Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Introducing: Swearin'

14 November 2013, 14:00 | Written by Michael James Hall

Part of a rich lineage of Brooklyn bands that includes P.S. Eliot and Big Soda, and sharing both family and band members with Waxahatchee in the form of the Crutchfield sisters, the now Philadelphia-based Swearin’ recently found themselves in the UK to promote the Wichita release of both their self-titled debut from last year (trust us, it’s an instant classic) and the brand new album Surfing Strange. We spoke to guitarist/vocalist Kyle Gilbride (with a little cameo from Allison Crutchfield) about DIY, production tricks, and life on the road.

How did Swearin’ begin? How long was it before you knew it was a long-term thing?

Kyle: The start of things was I guess me and Allison (Crutchfield, vocals/guitar) working on songs together when we were in New York, living in the back of this falafel shop. It was just for fun, we were in other bands and didn’t have any plans to start something new at that point. This was…2011? That summer I went on tour with my band and Allison with hers, both respectively coming to an end after the tours. While we were out on tour we’d started to talk on the phone about using the songs for a new band. Allison met Keith (Spencer, bass) who was playing in the other band she was on tour with, he was laying low after some trouble with law, selling banned literature back to its country of origin, but he said he would join anyway. We knew Jeff Bolt (drummer) from shows in the Midwest and he had recently moved to Philadelphia from the great state of Michigan. He moved to explore how little work he could while remaining alive, so we knew he was available, and asked him to play drums. He said, “sure, whatever.”

Would you tell us how you felt about the reception it received and how you became involved with Wichita?

I think we were mostly surprised by the amount of press the record got. We made it just like any of us have made any other record I guess – with care but with no sense of expectation. Not even with any real thought of people outside of DIY hearing it. I don’t know when or how the Wichita people heard us, but they were very complimentary of the record, and once Waxahatchee signed with them we had a more direct line of communication with them through Keith and Katie (Crutchfield, Allison’s sister). The rest happened from there.

What do you think is the ideal circumstance to be listening to a Swearin’ record?

I’m so bad at getting around to listen to music that I don’t think I could tell you. Driving? When you’re cleaning your room? Those are my most productive and enjoyable listening environments.

There are big differences between the self-titled record and Surfing Strange – what do you feel the changes are? Are there very intentional differences?

Song-wise the first record was more independently written – compiled, almost. It was me, Allison and Keith all bringing basically completed songs to practice and us learning them together pretty quickly in an hourly practice space or something. The recording of it was also more compartmentalised, recording the drums in Philly, the guitars and vocals in Queen’s, and the bass tracks last after Keith got home from another tour. The new record was much more collaborative. We focused more on exploring the sounds, using different spaces in the house for natural ambiences. We also just incorporated more of our diverse taste in music. Not even intentionally really, but in the back of our minds we knew there was no reason to make the same record twice.

You produced not only both Swearin’ records, but also the last Waxahatchee album and Ali Koehler’s supergroup Upset. What’s the difference between those gigs? Do you prefer do be producing your own material or is it more stressful? What’s your very best production technique or trick?

The most drastic difference is in the way the bands operate. At the time of recording Cerulean Salt Waxahatchee was not really a band in the truest sense of the word, but Katie with a batch of really good songs and some ideas between her and Keith of how to arrange them. The rest came together in the recording process, working on one song a day from beginning to end until it felt complete. Recording a band like Upset is a more straightforward task – you put up the mics, they play the songs, you add some overdubs, and voila. Swearin’ records give me a little more stress because it’s the only case where I might actually call my input “producing”, which to me means making creative decisions during the recording process. We are first and foremost a proper band, so that portion is simple, but then we like to experiment, sometimes drastically altering the original idea. It is not my position to assert the kind of influence when recording someone else’s record.

As far as any production tips or techniques I’m stuck on just doing everything you can to get the sound right at the source. I work within a set of restrictions which has taught me that the best thing you can do is focus on the sound coming out of the instruments and doing your best to capture that. And when you can’t you say screw it, you live with it. You should always do everything you can within your means to make a quality recording, but if you don’t finish records then a whole lot less people are going to hear them.

