As one of the finest bands from the so-called shoegaze scene, Swervedriver released four stellar, underrated efforts from 1991-1998 during a chaotic career marred by label drama and changing pop culture tastes. And their driving rock riffage was literal: Creation label guru Alan McGee signed them after hearing their demo while driving through Hollywood, the band took inspiration from cyberpunk classics like Crash and road trips like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and their biggest hit, “Duel,” was named after Steven Spielberg’s 1971 chase thriller. In fact, most of Swervedriver‘s songs were about the meat meeting mean machines. That, and drugs.
But that driving rock didn’t fit well with fans of the more atmospheric My Bloody Valentine. Similarly, the quartet’s adherence to the Stooges and Dinosaur Jr.’s sonic template rubbed fans of Beatles revisionists like Oasis, whose ascension influenced Swervedriver’s demise, the wrong way. Lost in translation, Swervedriver fractured: They were dropped from both the legendary Creation and not-so-legendary Geffen labels, and they toiled in relative obscurity while lesser bands (like Oasis) hogged the spotlight. Eventually, they flamed out in frustration in 1999.
But the recent reunion of My Bloody Valentine, who almost bankrupted Creation while making its seminal 1991 effort Loveless, proved too good an opportunity for Swervedriver to pass up. And though lead Swervie Adam Franklin was busy with his 2007 solo effort Bolts of Melody and collaboration with Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino on the side project Magnetic Morning, he nevertheless found the time to reform the band for an impromptu performance at Coachella followed by a months-long reunion tour.
That tour starts tonight, and it’s going to be loud.
I caught up by phone with Franklin about the reunion, tour, why the words “shoegaze” and “in perpetuity” suck, and whether or not Swervedriver plans on parking for an extended visit.
The reunion tour is awesome news. Are there plans for life beyond it?
Adam Franklin: The tour is pretty much it at the moment. It was spontaneous and quick. Everybody seemed to be up for doing it. And I missed playing those songs, so why not?
So … no new disc.
AF: I don’t know about another disc. Essentially, we haven’t talked about it. I’ve got a new solo effort on the way, along with Magnetic Morning. It has to be a gradual thing. I can’t just jump into it.
Have you all kept in touch during the downtime?
AF: We’ve certainly played with each other since, but this is the first time we’ve all got together to work. In the past, we saw each other at weddings or funerals.
You’ve got to be gun-shy about releasing an album on a label after what Swervedriver has been through already.
AF: Yeah, there were too many contracts we signed with the words “in perpetuity” in them, and I’m not too happy about those words. But we kind of broke even on the songs. But it’s the case of selling your soul to the devil. If we wanted to record and release something, this might be the time to put our money where our mouths are, or use the internet and cut out the middleman. The bottom line is that we haven’t discussed it.
You got screwed.
AF: I don’t know if what happened to us is anything worse than happened to other bands. At least all of our albums got released. And no labels have made us change any of our tunes. We were given some freedom, although A&M could quite easily have sold our third album. To Geffen’s credit, they let us have 99th Dream in the end. But yes, it’s the curse of Swervedriver.
So what’s getting played on the comeback tour?
AF: We’ll play songs from across the board. There are songs we’ve only played a couple times, like “Why Say Yeah” or “The Hitcher,” which will be cool because that will be refreshing. There will be some creative delegating between me and Jim [Hartridge, Swervedriver’s other guitarist]. It’s a quite different art form, live vs. studio. The show should be different as well. I’ve never been interested in recreating the album. You have to be creative. Plus, you hit one pedal really hard during a show, and no one remembers what’s supposed to come next. It’s a form of brainwashing.
So, about the lame shoegaze term.
AF: I simply think that any musical term that has shoe in it is absurd. In some parts of the world, it is considered a huge insult to show the soles of your shoes. You’d like to think there is a deeper meaning to it, but there isn’t, is there? I laugh about how it has become a genre, but I suppose all of those things are absurd. Grunge didn’t like being called grunge, punk bands in 1977 didn’t like being called punks.
It’s simply impossible for terminology to fully describe music.
AF: It could mean anything. And I think it was lazy to throw us in with Verve and Slowdive just because our names sounded similar. It’s kind of ludicrous. If that’s how people describe it, in some ways it doesn’t matter. People accept it for what it is.
Some forget that David Lynch and Twin Peaks had an impact on the sound as well.
AF: Angelo Badalamenti was a huge influence. Everyone was watching that show.
So now Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine are back. Any thoughts on Kevin Shields? He has proven to be very influential as time passes.
AF: I first came across Kevin when my earlier band Shake Appeal played a show with My Bloody Valentine at a squat in East London. I remember seeing this guy in specs with two amps, one with a clean signal and one with a fuzzy signal. He was already thinking about how he was going to mash sound together.
And when I heard Isn’t Anything, I just thought he was someone who was interested in pushing boundaries. Loveless was mind-blowing. “Loomer” was amazing. I thought, “What on earth is he doing?” It was inspirational.
This article appeared at Wired