The Vine interview: Adam Franklin of Swervedriver, February 2011

An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

Interview – Swervedriver

“In their nine years together, Swervedriver released four startling albums, ranging from storming guitar experimentalism to mind-blowing psychedelia – all dedicated to the nihilistic joys of the open road.”

That’s a line from the band’s 2005-released two-disc compilation, Juggernaut Rides: ’89-’98. It’s an entirely apt description of the sounds and imagery summoned by this British four-piece, whose core duo consisted of singer/guitarist Adam Franklin and guitarist Jimmy Hartridge. Formed in Oxford in 1989, they soon prospered in a time when interest surrounding guitar-led alternative rock and the nascent genre of shoegaze was at an all-time high. They were signed to Creation Records – home to My Bloody Valentine – and released two genre-defining albums within two years: 1991’s Raise, and 1993’s Mezcal Head. Despite their British upbringing, Franklin et al were fascinated by American muscle car culture, and sought to provide the soundtrack to imagined high-speed jaunts across the States. Their first single, ‘Son Of Mustang Ford’, sums up Swervedriver’s ethos in four minutes of scorching guitars and breakneck percussion.

Label woes and band instability eventually brought them to a halt in 1998, following underwhelming sales for Ejector Seat Reservation (1995) and 99th Dream (1998). As it turns out, the band’s final shows took place in Australia while supporting Powderfinger, ending in December 1998 with a last show in Margaret River, outside of Perth (or “self-destruction on a desert highway just outside the world’s most isolated city,” as the Juggernaut Rides liner notes dramatically put it).

In the intervening years, Franklin continued to record and tour as a solo artist, also under the name Toshack Highway, as well as under Magnetic Morning, a collaboration with Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino. Swervedriver reformed in 2008, and three years later – ahead of their first Australian tour since 1998’s ill-fated expedition – TheVine connected with Adam Franklin.

To begin, Adam, I want to quote a song lyric. “And the photographs of God I bought have almost fade away”. [A line from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Snakedriver’.]

Oh, yeah. That’s a good line.

I mention this because I read your Magnet Magazine guest editorials, and I was particularly interested in what you had to say about that song. You said it’s one of the greatest lines ever in a rock and roll song, which is pretty high praise.

Yeah, I think it is. Like I said in that blog, the lyric is a surreal sort of thing, and I wonder how it crossed Jim and William’s mind to have that lyric in there. I guess they might have thought of all these things that could happen that’d really suck, and one of them would be if you bought these photographs of God, and then they faded away. I thought it was a great tune, as well.

I’ve got a favourite Swervedriver lyric: the opening two lines to “Last Train To Satansville” (“You look like you’ve been losing sleep’, said a stranger on a train / I fixed him with an ice-cold stare and said, ‘I’ve been having those dreams again”). To me they’re a wonderfully evocative couple of lines. Are you particularly fond of those lyrics?

We probably were at the time, because I think that those lyrics were reproduced in full on the [Mezcal Head] album sleeve. But it was inspired by this song ‘They’re Hanging Me Tonight’ which was a song by a country singer named Marty Robbins. They both have a similar sort of narrative. The key line in that song was “They bury Flo tomorrow, but they’re hanging me tonight.” He’s in a prison cell, waiting to be sentenced. That song just seemed to have that twangy sort of vibe.

Speaking more broadly, what do you think when you look back to some of the material you recorded as a younger man?

Well, I think most of it stands up pretty well. I haven’t really listened to the recordings that much. We’ve been searching around for slightly more obscure b-sides and album tracks to play live, and there are some good things tucked away. There is quite a good catalogue for Swervedriver, really. I’m quite impressed by how many songs were written in that short two years, or whatever, because I think we released four EPs that all had four songs on them, and a nine-song album [Raise] as well. It’s actually quite a lot of stuff. And that stuff was written – it wasn’t like we had songs lying around for five years before. They were all pretty much written around that time.

We got quite prolific. It’s quite different now, because now I have songs I’ve had lying around for two, five, or ten years. And it’s good having those things, because every now and then you think “Oh, actually, I finally found a way that this song might work”. Our recent albums are sort of a mixture of new songs as well as things that can be up to 10 years old.

I came across the compilation Juggernaut Rides. I had to order it off eBay because there’s pretty much no other way to get it these days. It’s great, I love it. It’s a really good summation.

People ask me what my [Swervedriver] favourite album is, and people think you shouldn’t say compilation albums, but to me it’s a good selection of everything, really. It doesn’t have all the best stuff on it. I quite like the fact that it’s not chronologically laid out, so you just jump straight into the middle.

What does it mean to you to know that songs you guys recorded together are still extensively a part of peoples’ lives?

Oh, it means everything. It’s great. The music proves it has longevity. In the early nineties, you’d get little snipes in the press sometimes and people talk about the bands that supposedly were more important that I suspect aren’t still being played by anybody 20 years later. It never ceases to amaze me when people say this song or that song moved them in a way, or helped them through a period of time, and all that kind of stuff. Or that they sort of rocked out to it or whatever. It’s great.

For the full interview, visit The Vine. For more Swervedriver – highly recommended – visit their website. The music video for their song ‘Son of Mustang Ford‘ is embedded below.

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