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 SWEAR AND SHAKE

While they continue to travel around the country, Swear and Shake are also putting the finishing touches on their next release, Ain't That Lovin'.  I recently spoke with the band (Kari Spieler, Adam McHeffey, Benny Goldstein and Shaun Savage) about these things and more.




              

MK - Can you give me a brief band history?

 

AM - The band got its start in April of 2010. Kari and myself recorded a demo of “Johnnie,” and after realizing we had a special musical chemistry, we got the quartet together. Shaun is an old friend with whom I’ve played music with since 2000, and Benny, who’s been playing drums with us for just one year, produced our first full-length, Maple Ridge.

 

MK - Both Kari and Adam released solo records before the band was formed.  What made the two of you decide to form a band as opposed to continuing as solo artists?

 

KS - I had never been in a band before or collaborated with another writer. I wasn't happy doing it all myself and I wanted to try something new. When we first started writing together it was clear we had something special. The rest is history.


MK - 3 - I was able to find a free download of Adam's solo record online, but couldn't find anything on Kari's.  I would love to hear her disc.  Is there any way to get it?

 

KS - Sorry! My first record is in the vault indefinitely ;)

 

MK - How does the songwriting process tend to work?

 

KS - Sometimes either Adam or myself will bring a completed song to the table and we'll help each other arrange it. Other times, one of us will bring something (ie. a melody or a lyric or some chords) to the other and we finish it together. I find those are our best songs. We can help each other edit and propose new ideas we may not have thought of on our own.

 

MK - You funded Maple Ridge through Kickstarter.  How was that experience and do you plan to use it again for your next release?

 

AM - Kickstarter was perfect for us at the time - a much needed boost. Now that we’ve been touring and making our living exclusively from the road, it’s as not necessary for us to ask for funds up front. Thanks to the dedicated fans we have who come out to shows and buy tee shirts and CDs, we’re able to create the product start to finish ourselves.


MK - You recorded Maple Ridge in a barn.  How was that experience and how do you feel it influenced how the disc turned out?

 

BG - The experience of recording in a 150 year old barn was so positive we decided to return to record our new album, Ain’t That Lovin’ (to be released soon.) The barn, called Maple Ridge, influenced the sound of both records considerably. Firstly, the acoustics are fantastic. A room that big sounds exciting. Secondly, having the luxury of recording in a remote and beautiful barn like Maple Ridge makes it easy to think creatively and take the time you need to try ideas as they come. And once you finally exhaust yourself you can drive ten minutes to go swimming in the Battenkill river, or take a nap in the hammock outside.

 

MK - Throughout Maple Ridge some eclectic sounds and instrumentation pop up (especially on the tune "Marbles").  How well do you feel you are able to convey those elements of your songs in your live shows?

 

AM - To be honest, it presents a few challenges. We often have to make changes to the arrangement of a song after tracking the studio version, especially if we’ve added keyboards and horns and vibraphone and who knows what else. We start by getting as many elements as we can (for instance, Benny plays actual pots and pans in addition to his kit for “Marbles” and I play the banjo). After that, you do your best to play an energetic set, so full of vim and vigor that it never crosses the listeners’ minds that you might be missing a player or instrument. 


MK - You recently put Maple Ridge up on Noisetrade as a free download.  Why have you decided to give it away?

 

KS - It's so important to us that we get our music to the world, even if it means giving it away for free. Most people are getting their music for free, whether it be Spotify or downloading off some website anyway. We still sell physical copies on our website and at our shows and many people choose to support us by purchasing them.

 

MK - You had several interesting shows last year - Rock Boat, The Governor's Ball and 11 shows during SXSW.  How were those shows and how insane was it playing 11 shows over such a short time?

 

BG - The shows you mentioned were all very different from each other, and I could tell you stories about each one. Playing eleven shows in one week at SXSW was extremely hectic, although I have to say the thirty to forty five minutes on stage were the most relaxed parts of the day. Traipsing through hot, downtown Austin, carrying guitars, cymbals, and drums, jostling past thousands of people who are there to hear music, but not your music, is exhausting. That being said, it was my first time, and I’m looking forward to the next SXSW. I’m a big boy now.

 

MK - Your original drummer Thomas Elefante left the band at the beginning of last year and was replaced by Benny Goldstein.  How has him joining the band affected the dynamic of the band?


AM - Benny has stepped up on a number of levels. His New Year’s resolution was/is to record every single show. We all listen back whether we like it or not, and the experience has been so helpful to our playing, I can’t imagine doing it any other way. That’s just one example of the different ways he’s found to help make Swear and Shake the well-oiled machine it’s becoming. 


MK - Several months back you released the song "Brother" as a free download and you recently released "Fire".  Will those be on your next release and also what are your plans for your next release?

