Of all the bands put under the “shoegazing” category, none are more misinterpreted than Oxford, England’s Swervedriver. From late 1989 until their breakup in 1998, the band put out a slew of EPs and 7” on top of four full-lengths. The misinterpretation about them being labeled “shoegazing” comes perhaps from their inclusion on the Creation Records roster that also housed notable shoegaze acts such as Slowdive, Ride, and My Bloody Valentine. Swervedriver are not a shoegazing band in the conventional sense. They had too much of an attitude and punch to their sound to be corralled into the same style of melodramatic vapour trails and ethereal soundscapes that the shoegaze acts of the day were vaunted for.
Let’s be honest, the only time you’ve ever seen lead guitarist / vocalist Adam Franklin stare down to his pedal board at length is during the ten minute cross-country road trip of “Never Learn”. Aside from that the band can, and should, be considered an alternative experimental rock powerhouse (with some light punk tendencies). On record, specifically Raise & Mezcal Head, the band makes a very clear distinction between sections. The opening track off the record Raise, “Sci-Flyer” contrasts the incredibly solid and heavy rhythm section between Franklin’s guitar work and his upfront use of his diverse pedal board. In Raise, the band has obviously found their place and are beginning to improve on the formula they’ve created. From beginning to end, you can hear the personalities in the band start to come out. Franklin’s devotion to driving the countryside and his admiration of American cars becomes apparent in the opening tracks “Sci-Flyer”, “Pile-Up”, and “Son of Mustang Ford”. The band’s interest in movies of all qualities is put on full display in the track “Feel So Real”. To add to the personalities of the band you can also decipher the attitudes and overall feelings of the band at the time, especially in the hopelessly sad “Rave Down”.
Raise is an extremely well crafted record that the band heavily builds upon into their follow up release Mezcal Head. However before the record could come to fruition the band had a rather dramatic “break up” with their rhythm section. On a US tour in 1992, the band’s original drummer, Graham Bonnar, ditched the band at Niagara Falls and just never came back. On top of that they also had their original bassist, Adi Vines, leave the band later on in 1992. After a reformation of the impressive rhythm section (of bass player Steve George and drummer Jez Hindmarsh) and the addition of producer Adam Moulder (Ride, Boo Radleys) comes THE record for Swervedriver, Mezcal Head. The album, out in 1993, is a much more mature rendition of 1991’s Raise. On this well-structured album, the guitar work of Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge catch up to their songwriting with distortion drenched riffs, catchy choruses, and exploratory use of effects. All of this helped the band to successfully manufacture the sounds from the aesthetics they conveyed. “For Seeking Heat” the band opens up the record with the gut punch Swervedriver is capable of leading into. The deep, catchy choruses make "Duel" another one of the standout tracks.
The other standout track on the record showcases how great Swervedriver truly is. “Last Train To Satansville” is the best song on the record. From the opening crash and wah-ing guitars, to the relentless pacing of the rhythm section. The song's haunting opening lines “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” further illustrates Swervedriver’s attitude. Let's not forget about the other side to the attitude of the band; Mezcal Head displays a draining feeling of disappointment. Specifically on the bonus track “Never Lose That Feeling/Never Learn”, which debuted on a 7” of the same name the year before.
The thing that sets Swervedriver apart from their shoegazing contemporaries is the importance of their lyrics and personality as opposed to mere soundscapes. When we talk about My Bloody Valentine or Catherine Wheel, we usually refer to something specific the bands did with sound. We talk about an effect or an overall sound. When we talk about Swervedriver, more often than not, we refer back to the lyrics. The band's lyrics bore much of the dream aesthetic that other shoegaze bands did. The difference for Swervedriver is that theirs came from a constant state of manic depression. A lot of the band's lyrical themes tell stories of harsh realities and beautiful delusions of grandeur.
Included are all four of Swervedriver's albums and five of their EPs.
- Hayden Robertson