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Swervedriver’s Adam Franklin on Oasis, algorithms, and the s-word 

click to enlarge Swervedriver’s new, eclectic album remains unaffected by genre labels and comparisons. - STEVE GULLICK
  • Steve Gullick
  • Swervedriver’s new, eclectic album remains unaffected by genre labels and comparisons.
While Swervedriver weren’t the most famous act on the Creation Records — that distinction goes to Oasis — they may well have been the best. The British band’s tenure with the famed indie label yielded a trio of albums that are still spoken of with hushed reverence among alt-rock Anglophiles. That’s especially the case with 1993’s Mezcal Head, which was years later touted by Pitchfork as “the lost classic of the shoegaze movement, visceral but tuneful, and perhaps the nearest simulation of a rocket launch recorded in the 90s.”

It may also have been the most profitable, at least for Creation owner Alan McGee, who made a deal with A&M Records to release the album stateside.

“Yes, we arguably helped create Oasis, or at least fund them,” says Swervedriver frontman Adam Franklin only half-jokingly. “Alan McGee, in his book, writes about how Creation was almost going under, and got money to keep them from bankruptcy by sort of selling bands to those labels. Our deal with A&M was actually a licensing agreement, and I think Creation took 75 percent of the advances. It was just a shitty deal. And that money propped up the label and hopefully helped to pay for [Oasis’ multi-platinum album] Definitely Maybe, and so that may be our little role in the rise of popular culture. Obviously there was a lot more money back in the day, but the money didn’t necessarily make its way to the artists, so that really hasn’t changed that much.”
Indeed it hasn’t. Franklin, who formed the band with Oxford schoolmate Jimmy Hartridge back in 1989, is among the musicians who’ve been left in the lurch by the crowdfunding company PledgeMusic, which earlier this year admitted its failure to release pledge money to the artists for whom it was raised. That’s left Swervedriver in the unfortunate position of using their own funds to send donors copies of their most recent album Future Ruins.

While awaiting the outcome of the PledgeMusic fiasco, the band is also out on an American tour to promote the album, which is their second since Franklin and Hartridge returned from their nearly decade-long hiatus in 2015. From the paisley pop of “Golden Remedy” to the feedback-drenched drone of “Radio-Silent,” Future Ruins makes it clear that the band’s best days are not behind them. As the British music magazine Mojo put it, “Future Ruins pulls off a canny trick, perfectly channeling their past while making sense in the present.”

Of course, you’ll still be hard-pressed to find a review that doesn’t mention “shoegaze,” the indie-rock subgenre that was created to distinguish bands like My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Slowdive from Britpop standard-bearers like Blur and Oasis, who were obviously too busy playing to the rafters to look down.
Naturally, most artists bristle when they’re reminded of a category that may or may not fit them, so it comes as a surprise when Franklin is the first to bring up the s-word in our interview.

“When you get a review that’s really positive, you of course feel like it really hit the nail on the head,” he says. “And then you say, ‘Oh, what a great review!’ and you’re happy about them using terms like ‘austere’ or whatever. But then you get the review where somebody’s like, ‘Yeah, this band has clearly has been listening to a lot of shoegaze lately, and it’s obvious that they’d run out of ideas towards the end.’”

So now that he’s brought it up, how does Franklin feel about the term?

“I think now we all kind of laugh and just sort of milk the shoegaze thing for all it’s worth,” he says. “Because I think now it is a genuine genre, and if people are checking it out and they check out us, that’s good for us. I remember how you had band pages on Myspace, and one day shoegaze appeared as a genre. And that’s when you knew shoegaze had arrived: ‘jazz, reggae, funk, shoegaze.’ And then you have Pandora’s algorithm, which will keep playing other artists it thinks you’ll like. I never have listened to myself on it, to be honest, but I’m kind of worried about where it would go.”

And then there are those obligatory comparisons to other bands, some of which can get pretty weird.

“There was a review that mentioned the song ‘Spiked Flower’ and said that it’s reminiscent of Bush and Reef,” recalls Franklin. “I mean, Reef are really nice guys, we shared the same management for a while in the ‘90s. But if you went through the list of people that we’ve been compared to in the reviews of this album, it’s a very wide spectrum. But the good thing is that I think every single song on the album has been named by somebody as their favorite song on the record. So I guess we’re doing something right in that respect.”

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