More than 20 years have passed since the UK shoegaze boom, but the genre’s forebears have resurfaced in recent years, releasing new material and touring to promote anniversaries of career milestones. While My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride crafted a dream-pop blueprint for many modern groups, one equally influential band skirted the edge of the genre, looking to the desolate highways and gritty sounds of the American underground for inspiration.
After a series of EPs, Swervedriver issued its debut album, Raise, in 1991 on legendary indie label Creation Records—once home to the Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream and nearly every other important UK shoegaze band of the era.
From the beginning, Swervedriver seemed to inhabit a musical realm distinct from its contemporaries. While Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge’s distorted guitars tested the limits of volume and space, they also displayed a deep admiration for rock and roll in its classic forms (think Chuck Berry or the Stooges). While Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher juxtaposed cryptic coos and romantic dreamscapes with dense, layered guitars, Swervedriver’s music paired roaring riffs and driving rhythms with the discernible desire to flee one’s troubles on the open road.
With I Wasn’t Born to Lose You, Swervedriver’s first album in more than 15 years, the band—comprised of original members Franklin and Hartridge, as well as steady collaborators Steve George and Mikey Jones—finds itself in a new comfort zone, one not far removed from its roots. “There’s an idea of going back to the source,” says Franklin, noting that even the band’s logo on the new album’s cover is virtually the same as on the cover of its debut.
The group’s latest batch of songs, which sound fresh while holding true to the Swervedriver styles of old, began forming in Franklin’s mind as early as 2012. The band had resumed touring at that point after a several-year hiatus, but this was the first indication of any new material.
“’Deep Wound’ was a demo I had knocking around,” says Franklin of the new album’s eighth track, which the band debuted on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” in 2012 ahead of a short North American tour. Soon after, the band released the tune as a 7-inch single before hitting the road in Australia to play Raise in its entirety, as well as an assortment of other songs. With new songs coming in “twos and threes,” it was evident that a full-length was in store. During a day off from the Raise tour in 2013, the band knocked out five of the album’s 10 tracks.
“Everyone was sort of falling back into their roles [in the studio],” Franklin says. “The actual recording was done really quickly.”
Split between Birdland Studios in Melbourne, Australia, and Konk Studios in London, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You is the product of a band confident in its new material and able to precisely execute it thanks to a fairly consistent touring schedule. Despite the band’s history of shake-ups—among them the departure of early drummer Graham Bonnar, who famously walked off to get a sandwich during the band’s first North American tour and didn’t return, and a series of label misfortunes (three moves in two years)—the record showcases a band comfortable with its place in rock history.
Album opener “Autodidact” exhibits the same sense of yearning Franklin displayed on Raise, but this time around, the overall tone is one of ease; instead of longing for an escape, he’s content to daydream about the future while making strides to alter course. Franklin’s biggest dissatisfactions are revealed alongside a resolve to move on, as in “Red Queen Arms Race,” where he sings, “I’m not satisfied with my position and my place.” Delivered over stoner-rock riffage, Franklin concludes, “They make us pariahs amongst our peers/ Open your ears/ Mobilize.”
The group is set to play the 40 Watt on Sept. 16; fans can expect to hear the gamut of Swervedriver sounds. Since the initial leg of North American touring earlier this spring, Franklin says, the band has played every song off the new album, as well as “some deeper cuts.”
Despite all the adversity faced throughout a 20-plus-year career, Swervedriver still manages to drive forward, pulling in fans with the new album who are less familiar with their older material. “That was one of the things we’ve noticed over the past two years,” says Franklin.
It’s not surprising, considering that Swervedriver’s career path has been as distinct as its hard-rocking approach to shoegaze. The band’s is a legacy of determination, and it’s by that virtue Franklin and company can return after so many years and craft an album as compelling and as relevant as their best-known works.
WHO: Swervedriver, Dearly Beloved, The Powder Room
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Wednesday, Sept. 16, 8 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $15
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