A perfect storm of grunge and shoegaze, Swervedriver unleashed four albums in the 1990s — classic soundtracks for driving far and fast down dusty desert roads — before crushing their legion of hardcore fans with a 1999 break-up. Hot on the heels of much-anticipated ‘90s-band reunions from My Bloody Valentine, Portishead, and the Verve, the British quartet reformed earlier this year for a U.S. tour that included a gig at Coachella. Guitarist/vocalist Adam Franklin kept things going over the years with a solo career, both under his own name and the alias Toshack Highway, but this year was the first time Swervedriver had played together in nearly a decade. Here, Franklin talks about Swervedriver’s past, present, and (we hope) future.
Why did you decide to start your tour in the U.S. rather than in Europe?
It was quite a spontaneous thing, really. The logical place for us to play was the U.S., because that was always where the reception was better.
And what made 2008 the right time to get the band back together?
It just so happened that I was chatting with Jimmy Hartridge, the other [Swervedriver] guitar player, on the phone, and he’d been chatting with Jez [Hindmarsh, Swervedriver’s drummer] and it began like, “Hey, perhaps we should get back together….” Over the years it’d been mentioned a few times, and it’s never been the right time. For some reason or other, this time around all four of us were up for it.
What was it like to get back together and play again?
Kind of in the pocket. We got together in North London, and we just used the amps and drum kit that were in the room — no effects pedals or anything, just the bare basics. It was really tight and kind of rocked, and it was surprising how naturally we fell back into it.
This year’s Coachella was your first gig back together.
It was the first time we’d played together in almost 10 years. It was surprisingly stress-free — I think everybody was quite cool about it, really. We just had a couple of rehearsals and flew out for the weekend and did that. In some ways the pressure’s off as well, because it wasn’t our own show — we just had to go up and do 50 minutes — so it was a nice way to ease back in. It was also nice to fly out, have the weekend, get the first show under our belt, and then come home and kick back a little bit before heading out [again]. It was really nice, actually.
Were you happy with your performance?
I think so. We weren’t blown away by it, because it’s like the usual kind of thing at a festival: You don’t get a soundcheck, everything sounds a bit crazy, you’re going on at a strange time.… But I think we just sort of knuckled down for it, and sure enough there were a few people afterward saying, “You guys were incredible!” and all this kind of stuff. It was better that there were people telling us that we were incredible and us being nonplussed than us telling everybody that we were great and everybody else being nonplussed. I was told Black Mountain, who headlined that tent later on, and Spiritualized, who were on after us, were all watching, so that’s kind of cool.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently with Swervedriver?
There are certainly business things. When we signed to A&M [in the U.S.] in the early ‘90s, it was really good for the exposure — people maybe wouldn’t know us so well if we hadn’t been on that label and done a couple of the bigger tours, opening for Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins.… But, at the same time, we don’t actually own those albums, so at the moment we’re looking at getting those albums reissued and back in the stores. Ultimately, I think bands perhaps aren’t supposed to last forever. We got four pretty cool albums out of it in our time, so no real regrets.
Had the band members been in contact since the late ‘90s, when Swervedriver originally broke up?
We’ve been in touch over the years. There’ve been central gatherings over the years, parties and birthdays and weddings and all that kind of stuff. We’ve always tended to sort of meet up and never really discuss the band; we sort of just hung out really.
Will we be hearing any new Swervedriver material?
A lot of people are asking if we are going to do something. It’s a bit like when we weren’t together all these years — people would ask if we were going to get back together and we’d say, “Maybe. Never say never!” Now it’s kind of like, “Are you going to record again?” I guess if it naturally feels right, then perhaps. [laughs]
What are you up to after this U.S. tour?
I’m actually gonna stay out in the States. We recorded some drums for my new album, so we’re going to record guitars and stuff in June/July. Then in August there’s a plan to record Magnetic Morning, which is the project with Sam Fogarino from Interpol [formerly known as the Setting Suns]. We’re planning an EP and will see how far we get with an album for that. Then, there will possibly be a European tour with Swervedriver in September or something, and there’ve been offers for some festivals in Australia toward the end of the year. So, I think we’ll be doing more stuff.
