The Collapse Board Interview: Adam Franklin (Swervedriver)
British shoegaze legends Swervedriver are returning to Australia this month for a tour in support of their 2019 album, Future Ruins. We spoke to the band’s Adam Franklin about the crowdfunding troubles, how Brexit will impact on the band and the 30 year anniversary of Swervedriver.
Collapse Board: I’ve seen from your Facebook page that the last couple of days have been taken up dealing with the PledgeMusic issues related to the crowdfunding you used for Future Ruins.
Adam Franklin: Oh God, yeah. That’s been a lot of fun. I mean that’s just been hanging over us for this whole summer really. Even thinking about it now, it’s actually a really cool way of funding a recording or whatever, in theory of course, and I think up to now its probably always worked. Before we did it I was like “How does this work?” and I spoke to various people who had done it and they were “Oh yeah, it’s great, it’s a fantastic way of doing it.” When we got into it, it was enjoyable, it felt great, it felt like an honest transaction between the artist and the fanbase. But then unfortunately some cowboy at Pledge was circling the various funds for the artist and putting the money into another pot for some sort of pyramid scheme and they basically screwed up big time.
CB: It seems astonishing that it could happen and that they thought they could get away with it.
AF: Yeah, I know. I mean as far as I know it’s about somebody, supposedly one particular guy, a guy who’s already doing time for something else. There are lots of other people at Pledge who seem very nice who we’ve been involved with and they’ve been very apologetic. But it’s like “One guy?” And he was able to just do this without anybody else being involved? I’d be surprised. I kind of suspect that unfortunately there are some people out there who are feeling the heat right now and once it gets looked into, I think other people are going to be implicated.
CB: You said before that it’s a great mechanism for funding a recording. Does what’s happened with Pledge impact on you wanting to do crowdfunding again?
AF: It sort of does because it was such a screw up in the end and inevitably there’s a lot of people that are going to say “Well I’m not going there, look what happened last time.” But at the same time I suppose you think “Well, it would be nice to prove that it can actually work out. ” It’s interesting because although there are people like Pledge and other crowd funding companies, in the end do you need to have that middle man? I mean you can just set up your own crowdfunding from your own artist website and I know a couple of artists that have done exactly that. So in fact you probably don’t need to give up that 15% commission, obviously providing you’ve got all the capabilities on a website to house everything, send out updates, accept the payments and all the rest of it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.
CB: Swervedriver are coming over to Australia again to tour in support of Future Ruins and you’re doing four shows in four nights, including a trip across the Nullabor to play in Perth. Please tell me you’re not just coming all that way just for four days. Are you having any holiday or doing any recording?
AF: I think I’ll probably stay around for a bit, I always do. You come all that way, so it can’t be all work and no play. I usually aim for at least a week at the end, to just hang out and hang around for a bit. It’s funny because you get TV quiz shows over here and they’re going for the big prize at the end and the compere says “So if you win the prize, what are you going to spend your thousand pounds on?” and they’ll sort of say “Well, you know, we’re planning a trip to Australia , it could really help towards that,” and you realise it is quite a big deal getting all the way over there. Even though now we can all get around the planet in such quick time these days, 24 hours is still a fucking long time to be in the air. But you do know that one whole day later you’re going to be all way over there.
I was hanging out with a friend of mine, Duncan, a guitar tech, who was the guitar tech to Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead, and we were in Oxford one night. He was fixing and setting up my guitar and I was about to fly to New Zealand and he was also going off on tour. So two days later my guitar still needed sorting out a bit so I called him up and I was like “Whereabouts are you now?” and he was in Iceland. So I was in New Zealand and he was in Iceland. It was just bizarre because a few days previously we’d been sat in the bar together and then then suddenly you’re as far away as you can probably humanely be on the planet.
CB: You’ve been coming out to Australia for a long time, I think you first came out in 1995. What keeps bringing you back here?
AF: Well, we always love going to Australia really. We didn’t get there for five years, our first record was 1990. As you say, we didn’t get out until ’95 but since then its been very much a regular thing . There’s just something very enjoyable about being out in Australia. The thing that immediately cropped up when we first went was “Oh, it’s kind of like a cross between the UK and the US.” There’s certain elements to it that seem more American and there are certain things that still seem quite British and obviously it has its own thing as well, very much so.
CB: Your show in Brisbane is at The Zoo and I’m sure you’ll be making time to pop downstairs and around the corner to Tym Guitars. Can you explain what’s special about his shop for the people that don’t know about Tym Guitars?
AF: Tym always helps us out, he’s always there if we need something setting up or he might have a pedal or a guitar that he wants us just to take out the road. Tym is awesome you know, he works that store and does the label and all sorts of stuff, it’s amazing.
CB: Do you come with a shopping list?
AF: No, not really. There’s always something to surprise us, I suppose, whether it’s some sort of mutant Fender guitar or some pedal that makes one hell of a racket.
CB: After the tour before last you recorded parts of I Wasn’t Born To Lose You in Melbourne. How was that experience for you?
