Out of the fallout of the guitar revivalists of the 2000s came a generation of indie listeners worn tired of the sounds of six strings pushed through an overdriven amp. An 80’s revivalism primarily soundtracked the indie scene of the early 2010s. Perhaps it was the feelings of insecurity following the 2008 financial crash, but people no longer wanted to listen to The Libertines bollock garishly and ladishly, people wanted indie music that made them feel at home; that made them feel good.
A particular cluster around Birmingham and the midlands emerged out of this desire. This was, whether rightfully or wrongfully, referred to as the ‘B-Town’ scene by music authorities. Often cited as among this scene were acts such as Peace, JAWS, and – the focus of this feature – Swim Deep.
In a reality where culture moves at a blistering rate, the times have changed since the early 2010s. The world has been plunged into paranoia and grasps through a seemingly elusive web of ‘fake news’, undermined democracies, and the rising popularity of the far right. Politically driven punk and post-punk dominates the scenes of the now for these very reasons. In a way, this reflects Swim Deep’s absence since their sophomore, ‘Mothers’. Oblivious to the events that would occur only a year later, 2015’s ‘Mothers’ was exploring the heavens in a world that was about to focus very intently back on Earth.
Now, four years later, Swim Deep are poised to release their third album, ‘Emerald Classics’. Like the sonics of their debut, this album turns the listener to a sense of home musically, but also lyrically this time around. Perhaps, in a period where the west is still plagued by the anxieties of Brexit or the Trump administration, we also need respite and a sense of home.
I spoke with a hungover Austin Williams; longest-lasting member and the lead vocalist of Swim Deep. Presumably with a cracking headache, but at least chirpy and on his way to the studio, Williams and I discussed the ‘Emerald Classics’ and the bands’ absence.
So what happened after Mothers? After touring for a couple of years, the band lost members and needed a period of readjustment. Williams describes that “a lot of life lessons” were learnt over this period.
“We lost two members,” Williams says with minor agitation, “they went their own way. It was tough to kind of navigate around that, but it made so much sense as well. It was quite easy, once we had got over the initial heartbreak of it, to get going properly. That was when the record started to take shape. [It was] me, Cav, and James left alone, and we were the only ones left in the equation that really, really, really wanted it.” Williams continues, with almost an affect of disbelief, “I think it took us two weeks to record, but four years to put together.”
Expanding that four-year interval out to the period that has elapsed since the debut ‘Where the Heaven Are We’, the conversation turns to how Swim Deep’s sound has developed over their career.
“I think each record has been a reaction to the last,” Williams explains and pauses, before reflecting on a recent discussion he’d been having regarding the setlists for the upcoming album tour. “Someone brought up a song that was even pre Cav when it was just me and my friend Higgie. It’s just crazy how much we’ve changed, but [how] I feel the same. The chords and sound for me haven’t changed; just the music has evolved a lot.”
Williams continues. “I think it’s really important to accept that the music is still there. A lot of people get caught up on artists changing and stuff, but the music is still there [and] you have to accept the change. It’s a big old changin’ world,” Williams pauses to laugh. “Which is what it should be,” he says, with sincerity. “It’s not like we’re switching up to like reggae or anything like that. We’re like kids in the playground constantly just trying new things and taking risks, falling over and getting hurt but getting back up again.”
We discussed the lyrics of the album. The subjects of the tracks differ, but they mostly and fundamentally revolve around a similar grappling with time, the past, and, with it, a sense of home. There’s no glorification of their past; Williams’ lyrics quite bluntly discuss the realities of their history in Birmingham, but this doesn’t mean it lacks a sense of warmth. Williams discusses the story behind ‘Top Of The Pops’.
“It’s about a mother’s sacrifice,” Williams tells me, “and how much I want to give back to my mum for sacrificing so much. She has always [supported me], my Dad as well, but this song is about my mum. They’ve always backed me and told me that I could do it. [My mum] always wanted to be in music videos when she was younger and she just went straight from high school to work, and then marriage, and then had me. It’s just talking about living vicariously for them.”
We turn to discuss the album more broadly in its approach to looking back at the past. As mentioned above, Williams makes it clear that he wishes to separate a sense of glorified past from the realities.
“[Emerald Classics] is a universal homage to looking back in a good way. I don’t think looking back is a great thing to do always. I think [you] sometimes look back with rose-tinted glasses and think that it was amazing back in the day, but you’ll only really see that again about the present in five years. It’s definitely a homage; it’s looking back in the way of thanking [my past]. You know, the first album was getting out of Birmingham, the second album was about leaving this planet,” Williams pauses to chuckle, “and the third album is about recognising yourself and being appreciative of what you’ve had. It’s a very homely album. Like I said, it’s all real stuff.”
It wasn’t easy for the existing members of Swim Deep to pitch ‘Emerald Classics’ to labels. It’s been a sizeable hiatus relative to our era, which is something Williams has felt stunted them working with some labels. Instead of relying on a major, the band has decided to create their own label, The Pop Committee. Acting as a sister label to Cooking Vinyl, The Pop Committee will initially launch Swim Deep’s ‘Emerald Classics’, but there are aspirations to release and support other artists; providing less fortunate artists with opportunities to use suitable rehearsal and writing spaces. Williams discusses founding the label.
“We were never going back to a major label. We were happy to be done with that, as tempting as it would be to get that advance because we haven’t made money from music for a while now. So, as tempting as that would be, we had to look at the long term, and we decided [launching a label] is what we want to do,” Williams explains. “It was Cooking Vinyl, they were the only ones that believed in us, and they said we could have a label on their label.”
Closing the conversation, Williams excitement with regards to the release of ‘Emerald Classics’ was still palpable. With the isolation, division, and anxiety of our political climate again marching forward, maybe we all need, as Swim Deep have done, to feel a real sense of home.
Featuring the new recruits Robbie Wood and Thomas Fiquet, you can check out the beautifully shot Georgina Cammalleri video to ‘Sail Away, Say Goodbye’ below.