Swarf have quickly established themselves as one of the UK's best-loved electronic bands thanks to their countless gigs up & down the UK. After various delays, finally released their long-awaited (& much delayed) debut album "Art Science Exploitation" saw the light of day during the summer so CARL JENKINSON talked to the trio of Liz Green, Chris Kiefer & Andrew Stock via email to find out what's what in the Swarf world. (November 2004)
|Q. After countless delays your debut album "Art Science Exploitation" was finally released on Cryonica Records in the summer . I guess you must all be feeling pretty pleased with yourselves right now.
Chris - I think relief is the slightly stronger emotion! It was such a long haul and by the end of it's difficult to get a perspective on the album as a whole. We know we've worked really hard on it and we've had some good reviews so far which have definitely put a smiles on our faces and made it all seem worthwhile.
Q. Has feedback been pretty good on the whole?
Chris- The reviews have been generally good. Other than that, i'm usually too scared to ask what people think.
Liz- It's had very good reviews in lots of major publications so far. We are already having it re-pressed, so it's selling well, too.
Andrew- Seems to be getting a fair bit of club play as well.
Q. You also toured the US supporting Inertia. Was that your first time over there & how did you find the whole experience?
Chris- It was our first time over there, and the whole experience was quite mind blowing. We travelled 5500 miles through six states (plus a brief and tequila-fuelled trip to Mexico) and played in some really cool places, it's such a lot to take in. The audiences were mostly excellent, very enthusiastic, and we had some very amusing adventures. It's bizarre to find out that we have fans in the states when we've never been there before. The gig that really stands out most was Hollywood. We played in the courtyard of a goth/fetish club to a full audience, it was a very magical setting and a really good vibe.
Andrew- Hard work but great fun, it certainly was an adventure. The gigs were great and on top of that we had a proper road trip. There were a few times it felt like we in a David Lynch Movie. We have some stories!
Liz- We played at Convergence 8, in Montreal, two years ago. This got us some exposure in North America, but this tour was the first time we played in the States. We had a proper road trip with all the associated
adventures you are supposed to have! Inertia were wonderful to tour with...we had a blast! The gigs were great...it was all good. I wrote a tour diary of sorts on my Live Journal. It's all there, if you know where to look!
Things are getting ridiculously tough now, for bands to get into America since the introduction of the new visa rules, we got in there just in time! It's going to be pretty hard in the future to get out there again. This is a crying shame as there are so many other British bands that would love the opportunity to play in the states. it's a breathtakingly beautiful place, with some of the most appreciative and friendly fans you could ever hope to meet. It has got to be one of the most amazing experiences I have had since Swarf began.
So, talking of which, how did Swarf first begin?
Liz_- Andrew and I were DJs and founder members of the Brighton alternative club night, LOWLIFE. As DJs, we are music lovers, but we felt that we could make some music of our own, so, with limited experience and antiquated software, we began...a year after that, Chris joined in 2000 and Swarf was born!
Chris- I'd been writing music for my side-project, Chaosphere, and joined Swarf when we met up at Glastonbury 2000. We did a gig an the Underworld a couple of months later and everything has been completely mad ever since!
Did the emerging UK electro scene influence you at all in starting a band?
Liz- Not really. The newest influence on the alternative scene, we liked back then was, maybe, Covenant. We drew influences from anyone that wrote a good pop tune with a dark, electronic edge, so, really, we were looking backwards, to the eighties and forwards to the modern dance scene simultaneously!
Andrew - Emerging UK electro scene...? Where?
You've built up a healthy following through your numerous live dates supporting established bands such as Assemblage 23 & Inertia. Do you feel you've learnt much from these bands?
Liz-The ones that are friendly enough to talk to us, yes! Reza and Alexys have been particularly supportive. To be honest, though, we don't watch what bands do on stage, for inspiration, as that should come from your own perspective, to make the performance unique to you. However, we pick the bands' brains when it comes to sound advice about equipment, promoters, record deals, etc! Most of them have been incredibly supportive.
Chris-People throughout the scene have really good to us and given us a very healthy sense of paronoia.
So which bands have been the most friendly & which the least? (go on, spill the beans!!)