   

KS - Those songs will be on our second full-length record we're calling Ain't That Lovin' which is due out this year. We're very excited about it!

 

MK - I love the video for "Fire".  How involved were you in it's creation?

 

BG - Thank you, we love it as well. Our good friend, Michael Oshins, conceptualized, directed, and animated the video, with the help of illustrator Nicholas Sutton Bell. The photographs of Swear and Shake you see in the video took place in costume and in front of a green screen. Michael would be ten feet in the air and say, “Now imagine you’re on a pirate ship and you’re watching Kari blast off towards in the moon in a rocket.” The animation style Michael used is original. He created it himself, and has aptly named it Storybook Animation.


MK - What are your plans for 2014?

 

AM - Ain’t That Lovin’ is on its way. It’s our second full-length record and we couldn’t be more excited to share it. If anyone’s been to a live show recently, they’ll know how much focus we’ve put on playing very fun and energetic shows, and it’s that same lively spirit that we’ve put on record. Not to mention you’ll get lots of new songs!

 

MK - Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

 

SS - Stay in touch! 2014 is shaping up to be a year full of excitement for Swear and Shake. We’re all looking forward to putting out our second full-length, hitting the road hard, and seeing wherever this roller coaster takes us next - make sure you’re along for the ride. 

Interview By Geoff Melton 

(swearandshake.com)


 THE GREEN BOYS

A  Richmond's The Green Boys are a Richmond 4-piece that are part of the current folk/country revival, but that's not really a fair description because there is much more to their sound than that.  Here is a recent conversation I had with guitarist Sean Green.




MK - Can you give me a little history of the band? 

SG - The Green Boys started out in the fall of 2007 when my brother Ryan and I came back to Fredericksburg, Virginia from living for a year or so out in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ryan had been playing in bands out there, more electric, rock and roll type stuff, but once back in Virginia we both kind of shifted into a more folky/country/bluegrass sound. We both had been dabbling with music since we were each in our early teens, but this was our first foray as brothers into starting a musical partnership together. We started out playing open mics around Fredericksburg, quickly adding songs and playing new gigs, especially once we added a couple other guys to the mix.

MK - Since you initially started as the Green Brothers and then added the other members, how did adding them change the dynamic of the band? 

SG - Our original influences were all the songwriters - my brother and I are huge fans of Neil Young, Dylan, and of course Hank Williams. Country music in general was not at first a major influence, but as time passed we began to appreciate something about simplicity and the quality of the old country songs, and this shaped our own early songwriting and singing. However, growing up with the Beatles chord book, for me there was always a desire to play all sorts of styles, not to be stuck in one genre or another. But that was how it was at the beginning between us. We'd sing a lot of covers and a few original tunes to start out with. 

Our childhood friend Michael Emmons from Richmond, Va was just starting to pick up the dobro at the time we moved back to Virginia, and he was the first to join us. He was heavily influenced by The Everybodyfields dobro player, as well as the sound and songwriting of the early Avett Brothers. He introduced us to those two bands, and that definitely influenced the early stuff we wrote. He also sang some, adding harmonies to some of the songs we were singing. 

After playing around Fredericksburg for several months we met our drummer Jonathan Burkett at an open mic, and of course that really boosted our sound quite a bit. We began to play and write some faster tunes, as well as faster covers. Jonathan is no longer with us full time but he is on both of our records... Anyhow, at some point Mike Emmons came to one practice with some Andrew Bird and Bowl of Fire cds, and was showing us some of that. That was when they were doing a lot of swing/gypsy jazz sounding originals. So along the way we began to learn a lot of older swing tunes, or bluegrass tunes to try and pep up our live show.

Finally Zack Miller joined in 2011 as our mandolinist. He's brought a lot of knowledge of old-time fiddle tunes, etc, as well as a high energy style of playing. 

MK - How does the songwriting process tend to work?

SG - The songs on the albums come from my brother or I, except for Zack's instrumental "Black Mountain Promenade". We tend to work separately on these, bringing the rough version to rehearsal to see how it sounds with full instrumentation. For me, I tend to focus more on the sound or melody before I get into lyric writing.. I think it's probably similar for Ryan. Sometimes I approach it as if I want to write an original song that sounds like it's an older country or rock and roll tune, but it's difficult to do that, because subconsciously I think each of us has their own style, and that emerges in the melody or arrangement or chord structure. Typically my brother has many more parts in his songs, which I think helps to make a great song. Usually whoever writes the song sings the lead vocal on it.

MK - You used Kickstarter to fund your disc.  How was that experience?

SG - Kickstarter is a great tool - we spent a good deal of money on our full length debut "Oh Delia". We pretty much paid for 75 percent of the actual recording time ourselves, even with the Kickstarter. Not knowing how it would work out, we originally were only going to ask for something like $1500. But our recording engineer suggested we go higher (what do ya know!), and eventually we set our goal at $3,000. I believe we ended up passing the goal by several hundred. We were incredibly surprised at how much people were willing to give, whether they were friends or just really liked our music and wanted to help us out in our endeavor. Needless to say it saved us from going into debt when it came time to do the album mastering and packaging. 

