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Swervedriver's track-by-track guide to new album Future Ruins

(Image credit: Steve Gullick)

As Swervedriver wrapped up a series of dates devoted to performing their classic albums Raise and Mezcal Head at the tail-end of 2017, one thing became clear to the band's vocalist and chief songwriter Adam Franklin: the time to record another album was nigh. 

"That tour finished in LA, so it seemed like the perfect time to record," Franklin tells Louder over the telephone from his Oxford home. "The previous album, I Wasn't Born To Lose You, was also recorded on the end of a bout of touring, so we just figured that was a good time to do it. You're in the sense of the fact that you've just played to an audience who are right there, and each song's got to have an impact. It puts you in that mindset, which is probably good for us. It means you can have a higher level of quality control."

Piling into an LA studio, Franklin remembers that while the writing and recording process came easily, whittling down the songs which would finally make up Future Ruins was more of a challenge. "It was quite quick – I think it was five days to do the drums and bass and then four more days to the guitars. But this time we didn't really know what we were going to come out with, because we just had a bunch of ideas and by the end of the two weeks we came away with 30 different tracks." 

An instinctive successor to 2015's I Wasn't Born To Lose You – "it does feel like it's a second part to it, perhaps" – the songs that did make the cut are laced with familiar traits: returning protagonists, muscular storytelling and a sense of obscure romanticism. And for a band who pioneered "space travel rock'n'roll", it follows that a futuristic sci-fi theme knots many of the tracks together.

"The interesting thing," says Franklin, "is that before we went out there I was looking at 10 songs, and I think from my initial list of 10 only four actually made it onto the album. Because in the end, things come along and surprise you."

Here, Franklin talks us through Swervedriver's new album Future Ruins one song at a time.

Swervedriver - Future Ruins

1. Mary Winter
2. The Lonely Crowd Fades In The Air
3. Future Ruins
4. Theeascending
5. Drone Lover
6. Spiked Flower
7. Everybody’s Going Somewhere And No-One’s Going Anywhere
8. Golden Remedy
9. Good Times
10. Radio-Silent

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1. Mary Winter

"I've got a feeling this was the last song we recorded. We'd almost broken everything down, and it was like, 'Oh, shit, we should really give this one a go'. There was a bit of urgency because it was the last day. The demo was much more mid-tempo – it was kind of mellow. I stood there with [drummer] Mikey and said 'I think this needs to be quite hard-hitting – this song needs a bit of urgency' and started playing that guitar bit. Then everyone was like, actually, that urgency is great, just play it all the way through like that.  

"Lyrically, it ended up being this thing about a spaceman, which has cropped up over a few releases I've done over the years – a song called Walking In Heaven's Foothills which is on a Bolts Of Melody album, a Toshack Highway song called Just Landed, and on a song I did with Sam Fogarino from Interpol called Athens 5 – but this is the first time the spaceman character has made it onto to a Swervedriver record. I quite like the fact that you've got this character continuing over the years. I was wondering about, if you were floating out, drifting out of orbit, what kind of recorded sounds of the Earth would you like to hear to remind you of home. There are various things – like if you're in a swimming pool and you hear the sound of kids screaming and splashing in the water, or even just walking around and you hear the birds tweeting – that we would miss about the Earth if we had to go out into the universe."

2. The Lonely Crowd Fades In The Air

"The melody on the verses is essentially like Auld Lang Syne played by The Clash or something, and it just seemed to have this flow. The whole lyrical thing really took off with the title, which is a misheard lyric from Supremes B-side Love Is Here And Now You're Gone. There's a spoken word section in each verse, and in the final spoken word part Diana Ross says something like, 'You stole the keys to my heart threw my love away,' and I then I thought it was 'And the lonely crowd fades in the air'. But one night I thought, 'Is that actually the lyric?' I Googled it and apparently it's 'The lonely cry fades in the air,' but I'd always heard it as 'the lonely crowd', and I just thought, well, in that case, I'll take that. 

"There's something evocative [about it], and then that leads on to the state of the world – the lonely crowd, and the fact that bodies of people can change things, but within those bodies we're all alone, essentially. There's also a little mention of the internet – 'In space no one can hear you cry, you have to send me links to your dreams' – and it's another thing about being out in space. It could be [about] the future, and us all having to fly out and buy real estate on Mars, but it's really just as we stumble into the end of days. It's a bit sci-fi, I guess: it's that kind of vision of the future that existed in the 50s or 60s. And then now we're actually here, it's almost like the future was put on put on hold once they finished the Space Race and realised that maybe they should put funding into things on Earth. But of course, man is still floating out there, and it's mind-blowing really."