Can you talk more about the Magnetic Morning project?
It’s quite cool. We have a lot of melodic ideas. Initially we weren’t really sure how it would work, and it was just naturally seeing if something came together. The way it differs is that quite a lot of the songs are Sam’s initial music, then I’m providing a top-line melody and maybe a few chord changes. I sort of throw it back to him, and he does a few more things. It’s really cool, because it’s a whole different approach. In some ways it’s quicker, because he’ll send me something and immediately I’ll get an idea.… We played one show as the Setting Suns in New York and we had Jimmy LaVelle [of the Album Leaf] playing keyboards and a really cool five-piece band. It’s nice to have a few things on the go.
Will you be going on the road with Magnetic Mornings?
There’s a plan for October/November. It’s turning into a really busy year, and I can’t see us doing everything we want to do, but I think there’s definitely a window of time between Sam’s Interpol commitments when we can maybe get out on the road and play out a bit. It should be fun.
Where does your inspiration come from these days? Are you still inspired by the whole “cars and driving” thing?
Inspiration can be a simple thing, like a nice melody or a chord sequence, and you kind of approach how, stylistically, that’s going to be committed to tape. Lyrically, I don’t know — I don’t really think about it too much. All those songs about cars and driving, a lot of them were really about something else. “Son of Mustang Ford” was kind of pining for something else; “Rave Down” was about kids living in a small town and being bored and having nothing to do. I think you can take inspiration from anywhere, really. I think if musically and lyrically there’s a cool flow to it, then you’re off to a good start.
What are you listening to these days?
I really like the Clientele, an English band that’ve been around quite a long time.… I [also] really like the Besnard Lakes from Montreal, and I’ve always been a big fan of Broadcast, a band from Birmingham, England. I really liked the soundtrack to The Darjeeling Limited — really cool Indian pop music from the 1960s. I’ve been listening to older stuff like Serge Gainsbourg, Scott Walker.… I was listening to the third Velvet Underground album the other night — that still sounds pretty darned good.
So many people were psyched to hear Swervedriver had reunited. Is there a band you’d be really excited to see reunite?
It was pretty damn exciting when the Stooges reformed a few years ago.… I’m trying to think who’s left, really.… I guess two of the Beatles are dead now. Maybe Husker Du — I don’t think that will happen, though.
Do people recognize you without the dreadlocks now?
It’s surprising how many people do come up — I’ve been in New York, I have a beard and short hair, and people are like “Hey, you’re Adam, right?” The funny thing about Coachella was the guy doing our guitar teching was John Kastner, who used to be in the Doughboys, a band from Montreal who were [also] signed to A&M back in the ‘90s. For a long time, me and John had the same exact hair. He still looks the same — he must have sold his soul to the devil or something, but he still looks 21. I was a bit worried people might see him and say, “Hey, Adam’s still got the dreads!” and then they see this other more-bald guy with a beard and go, “Oh, shit….” [laughs] I think it was ‘97 when the dreads came off — eleven years! It’s kind of weird because the other guys look pretty much the same as they did, maybe a little more wrinkly, but I’m looking quite different, and all these [old] pictures are probably appearing in magazines — “This geezer with dreadlocks, he’s not there anymore.”
Is there anything people would be shocked or surprised to know about Swervedriver?
The rhythm section are both avid golfers, and me and the other guitar player are both really into the TV show Lost. It’s so labyrinthine; there’s so much going on. They actually asked if I could advise them on some music that was set in a pub in London in 1995, and I kind of presumed that because they contacted me they were talking about Swervedriver, so I suggested a couple of songs from 1995. It would have been great to have those songs in the pub scene, but in the end they went some generic rave music, which was quite disappointing. I think it would have been really cool if they’d used Swervedriver in Lost.