A. Swayze & the Ghosts are a noisy bunch. Working their way towards debut album 'Paid Salvation', due 18th September, they've spent the past however many months dropping garage-punk-laden hit after garage-punk-laden hit, calling out modern vices like social media, harassment, big business and such along the way. The Tasmanian band's leader, Andrew Swayze tells us more.
Hi Andrew, how's it going? Are you lot coping okay with all this pandemic business?
I've been okay during the pandemic, the other guys have been fine too. Being an island, our home state of Tasmania has had a less complicated time slowing down the spread than other places. I lost my hospitality job but didn't want it anyway so now I have all the time in the world to wake up late and play my guitar.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a musician, was there a 'eureka' moment?
I've loved and connected with music since I can remember, although I don't come from a musical family. When I was a kid, I used to fantasise about playing guitar and performing in front of people, which I'd emulate with air-guitar performances of Elvis songs for my folks.
Toward the start of high school, I was given the saxophone to play, which I hated because I wanted to learn guitar. During religion class and lunch breaks, I'd sneak into the room where the nylon string guitars were kept, and I'd hide in there trying to learn stuff like Seven Nation Army and Eric Clapton.
As soon as I could play a few chords and riffs, I became obsessed with writing songs.
I think at that point in my early teens, I knew music was going to be a life-long obsession.
What attracted you to band-life, as opposed to going solo?
For me, music has always been fun to make with other people. I love what can be made out of a simple idea like a melody or drum pattern just by sharing it with someone and listening to how they respond by adding to it or changing it. Inside my head, I'm constantly hearing little melodies or tapping away a rhythm, so songwriting never really rests, but even after transferring those ideas to instruments I rarely finish them. Having musicians I respect to help turn those ideas into something great as well as share their own ideas is the beauty of having a band which doesn't exist for me as a solo act.
Is being a musician living up to the hype so far?
The hype is bullshit. It's not the Hollywood biopic that we grow up expecting. I love music for its expressive qualities, same as visual art. The lifestyle is secondary and is totally not what it looks like from the outside – at least not for us. Here are some truths from behind the scenes of a tour/band life:
You spend far more time in airports and crammed into cars under equipment than laying by a pool or flying in first class.
You're always tired.
You make almost no money.
You spend hours before a show bored out of your mind at sound check.
Your most recent release was probably written three years ago, and you're sick of it.
You can do all the free drugs and booze you want, but eventually, you have enough.
Some people will hate you just because of your success, some will only love you because of it.
Going back to regular life after a tour is difficult.
All that aside, It's a blast, and I couldn't imagine living another life.
Has lockdown mucked up many of your plans? It must be weird releasing an album when you can't tour.
Yes, it foiled our plans to tour through the US for the first time and to come back to the UK/EU. We were meant to leave in March.
It was a big kick in the guts for our morale around that time because we had pretty much the whole year planned out for touring prior to and post the release of our record.
It's really weird doing this release without a tour set in stone, it's kind of like we don't get the same excitement and closure that a tour provides after putting music out into the world. I have no doubt we will get to do a belated tour for it though, so not all is lost.
Did you consider moving the release back at all?
No. We have no time for stagnation in this fickle and unforgiving world.
When did you first start working on the album? What was the timeline like?
We started pre-production in August 2018, and It's taken until recently to get it completely over the line. Everything was done in Melbourne, so we (and especially I) spent a lot of time back and forward on planes.
We actually only spent 4 days tracking instruments because we chose to record the bulk of it live and in the same room, It was my vocals that dragged the process out. As I mentioned earlier, I struggle to get things finished - and vocals, given their need for true conviction and the importance of lyrical content can take a while to get right.
How did you approach curating the record's tracklisting?
We had around 25 songs we thought would be appropriate for the record, all of which we had demoed ahead of time. It was just a process of whittling away at that list until we all agreed upon our strongest tracks. Some songs, including 'Paid Salvation' and 'Cancer', really came together in the months leading into and during pre-production and ended up becoming among some of our favourites on the record.
As far as the track sequence is concerned... it was just trial and error until we got it right (subjectively).
What do you most enjoy writing songs about? Is there a particular vibe you aim for?
I don't have a hard and fast answer for 'what' I like to write about. I tend to drift toward just giving my opinion of things I consider to be negative or worth questioning. I feel a kind of obligation to write about issues that affect the people around me or those I observe, rather than focusing on little personal anecdotes or weird metaphors for something only I understand. I would find it easier to describe what I don't like to write about or listen to - I've been described as a stick in the mud and out of touch when it comes to the contemporary fashion of irony.
Do songs find you, or do you usually have to find them?
Both. Often melody and rhythm come to me very fast if not instantly, I don't have to work for that. On the flip side, though, I'm not a technically skilled instrumentalist, and the intricacies that make a song go from being good to great can take a lot of work and patience. I tend to write dozens of revisions for my lyrics too, which when you look at it, is quite a bit of work.
What do you do for fun?
Nothing. I only do serious things.
What does the rest of the year look like for A. Swayze & The Ghosts?
I have no idea. It really depends just how big this record is, right?
A. Swayze & The Ghosts' debut album is out 18th September.