RUSSELL Swallow has been speaking with me…
about his awesome single, North London Girl, and how it came together. His brilliant E.P., My Lover, Her Lover and Me, is out and I wanted to ask which artists Swallow draws from; how it feels getting a lot of radio attention and great press – he recommends some artists worth a follow.
I ask the songwriter about splitting his time between Berlin and London and whether that contributes to his sonic direction; if he gets time to unwind; the three albums that mean the most to him – he ends the interview by selecting a great song.
Hi, Russell. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi, Sam. It’s been an eventful time. I’ve been playing festivals in Hannover and Berlin and I was fortunate to work with one of my favourite contemporary artists, Ry-X, at Sacred Ground Festival. Since then, I’ve been working on new material for my next E.P. and recording a live video for my latest single, North London Girl.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m an English singer-songwriter from the Folk and Indie scene - and I use German influences, Electronic influences to add atmosphere, ambience and drama to my music. I grew up in the quiet and solitude of the Suffolk countryside, but was steadily drawn deeper into cities and their perpetual rhythm; now living between London and Berlin. My music draws on each of these places - taking inspiration from daily life, tensions and release.
North London Girl is your latest single. Is there a personal story/history to the song?
I tend to write from personal experience but N.L.G. is one of the most autobiographical and direct songs I’ve written - as direct as heartbreak can be. Still, it’s not morbid: I think it carries a certain naive innocence.
It was a breakup that inspired me to write N.L.G. and, in fact, it was the first solo song I wrote since my duo band Swallow and the Wolf. It was the beginning of bringing music back into focus at the centre of my life and starting from scratch to create a new palette of sound was a uniquely refreshing experience. Working with producer Gavin Hammond, every choice of sound and direction we took was a first step - like exploring a new Country.
Since your last E.P., you have gained a lot of love from radio stations. How does this make you feel?!
It feels really good! I want to reach as many people as possible with my music, and radio support is an important part of that. I come from a generation where radio was one of the few powerful gateways where you could reach new listeners without needing a huge P.R. budget. I was a big fan of tuning into BBC Radio 6 Music late at night, to fall upon new sounds being shared.
I want to send some big love to Tom Robinson at BBC Radio 6 Music who was the first D.J. to play my music, and to everyone who continues to.
You have spent a lot of time here and in Berlin. Does that country-splitting contribute to your sound? What are the main differences between the music of Berlin and London?
London has a very strong singer-songwriter scene, particularly on the Folk and Roots side. You can wander into a bar on most streets and find somebody strumming. Berlin has this too but, because of their club scene, they have a stronger Electronic aesthetic. They complement and inspire each other and it’s great to be able to move between the two and see them each develop.
I believe you spent twenty quid on a guitar in Suffolk during your teens! Is that the best purchase you have ever made?! What made you want to pick up a guitar?
When you’re a kid, everything is exploration, learning; making mistakes. Living in a small town felt like an isolated place to grow up, so to connect I could either pick up my bicycle to cycle to a friend’s house in the next town or pick up my guitar and get straight to the source.
It seems you are inspired by classic songwriters and the likes of Jeff Buckley. Who do you count as idols?
Yes. The artists I respect most were pioneers in some way; fusing their influences to blend something new or exploring extremes of dynamics. Jeff using his voice like Nina Simone - as an instrument - coupling it with incredibly sophisticated guitar with song arrangements that still felt effortlessly natural. Or Nirvana’s sense of melody and power - taking Heavy Metal’s attack and power but adding huge Beatles-esque Pop melodies.
When I first heard Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon as a kid I was blown away. A seventy-minute piece of music that explores sound for sound’s sake; creating an environment you can get lost in and journey through.
Which artists did you follow when you were growing up?
All of the above, plus Grunge-rs Pearl Jam; Rock pioneers Radiohead and a great crafter of small stories with big melodies, The Lemonheads.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
I just released my new E.P., My Lover, Her Lover and Me, on 3rd August and am playing some tour dates through Europe to support that: London, Norwich; Berlin, Zurich; Hannover, Cologne etc. I’m looking to travel to play house concerts and some street performances as well - if anyone wants to invite me into their home or recommend good streets to explore.
I’ve written a lot this past year - it’s been an eventful time, both for me personally and for Europeans. There’s work to be done to prepare for the next record, so I’ll be making some demos and jamming with my friends (and very talented artists in their own right) Kimberly Anne and Rhiannon Mair.
Will there be any tour dates? Where can we see you play?
Yes. Check the website. I’ll be adding them in as we go.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
It brought home to me how lyrical music can be using simple sound, tones and melody. No lyrics but so much emotion, dynamics and excitement.
David Bowie - Hunky Dory
I bought this on C.D. from a charity shop in Colchester and stuck it on my stereo. My girlfriend at the time wanted to go out but I couldn’t leave the house until I’d heard the whole album. It was a revelation in terms of its scope, range of styles and sheer joyful abandon. You can really feel fun and danger in that record.
John Martyn - Solid Air
Simple instrumentation; raging and fragile. There’s so much heart and beauty in this album and it has songs that you can sing to your lover, to your family or to your friends.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
That’s a really good...and hard question! I think it would be a tour with Radiohead, Ry-X and I. We’d perform John Martyn’s Solid Air album in its entirety with extended jams incorporating synths, samples and sounds captured and manipulated live on stage from our voices and instruments. We’d have a huge light show using just white beams and cast and play with huge shadows.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Keep writing. Listen to the opinions of your trusted sources...but not as much as you listen to yourself. You’ll feel unsettled, challenged and not good enough sometimes, but don’t worry. That’s a natural part of the journey and, if you choose, then all of it will drive you forward.
IN THIS PHOTO: Anna Pancaldi/PHOTO CREDIT: Curious Rose Photography
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
All unsigned artists with huge talent.
IN THIS PHOTO: RUEN
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I’m effectively self-employed, so I can choose my timing to a certain extent – though, it always feels like you’re not doing enough! But, I make time to do the things I love: to cook, eat and read. Then, I can I explore places for their architecture and museums as well. I’ve been travelling through France and Belgium these last few days, so I’m getting to do all of this!
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Thanks, Sam. It’s been good fun answering your questions. If you would, please play Sam Brookes' Crazy World and You
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