Seventeen Years in the Making, Swervedriver's Return Strikes a 'Beautiful/Nasty' Balance
Photo by Giles Borg
It's been a long time coming — seventeen years long, to be precise — but on March 6, Swervedriver released a brand-new album, I Wasn't Born to Lose You, marking the shoegaze vets' first full-length record since 1998's 99th Dream.
The question isn't so much why the wait, after all, as the band was broken up and had been silent for almost ten years before reconvening around 2007. Reunion tours do strange things to bands: They either revive old battles or, as in this case, remind them of great musical bonds. Still, a new album was a subject Swervedriver approached cautiously.
"The band didn't exist for ten years, then we got back together, and people were always asking us about a new album," says singer and co-guitarist Adam Franklin. Following Swervedriver's dissolution at the end of the Nineties, Franklin's solo career morphed into the band Bolts of Melody. "We wondered when would be the right time to do it. Since then it's been another seven years," he laughs.
Once his Swervedriver bandmates — co-founder and guitarist Jimmy Hartridge, bass player Steve George, who joined in 1992, and newcomer (and Bolts of Melody drummer) Mikey Jones — began nudging him, Franklin fell in willingly and easily. "Once we got down to it, it happened quite quickly," he reflects. "We just started writing, initially some songs we weren't happy with, but, like a number 12 bus, once one good song came along, they all came along. We did five songs in a studio in Melbourne, then two more days at Konk, Ray Davies's studio in London. So in the end it was quite spontaneous. But, yeah, it did take fifteen years to get there."
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That first song to be completed was "Deep Wound," which was released as a single in 2013, making its live debut on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon shortly thereafter. (The song was re-recorded for the album.)
"I was in New York, and in the middle of the night, I had this song idea and emailed Jimmy and Steve a file, and then went back to bed," Franklin recalls of "Deep Wound." "In the morning I had two emails: One was from Jimmy and it just said, 'Beautiful.' The other was from Steve and it just said, 'Nasty.' So I figured that was probably the right kind of balance for a song."
The result is a heady swirl of guitars swapping out clanging, swooning tones, washed in blurry electronics, and topped with Franklin's dreamscape vocals. It still fits the band's shoegaze distinction. Franklin says the band didn't intend on being lumped in with the shoegaze scene thriving in the United Kingdom, or the grunge of the United States, but signing to Alan McGee's pre-Oasis roster at Creation Records sealed their entry into what is now a respected genre. It's one that has undoubtedly influenced bands such as A Place to Bury Strangers, the Black Angels, the War on Drugs, and countless others.
"It's a weird thing: If we had signed to a different record label, we might have been labeled something else," says Franklin matter-of-factly. "The first label we took our demo to was Blast First, because they were licensing Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. records. And, as we walked down to go to their office, who was coming out but Thurston Moore and J Mascis. They did want to sign us, but we'd signed to Creation Records. If we had been on Blast First, we probably wouldn't have been called a shoegaze band."
Franklin has no problem with identifying with shoegaze and thinks it's done the band nothing but good, long-term. "You get these [compliments] like 'Best Shoegaze Albums of All Time!' and if one of our albums is in there, great — someone in the Midwest who has discovered shoegaze discovers us. There are bands that couldn't be put in a genre that have a harder time today, because they existed on their own."
In hindsight, Franklin can see that the problems that led to Swervedriver temporarily calling it quits were simply the usual ones of being young and thrust into a bustling world of recording and touring. The business side wasn't easy to manage, either. "It was all that stuff," he says. "Now, of course, I can see we probably just needed a break. Not this long of a break, though."
As for the new record's title, it isn't a romantic riff on the Johnny Thunders song "Born to Lose."
"I only thought of that after," says Franklin. "When we were thinking of a title, we did start going through the lyrics on the album, which was unusual. We'd never done that before to find a title. But it seemed interesting; it is a romantic sort of thing. I thought if I saw a title like that I'd be interested in knowing what that's about. It could be romantic, or it could be for our fans: Like, you didn't lose us after all."
Swervedriver play the Music Hall of Williamsburg on March 27 and the Mercury Lounge on March 30. Both shows have sold out, but tickets are available on the secondary market. See also: Slutist's Legacy of the Witch Casts a Powerful, Feminine Spell 'WTF is Hobo Folk?' Shakey Graves and Nikki Lane Ditch Your Labels at the Door Does New Jack Swing Really Matter in 2015?
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