April 24th, 2008 | Interviews

Swervedriver “Last Train To Satansville”


Swervedriver collided ‘Sister Ray’ into Ennio Morricone and released four full-lengths before breaking up after an unfair share of debilitating circumstance. They will be reuniting (with Adam Franklin, Jim Hartridge, Jez Hindmarsh and Steve George) this Sunday at Coachella, and will also be playing L.A. at the end of May. Adam Franklin speaks now from his home in England.

Was the decision to reunite actually made over pints in a pub?

Pretty much—I was in the states again and Jimmy had called, and had mentioned it. It would periodically get mentioned, and this time around it seemed like everyone was up for it. So we met up, sat down, and decided what we wanted to do.
What did you want to do?
See what happens, really—there’s never been that much of a career sensibility to this band. I don’t think rock ‘n’ roll bands should have that outlook, though it can be a career. The reasons we broke up in the first place was because we weren’t really enjoying it. This time around—it’s ten years on, and the people who saw us ten years ago would love to see us again, and a bunch of people have sprung up in the interim—it could be a good time!
Did your old drummer Graham really leave that first tour in Niagara Falls by saying he was gonna get a sandwich and then never coming back?
That has a basis in fact—maybe the story’s become slightly exaggerated. We were at the border waiting to go into Canada, and waiting for our papers to be handed in, and he said he was going to go out and get a sandwich. And he didn’t reappear. And Canadian immigration came in and said, ‘One of your party has defected.’ We found him wandering in no man’s land—he didn’t want to get back on the bus, so we left him at the border and left him money to get where he needed to go. A week into the tour and the drummer had left.
Did that prepare you for further inconveniences?
You’d think so. We managed to not miss any shows on that tour.
Is it true that you and Jim are so psychically linked that you’ll be playing complimentary guitar parts in completely different rooms?
I think that came from a song on Mezcal Head—the way we ended up doing it, Jez was in one room, I’m in one room and Jim was in a third room playing guitar. That might be from Jez hearing me on the right hand headphone and Jim on the other, and us playing off each other in different rooms. But we must have rehearsed the song in a room all together at some point! What’s always been good about Swervedriver—we can intertwine those guitar lines, but live we realize we can’t play them that conveniently, so we swap parts around. And when we get together, it’s like—‘Who actually plays that solo?’
Do you finish each other’s sentences, too?
The rhythm section had a nickname for us—‘the man with two brains.’ And we came back calling them the ‘prog-rock brothers.’ They’d be playing some prog-rock monstrosity in the back of the bus.
What’s your own favorite prog-rock monstrosity?
Oh, that wouldn’t be me—that’s them! I could be misquoting Jez, but I think he’s quite a big fan of Phil Collins. Sort of the early Genesis.
What’s the best record you ever borrowed from your brother?
He was always very up on the kind of late-‘60s psychedelic punk stuff—13th Floor Elevators, Chocolate Watch Band, all those Pebbles albums and the U.K. equivalent—Chocolate Soup for Diabetics. It was definitely outside the mainstream of what I would have heard otherwise. I guess the mainstream for a 14-year-old kid then was Echo and the Bunnymen, and then you find out the Bunnymen were influenced by the Elevators. So my brother’s record collection was a big influence for sure.
What does he do now?
He DJs an online radio show—he used to do it in London, but now he has all the gear at home, so he just sits in his bedroom. It’s just like being back in his bedroom ages ago!
So the entire world is now his little brother.
Are there any other hidden sounds in the songs besides the Harley on ‘Last Train To Satansville’?
There’s a lyric in ‘Satansville’ about ‘my drink’ or ‘having a drink,’ and you hear the clink of glasses. We were quite into the sort of subsonic things you’re not quite aware you’re hearing—I can’t remember if it’s ‘Duress’ or ‘Never Lose That Feeling/Never Learn’ but there was a sound we used a lot of church bells at a certain point. All at a level you couldn’t make out what you’re hearing, but you’re definitely aware of it. Pianos and things—sitar on ‘Lose That Feeling’—I think that’s the great thing about having the studio different from the live things. The bits of sound hidden under the mix.
What do you think of the idea that Swervedriver didn’t sell records because everyone who liked you was in the industry and getting them for free anyway?
