Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Adam Franklin (Swervedriver) interview: 2011


Oxford's Swervedriver are best remembered for thrilling and enchanting fans into the heavier end of the shoegaze/fuzz-guitar scene spiraling out from Creation Records stable around the birth of the '90s. But from their debut album Raise, up til their final effort 99th Dream, the band experienced the greatest extremes from critical adoration to being left high and dry following the first true wave of mass-label disintegration. Swervedriver's story could've just been another one of those was-never-meant-to-be sidenotes, but in their absence, a notable crop of late arrivals were all but bursting to name-drop them in interviews to grab a little extra cred. So for Swervedriver's actual story, it's over to singer/guitarist Adam Franklin; A generous interviewee, who ahead of his band's long-awaited reunion tour, reminds me that Australia was in fact intricately connected to Swervedriver's initial demise.

"It's true, the last time Swervedriver played together (before reforming) was in Australia was 1998." Adam recalls. It was on an extended break between gigs that Adam and the rest of the and decided to finish the Australian shows and call it a day rather than simply ''fade out of existence''. "Well, there was also a lot of shit going on in the band leading up to that, so the time just felt right to say goodbye." Adam continues, "Doing this interview now, actually reminds me of the first time we played there," he says, brightening up, "I remember we'd landed in Perth and were all completely jet-lagged, so when we got to the venue we just passed out back-stage. Anyway the tour manager was at us to wake up because we were literally due on stage in, like two minutes." He says, "Next thing we knew were walking on stage rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and ''bang'' the crowd gave this huge roar and we were just lifted.... it's still the best kind of alarm call I can think of." But not all of Adam's tour experiences are told with such relish I soon discover. After Swervedriver  decided to bow out in '98, solo touring kept Franklin away from home (and his old band) for much of the next few years - but not exactly for the love of it.  
"My take on touring is now much the same as it was then; there's a lot of drudgery about it." He moans, I mean we played loads over in the States in '90s and as great as that all was there were just endless road trips… I know I sound like I'm complaining, and yeah I am, but anybody who tells you touring isn't drudgery is lying." Unlike many of the floppy-fringed Creation acts who enjoyed great success in Britain, Swervedriver found a receptive audience in the US. Put it down to their songs apparent themes of gas-guzzling cars or masculine perspectives on love if you like, but whatever they were selling, America identified with. It's reported that Creation founder, Alan McGee signed Swervedriver after hooning around LA listening to their demo on his car stereo - perhaps the ideal environment, as he saw it, for the then fledgling band. McGee typically got it right with Swervedriver, but despite their initial US interest, timing it soon proved was against the band. Dropped by Geffen before the ink had dried on their contract due to management changes, Swervedriver's taste of victory over their Oxford peers was all too brief. But the second blow to the band's plan came not from overseas, but Creation itself when the label was in its death throes. 
"The lack of label support did probably have a huge impact on us looking back." Adam comments, "I think when we first got dropped by Creation, we were still on a roll as I saw it. We had just put out our third album (Ejector Seat Reservation), but Creation had just bought in all these new music biz guys in an attempt to capitalise on Oasis' success who weren't really in the spirit of Creation. I remember one of these executive blokes asking me at the time; 'oh, what are you gonna do now - is Swervedriver breaking up?' and I must've just glared at him and I said, 'no we're not breaking up - the band can survive without fucking Creation!'" Adam exclaims, annoyed in his memory of the exchange. "I think in a way that made me feel stronger for a period, but then Geffen signed us (in America) and they wanted to put out our third album, but we were already recording our fourth." He continues, "The person who'd signed us got that sack and we were dropped right in the middle of making our album, so it didn't look good for us. To be fair though, there were also bombs going off with the four of us at the time, so the end seemed inevitable." Following several reunion shows in 2008, Swervedriver have rebuilt their friendships and, in Adam's words, still play like they've 'never lost that feeling'.
"Playing together again now hasn't hardly changed since then. I mean the amount of time Swervedriver was asleep for has been a bit longer, but like that concert in Perth, we just plugged in and played like no time had passed at all." In fact its 20 years since the band first peaked on albums like Raise and Mezcal Head - albums that according to Adam, he can't listen to anymore. "The way people know the songs, the versions we ended up recording in the studio all those years ago obviously sound quite different to how we play them live now and because of this everyone in the band can't listen to the old recordings because of how flawed they seem to us now, but that's the beauty of taking the songs out on the road." Adam smiles, "That's where the songs really exist for me, in their live form…. not on a bunch of old tapes." The band's four albums in 2008 were given the full remastered/reissued treatment, but Adam's detachment from the recorded versions of his songs kept him from overseeing the project.

"No, the last time I went through the recordings was in 2005 for a compilation album Sanctuary records put out." He confirms, "They contacted me and said they wanted us involved in putting it together and it was really good to be there for the remastering and we got to choose the order of the tracks." Adam smiles, "That was the first time we had all listened to those songs in a studio since they were originally recorded." He adds, speaking for his band mates. "I think because so much time had passed, we can listen to the songs now with enough detachment that it's like hearing them being played by another band. We could have ironed out the wrinkles here and there and cut out some excess fat, but at the time when you're right in the middle of recording music, you're taking just a snap-shot of one of many ways a song could be played. I know now that it takes a long time to hear our music the way other people do." In at least one case however, Adam claims embarrassingly, he was caught out 'hearing' his own song as someone who'd never even heard of Swervedriver.

"I remember being in a bar in New York with friends a couple of years ago and all of a sudden someone looked at me and was like, 'Oh hey…!', This music had come on and my friend was gesticulating towards the jukebox, and I asked him what it was… he said 'It's you, you fool.'" Adam laughs, "It was the most bizarre thing. Although, in my defence it was some recording from 1993 which I hadn't heard in ages, so it sounded totally foreign to me." The band's return to the stage in many ways has been one of the least surprising reunions from that epoch of British groups. Poor management cost them dearly, and those who invested in the band, felt Swervedriver had ended long before they'd run out of steam. Adam responds.
"Well probably, but I think we were kind of bored with it somehow. It didn't seem like that much fun, you know. I agree that we hadn't run out of steam though, and I continued working on music immediately after Swervedriver, but there was a general feeling that the band had run its course for sure. That's not to say, I'm not proud of what we achieved and it seems so many bands have sprung up since who've cited Swervedriver as an influence, but then that's a relatively new thing. Nobody was saying that in '98 when we split up; that's only hstarted happening in the last few years."


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