“Our drummer left for a sandwich and never came back. We heard he was found wandering in no man’s land by Canadian Mounties”: An epic guide to every Swervedriver album in the band’s own words

A portrait of Swervedriver in 1998. The band are sat down and all wearing sunglasses
(Image credit: Cathrine Wessel)

Adam Franklin’s been busy. He's recently emerged from what he describes as “a period of working towards something which took a long time to get there” – by which he means piecing together the intricate reissue of Swervedriver’s “lost” 1998 album 99th Dream, but more on that below. He’s also been working on a new music under the guise of his Bolts Of Melody solo project, preparing both records for a simultaneous release on the same day. Like we said: busy. 

To celebrate the reissue, Franklin joins Louder to talk us through Swervedriver’s back catalogue one album at a time. 

Louder line break

Raise (1991)

We hadn’t been together that long when we started work on Raise. We’d recorded three EPs with Creation Records already, and then it came to the album. When we'd been looking for a label to get started with, Creation had been literally the last label we’d intended to give a cassette to. We had a bunch of cassettes made up of our demo which we gave to various labels. We had one left over and we thought, ‘What shall we do with this? Creation? They won’t sign us but let’s give one to Mark [Gardener, of Ride]”. And then the story is [Creation founder] Alan McGee was in LA in the back of a car looking for some music to play. He finds this tape given to him by Mark, of this band Swervedriver from Oxford and he puts it in – straight away it sounds great. He contacted us immediately and said “I wanna sign you”. And then things just happened very quickly. 

Over time, signing with Creation informed the whole legacy of Swervedriver and the way we were perceived. If we weren’t on Creation we probably wouldn’t have been called shoegaze. I think the perception of us would’ve been quite different, and I don’t think that would’ve been that much down to the music – although we were also inspired by our surroundings. I think you do end up being inevitably influenced and inspired by what’s going on around you. If you’re living in London in that environment with those bands around you it’s going to rub off; if we’d been living in New York and hanging out with a whole bunch of different bands we probably would have sounded different. 

We get into a studio in London to record the album and I remember thinking that the final tracklisting wasn’t what I wanted. It was a McGee thing, where he said “we’ve got to have the three singles on the album, because it’ll be like the Sex Pistols album”. McGee had the right plan, but it meant that the actual album was three singles – Son Of Mustang Ford, Rave Down and Sandblasted – and only six new songs. Considering we’d put out three EPs by then, which was 12 songs, in some ways I think it was quite strange that the album came out with only six new songs. But it was a wise choice to have the three singles on there. 

The great thing about this album, I think, is that everybody got the idea. Everybody bought into it, into the whole thing – the song titles, sunset, the driving thing. I think it creates a mood, and you enter into the mood of the album, and that’s probably the best thing you can say about a good album – that you step inside it and you’re taken away for 35 minutes.

The actual sound is a bit lumpy as far as we’re concerned, as Son Of Mustang Ford and Rave Down are from different sessions, but it’s a great album. I love this record. It’s massively flawed, as they all are, but I think you can clearly hear this is just around the time I’d got a Vox AC30 and a Boss reverb pedal as well as the Marshall. There’s something a bit warped about the sound, like it’s been left out in the sun or something. 

Standout track: Rave Down. It was the first recording we were really happy with and it just has this energy to it that is brilliant. 

Mezcal Head (1993)

So Raise is released, then we go on tour, and… the band falls apart almost immediately. Graham Bonner, our drummer, famously left for a sandwich after a show in Boston never to return. We heard he was found wandering in no man’s land by Canadian Mounties. They came on the bus and said “One of your party has defected!” It turned out he could only speak to one member of the entourage, which was [guitarist] Jimmy Hartridge, so Jimmy went in and sat down with him and he said “I can’t go on”. So we gave him enough money to get to San Francisco, where he ended up staying for years. 

So we had to move from no band to getting a band together. We were down to two at one point as our bassist, Adi Vines, had also left before recording began. We had all these songs appearing – Duress was there, which was good, and Duel and Blowin Cool – but we didn’t really have a band. We had to find a drummer.

