31 May 2010

Fresh Meat Monday - Swimmer One

How would you describe Swimmer One's music?

Andrew: We've been compared in print (in a nice way, on the whole) to Belle and Sebastian, Editors, David Bowie, the Pet Shop Boys, Pulp, Snow Patrol, Lloyd Cole, the KLF, the Blue Nile, and the Who. So I guess that means we sound like a rock opera by twee Glaswegians. Or
rave music by situationist pranksters who also write guitar anthems for stadiums. Or kitchen sink indie meets shapeshifting glam rock.

Hamish: Ambitious pop? Good songs with good words? I'm never really sure how best to describe what we do, but do find it reassurring that we never get the same comparison twice, which is a nicer situation to be in than Editors, for example, where the influence of one or two
particular bands is obvious, and presumably pretty tiresome for those involved when they get pointed out so frequently. In fact, our personal listening veers quite a bit further into the left field than a lot of the music we make as Swimmer One does, but I'd would like to think that we take elements of these things and incorporate them into what is inadequately referred to as 'pop music'. What type of music did David Bowie or Kate Bush make? We make that type of music.

How did you start out making music?

Laura: Pretending to be the Reynolds Girls.

Hamish: Age 5: Singing in school church in small town southern Scotland and annual visit to my Auntie Jenny's house, which included a harpsichord. Age 11: Guitar. Intensely. At the expense of much exposure to other culture in fact. I've seen virtually none of the films most people with an 80s childhood have (Ghostbusters, Dirty Dancing, The Lost Boys, Police Academy? - not seen any of them) Age 16: Atari ST 1040 running Notator (precursor to Logic) plus Casio CZ-101 plus Tascam 4-track in the school in the town I grew up in. Check this for a synth. Check this for some software. I stopped writing music between the ages of 18 and 24 when I studied for a degree, but still played guitar throughout, memorybanking riffs which never really became finished songs until I met Andrew, who has a workmanlike ability to structure and finish a song that I'm often lacking, and also writes lyrics, which I don't. A crucial event was me acquiring an analogue synth, (and learning how to use it) which is the absolute lynchpin piece of equipment, both for songwriting and for making Swimmer One records sound like they do. It really is on every record we've made.

Andrew: I started writing and recording songs as a teenager in Carlisle on a Yamaha keyboard which, very excitingly, had 100 voices, 100 rhythms and its own inbuilt drum machine. I recorded my songs completely live using two mono microphones, one hanging from a shelf just above the speaker of the keyboard, one sticking out of the end of a long cardboard tube that I was using as a mike stand, and would often fall over mid-take. I recorded about seven 'albums' of songs using this stuff, each on a C60 cassette with its own artwork, sometimes featuring pictures of me (oh dear). Later, my brother in law gave me an old 1960s four-track reel to reel recorder - the kind the Beatles used to make their records - which was even more exciting. I made about seven more 'albums' using that, finally stopping when I was about 21. I still have all this music. Some of it is almost listenable.

What process goes into the way you write songs?

Hamish: In addition to our shared space at Swimmer One HQ where we rehearse, record and mix, we have our own project studios at home, so all our songs start life as a sketch or chord progression on the traditional songwriting instruments of the guitar, piano or synth. We
then collaborate on these until we have a finished song. We never jam. Andrew always writes the words.

Laura: I'm a theatre maker by trade, so I definitely bring that compositional eye to what we do. I see every sound as a found object, and the arrangement as a landscape through which the listener moves/is moved.

Andrew: We like to take our time over things and get them absolutely right. So there's a lot of fiddling in the studio, and a lot of talking about what works and what doesn't. There are several songs on the new album that sound completely different to how they started out,
such as Lorelei and Dorothy (formerly a big stomping techno song, quite camp, much less so now) and You Have Fallen Way Short Of Our Expectations (which was originally very electronic, but is now played almost entirely on live instruments). In recent years, our live shows have shaped the recordings more, particularly since Laura joined Swimmer One in 2007 - we'd started recording Dead Orchestras before then but revisited some songs after we began playing them as a trio.

What can people expect from your live shows?

Laura: A hundred paper lanterns being released into the night sky...

Hamish: To hear our songs? A look into the abyss? Live, we tend to play the more uptempo bang bang bang stuff, with more guitar than you would expect, so, promoters out there, we can shake the foundations of your club any time you like. We don't have a drummer - all yer
powerful electronic drums here - but we do look and sound a lot more like a proper band since Laura joined us, and we do all make an effort on the stagewear front. Also, in contrast to a lot of gigs, you will be able to hear every word Andrew sings. To anyone in Glasgow of Edinburgh that saw any of our first ten gigs, can I take this opportunity to apologise? We're great live now and if you can provide evidence/convincing argument of attendance etc we'll let you in free to our next gigs. No one should have to endure that. At least not without an apology and a free gig - one that is good.

Andrew's short answer: We're rethinking this at the moment.

Andrew's long answer: We're rethinking this at the moment. When Hamish and I started Swimmer One back in 2002 it was very much a studio project - deliberately so since we'd both been in bands and never enjoyed it that much, until that point anyway. Later it became apparent that we had to do some kind of live show, and for a while we did it with just the two of us, which was ok but not ideal. Laura joining in 2007 made a big difference - more live parts, two voices instead of one, more ideas being thrown into the mix. So that was fun for a while, but essentially it was still three people taking what had been two people's studio project and trying to reproduce it live, rather than creating something exciting and new together. At this point it seems like a more fun, creative thing for us to do to approach the two albums we've made so far - which are almost impossible to recreate faithfully on stage anyway - as if we're DJs remixing someone else's songs. What's the essence of each song? What's the most memorable part? Let's do something fresh and exciting with that. It's likely the new versions will sound nothing like the recorded versions. Or we might get some brand new songs out of it. Who knows?

What are you all listening to at the moment?

New stuff
Desire - II (Italians Do It Better)
Bear In Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth (Hometapes)
Efterklang - Magic Chairs (4AD)
These New Puritans - Hidden (Domino)
Harmonia 76 - Tracks and Traces (Gronland)
James Blackshaw - Waking into Sleep (Kning)
Owen Pallett - Heartland (Domino)
Also rediscovering old favourites
Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited
Neil Young - On The Beach

Laura: To Roccoco Rot, old piano rave tunes, and the new Fall album.
Also my pal's bands - The Gillyflowers, and Chris Bradley.

Andrew: Plastic Beach by Gorillaz, mostly.

What can we expect to see/hear from you in 2010?

Andrew: Firstly, obviously our new album Dead Orchestras. Then a single and some live shows, hopefully from autumn onwards. Plus a side project we've all been working on called Seafieldroad - it's quite different from Swimmer One, much more stripped down. I play piano and sing. Laura sings too. Hamish is producing it and adding little electronic noises here and there. There will be two Seafieldroad albums over the next year and some live shows too. We're also going to be throwing a lot of our energy into another release on our Biphonic
label - the second album by Luxury Car, who we think are absolutely fantastic. You can listen to their songs here.

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