While the majority of the UK music scene is measuring each others’ hair length, IQ and ‘Beatleness’, some bands are actually getting down to business and writing great music. Once again it is led by Swervedriver, a band originally from Oxford but who now command one of their biggest audiences in America, the traditional graveyard of great rock pretenders.
“I think in the UK it’s often the attitude of the band rather than their competence or ability of the band to play”, says Swervedriver’s Jez, the cat known for his drumming, snowboarding and occassional mixing duties for the band.
“And in America I find that people respect the fact that musicians can play their instruments.”
It wasn’t too long ago that I thought that Swervedriver were an American group, their distinctive guitar sounds and riffs far outreaching anything brewing in the UK at the time.
“People say that quite often”, says Jez. “There is this thing about the America of the mind – the long, wide-open roads and Hunter S. Thompson imagery. I think our music is something which suits countries with big long roads like Australia and America where our albums are great for listening to while driving long distances. Yeah, it suits a road trip.”
Swervedriver’s latest album, Ejector Seat Reservation, is certainly a diversion from their 1993 opus Mezcal Head, but not an uncomfortable one by any means. They are finally exploring the art of the shorter pop song with Ejector Seat, after writing their own unique ticket with Mezcal Head’s ‘songs for motoring’.
Anyone who missed tracks like Last Train to Satansville, Duel and Never Lose That Feeling in ’93 missed out on 7 minute driving, riffing epics which succeeded in setting Swervedriver apart from the UK and Creation Records era of the early 90s, the scene from which they arose.
And while Ejector Seat Reservation distills the song from the long riff-fests of Mezcalhead, it is yet another chapter beyond their debut album Raise, including the single Son of Mustang Ford, which spent 3 months in the metal charts in 1991. This band are certainly ‘a work in progress’.
“We’ve listened to the odd metal and rap albums, but Swervedriver definitely can’t be considered any of these”, says Jez. “We slot into a lot of pigeonholes so people find it hard to find an icon to latch onto, like this idea of us as a ‘car’ band.”
Hailing back to their beginnings, the Mustang car reference is revisited on Ejector Seat Reservation with Son of Jaguar ‘E’ – a gentle, slower song with ample use of their trademark guitar noises. “Because of Jaguar ‘E’ and Mustang Ford, people think we are a ‘car’ and a ‘road’ band. It’s really only a joke, it’s all because we couldn’t think of a title so we though we’d take the piss out of one of our old titles.
“And the title of the final track, The Birds, is called that precisely because it sounds a bit like The Byrds, the band. There is nothing particularly deep in that. I don’t think rock and roll should be analysed or thought about too deeply and therefore we’re not particularly vocal about anything.”
So is this why we fail to hear about Swervedriver in the English gutterpress? Why haven’t Swervedriver claimed to be the new messiahs or haircut band?
“It’s this attitude thing really. We’re voyeurs, we’re not trying to participate in a fad or fashion, we’re just playing in a band which happens to make wonderful music. That’s enough for us, for some bands it isn’t. Ask me about Oasis!” When I do he lets fly with an impressive ream of abuse, though I don’t want to drag us down to that level too.
With songs already written for a new album which could appear early next year, it is certainly interesting to listen to Jez compare and forsee Swervedriver’s path. So what is it going to be – long driving tunes or the more refined, harmonious pop sound as found on Ejector Seat?
“Ejector Seat turned out to be the album that we set out to make, an evolution from Mezcal Head which I think was a great achievement for ourselves. Still, if the kitchen sink had sounded good it probably would have turned up in Ejector Seat,” says Jez with a big belly laugh. “It would be nice to think that we could sound like a four piece band in the studio next time.”
What Jez is talking about is the unique guitar experimentation of Swervedriver, the combination of Adam and Jimmy which has given them their distinctive sound for these five years in the limelight. Even though they have cut down the length of their songs, Jez seems to think that the layers of guitars need to be, well, closely monitored amongst these two. But you would expect a drummer to say that.
“We call Adam and Jimmy ‘the man with two brains’, they react sonically and musically to what each other is playing. I mean, they’ve known each other for 18 years, Jimmy taught Adam how to play guitar.
“Sonic experimentation, particularly in a band like ours, is where it’s at. So rather than get ‘Blind Melon Hound-Dog Knuckles’ in to play harmonica, we’ll approximate it with a guitar. I’d rather have a Fender Jazzmaster sounding like a Hammond organ than a Hammond organ any day.”
Keep your fingers crossed kids, Swervedriver will be in Australia in December.