In the midst of the shoegaze movement of the late 80′s and early 90′s, Swervedriver were a band that stood apart from the rest. Not quite shoegaze, they were tossed into the category by journalists too lazy to listen closely. In fact, they were better described as epic grunge for the long car trip through the desert. Between 1991 and 1997 they issued four major label masterpieces (although it took Sony until 2003 to issue the third album ‘Ejector Seat Reservation’ in the U.S.!).
Rather than burning out, as did many of their contemporaries, Adam Franklin has continued his prolific journey by issuing albums under the guise of Toshack Highway, Magnetic Morning and as Adam Franklin and the Bolts of Melody. Whatever the monicker, his music still challenges and we were fortunate to get him to answer a few questions for us to close out the year.
TDOA: Your most recent record, Spent Bullets seems to move you back to the sound of the early Swervedriver records. What influenced your writing to move you in this direction?
AF: Does it? You mean like Raise and the early EPs? I can’t tell really but definitely from there being a point in the early 2000s where I was doing more electronic and messing-around-with-keyboards and more acoustic-based material I’m certainly back to rocking out on an electric guitar again. We just finished a new Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody album to be called I Could Sleep For A Thousand Years and released in the spring and there are certainly two or three on there that I think could be on a Swervedriver record but equally there are a few that are much more ‘cinematic’ or something. I think a song such as Champs from Spent Bullets rocks out but has a kind of ‘filmic’ melody like it could be from a James Bond soundtrack or something – I like that! I’m just mixing it all up these days and I think you just go with the flow in a way.
TDOA: You worked with Interpol drummer, Sam Fogarino for the Magnetic Morning release which continues your trend of working with great drummers who write interesting rhythms. How did the two of you meet up?
AF: We were introduced by mutual friend Jack Rabid who does the Big Takeover magazine.
TDOA: Was there a difference in the songwriting process for you, while working with Sam? I think of your guitar playing as being very percussive, which makes me wonder how his counter-rhythmic style worked with your songwriting? Any similarities to the experience with Graham Bonnar?
AF: Yeah it’s been a great collaboration and it’s good to step into slightly different roles from what you normally do. I fleshed out Sam’s tunes and brought in tunes of my own that we worked on together and it’s interesting because each of us was tuning into what the other wanted to do with the ideas. I love the Magnetic Morning stuff – the live band was immense and I hope we can get out there and do some more when everyone has time. Sam’s a colossal drummer when you’re just in a room with him and he’s saying “shall I play this?” and plays something amazing, “or this?” and does something completely different but equally as amazing. I’ve been lucky to play with some superb drummers – Mikey Jones the drummer in Bolts of Melody is really great.
TDOA: I remember seeing Swervedriver in Detroit, days after Graham Bonnar had left the band at the Canadian border. Can you tell us the story of what really happened?
AF: Graham could probably tell you more accurately – I have his number if you want it! As far as I remember, he had a girlfriend who worked in a bar in London but had gone back to San Francisco, where she was from, and he needed to see her. The tour just came at a bad time for him and we got to the Canadian border at Niagara Falls and Graham just kinda made a dash for freedom! We ended up giving him the airfare and he flew to San Francisco. Then he was walking down the street there and the Brian Jonestown Massacre picked him up in their VW Camper and he drummed on their first album.
TDOA: Counter to the ill-advised shoegaze tag that some put on you, you did a tour with Monster Magnet and Soundgarden in ’92. The shoegaze crowds loved you, but how did the people who turned out for that tour react? Monster Magnet had quite a reputation for debauchery and I wonder if you can share any stories from that tour.
AF: The crowd reaction was great for that tour! Monster Magnet were a lot grungier at that point and sounded like a psych/Stooges type band so the bill was more complimentary than it might look on paper years later. Monster Magnet weren’t remotely debaucherous as far as I can recall though! They played first and we were in the middle and all three bands were on the same label at the time. My main story from that tour is probably that I played drums for Soundgarden on one song at the Trocodero in Philly! There was one song where Chris Cornell played a solo acoustic Zeppelin-y number and Matt Cameron would just do a drum fill at the end to bring the song to a close. One night I joked “even I could play that” and Cameron and Ben Sheppard called my bluff, pushed me up there and there I was!
TDOA: When I interviewed Alan Mcgee, he called Swervedriver one of the most under-appreciated Creation bands. Can you talk about your experience working with him? I never felt like Creation did enough to promote Swervedriver, but perhaps you’ll disagree with me?
AF: Alan’s enthusiasm was infectious in the early days and we felt very at home on Creation. Everything was happening at 90 miles per hour back then though and eventually the band broke apart from themselves as well as Creation as the label snowballed into something else and the scene changed with the arrival of Oasis. But the first few years were a whirlwind and we wrote and recorded a ton of songs in a short amount of time and played all over the world. In the end you could say we were short changed or that some money that should have been due to us actually went towards keeping the label afloat – or perhaps that we ended up owing our US label for money that had actually gone straight to our UK label but it’s not like we really earned that money anyway. There was silly money sloshing around in the early 90s and yet everyone was living pretty much hand-to-mouth. I think Creation looked out for us at the start though and those were good times.