3. Future Ruins

"I was thinking about where this music came from, because I just started playing around with those four little chords that are the main part of the song, and I think it might be a reference to the Aphex Twin tune #3, which is just this beautiful, eight-minute long thing. It's instrumental, but if you go on YouTube there's loads of people saying they want it played at their funerals and all this stuff. We were on an endless Canadian tour a few years ago I was just listening to that song non-stop, because we were doing these eight-hour drives and that was the only thing keeping me sane. So I think that's probably where the the chord sequence arose from. 

"Lyrically, it is probably the most direct as far as 'We're ruled by fools'. It mentions rocket fuel so there's the space, nuclear element again. All the words were written when we were in LA, I started singing 'We're ruled by fools,' and it was quite direct, I suppose, about the current era. I think there are plenty of fools in charge – right now, as we speak, the US government has been closed down and the UK government is in ultimate chaos. Without naming any names, you wonder if any of these people really are there to make things better or if it's an ego trip. I think there are plenty of politicians who would very much want to make things better in the world, but one person's better is another person's very much worse."

4. Theeascending

"There's a Northern Soul song called Turning My Heartbeat Up by The M.V.P.s, which I was listening to because I went through a bit of a Northern Soul phase, and there's a little melody in there that I thought was nice, so I adapted that. I later realised that they probably got it from John Barry, because I think it's the James Bond theme You Only Live Twice

"It seems quite narcotic and dreamlike – I wanted to get a couple of lyrics about dreams so I was canvassing a few friends about 'Had any good dreams lately?' Sometimes you can't really make up something from a dream because there's usually something so wacky that happened. So there's a line about dancing on high walls, archangels ascending – I'm not entirely sure what's going on there, but it kind of makes sense to me. 

"The whole section with the guitars going crazy, I was quite pleased that one of the reviews described that as a career high. So that's quite good, to get them calling it a career high after however many years. This is probably my favourite song on the album. I really like the guitar melodies, and there's the whole middle section that I really enjoy playing. The fact that it also goes from very tenderly picked chords or notes to the big noise out at the end as well. There's lots of scope for going from very quiet to very loud – that old trick."

5. Drone Lover

"Drone Lover was one I didn't really think was going to be on the album. It's a song I've had knocking around for quite a long time, going back before I Wasn't Born To Lose You, but for some reason I wasn't really sure about where it was going and never really brought it up. We were just playing songs in the studio and someone else – probably TJ the engineer – said 'Well, this one's pretty good'. Since we were going through all the ideas we knocked out of version of this. 

"Somebody described this as being like space rock Teenage Fanclub, which I quite like the sound of. The lyrics were written quite a few years ago. It's about Warfare; talking about the whole drone thing, it's Modern Warfare, you know. I guess it's quite different for us, or maybe not – it does remind me of older songs like Flawed, which was on our second EP. It's big chunky Fanclub chords – we've always been big fans of the Fannies – and it's got one of those kind of melodies. 

"When we put the album together, people were like, 'I really like Drone Lover,' and then it was like, 'That should be the second single'. I wasn't sure if it should be, but Chris at the label said 'Trust me – we'll put that out second' and it seems to have gone down well and people have been really loving it. There were a few people sending messages like, 'Oh my god, this is amazing!' It was nice to have Bob Mould giving us a bit of props."

6. Spiked Flower

"This is all Jimmy's guitar. If we were going to compare it with another Swervedriver song it might be Lazied Up, which is a very old EP track that has a more rock'n'roll sound. We were recording in LA and we went to see Television play Marquee Moon and this riff appeared – I was thinking of it as being like the Television song. I just went to singing 'Why don't you talk to me?' and that seemed like quite a cool idea for the refrain. It doesn't sound like Television in the end. 

"It's quite interesting because I only sing on this one, so it's a different outlook when it's not your original music and there's more freedom to move around. I had a bunch of lyrics written in my phone and I kept thinking, 'Well, I should really commit to trying out a vocal here,' so one night I just did it at home with a laptop and went through and sang whichever line first came into my own line of vision. I was thinking I'd have to rearrange it and chop it up afterwards, but actually what I found was that it just made sense – it was done once and I was like, 'Actually, I think that's the way it should be'. That's partly why the vocal on that sounds really distorted, because it wasn't recorded on a particularly good system. Then we went into the studio and I tried to re-sing it and, again, it was one of those things where you can't better the original take. They used to call it demoitis – you'd do a demo and then you'd go into the studio and you couldn't improve on it. But of course in the modern era you do a demo and then it can be quite easily thrown into the template of the song anyway."

7. Everybody’s Going Somewhere And No-One’s Going Anywhere

"The title came from around about the time of the last album. We were playing a festival in Portugal and we were at the airport waiting for our flight, and I was just aware of all these people running and rushing around. I was just thinking – where's everybody going? Does it matter where they're going? And I just started thinking about people that – there might be an old couple, an 80-year-old couple from Italy or somewhere. They've never actually been on a plane, they've never really left their part of the world, they've just had a perfectly nice existence drinking wine and eating good food and they've lived a long, fulfilling life without having to run around like these businessmen getting heart attacks at the airport. That was what was going through my head with the title. 