Allison –You’ve always been in bands with Kate up until Swearin’. Obviously there’s no stress between you as you continue to tour together but how did it come about that Kate would essentially go solo and you’d be a part of this band?

Allison: It just sort of the natural progression. Our band PS Eliot was ending and Katie was starting to write more for Waxahatchee, and Kyle and I had always wanted to do a band together so we started making songs. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it’s just the way it happened.

You have not only family ties with Waxahatchee but a romantic link between Kate and Keith, also between Allison and Kyle – does it ever get a little too intense?

We get along fine. We’re normal, we have a good time, we fight, we get bored.

“Curdled” is a stand-out on the new record – would you tell us how it came together?

Kyle: I can tell you that “Curdled” is a song I’ve written over and over again. Passivity and disassociation with my past are recurring themes for me. I’m stuck on them in a lot of ways, I think about them often.

What’s your writing process as a band? Are you working in the rehearsal room all together or bringing in pieces that are written individually and working from there?

More often than not we bring in pieces now. Melodies and lyrics still fall into the personal category, but the rest of the song is explored by the band. We try things out, and rearrange things until it works or it doesn’t.


Swearin large

What are your personal highlights on the new record?

No one thing specifically jumps out. I’m happy with the sounds and the songs. Jeff’s drums on “Mermaid” get me going. The chorus on “Glare of the Sun” is something cool and different for us. Allison’s vocal on “Loretta” is really pretty. Jeff indulged me and let me keep my own drum track on “Curdled” – I’m terrible at drums but I love playing them.

I listen to your band and hear Throwing Muses, Superchunk, Breeders, Drop Nineteens – who or what do you hear? Do you have any fondness for those bands?

Sure. They either are or have been important to us respectively, without a doubt. Everything is an influence in some way though so it’s hard to say what I hear specifically. We are four people that like a lot of different music. I guess people feel silly throwing around the term “rock music” but that’s what I hear. Four people who like rock music and want to obscure it sometimes, and indulge in it at others. I can’t say I’m speaking for everyone on this.

Tell us about the shift from Brooklyn to Philadelphia. Why did you make the move and how has it affected the band?

We moved to Philly to do the band. Things were a little hectic when we were in New York and Jeff was in Philly. Especially since we had just gotten started, honestly hardly knowing each other, and were trying to write and record songs and plan tours. Once the band started to become something we really wanted to do we decided moving would help us increase the focus I guess. We wanted to have more time and leisure to work on songs and record in our own space. The West Philly DIY community had a huge impact on us as a band I think. It was the only place that ever felt like a home for our band.

Tell us a little bit about the releases’ titles - who picks them and what do they evoke for you?

What a Dump was courtesy of me and a stupid dream I had wherein I was wearing a t shirt that flouted the phrase. It suited the sentiment of the song Allison wrote that we named it, and ultimately the greater sentiment of the tape: alienation from your own space, apartment, city…

Surfing Strange was Keith’s, and also the title of a song – the missing third companion to Keith’s two songs on the record that didn’t itself end up on it. I’ll just say it completes the trilogy and so seemed necessary to have been represented on the record somehow.

Big dumb question: Where do you think guitar music fits into modern culture in 2013?

It doesn’t matter what instrument you play. I can hardly tell the difference between a guitar, a keyboard or the sound of dogs fucking if it’s a song I like. Good songs are good songs, bad songs are bad songs, regardless of what vehicle you’ve chosen to deliver it.

Are you pleased with Surfing Strange? Are you already looking back and picking holes in it or are there no regrets?

I love the record. There are always things you think you should have done differently, but records are like that by nature. They’re never finished, you just stop working on them. We fall into the no regrets camp. We’re already thinking about the next one.

What’s on the horizon now for Swearin’?

We have another US tour a few weeks after we get home in November, then some time off to work on songs. We don’t hate touring but it’s easily our least favorite part about music.

Who would play each of you in ‘Swearin’: The Movie’?

Jeff says (fictitious Mad magazine cover star) Alfred E. Newman, the rest plead the 5th.

Surfing Strange is out now on Salinas Records.

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