It’s heartening to see in an age when so much stuff brands itself independent, be it in sound or attitude, that the spirit of that much (ab)used adjective lives on. One band who truly exemplify the independent ethos, in a very twenty-first century way are Swimmer One. Not in a pathetic, snobby way, but independent in that not only do they run their own label, Biphonic, but they play live when they want to, and all on their own terms. Andrew Eaton and Hamish Brown still hold day jobs, Hamish as a writer for a scottish newspaper. After years of rock-stars who are so up their own backsides, who ooze fake modesty and arrogance out of every pore, and think ‘meaning it, maaan!’ is ripping off Johnny Rotten circa 1977, Swimmer One in the own words of their debut release ‘we just make music for Ourselves.’ And they really do mean it.
Four years have passed since they put out the aforementioned single, and it’s equally brilliant follow-up ‘Come on, let’s go!’. In that time they have also put out a digital-only single ‘Largs Hum/Cloudbusting’ the latter a cover of the Kate Bush song, and featuring guest vocals from Cora Bissett. This September will see the release of their debut album The Regional Variations.
Utterly wowed by all I had heard of the music, I had arranged to call Andrew at home. To his credit, not only was he in, but he chatted for half an hour about the band, scottish conspiracy theories, Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark, and much more besides…
I ask how come The Regional Variations has taken so long. He groans, politely, and I feel bad for asking. ‘It takes time to get things right,’ he points out. With both him and Hamish having full-time jobs and living in different cities it’s clear that this is not a band like The Beatles in Help! ‘ If you add up all the time [that they have spent making the album], it’s probably only a few months.’ He is at pains to point out that it’s not like The Stone Roses’ Second Coming, which was years in the making with the band working flat-out on it, or Chinese Democracy, the Guns’n’ Roses album, first scheduled for release over a decade ago.
Being on your own record label minimises, or rather, removes entirely, annoying A&R types and others, hanging around the stuio moaning that they ‘Can’t hear a single.’ How does running Biphonic affect them making music? ‘It’s a very small concern. It was set up originally just to put our first single.’ In turn though, this lead to then putting out the debut album by Perth’s Luxury Car. ‘What time we have spare tends to go into our own music or helping Luxury Car.’
One of the many things about Swimmer One that I love is their website, which is fantastic, not only just for finding out about their music and biography, but also for Andrew and Hamish’s writing. ‘Largs Hum’ which works it’s way around Scotland, is described as an attempt to create a Scottish conspiracy theory (see more here). I can’t resist asking him whether he thinks that Scotland needs more conspiracy theories.
‘I said it in a slightly throwaway way!’ he says, slightly bemused. But he goes on to explain what the Largs Hum is. ‘It’s low Frequency Noise which gives people headaches. It’s a metaphor for people feeling that they’re going mad, and people not believing them. It’s one variety of the ‘hum’ which happens in various places around the world.’ ‘Conspiracy theories always have holes in their theories that they fill with paranoia,’ he observes.
Talking about Scotland leads me to jump a few questions ahead of what I had planned to ask: Does he think that Scotland is essential to the sound of Swimmer One?
‘I like Scotland and I call it my home,’ he says, though he points out that he’s orginally from Carlisle, which is England (give or take about ten miles). ‘[The sound] is drawn from being on the edge of things. You often feel that you’re on the edge-hence Regional Variations.’ I say that it reminds me of the work of Alan Warner, who wrote Morvern Cellar. But he’s not snide about other places, he just knows where he’s most comfortable. ‘I like London more, because I live here.’
Scotland has always had a very fertile music scene, removed from London, which has been much highlighted over the last decade, particularly due to Belle and Sebastian and Franz Ferdinand. Does he see Swimmer One as being part of a scottish scene? ‘Not really! We just sit in our cupboard and make music.’ Andrew adds that when people talk about the scottish scene, they are usually talking about Glasgow, rather than Edinburgh. ‘There’s a sense of community in Glasgow.’ He mentions the Reindeer Section, the Glasgow indie supergroup helmed by Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, until Snow Patrol went massive, and he doesn’t see Swimmer One as part of this.
Unlike many bands, who gig as often as they can, Swimmer One’s live appearances have tended to be sporadic. I ask him why this is. ‘A lot of things…part of it is due to the kind of fan we have…it doesn’t work well in a little venue with a little PA.’ He says that with all the computers and electronics involved in Swimmer One’s music there is not going to be a Swimmer One Unplugged set. ‘We enjoy being in the studio most. It’s something that we have to do. The gigs we’ve enjoyed most were gigs that weren’t really gigs.’ He mentions an appearance as part of a theatre show at the Arches in Glasgow that he really enjoyed. Modest to the last, he adds ‘We’re not that good, really, live…only in particular circumstances.’
On the band’s website, he talks about a dream he had about Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. Does he worry about how success might affect Swimmer One? ‘We’re a long way from having that kind of success! The bands we admire are pop bands doing it on their own terms.’ He cites Roxy Music and Pulp as examples of this. ‘They did it on their own terms. Everybody else came to them. OMD did dilute what they did. They made the decision to sell lots of records. After Dazzleships [OMD’S fourth album), they seemed to lose their way.’ My anxiety [in the dream] was that I was too hard on them. I had this picture of them being quite frustrated artistically. Maybe they really like those records,’ he says thoughtfully.
As a journalist, he interviewed Pete Waterman. His comment on this shows Andrew as the thinker he is, rather than as a jaded, cynical hack, or snobby musician. ‘He loves music, he just has very conservative taste.’ We talk about how Stock, Aitken and Waterman, who are still viewed as pariahs, were responsible for some fantastic singles, Bananarama’s ‘Venus’ and Dead Or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round (Like A Record).’ Great Pop Songs, that didn’t need to be cool, they just were.
Andrew says that there probably won’t be any physical singles off The Regional Variations, though he mentions that he has a great idea for ‘Balance Company’ one of the tracks on their MySpace page. The ‘short films’ made for their first two singles were brilliant, and I can’t wait.
Swimmer One. Independent in the truest sense of the world. Making Music For Themselves (but we’re privileged to hear it). Refreshingly anti-snob. This is how music in the twenty-first century should be.