"This was the one that was plucked out by TJ the engineer. We were at a hotel in LA and I was looking for a track on my computer. I pressed play on this and listened to a little bit of it and then switched it off. Then TJ asked what it was and I said, 'Oh, it was just something, I don't think it's a Swervedriver idea.' And he said 'No, no, try it,' so I played it and he said 'We're recording this.' From there, the title lead on to all this other stuff. I initially thought it would be an instrumental, then I tried singing over it which didn't really make sense. Then I thought, I'm going to have to try a spoken word thing – which I'd never really tried before, but I guess I just about get away with. 

"It's also about the fact that all this stuff has been going on – I didn't really want to bring up the Brexit word at all but it's unavoidable. Just the idea that younger people might not now have the opportunity to go and live and work in a country in Europe, somehow that's tied in with this idea that we're stuck on this rock and they're closing the borders and being close-minded. So in this song he's at the airport and he just thinks, screw it, I'm just going to get this flight to China, or go grow tomatoes in Sicily which is kind of the line. That lead to other things going on, like homelessness. It seems like the last few years, everywhere you go there's more and more homelessness, and it's not because they're lazy or whatever, which is the received wisdom, but it's because they're no longer getting the support that they require in a country which is the sixth richest economy in the world. Whether it's in the centre of Oxford, which is a very small but very rich city to where we were recording an LA, you just despair really. All of this stuff was obviously swirling around our minds when we were recording, so it's all in there lyrically."

8. Golden Remedy

"Keith Cameron, who did the blurb for the album, he asked me 'Well, what is the golden remedy?' and I said, 'Well, yeah, I'm not sure. That's the $24,000,000 question I suppose.' 

"This is Jimmy's music again and there's two of his tunes which we stuck together. With the lyrics on this, I was watching and reading stuff on the old East German Stasi and how in many ways they were almost as sinister as the Nazis from 10, 20 years previous. So lyrically that's what's going on. There's a mention of the wall coming down – and of course, people talk about walls a lot these days as well – and the fact you've got to look over your shoulder, and about people disappearing, burning the books. I quite like the fact that that's the lyrical idea but the music ends up being this almost sunny Californian music. Berlin is interesting because that was the hub of evil back in Second World War – that's where Hitler's bunker was. Of course now, today, Berlin's a very progressive place and Germany has become a very progressive country in many ways also, so it's kind of fascinating, Berlin."

9. Good Times

"This song title was knocking around the mid-90s, actually – probably around the time of our third album, 99th Dream. I remember scribbling it down thinking it could be a good name for a song, but then the song never really occurred. 

"This song was essentially written around the time of Deep Wound, which was the first song we released from I Wasn't Born To Lose You, after 16 years or whatever. Good Times Are So Hard To Follow was knocking around as well, but we didn't really finish it off. 

"With the words, somebody asked me to write a song for this film called California Solo, so I was like, 'Yeah, I'd love to do that'. In the film – which is set in California, and Robert Carlyle plays the part of a Scottish Britpop musician who's decided to stay in California, but then he gets pulled over for a DUI, and he's almost going to get deported back to Britain – Robert Carlyle ends up singing the song. They were filming it when I was over there, so I went out and met Robert. He sang it and said 'Oh, I hope I can do the song justice'. This song is quite different but it does have the same words.

"This song is basically a re-write of our song The Birds from Ejector Seat Reservation. It's got a similar chord sequence and melody. It's something we've always done – gone back and reworked old tunes, or elements of our own songs. There are examples of us borrowing from ourselves."

10. Radio Silent

"I think this is an example of a song that comes from somewhere that's out of your control. You don't really know where it's headed, then things get added and it's like 'Oh, my god this is moving somewhere else'. Then you're thinking, 'Well, there's got to be some sort of vocal or lyric to it,' – then this lyric came out which is like a mantra or something. You end up with something you didn't intend to write at all, and then at the end you're thinking, 'Wow, I'm not sure what to make of this, but there it is'. 

"Sometimes you can step back and think, 'Well I'm not going to go that far out, we should step back from the edge a bit here,' but with this we were thinking, y'know, we may as well go further out if we can. Like, Everybody's Going Somewhere didn't seem like a Swervedriver song, so probably on the last album we might've said 'Let's put that to one side,' but I think this time there's things flying off in all sorts of different directions. I like how Spiked Flower comes before Everyone's Going Somewhere, because that's probably the biggest extreme between two songs on this album, and it's the same with Radio-Silent. There's plenty of things – ideas or techniques – that we've used before on that tune, but just layering these drones and things sounded great and we ended up with this big tune, which to me sounds like an album closer. I quite like it when albums end on a long sprawly thing."

Swervedriver's new album, Future Ruins, is out on 25 January via Rock Action/Dangerbird Records.