Liz- I assume you mean every band we have played with? All the Cryonica bands are top people with no exceptions. Mostly every band we have EVER played with have been brilliant, John Foxx was a delight to tour with...he's courteous, kind and a bloody good laugh. The boys from Last Rites are always a total scream backstage...generally, bands tend to be incredibly lovely people. Probably the nicest ones of all are our mates who are in bands...which covers a LOT of bands! *Giggle*
Is there any one particular bit of advice that you've found particularly useful?
Liz- Two really obvious ones! DON'T believe the hype! If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is & NEVER give up.
Chris- Never be certain something's going to happen until it's staring you in the face! And even then...
One of your most memorable moments live was when your laptop crashed at Elektrofest, you must have been thankful for a top frontwoman like Liz to keep the crowd entertained while you sorted the problem out that day!
Chris- That was a very nervewracking moment and Liz did brilliantly to hold it together. We have a fairly complex live setup, some elements of which could be classified as 'experimental' and can cause difficulties but being a live band is very important to us you have to take some risks to try and achieve this. I wouldn't feel comfortable doing a gig any other way.
Andrew- It's every bands nightmare that something technical will go wrong, particularly for an electronic band where the whole set up can depend on one instrument. And for us that's not a DAT machine or Minidisc. We do play live as much as an electronic band can but when the main sequencer breaks down on stage there's nothing else for it but to reboot! I think Liz handled that very well. She kept the crowd entertained and turned a potential disaster into a positive thing and as far as the audience were concerned it became a moment to remember rather than one to forget.
Any other memorable moments on stage?
Liz- We had random lesbian dancing on stage in Bournemouth once and I discovered I could do the splits in Cambridge! That was a useful discovery.
Chris- A shower of underwear landing on stage at Convergence in Montreal.
Is is true what I heard that, at Cryofest, Victoria Lloyd was heard to say "I'm not worthy" after hearing Liz sing?
Liz- Well she didn't say that to me! Are you sure it wasn't the other way around?!
Since Swarf was born you've had temporary homes on a few labels, starting with Wasp Factory (who released the EP "Fall", of course), then Punish for a short while before finalling settling with Cryonica. What's the story behind these various signings & splits?
Liz- To begin, we loved our time with WF and we are all still really good chums! We left Wasp Factory because Marc Heal lured us away with promises of lush production and a top notch studio...which we got for a productive few months.The reasons we parted company from Marc are multi-faceted, but in a nutshell, his business took off in a different direction, money was the main factor. It was an amicable departure and again, we are all still good mates. Cryonica, truth be told, rescued us two days after we left Punish! For this, we are *very* grateful indeed. We are happily settled, now!
So what did Cryonica offer than made them such an attractive proposition?
Liz- Honest answer? A way out of the predicament we found ourselves in. They *believe* in our music and support us 100%. They always have, even from the Wasp Factory days. They are good people!
Andrew - Experienced people behind the label, decent distribution and good contacts.
Was the techno/dance version of "Subtext" that appeared on the "Cryotank" compilation an attempt to gain more mainstream club success?
Andrew - In a way, Weirdo is a name in the dance scene (though I wouldn't call it mainstream) so it's good that people who haven't heard Swarf might get to hear us because of that association. But we all like Weirdos music and that was the main reason we wanted him to remix us. I think he's done great job.
Liz- We had contacts with Weirdo (well respected techno DJ) so we let him get his hands on "Subtext" to see what he would do. It's been played at places like God's Kitchen, so I suppose that's widened our audience a bit! We have Marc Heal to thank for organising this.
Chris- It was really quite an honour to have him remix our stuff. I was always a big fan.
I remember Liz saying that the people at Wasp Factory were more like a family than a label. Are you still pals with them & do you get the same feeling from Cryonica?
Liz- Wasp Factory are still our family. We don't see enough of Lee and Mark as we would like, because we love them to bits and need them in our life! Swarf are best mates with a lot of the WF bands anyway, so it often feels like we never left!
Cryonica are just as lovely. Alexys and Reza look after us really well and are two of the sweetest people in the world. All the Cryonica bands get on very well too so I guess we have been really lucky in this respect!
Some of your lyrics have a slightly bittersweet, at times melancoly feel (even in your more up-tempo tracks), can you give some examples of what has inspired certain lyrics?
