Surviving their fair share of ups and downs, including losing two original band members and two record deals, the English rock band Swervedriver managed to stay intact, recording four albums since forming in 1989. Their music is often described as a cross between British ethereal metal bands such as Ride, Lush, and My Bloody Valentine, and Motor City rock and roll classics like the Stooges and the MC5. This mix of influences has helped them appeal to both rock and metal audiences. Although based in Oxford, England, Swervedriver had a knack for writing great rock and roll driving songs, as evidenced by “Son of Mustang Ford,” one of the group’s most recognized tunes. “The car thing came from twisting around rock ‘n’ roll imagery,” Adam Franklin explained to Los Angeles Times writer Bill Locey about the groups continued interest in automobiles. “Chuck Berry used to sing about cars. T-Rex used to sing about cars, and being in the car is just a good place to hear music. We know this drummer who has a Mustang, actually. We thought about letting him in the band so we could hang out in his car.”
The history of Swervedriver dates back to 1984 with the formation of Shake Appeal, a band primarily influenced by Iggy Pop and the Stooges and the MC5. In fact, the group’s name was also the title of a Stooges song and a pink vinyl bootleg EP. Picking up on the Detroit music scene, the group developed a grungy sound, as well as an obsession with the automobile culture of the Midwestern United States, though few of them actually owned cars. Comprised of vocalist Graham Franklin, guitarist Adam Franklin, drummer Paddy Pulzer, and bass guitarist Adrian “Adi” Vynes, Shake Appeal recorded and released their first single, “Gimme Fever,” on Norton Records in 1998.
From there, however, the group’s musical direction started to change. Discovering the new sounds of American acts such as Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, Shake Appeal evolved into a more modern-styled band. At the time, said Adam Franklin on the band’s official website, the group was “trying to push out the boundaries of electric guitar within a pop format.” In order to test such a formula, the group recorded a demo in 1989 that included the songs “Son of Mustang Ford” and “Afterglow,” on which Adam Franklin took over the lead singing and Graham Franklin switched to backing vocals. But soon afterward, Graham left Shake Appeal to focus on dance music; Pulzer, too, quit, eventually joining the band Jack. Thus, with two original members departed, the group more or less dissolved, making way for Swervedriver.
By the end of 1989, the initial lineup for Swervedriver—Adam Franklin on guitar and vocals, Vynes on bass, Jimmy Hartridge on guitar, and Graham Bonner (formerly of the British hardcore group Ut) on drums—was secured. Soon thereafter, they sent the Shake Appeal demo to Creation Records, then home to My Bloody Valentine and previously the Jesus and Mary Chain; when label owner Alan McGee heard the tape, he signed Swervedriver immediately. In 1990, Creation released the Son of Mustang Ford EP, and later that year, the Rave Dawn EP. But while these early recordings received favorable reviews, Swervedriver were virtually ignored by the fickle British music press who afforded the band little of the hype given to other pop groups. Nonetheless, the quartet found a following among independent and metal fans, and the first few Swervedriver singles charted on both the indie and metal charts in the United Kingdom.
In 1991, Swervedriver returned with a third EP, Sandblasted, which reached number 63 on the British charts. This success was followed closely by their debut album, Raised, featured their earlier singles. By now well-known in the United Kingdom where they had already toured extensively, Swervedriver set out on a two-leg tour of North America. In the United States and Canada, they supported both Soundgarden and Ride, further demonstrating the foursome’s diverse appeal. Critics, especially those in the United States, marveled at the British band’s lyrical obsession with highways, pick-up trucks, and other Midwestern subjects, as well as their driving guitar effects. “With two guitars,” insisted Locey, “Swervedriver is louder than a car crash but with a better beat.”
But in the midst of establishing themselves in the States, Swervedriver suffered a setback. Toward the end of their United States tour on the way to their first
Members include Graham Bonnar (born April 28, 1967, in Scotland; left band in 1992), drums; Adam Franklin (born July 19, 1968, in Essex, England), vocals, guitar; Jimmy Hartridge (born November 27, 1967, in Oxfordshire, England), guitar; Stephen George (joined band in 1994), bass; “Jez” (joined band in 1992), drums; Adrian “Adi” Vynes (born January 25, 1968, in Yorkshire, England; left band in 1992), bass.
Formed band in Oxford, England, 1989; signed with Creation Records, released first EP, Son of Mustang Ford, 1990; released debut album Raised, toured North America for the first time, 1991; released Mezcal Head, 1993; released Ejector Seat Reservation, dropped by the Creation label, 1995; signed to and dropped by Geffen Records; picked up by the indie label Zero Hour for the release of 99th Dream, 1998.
