Adam Franklin, singer/guitarist for Swervedriver, remembers the last time he and his band encountered America. Swervedriver flew across the pond a few months ago with fellow Brits Ned's Atomic Dustbin for a five-show, five-city tour stretching from New York to L.A.
"We were constantly flying from zone to zone," says the dreadlocked, twentysomething Franklin. "We didn't know where we were at all."
Swervedriver bassist Adi (pronounced "A-dee") Vynes says that the trip was the first look at America for both bands. "We'd just sit there on the plane thinking, `Good God, we're in the middle of America,'" he recalls.
"It got to be kind of crazy," adds Franklin. "We called it the `Brits on the Piss' tour," referring to the band's whirlwind routine of too much liquor and not enough sleep.
Franklin and Vynes, along with the rest of Swervedriver (guitarist Jimmy Hartridge and drummer Graham Bonnar), are currently on a second swing through the States. The monthlong headlining tour includes a stop at Chuy's this Sunday.
This time, though, Swervedriver is scheduled to cross the country by bus. Forget the aerial sightseeing from 30,000 feet; Swervedriver gets to meet the meat of the country head-on. Franklin, for one, says he loves it.
"I don't know if it's necessarily America or the earth itself," he says, talking by telephone from L.A. "I just really like the wide open spaces you have, especially in the West."
Swervedriver's eye for expanse is reflected in the band's music, a lonely, chaotic sound unabashedly derivative of America's foremost alternative noisemakers (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets). The essence of Swervedriver's sonic mapmaking is on display throughout Raise, the band's debut album on A&M. Songs like "Pile Up" and the wonderfully combustive "Son of Mustang Ford" mix the power of pounding feedback with such impatient lyrics as "Let's get in the car and just drive," and "Mustang, take me far away."
Swervedriver's travel fancy has found a home with the band's growing legion of English fans. In some ways, it's escapist for people in London, and in the smaller towns in England, too," says Franklin.
"People say they see visions of massive landscapes, that sort of thing," adds Vynes. "It's because you don't get that kind of epic sweep in Britain."
Vynes goes on to say that the band's musical references to cars, highways and empty spaces tend to get jacked up by the more hyperbolic elements of the U.K. press. Indeed, some of the more imaginative scribes overseas claim to find shadows of Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson within Swervedriver's distorted chords.
"They use it to death, actually," Vynes says of the media and their fixation with the band's apparent "car" concept. "I think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion."
Still, Raise is clearly based on an American-inspired wanderlust. And both Franklin and Vynes eagerly admit that restless stateside bands are a big influence on Swervedriver's sound.
The band's obsession with Americana started back in the mid-Eighties when the current Swervedriver roster-with a different drummer and an added lead singer-formed Shake Appeal, a band with blatant Iggy/MC5 overtones. Although based in the university town of Oxford, "It was a complete Detroit 1968 thing," Vynes says of the upstart band. He recalls that rehearsals were often just an excuse for playing repeated renditions of the Stooges' classic Fun House LP in its entirety, and half of MC5's epic album, Kick Out the Jams.
Original material, though, proved harder to come up with. Shake Appeal ultimately lost its appeal as the band found itself floundering amid a tide of more modern American mayhem.
"The Eighties were a bad time for British independent music," says Vynes. "We felt out on a limb. So we started getting into Sonic Youth, the Butthole Surfers-American bands with guitars, bands we could identify with. It's since opened up in England quite a bit, but at the time we really felt isolated. American bands were quite inspirational."
Shake Appeal retooled as Swervedriver and eventually recorded two indie EPs worthy of a junior Dinosaur Jr. The band's association with cars was cemented almost immediately with a photograph of crushed Cadillacs and Chevrolets featured on the back cover of the debut disc. Swervedriver was soon signed to Britain's trendy Creation Records after the president of the record company supposedly became addicted to the EPs while driving cross-country in America.
Swervedriver's success on Creation led to a major-label deal with A&M, which has the band poised for a breakout on the increasingly high-profile U.S. alternative scene. With surging songs like "Son of Mustang Ford" and "Sandblasted" leading the way, Raise should indeed get the band where it wants to go.
But there could be a few speed bumps along the way. The nine songs on Raise occasionally buckle beneath an overload of influences. For example, the disc's first two songs-"Sci-Flyer" and "Pile Up"-are little more than blurred copies of Dinosaur Jr.'s hazy laziness. The same is true with "Rave Down," a perfectly titled antiparty tune that never gets up from its monotonous groan.
The weak spots on Raise suggest Swervedriver may best be looked at as an instant retro act, an echo of startling noises gone by. But Vynes says the band is already refining its re-fried sound. He says newer songs in the manner of "Deep Seat," a six-minute seismic jam off Raise, will soon be the Swervedriver norm.
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"That's my favorite cut off the album," Vynes says of "Deep Seat." "I tend to think it sounds a lot like something off Exile on Main Street-that kind of lazy sort of thing the Stones were into. That's my impression, anyway."
"I think we'll get a heavier guitar sound on the next record," says Franklin. "More melodies, too. And we're thinking of using a lot more instruments-like a pedal-steel guitar really cranked up."
Which would give Swervedriver yet another American nail to hang its fortunes on. It's almost as if these impressionable English lads are straining to avoid a link with anything British.
"Well, it's our lovely friends in the English music papers, really," says Vynes. "They've tried to create a scene with bands like Chapterhouse, Lush, Ride and some others. They want to put us in there with them but, really, the only thing we have in common is our record label and our long hair. Those other bands are more into textures, with these huge washes of sound. We're more into a straight-ahead rock sound."
"Ultimately, it's the sound that counts," adds Franklin. "You can get a band with a great name, a great image and does great interviews, but when you put the record on, it'd better be happening."
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