There were two drummers in line – one of whom had a Ford Mustang, the other didn’t – Jez Hindmarsh didn’t have the Ford Mustang, but he ended up getting the gig. We didn’t get a bass player in time so we covered the bass ourselves. We holed up in the same rehearsal space in Camden Town with an 8-track recorder and set about demoing these songs. It was quite exciting because Jez is quite a different drummer from Graham, and obviously Adi wasn’t there, so it was either me or Jim playing the bass. The rhythm section totally changed, it sounded different and Jez played in a much more expansive way. 

We end up getting in the studio with Alan Moulder again. The funny thing is that apart from the actual personnel of the musicians, the people who were around were the same. The road crew, the recording crew and the management. It astonishes me now when I think about the timeline. When you think about how little I’ve done in recent times, compared to when we were suddenly having to completely reconstruct the band and get an album together and out on the road again.

My thoughts on Mezcal Head are that I would’ve changed the tracklisting slightly. I may have taken A Change Is Gonna Come off, possibly, but I appreciate that that song was quite different and it’s quite a strange song for us. But I would probably replace that with Planes Over The Skyline, which I think should’ve been on the album. And The Hitcher – I think The Hitcher is a classic lost Swervedriver song. Those two songs I think would go on the album, possibly in place of A Change Is Gonna Come and You Find It Everywhere. But I say that and other people say “Oh but I love that song!” or “You can’t replace that one!” and I think that’s what happens in the end – however flawed an album might be, or how much you think you could improve it, in the end people just want it how it is.

The second verse of Harry And Maggie is literal, by the way. Harry is my friend who’s a stone mason, and still is, and he really did get commissioned to redo the gargoyles on the Houses of Parliament. And he really did scrawl “Maggie sucks” on the back of them before they got stuck on. So on the Houses of Parliament there are these gargoyles and they say “Maggie sucks”. And like I say in the song, in 500 years if somebody picks them up, that graffiti will be there. It’s best that they just live there like that, like these songs live within us.

Standout track: I’ve been asked before what I’d say if an alien came down from another planet and asked for the best Swervedriver song, and Duel is probably the most all-encompassing. If there’s a Swervedriver vision, it’s in there somewhere.

Ejector Seat Reservation (1995)

We came back from touring Mezcal Head and hunkered down in the studio, but there was a sea change happening outside the studio as far as what was going on musically. There were people wearing 70s Adidas T-shirts with the three stripes down the sleeve and people had short spiky hair – just a few months before it was long hair and plaid. Things had suddenly changed without a shadow of a doubt. Of course, that sea change extended in our case to A&M dropping us two thirds of the way through the album, which meant consequently Creation did also.

When we did this album, from our own point of view we wanted to change our sound. Mezcal Head had all these drum samples and big sounds but we wanted it to sound more clattery, and although we got Alan Moulder again we wanted actually the sound of Jez’s kit. Half the songs were recorded at our own studio, so it was a much more rough and ready sound. 

There was definitely more English references because we were aware we were perceived as being transatlantic and we wanted to be less American. So instead of Son Of Mustang Ford you’ve got Son Of Jaguar E. I think this album was great – the problem was with the marketing. At the time, Britpop was everything, and by this point all the bands were doing songs that started with the acoustic guitar and then the strings came in. And it was like, “Ahh, for God’s sake” – we’d actually done Last Day On Earth before anyone had released anything like that – I swear! – and the idea behind Last Day On Earth was having strings on this song that would appear towards the end of the album, which would freak everyone out because they’d go “fucking hell, Swervedriver have got strings!”. But McGee didn’t see it. We wanted The Other Jesus to be the single. For me it was The Other Jesus – that’s the song that said Swervedriver’s back, but McGee couldn’t hear it unfortunately. They released Last Day On Earth which was a bullshit selection and, again, I think it probably changed the perception of the band, because people were like “Oh, Britpop’s come along and now Swervedriver have got acoustic guitar and strings”. This track was meant to be the penultimate track on the album, it wasn’t meant to be the lead single. And anyway, Creation then put the album out and dropped us a week later anyway. 

Ejector Seat Reservation didn’t get a fair shot in that it wasn’t released in our biggest marketplace. It didn’t come out in the US, so from that point of view it certainly wasn’t given a fair whack. But I do think there was some great stuff on it. The lyrics on this album were a bit crazy in an interesting way. I remember there were things from dreams being put into the lyrics, but also around that time, because it was the Britpop era, there was a lot of cocaine going around London, so I guess it was cocaine imagery too. 

