Stay alight/A night on the turnpike/Like the crunch of the black ice and the buzz of the semis. In many ways, the lyrics from “Dust in the Gold Sack,” the first track on Surfing Strange, the latest Swearin’ album, encapsulates everything that has endeared this Brooklyn-turned-Philly foursome to so many people. There’s the understated, yet vivid, descriptors delivered through Allison Crutchfield’s piercing, faintly Southern lilt and guitarist Kyle Gilbride’s fuzz-fueled sonic assault, supported by the rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Keith Spencer and drummer Jeff Bolt. “Dust in the Gold Sack” has a distinctly punk sound, as do almost all Swearin’ songs, but it maintains a sense of palatable cohesion that makes the band so irrepressibly likable.
Formed from the ashes of adored DIY groups like Big Soda and P.S. Eliot, Swearin’ first burst onto the scene in 2011 with their What a Dump EP. Their self-titled LP followed a few months later to critical acclaim from popular websites like Pitchfork and Stereogum, which seemed to focus on the band’s ‘90s-indebted indie rock sound (a la Pavement or Archers of Loaf).
That Surfing Strange, released last month, should take that nostalgia-filled formula for success and throw it so squarely on its head is testament to the outfit’s unwillingness to stay shackled to genre constrictions. Vocal duties are shared this time around, and Swearin’ has also taken to less dynamically-oriented song structures, like the subdued “Curdled,” which could pass for a Pixies B-side.
“I really like the record, and I’m glad it came out how it did, but I was nervous about it. I thought a lot of people wouldn’t like it,” says Bolt, the band’s 29-year-old drummer. “This album, more so than the first one, is a combination of everybody working together, as opposed to saying, ‘Here’s a song that I have.’ A lot of the new stuff was everybody having more of a say on things. It’s more of us being what we want to be doing, not so much feeling like we are constricted to a certain type of song.”
Surfing Strange was recorded in a house in West Philly that all of Swearin’ except for Bolt once called home. While he still lives in Philadelphia, his bandmates are in a state of housing flux, living at the moment with various family members in New York City. “I have no real interest in leaving Philly. I think it’s one of the best cities right now for anything music-related,” says Bolt emphatically. “Every part of the city, like Fishtown and Northern Liberties, West Philly, South Philly ... everybody has their own scenes going on, which I think is really cool. It’s not that way in most places.”
If their upcoming New Year’s Eve show at Johnny Brenda’s—something of an indie music institution—is any indication, Swearin’ has moved on from “great West Philly band” to “great band.”
“The more attention that comes to us, the more we have to make decisions about things or how to go about things, but I think that we try to keep the approach of, ‘Well, if it’s not fun, let’s just not do it,’” Bolt says. “We still record our own records; I make all the merch; our best friend releases our records for us [through Salinas Records.] I don’t think we really have any interest in changing much.”
That sort of free-wheeling attitude extends to their online presence too, something which Bolt admits is not too high on the band’s list of priorities. “We have a pretty poor Internet presence,” he confesses. “I posted this Facebook tour before we went to Europe and then never even posted it again before the tour started. We had people being like, ‘Oh, shit—I didn’t know you were playing in my town two days ago.’ We are terrible at the Internet. It’s probably not a good thing.” Still, social media or no, discriminating music lovers—here, there and everywhere—seem to be discovering the power of Swearin’.
Tues., Dec. 31, 9pm. $15. With Screaming Females, Batty + DJs Chris Wilson & Perry Shall. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. johnnybrendas.com
The Pack A.D. are built for the road
PW's Music Issue 2014