With its chugging rhythms and songs that barrel from start to finish like they’ve come out of the final corner and hit the straight, Swervedriver’s Raise is the perfect driving album. I mean, it’s right there in the band’s name, as well as songs like ‘Son Of Mustang Ford’ and ‘Pile-Up’. There are only a couple of tracks on Raise that don’t refer to cars or driving in some way. So it’s a shock then to hear the band’s frontman Adam Franklin admit that he doesn’t really drive. It’s like when you learn that Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys never surfed. “I mean, I’ve never lived anywhere where I’ve really needed a car,” Franklin explains with a laugh. “Living in London or New York or here [his current home of Oxford], you don’t really need a car. I can drive but I’ve never owned a car.”
Swervedriver are returning to Australia this year, their first time in the country since their break-up in 1998. Although they’d been discussing the idea of a hiatus for a while before that, it was during their shows supporting Powderfinger in Australia that they finally decided to call it quits. They played their last show at a brewery in Western Australia in December of that year. “I think the larger Perth show had been two days before or something,” says Franklin, “and the final one was like an open air show, kind of in wine country as far as I remember. I think most of the band knew it was the last gig. I remember we didn’t play ‘Mustang Ford’ that night, which I think we should have done. We had played it the previous night. I guess we were alternating ‘Raise Down’ and ‘Mustang Ford’ or something. It wasn’t a particularly auspicious gig or anything like that. It was kind of nice to get it over with really.”
When they return it’ll be for an ATP-style album tour, playing Raise from beginning to end. That means they’ll be playing ‘Feels Surreal’, a song unperformed since the early 1990s. “That song dropped out of the set a long time ago but I do remember playing it at a show in London at the Youth Props venue and Anjali [Dutt], the girl who actually mixed the album, she came to that show and I do remember her saying, ‘It was a real surprise that you played that one.’ She said it was surprisingly rocking, so I guess we’ll see if we can get that one rocking again. It is quite interesting, that song has a lot of cool guitar sections. That should be a good challenge.”
Another challenge will be bringing out ‘Lead The Way You Dare’, a song that Franklin says they haven’t played together since the day they recorded it – it’s a studio track that works perfectly as a climax to an album but wouldn’t fit any other context. There’s also a batch of songs they have played before but not for a long time, the album tracks that tend to get skipped over these days when the band is building a setlist out of four albums and seven EPs’ worth of songs. “A lot of these songs, they haven’t been played for 20-odd years and they’ve got us going, ‘What’s going on here?’ and ‘How are we gonna figure this out?’ But I think it could be really cool and it’s good that it has that challenge, because a lot of the songs of course we always played. The ten-year break or whatever notwithstanding, a lot of the songs are almost printed in your arms as far as the moves that you make.”
Digging back into Raise has also reminded Franklin of the difficulties Swervedriver had in deciding what songs to include on the album, with the band members not only disagreeing with each other but also their management and record label about which songs – and which versions of those songs – were the best. Raise could have been a very different album. Franklin says there were four versions of what’s become its defining song – and arguably the band’s as well – ‘Son Of Mustang Ford’. His preference was for one that’s never been released, recorded during the same sessions as the rest of the album. In the end though, the label made the case that the earlier version they’d already released as a single was what people would want to hear when they bought the album.
There were also arguments around a song called ‘Over’, which has shown up on the reissue, and which Franklin had wanted on the original version. Band members Jimmy Hartridge and Adi Vines had sung on ‘Over’, but weren’t happy with how it sounded. “Jimmy and Adi used to do this kind of hardcore shouting vocal and then the second half of the song goes into this dreamier thing that I started doing in the studio. At the time, Jimmy and Adi, they weren’t comfortable doing that vocal so it became a big thing. To me that song was the centrepiece of the album.”
It’s the original version of Raise that they’ll be performing on this tour though, which is an oddly comforting way to experience a rock show. You’ve got the map and you’re guaranteed not to get lost on the way. “It’s interesting because you get into a show and you know what’s coming next,” Franklin says. “It’s quite nice in a way. I mean, it’s quite a strange thing.”
BY JODY MACGREGOR