Standout track: The Birds. The Birds is second only to Duel, I would say, as the greatest Swervedriver track. It’s been a standard of the set for a long time.

99th Dream (1998)

After A&M dropped us, Geffen were wanting to sign us, so we were like “Oh, great, we’ve got another big American label here wanting to put our records out”. They wanted Ejector Seat Reservation but didn’t get it, so they said "Shall we just carry on and get a new record together?” So that’s what we did. 

Then the person who signed us at A&M lost their gig, and they brought in Michael Alago, the guy who discovered Metallica. He came over to cold, rainy Crouch End in February from LA. He was perfectly nice, he came over with a recording engineer, and they wanted to re-jig the album. It was the first time ever in the studio that we weren’t actually at the control desk calling the shots. I remember one morning I was the only one there, sat at the back, and Michael was saying to the producer “I want the acoustic guitars in there and the organ up”, and they did this mix of that song that sounded fucking horrible. That was really quite depressing, it was like “Ugh, god, this is the end”, really – there was only one of us in the studio, none of us has sat at the desk, we don’t even know these people. So that was a nightmare, but it was saved by the fact that Geffen changed their mind and said they didn’t want to put it out after all – but that we could keep it. So then it eventually came out with New York indie label Zero Hour in 1998.

The reception was lukewarm in some quarters, certainly in the UK. But I think it’s become more revered over time. Working on the reissue I realised how much was going on at this time, because there’s a lot of really good material. But what I didn’t like about the album personally was the singing. There was something I was trying to do there and I didn’t do it well, and I really can’t stand the vocals. And I think there was a general harshness to the album which has been softened up in this new remaster. The unreleased tracks on CD3 will probably blow a few people away, actually. I think if you’re going to put out unreleased tracks after a long time they ought to be pretty fucking good. And I think these ones are. They’ve got this energy to them and that really struck me.

We already knew we were going to have to do a double vinyl reissue, so it was a question of if we spread the 11 tracks across four sides or if we added a fourth side. I decided to add a fourth side, because the songs on there were all things that appeared on indie 7”s. So you have Why Say Yeah, 93 Million Miles From The Sun, The Director’s Cut Of Your Life. For me, side four is what makes it more of a whole, because I think those songs create more of an overall picture of what was going on with the band around the time. I think this album is flawed, they’re all flawed, but this representation does emphasise things you might have missed first time around.

Even though I don’t like the singing, I appreciate the songs. I think people will be surprised to hear what’s going on on this record considering it’s an album that was the last album a band did for 17 years. Creatively there’s no sign of the band running out of steam, I think it’s more the marketplace that was running out – we had less road to run on at that point. 

Standout track: That's a tricky one. The one track from this album that does always get in the sets is These Times, so we'll go with that.

I Wasn't Born To Lose You (2015)

In the years after we went on hiatus, sometimes I’d hear a Swervedriver song and think “Ah, that's a good song. Shame I'll never play that ever again". But it felt like the band had its run and I was doing other things, putting out other records.

Initially, we just got back together to play shows, and that was really fun. I think that was probably in 2012 or something. It took a while before we actually recorded a new record. But eventually, it got to a point where Jimmy said, 'Look, we want to do new stuff.' So we started trying to write songs. I remember sending the band the demo for Deep Wound, and I think Steve [George, bassist]'s one-word response was 'beautiful,' and Jimmy's one-word response was 'nasty'. It was quite funny because they both happened to reply with just a single word.

We were very much aware that this was the first album in a long time and that it had to be good or it wasn't worth doing. If it wasn't good enough, we just wouldn't put anything out. But it was really good for me, Jim, Steve, and Mikey, who's playing the drums, actively trying to write an album. We had toured Raise not long before, so we had an idea of how an album should flow in our head. 

I remember sitting down with the three of us at a rehearsal, and Steve said, "I feel we need a Duel, we need something." It's like, yeah, we do, but you can't force these things. Because if you try and write a Duel, you'll screw it up. But then, a few days later, we sort of had it, because Steve sent this piece of music. I thought, "What the fuck is this?" And it turned out it was the track Lone Star, but he'd reversed a section of it. And what it became was Everso, which became like the whole centrepiece for the album. 

