Ahead of their third album, Austin Williams and Cav McCarthy chat to Gigwise
Elli Chappelhow
14:57 3rd October 2019

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It’s been almost seven years since the wistful escapism of their debut Where The Heaven Are We, and Emerald Classics sees Swim Deep rise from the glowing embers after the acid-psych-pop explosion of follow-up album Mothers, re-energised after a hiatus and a line-up change. The soaring strings and choral arrangements of expansive yet hard-hitting lead single ‘To Feel Good’ soundtrack this ‘reincarnation’; the band are excited to get the record out into the world because, according to vocalist Austin Williams: “it’s proof that we’re still alive and kicking, and trying to aim for much bigger things with this album.” There’s a tangible sense of evolution; they’ve had to endure some tough life lessons, and they’re beginning to carve their own path in an industry that is constantly changing.

Sometimes bands craft their music around what sounds are fashionable, what the zeitgeist is swaying towards, and constantly living in trembling fear about what the highbrow music press can scribble about them from the depths of their secluded lairs. Yet, Swim Deep are a band who aren't worried about how Emerald Classics will be received. Austin answers frankly: “I obviously want people to like the album, and I’m nervous about it coming out, but it’s the first time in my life that I’ve really not given a shit about what the reviews are gonna be. I think for this one we realised we don’t want to make a record for the critics, or the highbrow music press or anything. We just wanted to do what we felt like we were good at doing.” 

This spirit of liberation is something that’s quite a dominant force for this album; they’re writing because they need to, it’s what they know and love - but do they write with the Where The Heaven Are We fans in mind? Cav explains: “We were definitely interested in writing for the people who got us to where we are, originally.” Austin adds: “A lot of the fans have already resigned to the fact that we’re never going to sound the same as we did before, and I think that would be super boring for any band to do. All of our favourite bands have evolved into something so much different, like The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Primal Scream - that kind of evolution we love, and really look up to.” So it’s not ‘reinvention’, as such, it’s more adaptation - evolution, Charles Darwin style. They’re making small but impactful changes to their identity and sound, in order to stay alive in this cut-throat industry, where things can end as soon as they began, something that Swim Deep know all too well…

With the departure of two of the band’s members, has the dynamic of Swim Deep changed in the studio? Running through the album’s DNA is a very forward-facing spirit, that sees the band welcoming two new members with open arms, and feeding off everything new they had to bring to the table. For Austin: “I was just constantly throwing the guitar at Robbie cause I was so interested to see what he was going to do, and then whatever he did was so interesting.” What’s more, working with producer Dave McCracken (Ian Brown, Beyonce) injected a dose of ambition and drive into the album. “He was the one who kind of kickstarted our inspiration for this album, he just made everything happen so much faster.” Cav agrees: “He was really cracking the whip, which we’ve never really been used to before. He was very vocal, almost like a band manager. It’s like having Mr Motivator in the room, so it’s a completely different process to what we’ve been used to.”

Talk turns to highlights from creating the album - for Austin, it was bringing in Margate’s Social Singing Choir for lead single ‘To Feel Good’: “It was kind of like one of those things you see on album documentaries, when the choir comes in and everyone just gets really overwhelmed by their harmonies - it was a real highlight.” The album is definitely a poppier direction for their sound, something the band have been intent on from the beginning. “Each song we kind of let it write itself in a way, not try and be too clever about each song and add too much in, which is what we did on Mothers. I think it worked miraculously on Mothers somehow, we literally threw the kitchen sink at it, but we just wanted to make big statement songs that talked about real life, and every song has a real story to it.” 

Emerald Classics is an ode to where they came from, and a marker of where they’re going. It’s the band stripped back, being honest to themselves and the listener. It feels like they’re recognising the journey they’ve been on as a band, and are taking all these life experiences and channelling them into this album. “We’ve kind of had a few reality checks, but our heads are still in the clouds in the sense that we do think that we can take it to big levels. I think we just now understand the hard work that it takes.” Referring to the heyday of the B-Town scene, of which Swim Deep were very much at the forefront, Cav chimes in: “That whole era, I don’t think I was taking in everything or appreciating stuff as much as I thought I was, because it was so quick and so instant. Taking a step backwards helped us be more realistic.”

After taking that perspective-inducing step backwards, they had to take a giant leap of faith forwards, in order to keep themselves afloat. Swim Deep are looking to branch out from the often trodden path of ‘Single, album, tour, festivals, repeat’ - they’ve decided to set up their own label; not only to release Emerald Classics, but with a view to providing vital support for other bands, and become the tastemakers of tomorrow. The album is just the beginning, as Cav states: “I think when our album comes out, that will help to feel like things are happening, we’re quite ambitious in that we want to work with other people.” Austin continues: “I think the main goal would be to have a label where you’re running a studio for the label - we always have three hour conversations at two in the morning about it. I just hope they come true. Having a studio with the bands on the label, or not on the label, who can come in and write, or write with us, or with other people in the studio. Our producer can help them make or record demos, or just practice. I think it’s so important that bands have a space they can rehearse every day, and just become the tightest band they can be.” 

This whole independent ethos coming into the spotlight of the industry is something that is quite tangible: for Austin, signing to an indie “is the kind of ultimate ‘sticking it to the man’, and I guess the man is the major in the sense that they’re not taking away eight percent of your music.” Embarking upon the well-known indie vs major debate with Swim Deep is interesting because they’ve been one of the bands lucky enough to have experienced both. Austin explains “I think the way indie is, looking at it now, they’re not trying to sign big big deals with major labels, that’s not the coolest thing to do any more, I think it was back then.” Cav reinforces: “Maybe indie music has gone back to originally how it started, like signing to independent labels and making good music. I think maybe bands signing to indie labels are actually doing cooler things, personally.”

And how are they going to celebrate the release on Friday? By playing the record, of course - “Playing it to people who have heard it, and people who haven’t heard it. I think it’s just we want to work so hard to get this album heard, and then release new music in the new year. We’re all just really excited to just crack on with it and work. The day after the album comes out we’re going straight on tour, so we’ll have to celebrate while on tour, so we’ll have to be sensible about it!”

This record has been a long time coming for Swim Deep, and it will be released 4 October.

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