Self-described as “Birmingham boys making sun kissed noise”, indie pop band Swim Deep have received wide critical acclaim with their early releases and were nominated for NME’s Best New Band award in 2014. Their highly anticipated sophomore album could be one of the records of the summer, and if the acid house tinged ‘To My Brother’ is anything to go by, we could be in for a summer of love. We sat down with Austin and James ahead of the band’s performance at Angel’s Electrowerkz to talk about shifting sounds, psychedelic videos and Swim Deep FM.
How’s life treating you guys at the moment?
Austin: Yeah good, it feels nice to be back on the road and gigging. We’ve been out of gigging since September.
James: It’s been 7, 8 months or something, and then we spent the last four weeks straight in rehearsals, so we’ve all really been building towards playing live again.
Austin: And before that it was the studio so we’re out of our comfort zone I guess.
James: Yeah we’re back on the podium, but yeah excited.
So you just mentioned you started a tour, how was that?
A: It was really nice because the Manchester crowd has always been really good to us and really fun, so it was nice to start there. It just felt exciting to showcase our new stuff.
J: I was quite taken aback actually by the response when we were playing, because we were quite nervous, because it was our first one back.
A: Last time we played actually, here’s a pop fact for you, last time we played at Deaf Institute, James was in the crowd as well.
J: Because it was before I joined the band.
A: Yeah we plucked him out.
J: I hung around the back door and begged to join the band. That’s not what happened!
How would you guys describe your genre of music?
A: I would say it’s like dark pop music, there’s a bit of melancholy and it’s a bit sad sometimes but not in an obvious way. I just feel like that’s the way we record music, it’s dark, dream pop. It doesn’t really matter I guess, it’s up to whoever listens to it to have a connection.
J: It’s much easier to pick genres that have influenced us rather than making up a new name for whatever we’re trying to be, which is just all of them mixed together. I mean there’s lots of stuff, we listened to Motown and soul, and acid house is another big influence on the new record, and then you can combine that with the dark dream pop kind of vibe.
The acid house influence in your new record, why did you decide to go with that sound now as opposed to before?
A: The reason we kinda leaned on acid house as a thing was because it’s an interesting part of our album, so why not talk about it. Me and Zack just got a 303 machine, the acid house synth machine, and 808, and just played with that, and then took it to the studio, and then we started listening to that genre.
J: And there’s quite a lot of people we’ve been working with who said “we used to be teenagers in the acid house movement so you should listen to this”, and we had these new instruments in front of us, and when you hear what they were used for, it’s quite inspirational. And everyone just goes on about how fun it was in the late eighties, going to all these illegal parties.
A: We’re not ones to look back and I don’t want to be an old person saying times were better back then, so we believe in that continuity, that every summer could be a new summer of love.
J: Yeah the vibe that everyone was giving off about this movement of music was something we wanted to capture in our music, so I think that’s a big reason why we looked at that.
So we’ve talked about the change in direction, how did that come about? Did you have a group chat before or did you just get into the studio and it came out?
J: The only reason for this perceived change in direction was no one wants to make the same song again, we just started branching out a bit.
A: Trying to be better musicians and better songwriters, I think that’s what we went for. It’s also the fact that we’re growing up in the band and it’s very much always been about growing up and completely submitting ourselves to our audience and our fans. It’s a very open-chested kind of ethos, in this is us growing up and trying new things out, if it works then great, if it doesn’t, we’ve had fun.
The video for ‘To My Brother’ is very psychedelic, how did you come up with that concept? What was the process behind that?
J: Yes psychedelic is a word that’s been said a lot. When we getting the brief together, I think we said we want to avoid the word psychedelic, and the director said “ok if we don’t have it psychedelic, what about iridescent?”, so he came up with this wheel of oily petrol.
A: It was quite interesting when we had the meeting with him, it very much came from us sending him references, and then we got an editor in to make it a bit more mad.
J: The colours and stuff is something that we thought was important. Again I think it kind of touches on the acid house thing, when you’ve got clubs full of all these lights, but not too much, just something kind of spacey and different.
On your website you’ve got a Swim Deep FM playlist, were those the kind of tunes that inspired the record?
A: We just have this email thread where we send all of our favourite records at the moment, and then that slowly gets dripped out into this Swim Deep FM. Me and Zack live together and we’re gonna start a radio show soon, I’ve been meaning to do it for like six months. I’m gonna get people on, and then we’ll be playing music and doing a podcast every week, but yeah for now this is all the records that we really love, regardless of how it’s influenced us.
J: There’s like a huge backlog of songs and it was all stuff that were different references for like microscopic little bits in songs but when you’ve got it all together it’s like a huge network of sounds and references that all came together on the album.
I was going to say if you had your own station, not just your own show, what else would you have on it?
A: We want to get our mums on it, it would just be really funny because they’re all characters, maybe all together and review our tracks. They’re very honest mums aren’t they? But in a very loving way so they could say it was shit and still mean it in a good way.