For me, and I've said this before, this is my favourite Swervedriver album. It's one that I can actually put on just to listen to, which is quite something. The really interesting thing about the origins of this album is that there's a recording of a sound check in Arizona in 1998; our sound manager recorded it, and I found the tape. Between us playing a couple of songs, you hear a guitar playing Lone Star's melody, and I thought, that's quite cool. What is that? So I played it back. I don't know if it's me or Jimmy – I think it was me. But it was this really good riff that ends up being the main intro riff of Lone Star. So that whole tune came out of two seconds of a sound check in Arizona in 1998. And if Dave our soundman hadn't recorded that and that song, that melody would have floated off into the ether and been lost, or picked up by somebody else. I do quite like the idea of musical archaeology – just finding this tape and this little thing and turning it into something else. 

We definitely wanted to do an album that stood up against all the others, and in the end – and I mean, yeah, personal taste and all that – but for me I think we managed it.

Standout track: Everso. It's the centrepiece, after all, and I think without Everso, the whole album might not have come together quite the way it did.

Future Ruins (2019)

We recorded this album in Los Angeles and Brighton, when we were offered some studio time in Los Angeles at the end of a tour. We had this lovely studio to go to, and two weeks in there. So we just got in there and recorded all this stuff – we recorded, I don't know, 30-ish songs. There's a lot of stuff in there. And then we got back to Brighton to reassemble it. And then did a whole year touring it. 

The standout track is definitely The Lonely Crowd Fades In The Air. That title is a misheard Supremes lyric. The original lyric was 'The lonely cry fades in the air.' I misheard it as 'The lonely crowd.' And I thought, that’s a great lyric, then when I looked it up I realised it actually wasn't the lyric, and that I could claim that lyric. I think there's a desire to sort of subvert the language a little bit sometimes. You can have a rock song, and lyrically you can do anything you want with it. And quite often, people don't even take it in. I mean, even after 30 years, you find out what somebody was singing, and you never knew that's what they were singing. But I always thought if someone is gonna find out after 30 years what you were singing, they might as well have a pleasant surprise, and find that there's just something kind of reasonable going on there.

I became more aware of this probably around 2000 or something – when I started playing solo shows, and I realised that the songs from my back catalogue I was more tempted to solo with were songs that had good lyrics, It didn’t matter if the music was good. Some of the Swervedriver songs don't have that great lyrics, but I found myself playing the ones that had the interesting more meaningful lyrics.

The world’s continuously going to pot, isn't it? And that's in the lyrics. I think some people were a bit sort of disarmed that they felt Swervedriver were doing political lyrics, but they would have missed out on the political lyrics that were on Mezcal Head and Ejector Seat and things. 

It's difficult to have a perspective on this one because it’s so recent. But the title track was great and I love Theeascending, it’s a beautiful song. Spiked Flower was actually a Jimmy riff, and I ended up pretty surprised with the vocal, which I sang late at night – suddenly it was like, ‘oh, holy fuck’, I kind of surprised myself. I think sometimes you hear your own stuff, and when it's something you've recorded and then gone out and toured and played live lots of times, you then have that live version in your head. So you go back, and you hear strange little production things and they can sometimes sound a little out of place.

There's something coalescing in terms of a next album. I mean, literally, we have been radio silent for four years. But we did a bit of recording back in October in Oxford, we just haven't gotten around to finishing it off yet. But there are some songs there, and some other stuff that's creeping up. We've been searching for that mojo, and I think the mojo is coming back.

Standout track: Definitely The Lonely Crowd Fades in the Air. There's something about it that is just… right.

The reissue of 99th Dream, as well as Bolts Of Melody's new album Film Noir, are available on 19 Jan via Outer Battery Records

Briony Edwards

Briony is the Editor in Chief of Louder and is in charge of sorting out who and what you see covered on the site. She started working with Metal Hammer, Classic Rock and Prog magazines back in 2015 and has been writing about music and entertainment in many guises since 2009. She is a big fan of cats, Husker Du and pizza.