Swervedriver returned to San Francisco for a stop on their brief US Tour. GlasGO Pedro sent some questions to Adam Franklin to bring himself and others up to speed on this underrated band. Thanks to Michele and the Swervie Fan Forum for helping out…
Swervedriver formed out of your first band, Shake Appeal, named after the great motor city madness of The Stooges. I recently saw Iggy punish the Warfield here in SF w/ James Williamson on guitar snarl and Steve Mackay on sax assault, while commanding the audience to “Occupy the Stage” which they wholeheartedly did. What was it about this Detroit hi-energy rock’n’roll that got you hooked in quiet, leafy Oxford?
“Well Oxford wasn’t all quiet and leafy in the late 1970s and early 80s. Mine and Jim Hartridge’s journey to school would take us through the old British Leyland car plant in Cowley where a lot of our friends’ parents were employed. I’m not going to say that the sounds of ‘metal-on-metal’ were an influence on the sounds of our guitars or anything – as The Stooges and Black Sabbath have said about their own experiences of being in proximity to factory sounds – but there was certainly something about driving past all of this smoke and car parts everyday. Triumphs, MGs, Minis and Rovers were all created in part there. BL used to do work for Rolls Royce also and the RR and Bentley chassis had to be covered over but occasionally you would see a Rolls Royce skeleton poking out.
The centre of Oxford itself on the other hand, within the perimeters of the old city wall, can often be a quite beautiful and serene place and is possibly the very definition of the ‘England’s dreaming’ that Johnny Rotten sang about in God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols. It certainly lent itself well to listening to post-punk stuff like Atmosphere by Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen in the days when me and my mates would walk around town in our raincoats with our Bunnymen haircuts.”
I love the story of your first gig following My Bloody Valentine who ended their set by covering “Shake Appeal”. Did you foresee the impact they would leave on guitar sound and production later on?
“I remember being impressed and intrigued that Kevin had two identical combo amps – Fenders, I assume – either side of the stage with a completely clean signal coming out of one and completely distorted fuzz out of the other. At that period in time I think you stuck together with anyone that you felt was doing anything even vaguely along similar lines as your own band and so we looked out for their progress and bought the Geek! single which came out around the same time. By the time they released Isn’t Anything we had already become Swervedriver and both bands had shifted their line-ups around and the sounds were changing and getting more exciting.”
I believe our dear friend, Mark Gardener (of Ride), was responsible in getting you signed to Creation Records by playing your demo to Alan Mcgee while driving (how appropriate) around LA? When Swervedriver finally hit the states, fans, colleagues, and critics took to your sound and song craft right away. Was the reception that warm back home in the UK?
“It’s difficult to gauge. Our gigs as Shake Appeal were quite chaotic and although we ended up being well loved in Oxford we confused the hell out of people when we played in London and Brighton. The first Swervedriver show was at the Fulham Greyhound in late ’89 when we performed under the name Junk – or it may have been Rollercoaster. I think the show was with B.A.L.L. as I vaguely recall chatting to Don Fleming and Kramer and them being a little curious about us. I think we still kinda confused people though.
Then McGee signed us and we went out on the road with the House of Love. Graham Bonnar had just joined on drums and his first show was at Liverpool Royal Court in March 1990 where he had reams and reams of prompt sheets for all the songs. Perhaps being put into the context of being a Creation Records band helped people to get a handle on us. I’m sure it did, in fact. It was all about noise and melody back then.”
Fellow live music supporters across the pond, Sonic Cathedral Records, sent us a question: When are you playing in the UK?? (If and when you do, Nat Cathedral is your man..)
“I don’t know when we’re playing – we’ll bear Nat in mind for sure!”
Now for a couple of questions from the Swervedriver Fan Forum:
Will the new songs definitely be released or is that still being decided?
“No and yes. Will I definitely be knocked down by a bus tomorrow? I can’t say for sure on that either or on how long a piece of string actually is. I think the official line was that we’ve been working on new material for probable release later in the year. You can take an educated guess or interpret that any way you want but we have a couple of ideas we’d like to execute, certainly and we’ll see how that goes. There would be various other ‘variables’ to throw in the mix beyond that of course.”
I notice sometimes you use different amps depending on the gig. Is there a reason you use a Matchless, Marshall, or Vox depending on the gig?
