British pop band Switches makes music that recalls the days of 1950s harmonizing vocals, mixed with a dose of glam rock. Their eclectic sound was featured on their debut album, Lay Down the Law, released in March of 2008.
Matt Bishop, who founded the band, grew up on the English Essex coast, a popular destination for British vacationers. Although his father was not a musician, he loved music and had a lot of records, and as Bishop told an interviewer in Rock Sellout, "[I] fed off that. I was obsessed with that as a child, a bit too much really. But he really showed me the way, and taught me what was good."
His father, who worked making prop instruments for the British television music show Top of the Pops, also fed his musical obsession in another way; all Bishop had to do was tell him he wanted a fancy-looking guitar like the custom one on a top album cover, and his dad would make him one by the end of the week.
Bishop's musical career could also have been predicted by the way he would play with his toys. He told Tim Chester in Spin, "I was interested in multitracking as a four-year-old. I used to get two old Fisher-Price tape recorders and bounce between them, amazed at how my voice sounded doubled up." When he was six years old, he wrote his first song, titled "It's My Shadow So Leave It Alone." He told Chester, "It was based on one chord, and it was rubbish."
As he grew older, Bishop often ignored his schoolwork and spent time writing songs—200 by the time he was 16. He learned how to play every instrument he could get his hands on, and asked everyone he knew what their favorite album was. Then, he played the albums over and over, listening to determine how they hooked listeners. Eventually, he formed his own band with friends Ollie Thomas (guitar), Max Tite (bass), and Jimmy G. (drums).
The band chose its name because it was "simple, bold and sounded cool to us. We wanted to get into peoples' homes, not into their spelling tests or nightmares," singer Matt Bishop told Kait Silva in ACED Magazine. The name also fit with the band's desire to continually try new genres, approaches to songwriting, and methods.
Unlike many popular bands, Switches doesn't aim to send any kind of political or social messages. "I'm not claiming to be any sort of mouthpiece for youth," Bishop told Silva. "Loads of bands fall for that and I refuse to. When we made the album [Lay Down the Law], we had no message for the world, beyond Celebrate music!"
In Entertainment Weekly, Chris Willman commended the band's glam-rock flavor. He remarked that the lyrics for the track "Drama Queen" portrayed a certain amount of arrogance, but added, "Switches justify their cockiness with talent."
When writing the tracks for Lay Down the Law, the band engaged in a form of "research." Bishop told Silva that for the song "Lay Down the Law," he spent some time drinking vodka and enjoying "the feeling of being simple and dumb," and for "The Need to be Needed," he spent a few months going on dates with "people that were obviously in need of more emotional counseling than me."
Bishop remarked to Silva that this phase of creating the music, despite the dangers of hangovers and being stalked by people he had dated, was easy compared with the long, uncomfortable flight from England to Los Angeles to record the album, and the North American tour that followed its release. Bishop described for Silva the feeling of going on stage every night: "[Lots] of people staring at me, sweat coming out of every pore and a feeling of imminent terror before you sing the first note."
These difficult moments were balanced by highs; Bishop told an interviewer from Rock Sellout that one of the best was being able to meet one of his "all time heroes, Craig Nichols from the Vines." Nichols came to their show and hung out with the band afterward. Bishop told the interviewer, "So, to get to meet one of your heroes who you've been listening to their music for upwards of 5 years, that's really cool. For me, that's my favorite part of the tour so far."
One unintended side effect of making music for a living is that Bishop has less time to listen to music than he did before the band had success. He told the Rock Sellout interviewer, "[The] last thing you want to do is come home and stick your headphones on full blast when all you've been doing for the last 5 or 6 hours is cranking out loud tunes." He joked, "I'm sure I'll have plenty of time, after the music career finishes miserably through drugs and alcohol, I'll have all the time in the world to listen to all the music I want."
For Bishop, who fantasized about a career in rock music ever since he was a boy, it's the culmination of a lifetime of dreams: "I can honestly say I've never dreamed of anything else." He added, "Some people make records in order to be the richest or most popular. If I wanted to be either of those things I would have joined a football team." He told Chester, "I don't want to be Bono, shaking George Bush's hand. I don't want to be Morrissey, making comments about the state of England. I just want to make good music."
For the Record …
Members include Matt Bishop , vocals, guitar; Jimmy G. , drums; Ollie Thomas , guitar; Max Tite , bass.
Group formed in 2006; released Lay Down the Law, 2008.
Addresses: Record company—Interscope, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
Heart Tuned to D.E.A.D, Atlantic, 2007.
Lay Down the Law, Interscope, 2008.
Entertainment Weekly, March 21, 2008, p. 57.
"Interview: Switches," Rock Sellout, February 12, 2008, http://rocksellout.com/2008/02/12/interview-switches (June 4, 2008).
"Melodic, Sexy Neo-Britpoppers Turn on the Hooks," Spin, February 24, 2008, http://spinmag.com/articles/switches-0 (June 4, 2008).
"Switches," http://switchesmusic.co.uk/ (June, 2008).
"Switches's Biography," Last.fm October 15, 2007, http://www.last.fm/music/Switches/+wiki June 4, 2008).
"Talking Shop with Switches' Matt Bishop," ACED Magazine, March 30, 2008, http://acedmagazine.com/content/view/1062/44/ (June 4, 2008).
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