Swervedriver—one of the greatest overlooked rock bands of the last 20-odd years—plays in Seattle tonight at Neumo’s, and I’m as happy as a little girl with a shiny new Easy Bake Oven over the news.
Unsung Rock History Lesson of the Day: In 1995 Creation Records, Britain’s biggest buzz-band music label at the time, was busy hurtling promotion and royalty money at Brit brats Oasis. As a result, Creation tapped out their coffers so badly that they treated a lot of other records they released around that time like the proverbial ugly stepkids in the basement. One of those albums was Ejector Seat Reservation, the third album by Swervedriver.
Swervedriver arose in the wake of that UK music genre known as the shoegazer scene, which stirred the drone of the Velvet Underground and the pop hooks of the Jesus and Mary Chain together sometime in the late 1980’s. Shoegazers were known for their introspective onstage demeanor (hence the name) and for coaxing all manner of noise and effects out of their guitars (hence the name, also). Depending on your predilection, shoegazer music sounded like either a swirling symphony of distortion and atmosphere, or a conventional British pop band stuck in a jarringly-noisy broken vacuum cleaner.
Anyway, unlike most of the mopers with whom they were lumped, Swervedriver rocked like lean and holy hell. On their first LP, 1991’s Raise, they fuel-injected the shoegazer arsenal of guitar effects pedals with the directness of flannel-clad American indie rock a la Sonic Youth and Husker Du. And by the time they released their even-better follow-up disc Mezcal Head in 1993, lead singer/guitarist Adam Franklin was spiking the mix with a liberal dose of psychedelic color. The result: the closest thing to a true classic rock band that the shoegazer era ever produced. Songs like “Last Train to Satansville,” “Son of Mustang Ford,” and “Duel” combined the atmospheric and the anthemic more sublimely than most bands of the time ever dared.
Ejector Seat Reservation should have been Swervedriver’s breakout record. If fulfilled every ounce of promise from the first two albums with a batch of incredibly strong, catchy, epic rock songs. Franklin’s lyrics covered universal topics like love, suicide, self-delusion, and the meaning of life, and the music touched on familiar influences (The Beatles, T. Rex, and Hendrix among others) while still retaining its distinctive, idiosyncratic heart and soul. In short, Swervedriver created an immortal record easily worthy of inclusion alongside Nirvana’s Nevermind and U2’s Achtung Baby as one of the signature rock albums of the nineties. It shoulda been the soundtrack of a generation. Problem was no one heard it.
Having exhausted their promotional budget on Oasis, Creation Records sloughed Ejector Seat Reservation into English stores with nothing more than a couple of half-page ads in some British music periodicals. A week later the label dropped the band entirely, and their finest record never even made it to the States. Swervedriver soldiered on to put out one more great release, 1997’s 99th Dream, before quietly folding in 1998.
Adam Franklin spent the next decade gracefully marrying his classicist’s songwriting pen with gently cinematic electronics on his side project Toshack Highway. And in the last five years, he released three excellent solo efforts that effectively bridged the gap between his ambient Toshack work and the old Swervedriver rattle and hum. Swervedriver reunited for a world tour in 2009—roaring like they’d never been away—and deluxe reissues of Raise and Mezcal Head hit stores later that year.
Three years ago, the band played their back catalog at Neumo’s like they meant it, and the current tour shows no sign of bucking that trend. Better still, they’re hauling out strong new tunes to augment the old classics, inspiring rumors of a new Swervedriver album—the first in over a decade. Get ready to rev up and rave down.