Posted September 1, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

No Last Rites for Swervedriver

Swervedriver photo by Giles Borg
Swervedriver photo by Giles Borg

Along with the British group Ride, Swervedriver typified the English shoegazer movement of the early ’90s. Although the band dissolved back in 1998, it reconvened in 2008 and has been touring ever since. Earlier this year, the group issued I Wasn’t Born to Lose You, its first studio release in 17 years. Singer-guitarist Adam Franklin recently phoned in from England to discuss the album and the band’s history.

I know you’ve been doing some touring recently. How much time have you spent in North America?
We were there in March or April, just after the album came out. We did a month. We did two different runs in Canada and a UK run between those.

When the band first came together in 1993. Did you have some idea for its sound?
I guess so. We’d been playing as Shake Appeal, named after the Stooges’ tune. We were doing Stooges/MC5 type of thing. There was exciting guitar music in both the US and the UK with Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth in the states and My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3 in the UK. We regrouped and I became the singer.

Who coined that term shoegazer?
It wasn’t in the lexicon. It didn’t occur until about 1991. It was a Moose show and Russell Yates was the singer. Andy Ross was reviewing the show. He later formed Food Records which is the label that had Blur. We knew him because he married Swervedriver’s original bassist’s first girlfriend. He coined that phrase. Years later I was in the pub with Russell and I wanted to know what kind of shoes he was wearing. He was wearing creepers, which is the classic rock ‘n’ roll shoe they wore in the ‘60s. It’s funny now that this phrase is worldwide. There’s even a shoegazer pedal. I sent a link to Andy and said, “I bet you never knew this term would stick around.”

Was there a vibrant Oxford scene?
Not particularly vibrant. There were plenty of bands. There wasn’t a band known on a national scale. There were no bands touring the UK or touring the states. That all changed in the ‘90s. Ride came along and we came along and there was Radiohead and Oxford was on the map.

What initially brought you and guitarist Jimmy [Hartridge] together?
Well, me and my friend [drummer] Paddy Pulzer were in one band that was more of an Echo and the Bunnymen type of band. Jimmy was in a band with my brother. They were doing Stonesy rhythm and blues type of stuff. We discovered Iggy and the Stooges at the same time. Jimmy was in deep with that Ron Asheton, Johnny Thunders rock ‘n’ roll guitar. He was playing solos and making them up on the spot and getting crazy sounds. Prior to that point, if I played a solo, it would be worked out beforehand. We were two of the more renowned 17-year-old guitar players at the same time. For us to be in the same band was a big deal in a way.

The band reunited in 2008 to tour. What brought you back together?
I think the band had never officially announced that it split. It was brought up online and people were wondering if we were going to do anything. We had been disenchanted with it and put it on hold. We swapped messages and one day Jimmy called me from England. I was in New York at the time. He said everyone was up for it.

We played Coachella, which is a rite of passage for bands that get back together.

It’s a matter of time before the Smiths play Coachella.
That one might never happen.

Talk about the new album. When did the writing begin?
Probably 2013. That’s when we first started thinking about writing songs again. Perhaps earlier.

What instigated the album?
It was instigated by Jimmy and Steve more than me. I had been releasing albums in the interim. They wanted to do some new stuff just to make it more interesting. When we made that decision, there were a few false starts. From my point of view, it was going back to the source and the sort of stuff we were inspired by when we first got together rather than taking from influence of what’s gone in the 15 years. Listening to the Sonic Youth albums and honing in on that as an initial starting point.

What was the recording experience like?
We had gone to Australia to play Raise from start to finish. We did that. We had a day off in Melbourne. [Drummer] Mikey [Jones] was in New York. We were in the UK. We were in the midst of playing live and were up to speed playing-wise. We had just had one day there and we got five songs done in a day.

There wasn’t too much thinking about it. We just knocked it out.

Did you finish in the UK?
Finished in London at Ray Davies’ studio. We had just played a show in London playing Raise in its entirety. It seemed to have a balance to it and we locked in another five songs there.

The album has some great pop hooks.
I think we always looked at it from that point of view. Pop songs that are mangled after the fact. Some of the demos were recorded at the end of the night on an acoustic guitar and sound nothing like a Swervedriver song. As soon as it gets put into the hands of those four members, it takes on a new sound. It is the same guys in the band, or mostly the same. It was never going to sound massively different from how it sounded before.

“Setting Sun” has a narrative to it. What’s the song about?
Well, it’s interesting. I don’t know if we’ve ever written a song about being out at sea particularly. It’s something about being out at sea and the sun. There’s The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. It’s based on a true story. That informed it a little bit I think.

“Red Queen Arms Race” borders on stoner rock.
It’s definitely stoner rock. It’s the influence of Dead Meadow specifically. The working title was “Stoner” originally. The lyrics are about the government and greed and all that stuff. It’s about the working class man being kept down. It’s about how people who are lower in the social chain are viewed as parasites so there’s a whole thing where parasites adapt themselves to the situation they’re in. There’s The Red Queen Hypothesis. It’s like an arms race where one country gets nuclear weapons and then another and it’s an ongoing pointless struggle.

You have a successful solo career and you’re involved with other bands. How much of a priority is Swervedriver?
It’s the main priority right now. We are thinking about where else we can take it. There’s a couple of other things on the backburner with the solo stuff and possibly another Toshack Highway thing, which is more of an electronic thing I did a long time ago. It’s good to have different things going on and not put your eggs in one basket.

It sounds like the band is peaking creatively?
I think so. As soon as we hit that with the first song that sounded like a proper Swervedriver song was “Deep Wound.” From then on, the ideas flowed and the ideas came along in sets of two and three. We’re enjoying it.

Upcoming 2015 Shows

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October 1

Columbus, OH @ Skully’s Music Diner

Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Cafe

Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar

New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom

Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair

Buffalo, NY @ Waiting Room

Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop

Ann Arbor, MI @ Bling Pig

Chicago, IL @ Douglas Park (Riot Fest)

Nashville, TN @ Exit/In

Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight

Athens, GA @ 40 Watt Club

Birmingham, AL @ Saturn

New Orleans, LA @ House Of Blues – The Parish

San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger

Houston, TX @ House of Blues – Bronze

Austin, TX @ The Parish

Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar

Las Vegas, NV @ Bunkhouse Saloon

Costa Mesa, CA @ Maison

Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy and Harriets (Desert Stars Festival)

Santa Barbara, CA @ Velvet Jones

San Diego, CA @ Casbah

Honolulu, HI @ The Replublik




Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected]