I think there is an unspoken understanding between people who live near the sea. It’s something that connects many of us, living on an island as we do, and whilst the coastlines of the UK vary greatly in terms of scenery and weather, there are a few things all UK beaches have in common. The beaches here are windswept, the water is usually cold, and are usually populated with resilient and weather-beaten dog walkers. Although we perhaps missed out on the many benefits of growing up in London, people that didn’t grow up near the coast won’t know the feeling of running from school and straight into the sea in school uniform on hot days, or spending most of your teenage weekends camping out on uncomfortably jagged stony beaches, in the hope of an illicit swig from Tesco’s own cider. Doesn’t sound too romantic when you say it out loud. Perhaps due to my affinity with the coast, music that evokes the sea particularly resonates with me, which happily I found in Swords‘ latest album ‘Tidal Waves’. I spoke to lead singer and pianist Diane about their latest release:
KM: How did you start making music together?
D: Myself and Ian met through an ad I put up on thumped.com. We got along straight away and within a few months we met Jarlath through a friend of Ian. The day we started playing with Jarlath we knew that it would work out – we all just got along very well and had a good laugh together. It’s hard to find people to play music with – you play with a lot of people where it just doesn’t work. When it does work you know pretty quickly.
KM: It’s relatively unusual these days to hear a band perform with a piano – particularly as you combine it with synths and distorted guitar. What drew you to the piano in particular?
D: I wanted to play piano since I was three years old. I badgered my parents until I was fourteen, and I got a piano. I haven’t looked back since. I think it’s the most beautiful instrument. I’m also a terrible guitar player.
KM: You and me both. I think the piano is particularly effective in the albums title track ‘ Tidal Wave’. The way you use bass pedal notes with a kind of rolling rhythm is really evocative of waves – is it important to you that the sound world you create reflects the narrative in the song?
D: That’s a lovely interpretation of it. I’d like to say that was my intention but in fact the music came first. I did love the rolling rhythm though, and we played it for a long time without lyrics, so I guess the piano might have inspired me…
KM: In fact the instrumentation throughout the album is quite unique – is it a glockenspiel or a music box that features in ‘The Letter’? It’s really quite sweet and childlike.
D: It’s a glockenspiel. It’s funny that you mention the childlike nature of it – I actually had a little kids xylophone at home and I was playing around on it. The song itself took only a few minutes to write in terms of lyrics and structure. Afterwards we got a proper glockenspiel, because the kids one is tiny and not loud enough! Theres a lot of fun to be had writing on kids toys. You tend to forget yourself and just enjoy playing.
KM: Your vocal is so effortless and melodic. Are you influenced at all by folk/traditional music in your vocal style?
D: Thanks, yeah I think I am. One of my first groundbreaking musical experiences was Joni Mitchells Blue album. I lay on my bed and listened to the album all the way through. I had never heard anything so beautiful. I loved the purity of her voice, and the strange melodies, which seemed to come so naturally from her. I’ve always loved to be able to hear words and I love when there’s a bit of space in a song. In general folk music really speaks to me because of that – theres a bravery in exposing your voice to people, and when you mean it, you can connect with them.
KM: What was the recording process like for this album?
D: It was done in stages. We spent a couple of months making demos ourselves. That was a good learning process, because once we moved into pre-production the demos were great reference points in terms of structures and arrangements. We spent a few months on pre-production, being sure to have as much as possible prepared before recording. In November last year we went to Transmission Rooms in Drumlish and tracked drums, bass, guitar, and piano/synths live over ten days. Vocals we did back in Dublin over the next little while. In general the recording process was a lot more focused and mapped out than on the first album. We wanted to do things differently and we did, and I think the quality of the songs reflects that.
KM: ‘Who Took Your Soul’ sees the album embrace a more 80’s sound. Did any artists of this era inspire this track?
D: I can’t say that they did for me… this was a song that Ian and Jarlath had ben playing with. I arrived and started joining in – lyrics and melodies came after the music. I think it was just fun to let rip a little. We were practicing in a dark rehearsal room at that time – that might have been the biggest influence!
KM: What is your favourite track on the album and why?
D: My favourite track is Sitting on Walls. We wrote it one weekend when we were away in a lovely quiet house in Wexford. I had the piano and lyrics begun, and we all just played around with it for an hour or so and it came together. It was wintery and sunny outside and we were just playing music all day every day. It was a great time for all of us.
KM: What’s 2017 looking like for Swords?
D: We’re hoping to continue to release songs from the album in a slightly more original way…more of that to come in the new year! We’ll tour the songs as much as we can, and maybe start writing again in between all of that!
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