In the 'Driver Seat

Adam Franklin cruises into town with a whole new cast riding shotgun.

Oct 10, 2007 at 4:00 am
Although Adam Franklin spent most of the 1990s fronting the seminal Brit-rock act Swervedriver, he hasn't spent much time since then gazing at his shoes — or thinking much about the influential shoegazing subgenre that his band helped create. Instead, Franklin has moved forward, exploring jangly guitar pop, droning psychedelic rock and twangy alt-country with his group Toshack Highway and now on his own, with his 2007 debut Bolts of Melody.

Whereas Swervedriver's sound leaned toward the heavier, rock end of the Britpop/shoegazing spectrum, Franklin's newest output isn't as easy to categorize. Melody still makes use of some of the swirly noise textures which supplemented Swervedriver's bombastic drumming and thickly distorted guitars. But these elements serve Franklin's solo songs in different ways, creating dreamy, desolate sonic landscapes that draw from the acoustic ballad work of Dinosaur Jr. or the psychedelic pop leanings of some of Matthew Sweet's early output.

In Franklin's concerts as well, one might hear a set heavily painted with haunting pedal-steel twang one night, and the next be treated to more piano-centric arrangements of the same tunes. (Credit a revolving cast of musicians and constantly changing song arrangements for this variety.) The RFT spoke with Franklin by phone shortly before he returned to the States to begin rehearsals for this fall's U.S. tour.

Shae Moseley: Are you bringing a band with you from the UK for this tour or playing with people from the States?

Adam Franklin: It's sort of a mix, actually. The last tour we did was two or three guys from New York and then Ley [Taylor], who's from Toronto and played on the album as well. But this tour the drummer we had couldn't do it, so I'm actually getting my old friend Jeff [Townsin] who's from London, and he's flying out as well to do it. It's a bit of an international band this time.

Have you been doing some Swerve-driver songs?

I think there are a few Swervedriver tunes that can be done in this sort of combination or lineup that kind of fit. There are some B-sides that, in theory, could be Toshack Highway songs or Swervedriver songs or Adam Franklin songs, depending on how you look at it.

The solo record is a lot different from Swervedriver. How different are the arrangements of those songs?

It's always good to kind of re-approach the songs and try them in different styles. For a while I was doing some solo shows, and at those shows I play a few Swervedriver songs. But obviously if you're playing solo you don't want to do it like the full-band version. So I just kind of rearrange them in a more finger-picking acoustic style and see what works.

There seems to be a bit of a twangy aspect to some of the newer songs. Is country music an influence?

It's actually funny, because I guess we do have the pedal-steel player live, but there isn't actually any pedal steel on the album. And likewise, we have had a few shows with piano as the fourth or fifth instrument, and there's not that much piano on the album either. But it's just ways of approaching them, where the recorded version of the song isn't necessarily cast in stone. Back in the day with some Swervedriver recordings, we would get to the point where we think, "Well, that's it," and that's how the song should sound. And then [you'd] go out and to the best [of your ability] you can play it like it was recorded. But I quite like the fact that we have the skeletons of those songs and you can kind of approach it from any direction.

That probably keeps things interesting night in, night out, when you're out on tour.

Yeah, exactly. And also it's like at this point, a lot of the musicians have more than one project on the go at one time, so not everybody is available to do every tour. So it's good and keeps it fresh. I played up in Canada a few times with a whole different lineup. The only consistent factor is Ley, the other guitar player.

So you just basically have friends from all over who can step in and get involved with the live show?

Yeah, and it's cool having Jeff come out from England because I play with him from time to time in Sophia, which is kind of a collective. I'm not actually on any of the Sophia recordings; [the band's lineup] depends on who's around. I've been looking into doing my tour in Europe with Sophia basically being the band — just to kind of blur the boundaries even more.

I've noticed in the past few years there has been a bit of a shoegazing revival happening. Do you feel tied to that movement now or did you even in the '90s?

Well, yes and no. To a degree I guess we've become one of those bands that gets called one of the shoegazing bands — and at the time and now still we were much more of a rock band. We know a lot of those bands and still keep in touch with them. It's difficult to sort of think of it as like one whole thing, because if you trace a line from, say, Lush to Swervedriver, there's a big difference there. But I think the line from, say, Swervedriver to Sonic Youth isn't such a long line. So at the same time, shoegaze has now become a turn of phrase — where you can listen to the new Sonic Youth album and say a couple of the songs are shoegaze, or even [listen to] a band like Air and have them described that way as well. It's difficult to say really because then again I hear some of these bands that are supposedly "nü-gaze" or whatever, and some of it does nothing for me whatsoever.

Swervedriver seems to always be lumped in with those bands, and you obviously had some connections, peers on the same labels and some stylistic similarities. But it seemed like you were bringing more rock to the table than some of the other bands like My Bloody Valentine or Lush.

Having a supposed genre of music... I mean, you're never going to like all of the bands. There were a bunch of those bands that I liked and some that I thought were shit, you know? Likewise there were grunge bands that I thought were great and certainly a hell of a lot of grunge bands that I thought were shit.

It does seem like some new bands are doing a really great job at reinterpreting the supposed genre though. Would you agree?

Yeah. At the end of the day if a band does really do something honest that ends up being called shoegaze, then fair enough. But there are some bands that follow it almost like it's a code — that you have to have a certain drum sound and a certain haircut and certain guitars, even.

What are your plans for the future? Can we expect more solo output or do you have other projects in mind?

It would be good to get another solo album out next year if I can. The songs are there and it would be good to follow up on this one. There's also this thing the Setting Suns that I've been doing with Sam [Fogarino] from Interpol and we just recorded an EP that I believe is going to come out around November. Depending on how busy we are, there are loose plans to record an album as well.

Any chance of a Swervedriver reunion down the line?

Well, it's great that people still talk about the band. It's been ten years since Swervedriver has done anything and twenty years since the band formed. Obviously a lot of bands have been reforming lately. A lot of these bands you go and see them, and it's really quite awe-inspiring. I went and saw the Pixies when they reformed and it was kind of spine-tingling. So, who knows? Perhaps.