Canadian show in Vancouver, British Columbia, Bonner went out to get a sandwich and never came back. Apparently suffering a breakdown, he ran into Canada on foot past the border guards, who eventually caught up with him. Upon his return to the band, Bonner (who remained in the United States and joined a group out of San Francisco) refused to speak with anyone but Hartridge, and at the end of their conversation, Swervedriver was in need of a drummer. In order to finish the tour, the group borrowed Danny Ingram from Strange Boutique out of Washington state.
Returning to England, Swervedriver diverted rumors of a breakup with the release of another EP, 1992’s Never Lose that Feeling, recorded prior to Bonner’s leaving. But soon after its release, the group received another blow when Vynes, too, departed to form his own group, Skyscraper, with Milk guitarist Vic Kemilcz. This time, most believed that the group was finished, and this assumption seemed correct, given the fact that little was heard about the band for some time. Then in August of 1993, Swervedriver again proved the music press wrong. As it turned out, they spent their time away from public view rebuilding. First, they recruited a new drummer named “Jez,” then teamed with producer Alan Moulder to record a new album. Released in 1993, Mezcal Head saw Adam Franklin and Hartridge sharing bass guitar duties and included the song “Duel,” named by New Musical Express (NME) as a “Single of the Week.”
Swervedriver spent 1994 in full force. They toured in the United Kingdom, North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan in support of Mezcal Head, and recruited a new bassist, Stephen George. They also released a new single called “My Zephyr (A Sequel)” on the Flower Shop label, and contributed cover versions to two tribute albums. “Jesus,” a song by the Velvet Underground, appeared on Heaven and Hell, Volume 3, and a version of “In the City” was featured on Who Covers Who.
Heading back into the studio, a re-energized Swervedriver recorded their third album, Ejector Seat Reservation, considered their shining moment. A work that invested melodic, timeless Britpop with the power of 1980s-styled indie rock, Ejector Seat Reservation was, according to Magnet magazine contributor Gil Gersh-man, the “work of artists enjoying a towering creative high” and “should have topped every chart and won legions over to the Swervedriver cause.” However, immediately after its release in August of 1995, the world learned that Swervedriver, confident in the album, had left their American distributor, A&M Records. Meanwhile, Creation was still recovering from the staggering costs of the latest My Bloody Valentine album, Loveless. “Creation was forced to play a juggling-with-eggs act,” Jez explained to Gershman, “taking money from any band that was providing any cash, putting it somewhere else and hoping that they came around before they had to pay back what was required for the other bands.”
Consequently, when Creation learned that the group had left A&M, who were paying around $350, 000 to the British label for each Swervedriver album, they in turn dropped the group. Without domestic label support for promotions and touring, the band essentially became a forgotten curiosity in the United Kingdom despite the rave reviews garnered by Ejector Seat Reservation. But in the early months of 1996, Swervedriver’s future appeared to brighten when they landed a three-album deal with Geffen Records. With their advance money, the band finished building a new studio and completed the album 99th Dream.
Although everything seemed to be going well—advance copies of the album were generating positive responses—Swervedriver was about to receive their biggest disappointment. Just three weeks before the scheduled release of 99th Dream, the band received word from their manager that Geffen decided to drop them. For the first time, the group seriously considered giving up. Resilient as ever, they felt compelled to forge ahead, and as things turned out, Swervedriver was actually grateful for Geffen’ dismissal. “I think in hindsight it was quite a good thing that the record didn’t come out on Geffen,” Jez said to Gershman. “I just question the integrity of any label that drops Swervedriver and keeps Weezer.”
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the United States independent label Zero Hour to express an interest in signing Swervedriver. In February of 1998, 99th Dream saw its official release. In addition to agreements with Zero Hour (now defunct) and Flying Nun Records in Australia, Swervedriver also formed their own label, Sonic Wave. They spent the next two years touring and recording material for a forthcoming album. Adam Franklin, along with keyboard player Charlie Francis, released an album under the name Toshack Highway in the fall of 2000.
Singles and EPs
Son of Mustang Ford (EP), Creation, 1990.
Rave Dawn (EP), Creation, 1990.
Sandblasted (EP), Creation, 1991.
Duel, Creation, 1992.
Never Lose that Feeling (EP), Creation, 1992.
Last Train to Satansville, Creation, 1994.
My Zephyr, Flowershop, 1994.
Last Day On Earth, Creation, 1995.
93 Million Miles From The Sun, Sessions, 1997.
Magic Bus, A&M, 1997.
Raise, Creation, 1991.
Mezcal Head, Creation, 1993.
Ejector Seat Reservation, Creation, 1995.
99th Dream, Zero Hour, 1998.
Billboard, March 21, 1998.
Boston Globe, January 30, 1992; October 19, 2000.
Guitar Player, April 1998.
Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1992.
Magnet, March/April 1998.
Washington Post, February 27, 1998.
Swervedriver, http://www.swervie.com (December 10, 2000).
Yahoo! Music, http://musicfinder.yahoo.com (December 10, 2000).
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