chambers made the song sound huge. Eric ran some vocals through the chambers and they sounded massive and eerie. After one session, Adam and I convinced a fellow Irishman who worked at Capitol to take us down into the echo chambers. He said that only like 50 people had ever been down there before. It was like a submarine. You went down a 30-foot metal ladder along the side of the wall. We got to check out two trapezoid-shaped rooms set up to send the guitar, voice and other sounds out on an angle, with microphones to capture the sounds from the other direction. Very simple, very cool--it was amazing to be a part of something that Les Paul created and that greats like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Beach Boys and Radiohead had all used.
How was working with Andy?
Eric: We've always been very protective of our art; shunning outside influences to a degree, but with Andy we realized we were working with one of the sonic masters and we let our guard down and relished the collaboration. Andy's records have sound-tracked our lives: Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Televison were all so influential to me that, in a way, I felt like I had a built-in connection with him already through the music he produced. It was like the sounds that he has toiled over throughout the years were so ingrained in my brain waves that his ideas and suggestions in regards to our music were natural and we instinctively worked well together. Although, the first day in the studio with Andy was a little like being thrown to the wolves. Andy didn't really know our music well and I think he was wondering why he was working with this band of hooligans from Denver as opposed to, let's say, Steve Miller. He was skeptical, but once we fired up the amps and Martijn hit the drums a bit you could see his eyes light up. "You're a proper rock band aren't you, Eric?" The next thing we know were off amp shopping with him in Hollywood. He's a sweet man, and has extraordinary ears and ideas about song structure. He'd say, "Where is this song taking me, man? It's too linear. We gotta go somewhere with it! It's gotta go somewhere!" With that said, we'd write a new part to the song and the whole dynamic would change for the better. Sometimes we would write a new part, and he'd instantly say "Ok let's record that!" and boom, a part you wrote ten seconds ago was going to tape.
Andy's early history was with the Stones, and he recorded their quintessential blues album, Exile on Main Street. The day we mixed our song "Die Finks," Andy was going on about how it had such a "Stonesy vibe" that he sent his son down from Laurel Canyon with the tambourine he used while recording Exile. "If there's one thing I can do it's play the tambourine, Eric" he told me . . . and Andy played that tambourine throughout the entirety of the "Die Finks" recording.
Is there a quintessential Swayback song?
Eric: I'd say "Forewarned." It's a nice band disclaimer about being an artist that's slightly twisted from lack of sleep: a common Swayback occurrence.
How do you feel like you've grown on the new material?
Bill: I think we are still growing. What we learned from Andy and the new album is this process of refinement, articulation and dynamics. So we have applied this to older songs as well as new songs. It's reinvigorated us in the writing process. As well as adding Adam as a new guitar player. We have been writing a lot lately as a band and are looking forward to sharing our new songs.
Adam: I love the new songs. The best part about writing is shaping all of these parts and ideas into, hopefully, one cohesive thing that is audibly satisfying.
Are you influenced by books or movies as well as music?
Eric: I read mostly non fiction: Alan Lomax's The Land Where the Blues Began, Art of War, Bob Dylan's autobiography, Tao of Natural Breathing, Alan Watts, This is Your Brain on Music (The Science of A Human Obsession). I think studying philosophy and how Bob Dylan and the blues masters did their thing trickle into our music for sure.
Adam: Yes -- Fletch!
Eric: Swayback plays in Los Angeles at the Viper Room on Feb 16. Then we release our first Andy Johns recordings (a 7-inch with Die Finks, along with a Die Finks music video) at the Bluebird Theater in our home town of Denver, Colorado on February 26th. We have a festival (that we will announce shortly) that we are playing this summer and we'll be booking dates around the country before that show. Our new full length will be out this summer so lots of touring is in the cards.
Check out Rick Florino's new novel Dolor available now for FREE here…