Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Interview: The Swim
This afternoon I caught up with Caleb Christopher and Colton Harris from The Swim to talk about their new EP, Random Walk, which the band is debuting this Friday with a CD release show at Plush, along with Blankets, The Deludes and Mostly Bears.
Since moving to Tucson from Prescott two years ago, Chrisopher, Harris and bassist Nate Ziebell have hooked up with drummer Justin Bernard, self-released their first record (We're Green) and quickly became one of the top drawing local bands.
I sat through overtime of the Suns and Pistons game in the wired-for-NBA shed behind Harris' West University house. Anything but casual fans, they exchanged high fives with every Steve Nash three-pointer and I suppose it's good I was there to turn their attention away from the heart-breaking loss.
Q: How does this new EP compare to We're Green? Any new directions or sounds you guys wanted to incorporate?
Caleb Christopher: It's just a batch of songs we've banged out that we're proud of. It's quite a bit more focused than our first album. We didn't spend as much time trying church anything up.
I seems to be all around a little heavier, a little more distortion, but it's still very melodic. We're incorporating some more keyboards and stuff. Andrew (Lane, drummer for Blankets) played trumpet on a song.
Q: What sort of approaches does The Swim have for writing songs?
Colton Harris: I think a lot of it is just that Caleb really writes a lot. That's why it's so diverse. It's almost become and extension of Caleb's life.
CC: In the past it was a lot of me and Colton working together. This album just came from me writing a lot of songs.
It used to be music first, and then lyrics first. Recently it's been more with the lyrics first, or even just the hook or a theme.
Most of the time I just have a lot of stuff written down I like to use, lots of starts of things and when I get something musically that works I can finish it up.
I'd imagine it's going to always be changing. Pretty much every song comes form a different place, a different start, different influences.
Some just start out as a theme that I want to write about. Some of it's an extension of my daily encounters and habits and activities. It's my way of having something so that I can push everything else aside.
This album was kind of a quick thing for us. We had the songs so we might as well record them and keep from being stagnant. I think that with this next album we'll be pushing our selves a little harder.
Q: You played SXSW for the first time this year. How were the crowds? Any other bands that knocked your socks off? Any other highlights?
CC: We didn't really know what to expect, nor did we have he time to research how we were going to do it up because we were hard pressed on the album. But we had a great time and we know what to expect for next year.
We got to see Jens (Leckman) that was awesome. NOFX too. The whole band loves NOFX. We all grew up listening to them
CH: It's really energizing to go on a trip like that and see a bunch of bands and people who are into music. We just kind of just cruised around and had fun. We didn't plan who to see, but we still had a blast.
Q: You guys have done all the recording and producing yourselves so far, and the mixing and mastering as well on this one. How do you guys approach recording and what benefits are there to doing the whole thing yourselves?
CC: The biggest benefit is the cost and considering our budget it was a pretty obvious choice. Also, the fact that we've gotten some good equipment and we all pretty much know what we're doing.
Timing is a big thing too. We wouldn't have had enough time or been able to afford to work out the small details with somebody else.
Nate does most of the engineering and he and I are really quick together. Me and Nate side by side works. We're both on the same page because we've worked on the songs, practiced them together.
Everything moved really quickly once we started tracking. We did the drums with Fernando at OG-7 studios. Colton banged out a lot of his stuff right away and Nate and I are really quick together.
Q: The Tucson Weekly has described your sound as "Equally informed by '60s pop and modern indie-pop/rock, with just a hint of Americana." What are some of the largest influences for The Swim? How do you guys pick which songs or bands to cover?
CH: We all like some of the same bands, for the most part, but everyone takes a different approach to it. Justin has a different take on everything, Nate has a different take on everything. Everyone has got different influences.
Caleb introduced me to a lot of bands that we've covered. He got me really into Ween and the last two cover-ups with Wilco and GBV.
CC: Me and Colton have always shared the DIY bands. Our early guitar influences were based on the Kinsellas (Tim and Mike, of Joan of Arc, et al.)
CH: What we were trying to achieve when we were first starting was a little bit more complicated than we're doing now.
CC: We were definitely interested in pushing ourselves to learn how to play out of time, play different guitar parts and feed off each other. It still shows in our music, but more than that it helped us to bond as guitar players and move forward
Q: How did The Swim form and when did you know the current lineup was really working well?
CH: Caleb and I started off playing guitars together and recording little ditties. We did a few with Nate and that's how he started playing with us.
CC: That's what's cool about the way The Swim started. It was just a fun thing and a way to try recording things we'd never done before. That's what was enticing about it. It was a ton of fun so we thought we'd get it together full time
And moving to Tucson, we wanted to do it and were ready to push ourselves to another level. There's an excellent music scene and touring bands coming through all the time.
CH: We'd come down to Tucson and scouted it out and everyone in our immediate group of friends were feeling a little restless with Prescott and needed to get out. To us, Tucson seemed a lot like Prescott as far as the people go. Everyone is really chill here.
After Justin joined we knew it was pretty solid. We knew that this is the group.
CC: Pretty much after the first practice with Justin, once he confirmed he's a gigantic Ween fan it was pretty much in the bag. We didn't even know his credentials at the time, but we didn't really know anybody else. The guy's solid. He's been playing drums for 50 some odd years. It made us think that it was time to sharpen up.
Q: How did you go about picking other bands to play during your CD release show? What sort of a connection do you feel to other Tucson bands or the Tucson music scene?
CC: It's an array of music that's going to happen that night. Blankets are just crazy, all over the place. You follow it up with The Deludes , a lot heavier and faster, almost punk. Mostly Bears are very progressive.
The people in all the bands are some of the favorite people we've met
CH: There are tons of bands that could have played it. There are so many that we're really close to or good friends with. It just happened that this is what works for all the bands. It's really just a lot of fun.
Q: You guys have been on shows with bands like Ted Leo and Okkervil River. If you could pick any other bands to play with, who would it be?
CH: Ween first of all. But I'd also really like to play with the folks from New Pornographers. Not necessarily the new Porn, but Neko Case and A.C. Newman and Destroyer.
CC: I'd love to play with (Joel) Plaskett. Or Malkmus would be sick.
Q: There was an earlier album (Pretty Good But Hella Rushed) that didn't get finished. Are there any plans for those songs?
CH: I think there are songs that sound good on the recording that don't sound good live and vice versa. There's always a push-pull between those songs. But also there's the fact that we want to keep moving.
There are plenty of songs to play. We have a shit load of songs to play, plus covers we like.
There's no need to rehash those songs unless it's fun for all of us. We're thinking about doing a really old song for our release show.
Q: Do you guys have plans for a tour?
CC: That's the goal - to get a tour going. We're playing CD release shows in Prescott and Flagstaff too, but we're still working out the details for a longer tour.
CONTEST: We have two prizes to give away - a copy of The Swim's new EP Random Walk and two free passes to the CD release show Friday at Plush.
Entering is simple: just email firstname.lastname@example.org with either "Swim CD" or "Swim show" in the subject line. You can enter both, just do it in two different emails. Winners will be chosen at random Thursday.
Check back tomorrow for a review of the EP and two tracks to download: one from Random Walk and the second a Catfish Vegas exclusive!