Everybody reunites. Even bands you never knew existed. But after all the excitement around the big reunion tour wears off, then what? Bands can break up again. Or they can embrace all the gimmicks to keep things rolling along without too much effort: Commemorative tours in which they play old albums in their entirety; getting the diehard fans to generate setlists via online voting; etc.
Or, hey, here’s an idea: Maybe they could write some fresh material, hit the road with some new stuff mixed in with the old, continue to be creative and look toward the future instead of simply surrendering to the past. Y’know, do the things that made them want to be in the band in the first place.
The latter is by far the road less traveled, but thankfully it’s the one Swervedriver is taking. Four years after reuniting—following a decade-long hiatus—the British guitar-rock juggernaut comes back to Philly as a re-invigorated quartet looking to write a few new chapters in a book that’s already got some killer sonic stories.
“You really don’t wanna be put in some nostalgia bracket,” says frontman Adam Franklin. “Well, maybe some do, but we don’t. We don’t want to be predictable, and we certainly aren’t interested in just going through the motions.”
From their start in 1989, Swervedriver never took the easy road—great for their integrity, if not their personal finances. They were lumped in with the early ’90s U.K. shoegaze scene by those who looked at the band’s arsenal of guitar pedals but who didn’t always listen to the punkish, Stooges/Hüsker Dü wallop at the heart of their cinematic, panoramic tunes. The Swervies placed themselves at the fringes of that scene with a dense, quasi-psychedelic attack more muscular, melodic, urgent and purposeful than most of their meandering, floppy haired peers. Then, when Brit-pop killed shoegaze, Swervedriver refused to give up their wall of noise and atmosphere for dumbed-down pub-rock. Creatively, the band never flailed, but pressure both internally and from record labels to score hits and move units helped do them in by 1999.
Franklin needs only to look at live performances from that era, preserved forever on YouTube, to remind him of that miserable mental state. “It’s amazing—you can see the rollercoaster we were on and the toll it took,” he shudders.
In 2012, though, all that careerism pressure is off. “We’re doing this because it’s mad fun,” says Franklin. He’s got his ongoing solo career with backing band Bolts of Melody; the other Swervies have their outside endeavors, too. Trying to get the band to blow up isn’t life-or-death anymore.
But the creative spark still exists, not from desperation but through that newfound calmness and freedom. The quartet’s working on a new batch of songs, including a souped-up version of a tune Franklin wrote for the upcoming indie drama California Solo , starring Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting’s “Begbie”) as a former Brit-pop star-turned-farmer forced to confront his past (Carlyle sings Franklin’s melancholy number in a pivotal scene). Swervedriver plans to issue at least an EP by year’s end, and will likely unveil a new track or two tonight as they launch their U.S. tour at Union Transfer.
“Right now, it almost feels like that very first period when we started the band,” says Franklin. “Where you’re knocking things around and the ideas are coming, the songs are just hanging there and the possibilities are endless and we feel like we can write our own history again and surprise people instead of just being stuck in the past. It’s the best feeling.”
Swervedriver perform Wed., March 28, 9pm. $15-$18. With Heaven. Union Transfer, 1026 Sping Garden St. 215.232.2100. utphilly.com
PW's Music Issue 2014