Published on November 23rd, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
Interview: Swervedriver’s Adam Franklin
Of all the 90s alternative music that graced my various stereos, from populist band Nirvana to influential shoegaze act My Bloody Valentine, perhaps the one that resonated the most with me was a band from Oxford, England called Swervedriver. Their unique sound took elements of the shoegaze movement coming out of the UK at the time, but streamlined it with a sound that was more driven by guitar hooks and dark melodies.
It was an exaggeration when Mojo Magazine (and others who came after) called Swervedriver ‘the unluckiest band in the world’ — there were plenty of bands that had worse luck. However, Swervedriver did have problems, like wide releasing their amazing album, ‘Ejector Seat Reservation’ (which we had to order from the UK back in the day) and watching bands like Oasis take over the world. This is no sad sack story though; by not over saturating the market, or burning out by snorting swimming pools of cocaine, Swervedriver, and more succinctly, leader Adam Franklin, kept their credibility. Having seen the band (and Franklin’s solo shows) live several times over the years, I have been witness to some of the most epic shows of my music loving life, orchestrated by a tightly tuned band that always put the music first.
Though Swervedriver has been on-again, off-again, Franklin went on to play in acts like the cinematic Toshack Highway, and the recent Bolts of Melody albums (I picked up the new one a few months ago). But on December 1st, Swervedriver is releasing new music via Bandcamp. The Feedback Society fulfilled the nerdy dreams of our younger selves by getting a chance to chat with Adam Franklin; we talked about Bolts of Melody, the industry then and now, and new music from Swervedriver themselves.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: I recently picked up ‘Black Horses,’ the new Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody record. Some of it has a very Swervedriver-ish sound, though it’s a lighter, dreamier, more cinematic touch, like Toshack Highway. How consciously do you try to sound, or not sound, like Swervedriver on this album? Or should I say, is any similarity to Swervedriver or Toshack simply ‘the sound of Adam Franklin?’
ADAM FRANKLIN: I’m not sure that much thought goes into it, or rather, it’s perhaps more instinctual. You might have a song that you feel is pretty good but something’s not quite right about it in terms of a collection of songs. I certainly don’t try to sound or not sound like Swervedriver but some songs might just immediately clearly be for one thing or the other. There are certainly things I come up with which the guys in Swervedriver would never go for — which makes things easier! And at the same time there are songs or song ideas where I think, ‘this is totally up Jimmy’s street. I’d like to hear what he might do with this.’
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: The vibe on the Bolts of Melody album also moves around a bit in tone, in that some of these songs could be on albums for fairly different projects. How did you manage to explore different sounds, yet still have the album sound cohesive?
ADAM FRANKLIN: I agree with you that it moves around stylistically quite a bit and yet seems to work as a whole. In fact, early on I was thinking, okay, I have a bunch of songs here but they all sound quite different to each other and it wasn’t until I started playing around with the order of songs, and dropping some and adding others, that it just started to make sense. I was listening to it more in terms of it being a cool mix tape. It’s a bit like DJing, where you mix up what you’re playing — a Boards of Canada tune followed by a certain Serge Gainsbourg track into a certain Yo La Tengo track or whatever. You’re thinking on your feet about having a certain feel going from one tune to the next and by the time you’ve got from the first tune to the tenth, the mood has completely altered but in a way that made some kind of sense, subconsciously.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: How has the industry changed since the 90s and the rise of the Internet? There are obvious touch points like promotion and distribution, but is there anything positive or negative that you perceive from your own adventures? I know you’ve even dabbled in commissioned work, which is a neat permutation of how the Internet can work for someone like yourself.
ADAM FRANKLIN: Well I’m sure everyone knows the pros and cons by this point and some of it is great and some of it not so great. Most musicians would love to sell their wares in a straight forward bartering transaction and would kill for a weekly wage. Thing is, the guy at the local market selling vegetables is getting squeezed out of the market place by the internet these days also — why go and barter with him when the Enormo-mart down the road lets you buy your fruit online and will deliver for free? Well I tell you why, because it gets you out into the fresh air and interacting with other human beings. Support your local record store but also support your local green grocer!
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: How did you come to have Mad Men’s Jessica Pare to star in the video for ‘I Want You Right Now’?