In NME Austin you said that you wanted to radicalise chart music, can you expand on that a little bit?
A: Well I guess me saying I wanted to radicalise chart music was quite a bold thing to say, but it meant that I think that chart music is a slight bit bland and not very imaginative. But then actually when you listen to the music itself, it’s beyond crazy in the way that they use the synths but it’s also polished and quite sweet and nice and sugary. Someone has to radicalise it so I just said that. We’re extremists, I think we want to be.
So the new album when can we expect it? Any more details?
A: It’s going to be coming out in the summer, at the end of the summer probably.
J: What can we say? I mean we’ll have a couple more singles out before the release.
A: I think just one but yeah we’re gonna put a few little songs out before we release the album to give people a taste, because there’s a lot of different stuff on the album. It’s a record we’re really proud of so we want people to hear the whole album not just hear the singles off it.
J: It’s much more of a journey, there’s lots of weird stuff going on and we don’t want people to assume it’s going to be an album full of ‘To My Brother’ because it’s not, we want people to get a broader scope of what’s on there.
It seems that Birmingham is coming back into the musical spotlight, you’ve got you guys and bands like Peace. Do you consciously try and be really representative of Birmingham or do you look outside and do your own thing?
A: I think Birmingham for us is a very important place. The crowds are just the maddest crowds there, it’s always good to know that Birmingham is going fucking mad for it. There’s such an expressive musical passion in Birmingham that you don’t really see as much of anywhere else, there’s just something in the water. But I don’t think that’s much to do with us or Peace because we came from that group, that’s the reason we’re in bands, the only difference was that we kind of moved out. There’s a want to get out but there’s a want to create your own paradise in the place that you live, so there’s the escapism but there’s also making the world a better place. You don’t have to fuck off anywhere else to change the world, do it from your doorstep if you want.
We’re coming up on festival season, I know you’ve got a few scheduled, are there any that you’re really excited about?
A: Obviously Glastonbury that’s a big one. The first time we went there we played there. It always felt so out of reach for me, I don’t know why.
J: We’re looking forward to going back to Benicassim as well because when we played there two years ago, I think it was probably one of the best gigs we’ve done. And Reading and Leeds of course because that’s somewhere I grew up going to when I was in school, so when you play on those stages you wouldn’t really believe it if you told yourself ten years ago that’s where you’d be.
Do you get to go to many as punters?
A: I think I want to go to Green Man this year. The last one I went to was Bestival actually the year before we played it. Whichever festival we play at we always kind of treat ourselves as customers, although it does look a lot different when you’re behind the stage. Because you haven’t come through the big pearly gates and given your ticket over and travelled all the way there, it does feel a lot different, which is a shame because you miss that. But I’m not complaining, I’m very grateful, don’t get me wrong!
J: Most of the time though when we’re playing at festivals you get like six hours there and then you’ve got to go to the next festival.
A: Oh what a life!
J: Like you don’t often get that much time to spend there if you’re playing but if there ever is a day off, we always make sure that we can go and watch the bands and experience the festivals ourselves.
What are you listening to right now, like on the bus down here?
A: I’ve been listening to that Tobias Jesso Jr. album tons, I think it’s the best songwriting album I’ve heard for a while. It reminds me a lot of Pacific Ocean Blue by Dennis Wilson, that’s one of my favourite records.
J: I’ve been playing the new album by The Go! Team, which everyone seems to really like. Just loads of really cool rhythms and uplifting vocals.
First record you ever bought? Is it embarrassing?
A: Yeah probably. I never had classic people like Led Zeppelin or Bob Dylan or anyone that you’re like meant to have in your record collection until a lot later in life, so it was just stuff that we found in our loft, Americana music like Offspring or Everclear.
J: Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory was mine and I’m completely proud of that, I think it’s a great album.
A: Oh Shania Twain was one, my dad loved her.
Any song in the history of music you wished you had written?
A: A song that always comes back to me when I get asked this question is ‘Tiny Dancer’ by Elton John, there’s just something there that I like about that song.
J: I reckon something like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ by The Beatles, because it’s just absolutely mad, and it’s The Beatles and no one had made anything that sounded like that before, so it was very progressive at the time and I just think it’s great.
Good choices! If you could have any superpower, what would it be and what would you do with it?
A: To write that song [laughs]. Probably flying, or unlimited money or something so no one would ever be hungry in the world.
J: Is that a superpower, to have unlimited money?
A: I’d have a superpower to have unlimited money then. There’s got to be a superpower in the world that means no one’s hungry.
J: I reckon I would want to see forward in time, it’d be pretty cool wouldn’t it?
If you could fill a swimming pool with anything, what would it be?
A: Liquor in the words of Kendrick Lamar. No I really do like swimming pools filled with water to be honest, I think they serve a really good purpose.
J: All my mates [laughs].
Follow Swim Deep on Twitter. Their new single 'One Great Song And I Could Change The World' is out on June 22nd, and you can catch them live at the Roundhouse on October 22nd.