- Tue, 2006-12-12 17:00
Acclaimed in US underground circles as a lone Gershwin, the enigmatic Richard Swift's lofi, sepiatone style harkens back to the tin pan alley age. The Orange County native spent much of his youth experimenting with a fourtrack recorder, before honing his skills as keyboardist in shoegazer rock troupe, Starfly 59 and in his own ambient-electronic outfit, Instruments of Science and Technology. His influences span Bob Dylan to early seventies dub acts including the Congos and Lee Perry.
I Like Music caught up with Richard Swift to talk about his new material, how he achieves his sound and Oregon.
“I like music because… like an orange, it can be wildly invigorating.” Richard Swift
ILM: Your first UK single release, BeautifulHeart is out on November 6th. Can you give us your own personal description of the track and its whole vibe?
Richard: Yeah, it sounds like David Bowie in a spaghetti western! I guess I came up with some rhyming words and worked with some chords that sounded good in my head. The song is actually about a dead friend of mine, (who will remain nameless), so it's a deeply personal song to me. It's one of the tracks on the double disc The Novelist / Walking Without Effort which goes back some time now, these were originally recorded over 5 days in March 2001.
ILM: Your new album 'Dressed Up for the Let Down' is released in Feb 2007. Of all the tracks on the album which is your personal favourite?
Richard: There are two personal favorites, the 'Songs on National Freedom' and 'Artist and Repertoire' which both capture a genuine good mix of The Novelist / Walking Without Effort double EP. The song writing on the new album is more mature. In terms of fidelity, I went with a lo-fi analogue tape sound from the 60s and 70s. I'm really pleased with the way it turned out, I played it to someone the other day and I've been told that it's much more confident, a much stronger record all round.
ILM: Which one has been the most fun to record in the studio?
Richard: 'The Ballad of You Know Who' because it gave me the opportunity to write, record and conduct. I am actually self taught, and don't read or write music but making this record gave me the chance to use some interesting string sections, I worked with three musicians and we were bending and sliding between notes, it was were really amazing to record.
ILM: You have a very unique retro style, can you describe your processes involved in achieving that sound?
Richard: The 4 track cassette player plays a big part and throwback sounds. I guess its me trying to be punk rock against punk rock, more alternative than alternative. The Novelist is such a strange little creature. Some people say it sounds a bit Tom Waits or Randy Newman, I don't really listen to a lot of their stuff but I'm probably influenced by the same records they listen to.
My personal favourites are Sister Gertrude Morgan, Bessie Smith and of course Lead Belly, Mississippi John Hurt, Max Hunter, Blind Lemon Jefferson, old true records and real people. I play music every day there's a specific shape I'm going for. I'll start with an acoustic guitar track and wait for songs to reveal themselves, I don't really stress out about it, or force songs. If I'm not feeling it, it'll go in a drawer and I'll save it for later.
ILM: You supported My Morning Jacket in Sept and are currently touring with the very feisty Two Gallants. How has that been?
Richard: A lot of fun, everyone has been super nice. It's been easier touring with Two Gallants as there was more stage room! Two Gallants are just like chilled out skater kids. I've toured with quite a few bands over the last year and a half including The Walkmen and Brian Jonestown Massacre, it's hugely satisfying touring with people that you respect musically.
ILM: What's your favourite track to play live?
Richard: The least raucous, Sad Song Street and a new song which won't be out or a year yet. It was inspired by Stevie Wonder, The Atlantic Ocean which I usually play as the finale.
ILM: Any tips or advice for budding artists starting out?
Richard: Yeah don't listen to other people! just go with you gut feelings. I released The Novelist / Walking Without Effort back in 2001, then re-re-released it. People told me I was crazy, but hey it's worked out and I'm here today making music and doing what I really want to do.
ILM: Can you describe your favourite place on earth?
Richard: My favourite place on earth? Well I've just moved there - the state of Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. There are tonnes of forest and it's green all year round. Its got to be America's best kept secret, the attitude there is really relaxed like in Spain and it has a low population, mostly hippies! I've always loved rural areas, having grown up on the snowy plains of Minnesota and Utah before moving to California, Long Beach and Orange County about 5 years ago.