ADAM FRANKLIN: Through a mutual friend. I’m a fan of Mad Men and it turned out she’s a bit of a fan of my music too and so I suggested she should appear in a video and she very graciously agreed to take time out from her busy schedule be in it. She’s been to see us play a few times too.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: What are you listening to these days?
ADAM FRANKLIN: Recently, Piero Umiliani, Tim Hardin, Dead Meadow, The Day Ravies, Fuck Buttons, Erik Satie — dead eclectic, me. I recently re-heard ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’ by David McWilliams recently which is a great little song.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: I’ve read somewhere once that you are (were?) really into graphic novels, and obviously, some of your songs reference certain books. Are you still an avid reader? If so, what books have you been enjoying the last few years?
ADAM FRANKLIN: Not really, no. I’m not up to speed any more. If I find myself in a comic store I usually have a look at the C section and the H section in case I might see something new by Dan Clowes or the Hernandez Brothers. Those were my guys back in the day. I like how Clowes’ stuff has become more realist while still highlighting a slightly odd, more surreal side to life, like that Mr. Wonderful story. I’m afraid I’ve completely lost track of Love and Rockets but it’s nice to know those characters are still out there living their lives. A few years ago I sent Jaime Hernandez an mp3 of ‘Kill the Superheroes’ with the lyrics because that song name-checks a lot of his characters and I said, “this thing came out almost twenty years ago but I never got around to sending it to you until now.” He emailed me back and said, “Adam, this has made my day,” which in turn made my day!
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: What is the status of Swervedriver these days?
ADAM FRANKLIN: We just returned from Australia where we performed the whole of the first album ‘Raise’ which was a lot of fun. We also road-tested some new material and did some recording in Melbourne and Perth.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: Do you feel like you have to use the Swervedriver name to get people to pay attention sometimes? Does that bother you?
ADAM FRANKLIN: Of course, and yes, it can be frustrating when people view Bolts of Melody or other projects as merely ‘side projects’. Three members of Bolts of Melody happened to be in Sydney recently and so I did attempt to organize a Bolts show, but logistically it didn’t make sense. The irony wasn’t lost on the fact that there I was touring a 22-year-old album and couldn’t get to air my current one, but it’ll happen.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: Do you ever do shows where you throw in Swevedriver, Bolts of Melody, Toshack Highway, and Magnetic Morning tracks?
ADAM FRANKLIN: At completely solo shows probably, though not as a full band. It would be fun to do as a band. There are long term members of Bolts of Melody and Toshack Highway who have still never actually met each other, incredibly. One of these days I intend to play a show where both Locksley Taylor and Will Foster are on stage, not only for the onstage vibes but also the barfly aspect afterwards.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: I have to get a bit weird and sycophantic on you here, so bear with me. There’s always this ‘unluckiest band’ stuff that gets thrown about, and I’m sure it would be nice to make Oasis money, but you must connect with fans in a different way. It just strikes me as wonderful that a band from Oxford could have their music find its way to all corners of the world, especially in the pre-Internet age. While I’m sure gobs of money, cocaine, and swimming pools are great, to me, what you did is better. Your music transcended geographical barriers without a massive radio or marketing push. Do you run into this attitude from fans? Do people have stories like this to tell you the world over? How does it make you feel to have such a cult following?
ADAM FRANKLIN: We were talking with a legendary studio owner in Melbourne recently and he told us that there were two distinct groups of bands coming into his studio in the 90s and beyond, who were on the one hand influenced by US grunge and on the other influenced by — and we thought he was gonna say the UK shoegaze scene — but he said, there were many specifically influenced by Swervedriver and wanting to sound like us.
So there’s always been a small but very dedicated fan base for this band. I suppose it’s like the difference between blanket bombing and making a direct hit and we have made several direct hits — although not those kind of hits, of course. A lot of people talk about an emotional resonance and about how the material still makes a direct connection. So I don’t go along with the ‘unluckiest band’ tag at all. I think we’re blessed to have these people, your good selves included.
There will be new Swervedriver material to download directly from swervedriver.bandcamp.com from December 9th as well as assorted goodies from adamfranklin.bandcamp.com.