History can be mind blowing when we learn how some of the most elaborate, artistically designed buildings, churches and structures took hundreds of years and generations to construct. In this world of speed, where you drive by a building frame one day, and the next week its fully constructed with moving vans out front, our minds can’t grasp the thought of the days when craftsmanship won over the need to mass produce things overnight.
The same goes in the music biz. In an attempt to keep their heads above water, record labels have been grabbing onto the “here today, gone today” life raft; investing in sounds that the 24/7 digital generation can easily gobble up or sponsoring tours whose audiences shrill to the point of only being heard by dogs.
While The Swayback hasn’t clocked up decades between their first release and the most recent album, Long Gone Lads, the band pays tribute to the craftsman’s creed, taking their sweet-ass time to get things just right. As a fan, and while doing my due diligence as a journalist, I brought up the topic of “the new album” almost every time I ran into lead singer/bassist, Eric Halborg. But after a few years had gone by, I just trusted that when the Swayback baby was born, I would receive the proverbial CD cigar.
That lovely day finally arrived, and all I could say was, “Holy shit.” When talking to fellow writers who had also received an advanced copy, reactions such “amazing,” “blown away,” and “awesome” were all part of the conversation. Granted, we weren’t tapping into the James Lipton thesaurus, but you get the picture.
Five years ago when Kaffeine Buzz first interviewed The Swayback, Halborg had stated that Denver was “a wonderful place to incubate the chaos.” Since that time, Swayback’s music has pushed far beyond the post punk chaos and into a deeper, richer land. Five years can be equated to dog years when you consider all the changes, growth spurts and discoveries artists experience when they’re crafting lyrics, bridges, choruses and indelible concepts from their collective brains.
When Halborg reflects on the past few years, he acknowledges the process that was involved. “One of the main things is that we learned to record ourselves so we could bring our ideas to the producer fairly fully formed,” he states. “We demoed the songs in Ableton Live over and over to figure out what about the songs worked in the recorded form and what didn’t. We wanted to make a record that you wanted to listen to over and over so we trimmed off anything that we thought was lame or draggin’, and then added all the textures and ear candy that we always heard in our heads for the songs.”
Ear candy is what comes to mind when the bouncy remake of “I’m Waiting For My Man” rounds the corner, sounding as if Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie had been a cook in the kitchen. This cover was not part of the original plan, but when things come into your path, often times they were just meant to be.
“I had been working on some Velvet songs for the New Years thing they do at the Hi-Dive, but I never performed [them]. We had some free studio time come about at CU Denver, and I went in and cut the acoustic guitar track to a click. Then we brought Martijn [Bolster] in to play the floor tom and tambourine and just started building it from there. Electro-producer Shawn Astrom was mixing it for us and dropped in a drum loop behind our track, and it just made the song. We had all these true to the original analog parts, and putting that rock steady drum loop behind it put a cool twist on the groove of it.”
That track could definitely sit on repeat for some time, as could “What A Pity,” which lead guitarist Bill Murphy drives into the heart with a hint of U2’s Edge, and makes for a lethal combo that comes together with Halborg’s chromed vocal lines. It was this track that also caught the ear of Tom Robinson, the host of “Introducing” on BBC 6 Music that features new, unsigned talent. If I were guess what the next track Robinson would pick, I would pull “Queen’s Dance” from the basket, which begs for Christopher Walken to demand more cow bell, and saunters down a back alley with a sinister might.
Those that attended Swayback’s shows over the years got to see the album in the making as they test drove tracks like “Forewarned” and “Long Gone Lads” in front of fans, allowing the band to expand its creative wings on stage. “We never put any restrictions on what we do live,” Halborg explains. “If we have an idea, we try to see if we can do it well and see if it fits or feels natural in a live setting. So yeah, we hash out feels and delivery live.”
Where Swayback shows its greatest level of songwriting maturity is on “Just Like The Old Days,” which unfolds with Bolster’s hail drop drums, with a gorgeous chorus that flows like a raft down a breathtaking stream, surrounded by a lush forest and a haunting harp fog. The layers are complex but subtle, marrying organics and synthetics in complete harmony.
This walk down the aisle is something of a departure for them compared to their earlier work, but over the years has become ingrained into their DNA.
The trio really got down to business when they replaced their previous producer with Andrew Vastola. “He works quickly. He knew exactly what we were looking to do because he had seen us live and listened to all of our demos. Great suggestions all around, and knew when to let us experiment in the studio and also when to reel us in.”
For “Vampires in the Mirror,” the band tapped into the power of Tao, which “talks about being a vampire in the mirror (being invisible obviously) and that fact allowing us to be fearless,” says Halborg.
He continues to bring us into the creative process when talking about the album’s title track. “There are a few references to the joys of being invisible in the lyrics; hence “Long Gone Lads.” When I say invisible, for the most part I’m meaning that we are invisible to the bullshit of the world, and because of it, rise above it or allow it to pass through us mostly unaffected. A good thing. It also connotes not being of this world or scene or mindset and being better off because of it.
The “Long Gone” idea in reference to our band (or whoever) being so long gone (or so far removed/past/over it) with the current state of any number of things (yer girl/job/countries politics/how people treat each other) that we come to our own group or personal semi-utopia.”
The Swayback is accomplishing yet another goal with the release of the new album. The band is finally going to give Europe a spin after a spring/summer tour, which takes them to Spaceland in Los Angeles in late May, other dates along the west coast, and then to the east coast in July.
“Our little van has been lonely, so she’ll get some miles soon.”