TDOA: Can you talk about your experiences with the major labels? Do you think they “got” what you were trying to do with Swervedriver and in retrospect, do you wish you’d never been involved with Sony?
AF: Well, we never got involved with Sony, only by default when the Creation catalogue was sold to them. Who knows really? Being on a major label got us a lot of exposure at the time. Some of the people at the label definitely “got” what we were doing and of course there were a bunch there who had chosen “the music industry” as a career option when they didn’t really seem to know or like any decent music but there you go.
TDOA: Is it fair to say that the crowds in America seemed to latch on to Swervedriver more than the fickle British crowds? If so, would you care to theorize why that was the case?
AF: The American and Australian crowds have seemed to have had more loving longevity somehow, yes. It’s just a different perspective I think. There were people in Britain who knew us when our first album came out but had moved on when the second album appeared and this might possibly have been due to them losing interest and following the latest fad, for sure. You have to remember that the UK had three weekly music papers at the time and so they were always searching for something that might be perceived to be the Next Big Thing and bands that were happening 12 months previously suddenly couldn’t get arrested! And the grass is always greener – if we’d been an American band then we would have been perceived differently on both sides of the Atlantic, regardless of the music, if you know what I mean. Bands like Pavement and Mercury Rev I think seemed very exotic to some music fans in England when they first came out and then you’ll get bikers in Tijuana or somewhere who totally worship Morrissey! You do get different national mindsets and you really notice that more in mainland Europe.
We frequently talk about how most people’s musical taste tends to stop evolving as they get older, causing them to listen to the same bands they listened to in their late-teens and 20′s. We also like to theorize on why “reunion” projects tend to yield little new music or at least music that doesn’t live up to the older work. You’re a welcome argument to the contrary in both cases. Given that, please consider these last two questions.
TDOA: You’re still a prolific writer despite having been in the music business for quite a while. What inspires you to continue to write and how has the process changed for you over the years?
AF: Well, you seem to be implying that being involved with the music business would have somehow worn me down so that I wouldn’t wanna write or play music anymore! What can I say? That’s not happened! It’s just what I do at this point. The process changes in some ways and in others it remains just the same – you still might stumble upon a melody or a riff from just idly picking up a guitar and strumming it. I think possibly you become less self-conscious about it over time and maybe you just follow ‘the muse’ where it takes you. There are some songs you write that don’t feel like they’re your song or the words don’t sound like your words but it if it’s good you just go with it .
TDOA: How do you feel about playing live versus the early Swervedriver years?
AF: Do you mean playing live now versus the early Swervedriver shows? I love going out and playing live and it’s definitely one thing that you just keep getting better at really, collectively. It’s not like being a sportsman where eventually you lose your pace, although I suppose that singers sometimes lose some of their higher notes. But the Swervedriver shows we’ve played in the last couple of years have widely been considered some of the best ever, and by the band members also. We’ve played some great Bolts of Melody, Magnetic Morning and Sophia shows over the last couple of years. I even enjoy doing a solo show from time to time! It’s all good fun and keeps ya out of trouble..
Jan 5 2010 Mercury Lounge New York City, New York
Jan 6 2010 DC 9 Washington, Washington DC
Jan 7 2010 Mojo 13 Wilmington, Delaware
Jan 8 2010 The Khyber Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jan 9 2010 37th & Zen Norfolk, Virginia
Jan 10 2010 Milestone Club Charlotte, North Carolina
Jan 11 2010 The Earl Atlanta, Georgia
Jan 13 2010 Emo’s Austin, Texas
Jan 15 2010 Rogue Bar Phoenix, Arizona
Jan 17 2010 Spaceland Los Angeles, California
Jan 18 2010 Blank Club San Jose, California
Jan 19 2010 Bottom of the Hill San Francisco, California
Jan 21 2010 Rotture Portland, Oregon
Jan 22 2010 Media Club Vancouver, British Columbia
Jan 23 2010 Comet Tavern Seattle, Washington
Jan 25 2010 Urban Lounge Salt Lake City, Utah
Jan 26 2010 Hi-Dive Denver, Colorado
Jan 28 2010 Record Bar Kansas City, Missouri
Jan 29 2010 Empty Bottle Chicago, Illinois
Jan 30 2010 PJ’s Lager House Detroit, Michigan
Jan 31 2010 Drake Hotel Toronto, Ontario
Feb 2 2010 Great Scott Boston, Massachusetts
Feb 3 2010 Southpaw Brooklyn, New York