Liz- I write about all sorts, but being rather cynical by nature, this finds its way into the subject matter. It depends on how the song is written as to the subject matter. One or two songs began as poems I wrote. Sometimes the lyrics come to me after we have written the tune. Many of them have been inspired by personal events...others are more about images and ideas.
Chris, what kind of music does your side-project Chaosphere produce & is this project still active or is Swarf taking up all your time now?
Chris- Chaosphere music started off as psychedelic trance. This is still a big theme but the music seems to be following some different tangents, and collecting a lot of the musical ideas i don't tend to express though Swarf. Ben and I have occasionally been writing over the past year, ideas we'll bring to completion when the Swarf album's finished. I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out, the new tunes sound quite aggressive, quite bizarre. We'll see... Also, there's going to be a Chaosphere/D.U.S.T:Retox collaboration soon, which i'm really excited about.
Are there any particular strengths that you feel that each member contributes to the Swarf sound?
Liz-Chris is the techno-rush, squelch-wizard, Andrew is the hard-core cubase maestro and I'm the singer songwriter, although we write all the songs together, and contribute equally. So, you might find any one of us in front of the computer, or fiddling away on the keyboards, in the studio.
Chris- Musically and technically we all have fairly different backgrounds and tastes so i suppose naturally we all have different roles in the making of a tune. We're always learning from each other, it's very balanced.
Andrew- I come up with a lot of the basic rhythms and melodies for the music, Chris is very good at finding unusual sounds and effects that give it all a certain original sound & Liz writes all the lyrics and vocal melodies. Depending on how a song is constructed the starting point can come from any one of us and the others work around and develop the ideas.
At your recent 'Black Celebration' appearance you were due to play a new track entitled "Bitch Slapping Eyes Of Fear" but due to problems with your laptop again (not very lucky in this respect, are you?) this had to be scrapped. Where did you get a title like that from & when can we expect to hear it?
Liz- The track has been tentatively titled 'Bitchslapping the eyes of fear' but I somehow doubt that it will remain that way! You'll be able to hear it at Dark Xmas, hopefully along with another new track or two!
Andrew- It's a slow one, starts off soft and fragile but builds to an epic crescendo. It probably sounds more like something a guitar band would write than anything else we've done but it's still all electronic, I like it. It's a shame we didn't get to play it at Black Celebration but It's been having some technical difficulties but that should be sorted soon, along with the name.
Chris- I'm just trying to fix it right now! We have a bit of a bad time with electronics sometimes but then you can't be different unless you take a few risks.
Does this mean you've started working on tracks for the new album already?
Liz- Yes, we are beginning to beaver away in between everything else that we are doing! It's good to be writing new stuff again. We haven't set a deadline for the next album, but as it will be coming out on Cryonica we won't have all those label changing set backs to hold things up this time!
Andrew- We always playing about with ideas, there are few songs on the go at the moment. As soon as there in a fit state to be heard we'll be playing them.
Chris-We spent so long on production work for the album that it feels very good to be right at the start of the creative process again.
Do you have any thoughts on any new styles, sounds, elements you'd be keen to bring into your future material?
Liz- We have *so* many ideas. Sadly, a lot of them would entail buying all sorts of equipment we just can't afford. We still have plenty of things up our sleeves though. I imagine that our new stuff will have evolved quite differently from some of the styles on 'Art, Science, Exploitation'.
Andrew- Possibly more of what you wouldn't expect
Liz- Hee, hee. Dare I say it's probably going to be a little more mature and a lot quicker in the making than the last one? So far, there are some interesting songs taking form. We'll have to seehow it all pans out...
Perhaps we'll turn it into the first ever Synth-pop prog-concept album of the decade. *Strokes invisible beard*.
Chris - From a personal perspective I find it difficult to plan a song in my head before i start writing. Once something is started it takes on a life of its own and usually goes off an a completely different tangent to where i thought it would go and then when the three of us start working on it together it'll change again. I've got loads of ideas and new techniques I want to try out, but whether they have any bearing on what comes out the speakers at the end is anyones guess.
Whatever the band's future output sounds like it's sure to be as well-loved as "Art Science Exploitation" so keep visiting the following sites regularly to make sure you don't miss out on the latest up-to-the-minute Swarf news.
(Official web site)
(Cryonica web site)
(Swarf fan forum)
(Swarf's Live Journal fan site)