“In Swervedriver I always use a Marshall in conjunction with either a Vox AC30 or a Matchless DC30. The Marshall is quiet and crunchy onstage and takes the drier effects pedals but can be cranked loud out front of course. I’ve always used Vox AC30s for the subtler chiming sounds as well as the crazier, wetter more “showboaty” pedals. I can’t always get a hold of an AC30 when I’m in the US but the wonderful folks at Matchless have me on their client list and can always sort me out with one of their DC30s which were of course based wholesale on the AC30, to the point where it went to court I believe.
Jim has a similar set-up although his combo always seems to change – I have no idea why that is. We have the Marshalls panned pretty out far left and right at maybe 4 or 5 o’clock one side and 7 or 8 on the other, with my Marshall over on his side and his on mine and with the combo amps further in – mine at maybe 10 or 11 o’clock and his at 1 or 2. This means that the stereo effects – such as Jimmy’s stereo tremolo – pan across the whole stage. A creative soundman can pretty much fill up the room with sound with that set-up. People sometimes say they’re amazed that there are only two guitars re-producing all the guitars on the recordings but with four amps all creating slightly different textures you can certainly fool people’s ears into thinking they’re hearing everything I suppose. It’s all done with mirrors really.”
How did you initially come to use the Jazzmaster? Jimmy seems to have a different guitar, (or at least a different Les Paul) every tour, but you always stick with the Jazzmaster. When did you get the infamous sunburst Jazzmaster you’re always using?
“I bought that Jazzmaster for £400 from Andy’s Guitars on Denmark St in London in 1990. I went in and was served by Brendan who was the guitarist in Dave Vanian’s Phantom Chords and I put my money down and left it with Brendan to pick up the next day. As I walked out and was turning the corner onto Tottenham Court Road I bumped into Kevin Shields and Andy Bell from Ride who asked me what I was up to so I told them I’d just bought a Jazzmaster. Kevin wanted to see it of course so we walked back to Andy’s, I asked Brendan to take it out from behind the counter and gave it to Kevin to have a play on. Kevin played on it for a bit and then said “shit, this is a really nice one.. do you wanna sell it?!”
To be honest, what brought me to wanting one was simply because Thurston and Lee from Sonic Youth and J from Dinosaur played them. It didn’t hurt that Costello played one too. They look cool, have lots of mysterious knobs and switches plus there’s the area behind the bridge that sounds like church bells chiming.”
Thank you for pushing past your experiences with the cutthroat record industry biz fiascos of the past and coming out the other end by sharing your art and thought live and on the road. What keeps you and Jimmy forging ahead these days?
“I’ve been forging ahead for years because I get ideas. I had to re-record a demo of a new song a couple of days ago because the original recording was in a different key and I wanted to send it to the Bolts of Melody guys for a show we have coming up. It was only a demo recorded in the middle of an afternoon but it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do really.”
You’ve been playing, recording, and collaborating consistently over the years with a variety of interesting projects and people. From Toshack Highway and Bolts of Melody to Magnetic Morning and the split single release with current tour support, Heaven. Any other releases to anticipate this year?
“Definitely maybe. There’s the new Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody album I Used To Live For Music to finish off – we have the drums and bass all down under the original demos so far. There are the Swervedriver ideas, possibly a film soundtrack with a friend of mine plus I’m thinking of making Everyday, Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Saving My Life Vol 3 available, since there have been four albums since Vol 2 and there are some interesting demos/live/instrumental versions of songs as well as unreleased songs and covers knocking around that people might wanna hear and that might help fund the recording of the Bolts album too.”
What bands or records do you recommend we should check out (new or old!)?
“Right now I would recommend Kraftwerk’s Ralf und Florian album which is the one before Autobahn; a David Axelrod compilation called The Edge and Jackie McLean’s 1964 Blue Note release Action Action Action. I quite like that Tralier Trash Tracys tune from the TV advert which is called You Wish You Were Red. Heard a nice tune by Beach House yesterday and the UK band Toy have some cool Television-type guitars going on.”
Finally, any questions for us?
How long is a piece of string anyway?
A guitar string is about 25.4″ (64.52 cm) or multiply the distance from the nut to the 12th fret by 2.
Chrono String Engines were the source of power for spacecraft. These engines drew their power from Chrono Strings.
Ah, the power and ease of the internet. How long is a Chrono String? First to answer gets a personalized Swervie mix tape on good ol’ fashioned cdr…
Live review: The set was loud, b-side heavy, and we managed to snag prime seating for lift off (or, for our old legs) at the end of the bar. “Space-travel rock’n’roll” at its finest. And as one pleased fan said on the way out, ” They played ‘Cars Converge On Paris’ and that’s all I needed to hear.”