Interview: Scott Swain

Scott Swain is a South London based singer-songwriter. 
Having previously played in bands (Fire at Night, How To Dress a Monster, Ebo) 2016 saw him experiment with a new direction in his songwriting. Drawing on influences from Americana, Country, and alt-indie, he decided to follow a solo career.

- Hi Scott and welcome to this interview. Tell us about your new release, Isolation.
Probably isn’t a surprise to hear that most of Isolation was written during the lockdown. It did make me think about the things that can force people to feel isolated in otherwise ‘normal’ conditions. As inherently social creatures, I think there’s a lot of darkness which surrounds us when we are on our own (maybe not for everyone).

- How would you describe your sound?
I’ve previously struggled with this question as I tend to flirt with Country, Folk, Rock and Americana, but then I was introduced to a genre known as ‘noir’ and suddenly I realised that this is sort of where I belong: it has intrinsic darkness and sits amongst Country, Americana, Rock and Folk.
People often reference Nick Cave in relation to my music – I’m definitely ok with that.

- What do you write about?
Films. I love trying to put myself in the shoes of a particular character from a film and singing about things from their perspective. There’s usually an emotion or feeling that they display in the film which I connect with and then want to explore.

- What do you listen to when you are home?
It really depends on my mood and what I’m doing. At the moment I’m listening to a lot of gypsy jazz. Ambient house and electronica are probably the most common whilst I’m at home.

- Your favourite live performance so far?
Café Szafe in Krakow with my good friend Del Gentilini. We were doing a European tour (which was catastrophically cut short due to my van breaking down in Prague – took 3 days to fix!). The gig was amazing though. It was sold out and the audience was impressively attentive. During moments of quietness in songs, and between songs, no one made a sound; they listened and were totally absorbed by the music. It really was a special experience. We had some great moments interacting with the audience during the set (in spite of having just done a 13-hour van drive from Utrecht). Notable mention: a gig at the Water Rats, London. One of few occasions where I had drunk way more than I ought to have pre-gig. I was all over the place on stage, rolling around and jumping about. I forced the rest of my band to play a lot faster than we normally do. I really annoyed the band as, musically speaking, it wasn’t perfect, however the performance was epic. The crowd loved it and there was an electric atmosphere.

- Tell us a funny story that happened in studio or on stage
Not sure this is funny, more tragic, but sort of funny to look back on: I hired a session musician who played accordion for a song on Isolation (Look Out Ahead). He seemed competent enough. Looking back on it now, there were red flags from the start. After sending him the track I asked him what ideas he had to which he replied “I have a few ideas, but I’d rather just feel the vibe on the day so that we really capture the energy of the day”. This isn’t really the way I like to work, as I prefer being prepared in advance and knowing what is going to happen so that we can shape and mold where needed – at least whilst the core of the song goes down; up for some spontaneity and feeling the vibe thereafter. So, I said to the guy can you please have at least a basic framework that we can work from. On the day of recording he turns up and starts warming up. Things seem ok. And then the producer hits the record button and things fall apart straight away: not only can the guy not keep time (whatsoever) he struggles to play in key. It was bizarre; he suddenly lost any musical ability he had, even though 5 mins before he was competently playing his instrument. The producer and I thought it might just be due to nerves and that he’d eventually relax and get into it. After a painful hour of listening to out of time, out of key droning, I realised it had to end. I had to have an awkward chat explaining that it just isn’t working. Despite painfully not delivering the guy still expected payment. Worse of all, he explained that this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened: he revealed that he’d been booked for a wedding and was due to play as guests were walking into the church; however, he “suddenly forgot how to play”. I was speechless hearing the story.
I learnt a valuable lesson that day: communicate expectations early in any type of relationship – especially when working with session musicians. If they can’t deliver they don’t get paid! You’d think that this doesn’t need to be said…

- Your favourite albums?
I could be here all day with this one, and will be annoyed with myself for the ones I didn’t include. But some important ones in my life: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. (The Smashing Pumpkins); Logical Progression (LTJ Bukem) – this album really tapped into something deep in my psyche; Smokers Delight (Nightmares on Wax); Lateralus (Tool) – an absolute masterpiece! In Rainbows (Radiohead) – beautiful. This could have easily have been OK Computer as I’ve some cool coming of age memories related to that album, but musically speaking In Rainbows trumps Ok Computer. Debut (Bjork) – I’ve listened to this album so much that the CD I bought of it (early 2000s) is no longer playable; Roseland NYC Live (Portishead) – I had this on VHS and watched it to death. Sensational performance by all musicians involved. End Hits (Fugazi) – a case study in superb songwriting and cool hooks; An American Prayer (Jim Morrison) – I love The Doors but there’s something really cool about this solo album; Electric Ladyland (Jimi Hendrix) – Hendrix was my first love (of rock music). Prior to getting in to Hendrix I only listened to Drum N Bass; Beaucoup Fish (Underworld) – sheer class! Pretty Hate Machine (Nine Inch Nails) – my all-time favourite album. Melancholia Hymns (Arcane Roots) – a brilliant band; superb musicians and beautiful album. Production is flawless (shout out to Chris Coulter!); Hyperspace (Beck) – so well written. Convict Pool (Calexico) – the guitar sound on this album is perfect.
So sorry to all the amazing albums that my stupid brain has neglected to pay homage to.

- A musician you would like to meet for a beer?
No hesitations on this one: Tom Waits. So many questions to ask him, so much to learn. The worry of course is the claim that you should never meet your idols.

- What would you ask backstage if you were the most important band on earth?
Haha. It would be quite simple: I need/want my dogs waiting for me, a comfy sofa, a movie, and no talking (!!!)

- What are your plans for the next future?
I’m not entirely sure just yet. I have a song that I recorded with my live band a few years ago that I’d really like to release, and a few other songs that need finishing. I write a lot but the thing that really holds me back is the costs involved in releasing music.
Giovanni Gagliano

Passionate about music I wrote my first article for "Given To Rock" in 2012, reaching now 30K global followers. I am also a musician, gigging around London.

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