AF: It was fantastic, Lindsay [Gravina] was an awesome guy. It was kind of a logistics thing really because we were on tour and Mikey, the drummer, lives in the States, so we all met up. We flew in from the UK, he flew in from the US and after we were all flying back. We really wanted to get these songs recorded so we were “How about, this might sound crazy, but how about we record these songs when we’re in Australia,” and everyone was like “Yeah, that sounds like fun.” We had a day off in Melbourne so we went into the studio to record.
The other thing about it was because we were on tour, it seemed like the optimum time to get in the studio because your chops are honed and you’ve just been playing in front of a room full of people. I think it helped us raise our game in a way. I think if we hadn’t have toured for like six months or whatever, and we were just feeling our way in the studio, you might be feeling a bit dozy and a bit sleepy and come up with something that didn’t have the same energy. But when you’ve actually just been playing a bunch of shows, the energy levels are definitely high.
CB: Are you planning on doing any recording this time?
AF: No, not this time. There are leftover songs from the recording sessions for Future Ruins, so there are a few things there that we want to delve back into that are already committed to tape. So no recording plans this time.
CB: I read that you said only four of your chosen ten songs from all the songs you recorded actually ended up on the album . That’s those songs you’re talking about?
AF: Yes, that’s them. With this album it was recording at the end of a month’s touring in the States. Again, I think it was like “It might be a good time to record.” I had a bunch songs that were written down for the album but then some other songs crept in, Jimmy [Hartridge, guitarist] had a few songs and there were some others that we developed off the cuff and before you know it, the whole landscape of the album had changed. But that was a really great thing. It was almost like compiling a playlist or a mixed tape because suddenly you had 30 ideas to hone down to ten. So it was almost like compiling a greatest hits album.
CB: There’s a lot of very direct and to the point lyrics in some of Future Ruin‘s songs. As a songwriter, is it hard to avoid writing about world politics in this current climate?
AF: I think you end up writing about what’s happening in your life, whatever it might be, whether it’s personal or just generally in the world. The thing about writing about modern day political situations is what you really don’t want to do is write a song that then can’t be listened to out of its timeframe. If you write a specific song about something and then the whole political landscape changes again in six months, as it’s wont to do at this present time, then you’ll be left with a beautiful piece of music that’s dated because the lyrics that are about this person that’s long gone and forgotten about. You’re hoping to get something a bit more universal.
CB: ‘Everybody’s Going Somewhere’ is about Brexit. How will Brexit impact on a band like Swervedriver?
AF: It’s a no brainer really. If we go to Australia, you have to pay to get a work visa, if you go to the USA you have to buy work visas. The one place we could still tour around is Europe. You could go out and play shows and I did that a few years ago.
Somebody I know in Oxford who’s a musician said “Oh, you know, are you going to play an Oxford date soon?” I said “No, not solo. No,” and she said “Oh, you play solo?” I said, “Well yeah, I did a tour of Italy recently. It was very nice, I just flew out there. I was in Brussels recording with a friend and then I flew out to Italy with just a guitar and an itinerary and I just got on the train and then I went up and down Italy on the train playing these shows. She said “That sounds great, how did you arrange to do that?” I said “Well, there was a promoter and it was fine. I went out there, played these shows people had a good time, I made some money and returned home.” And she said “Well, that’s something I wouldn’t mind doing.” But then I got into the conversation and it turned out that she was intending to vote for Brexit. I said “Well, why are you voting for Brexit?” And she said “Just to sort of shake things up bit.” I’m like “Shake things up! Shake what up?” So she was saying that as a musician she wouldn’t mind being able to go out and just do a little week long tour of Italy, but she was actually shooting herself in the foot. If Brexit goes through, musicians from the UK will need a visa to go to anywhere in Europe. It’s like we’re just left being this little rock in the North Sea. It’s a nightmare.
CB: Although you were playing with Jimmy for a few years beforehand, 2019 is the 30th anniversary of Swervedriver as a band. Was there an official start date and are you going to do anything to celebrate or have you already done something?
AF: I think I’ve noticed people mentioning that but I hadn’t really thought much about it. I suppose at some point in 1989 we shifted from being the band that we were, which was called Shake Appeal, and was more of a Stooges type of band, with my brother as the singer. That band broke up and then I wrote a few songs and recorded demoes of them. Adi, the Bass player, was living in the same house and he came downstairs and said “What’s that you’re playing? Is that you?” I said “It is” and he said “Are these new songs?” I said “Yeah,” he said “Well, we should get the band back together then,” and I said “OK.” I was thinking if I should get a new band together and who would I get, but the perfect guys to have in the band were actually the same band that we had before, apart from my brother who just moved off into other stuff anyway.
It seems like there’s always some anniversary in rock these days, like it’s 40 years of Unknown Pleasures or it’s 30 years of this or 15 years since that. I don’t know if anniversaries should have a place in rock and roll. It’s should be like living for today and not thinking about tomorrow. It’s a bit of an ironic thing to say for somebody that’s in a band that’s been together for 30 years, but we didn’t really expect him to still be doing this 30 years later.