It was a complicated process however, especially when it came down to organizing the rewards, getting everyone's contact info and addresses and making sure they hadn't already picked up some of their CD's or shirts at shows. You need to be very organized with it, in order to not let people down. I think if we do it again, I think we will do a much better job at that final aspect of it. I think we still owe one or two people an acoustic house show!

MK - There are a couple songs on the disc that I really like that to me sound a little different from the rest. Those would be "My Love", with it's Ragtime vibe and the hypnotic, laid back groove of "St Mary's Wilderness".  Is there anything special you can tell me about those songs? 

SG - Well, that's an interesting thing to pick up on. I think it's hard to really pinpoint what style many of our songs really fits in best with.  "My Love" was one my brother wrote a long time ago, one of our earliest, so that may have something to do with it sounding different. We also featured the piano on some songs on this album, which we didn't do with our first EP. We really enjoyed throwing that in the background in "My Love". 

For "St. Mary's Wilderness", that was just something I wrote one morning as we were about to finish the album..We had to go into the studio that day and so I just started to work on it. It's very simple, never straying from the two chords D major 7 and G major 7. I think I was trying to explore other ways to write songs. I'd say that one probably had some inspiration from Jerry Garcia's slower or mournful songs that he did with the Grateful Dead.

MK - You covered "I Wanna Be Like You" from The Jungle Book on your latest disc.  How did that come about?

SG - "I Wanna Be Like You" has been in our repertoire for quite awhile! All of us remember Disney movies growing up, how musical they are and all that. I think that was Ryan's idea to it - it probably came about during the early days when we were trying to figure out how to make our live show more interesting musically. People still love to hear that one.

MK - Do you have any other covers in your repertoire?

SG - Plenty of covers, but most are not very recognizable. Most of our covers are more upbeat, our own simplified version of swing music. We do some old Jimmie Rodgers tunes, lately we've been doing some Everly Brothers style rock n roll tunes like "Lucille", as well as some older Beatles songs like "One After 909". We do some more modern stuff every now and then, from different genres - we've covered "You Got Lucky" by Tom Petty and "Beat It". Always fun to try some of those songs within the constraints of acoustic instruments. 

MK - I love the cover artwork on Oh Delia.  What can you tell me about that?

SG - The artwork on the cover of "Oh Delia" is a painting that our mother Mary did back in the early 1970's. She did it of a live model in San Francisco I believe. Both of our parents are painters/ art teachers. Anyhow I grew up seeing that particular painting always displayed on the walls at our mom's house, I didn't care for it much as a child, but have really grown to appreciate it.  It's in my room now! I believe we all felt that it fit with the music and general theme of the album: women and relationships, heartbreak and all that - that runs through many of our songs.

MK - You recently participated in Silent Music Revival where you provided the live music to a showing of Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr.  Can you tell me a bit about that and how that experience was?

SG - The Silent Music Revival was an awesome time! People loved it, and we certainly enjoyed playing such a unique gig. It's a show that is done every season here in Richmond at an old firehouse that is now and art space/ music venue. The event is put on by Jameson Price of the band Lobo Marino (you ought to check them out). He picks the bands and then selects the movie as well. The Buster Keaton film was a comedy, about 45 minutes  long. The band doesn't see the film beforehand, so the music has to be improvised to some degree. The audience (about 100 people) watched the film while we played behind the screen, picking songs from a list that we created. We pretty much had to watch the film and play the songs at the same time, trying our best to quietly decide on songs that would fit in at any moment. It is a very entertaining experience, for the band and the crowd, and I believe it draws more musical creativity from a band than a normal show.

MK - What are your plans for 2014?

SG - Two main things for 2014.  First is a Daytrotter Session we did in March.  We were invited by the founder to come do a session, so that's pretty exciting.  Then in early June we will be commencing a month long tour, heading out to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.  We Will be competing in the band contest. No way of knowing what will come out of that but obviously we hope to expand our presence beyond the east coast by doing this tour.  

Of course other than that, we want to keep up with writing, and perhaps get a full-time drummer into the band.  We are always looking for ways to keep honing our live show.  

MK - Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

SG - Nothing too much except thank you all for supporting small bands, and keeping an interest in the music.  We encourage everyone to give both our albums a listen either through bandcamp, Spotify or itunes.  Buy a CD and share with your friends if you really like it.  And please get in touch and say hello if you are interested in having us come play in your area - Richmond, VA isn't foo far away from many of the major cities in the Northeast.

Interview By Geoff Melton 

(greenboysmusic.com)




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