I haven’t heard that one! That’s sort of the same story for every band. In some ways, Swervedriver could be seen as a musician’s band. But I think it’s a myth when people say Swervedriver were the unluckiest band in the world. I think there are plenty less fortunate. Everything we recorded did get released eventually—plenty of bands did records and the label said ‘not good enough, more vocals, less guitar,’ or there were bands that had people standing over their shoulders telling them how to mix. We never had anything like that. And it’s not like there’s a hidden album we can’t get released.
What’s the rarest release? Is there anything you don’t have?
The biggest thing that sucks is that back catalog isn’t out there because of signing with a major. If you sign a stupid contract to get the music out there, at some point you might get bitten in the ass later on. Which kind of happened now.
How are you deciding what to put in the set?
If anything, getting back together after ten years encourages you to streamline everything—‘We don’t really need to play THAT song!’ There are enough good songs to play that if you start making a list, you fill up the time allotment quickly. We aren’t gonna go play all obscure b-sides—but there are songs we never played back in the day, like album tracks that only ever got a few outings. ‘Why didn’t we play that very often? That’s a great song!’ There’s some we probably haven’t played for fifteen or twenty years.
What song have you missed the most?
The first that come to mind are probably ‘Birds’ from the third album and ‘Sandblasted’ from the first—those two are in the pocket! It’s great to play those again.
What was the last song of the last Swervedriver set?
I’m not sure—I remember the last but one, we played ‘Mustang Ford.’ I wanted to play that at the last show but the moment passed by. It may have been ‘Duress’ or ‘Kill The Superheroes.’ I’m not sure if anyone has the set list from the last show.
You have your song ‘Ramonesland’—what would ‘Swervedriverland’ be?
The thing about ‘Ramonesland’—the song is almost Leonard Cohen-y, and the guy in the song finds himself in a Cohen mood, but wants to be in Ramonesland! People expect it to be a punk rock end to the album—it confuses them! I guess Swervedriverland would be like the earlier driving songs.
Like the desert in the movie Duel?
That’s a big influence on the mood of the songs—I don’t know how we settled on that. There’s a great Butthole Surfers track on Hairway To Steven that has this psychedelic Latin American skies thing going on. It’s cool taking the imagery of those early songs—there’s more to it than driving a car in the desert. ‘Son Of Mustang Ford’ is all about wanting to escape things—about boredom, really, kids not enjoying the small town they’re living in, and wanting something else, and not knowing exactly what it is. As a band, one time someone lent us their Mustant, and the four of us drove around in it. Like I was telling someone before—the writer from L.A. WEEKLY—the first time we drove through Arizona, we were playing Kraftwerk’s Transeurope Express. I don’t know if we were trying to be perverse! Things I remember—driving into Berlin, and as we drove past the Brandenburg Gate, ‘Star Spangled Banner’ by Jimi Hendrix came on. And driving in Belfast past barbed wire and 18-year-old British soldiers—we had one of those CDs like the recording of ‘Good Vibrations,’ and that was playing as we were basically driving around a war zone. It’s always good to throw those things on their head a little. All music can sound great in all kinds of situations. Like ‘60s Indian pop music while driving around London.
How did you get free dental work from playing in Swervedriver?
You heard about that one? I was playing a show in Hamilton, Ontario, and a guy said, ‘Hey, Adam, can I interest you in a drink? And by the way, I’m actually a dentist, so if you ever want any dental work for free for all the music over the years, give me a call!’ I said thanks, but didn’t think I’d ever take it up. And then a few months later, I was eating my dinner and felt my tooth getting a bit weird, so thought maybe I’d get that dental work done. I was living in the states then and I didn’t have insurance, so I flew up to Buffalo and he picked me up and sorted out my teeth. As it turns out, there were a whole bunch of guys following us around then—all in dental school, and the guy who sort of runs our web page is one of them. So all these dental students were back in the day listening to this music with harsh searing guitar sounds.
Because they loved that dental drill?
Exactly. There’s something in that!