Supergroup Swag puts it all
together for the love of pop.
From the Junk Drawer
Pack rats Swag set the power pop free
It's been at least ten or eleven years since the guys in SWAG had day-jobs. Like it's some sort of badge of honor, they smile and revel in the beauty of being a full-time musician. They truly love their jobs. With Swag, a side project and supergroup of sorts, that job just happened to turn into a pop music dream. And unlike most side projects where the results too often don't live up to the potential or hype, Swag is a productive alliance that plays like the classic pop you've always loved, the stuff you heard on the radio in your mom's old Dodge Dart.
But this isn't some novelty act. This is the sound of seasoned players creating music they love for the fun of it. At the core of Swag you'll find Robert Reynolds (The Mavericks), Jerry Dale McFadden (The Mavericks, Sixpence None the Richer) and Ken Coomer (Uncle Tupelo, Wilco). Joined by Tom Petersson (Cheap Trick) and Nashville solo artist Doug Powell, this group has a knack for astonishing craft, sophistication and energy.
Originally conceived by McFadden and Reynolds while touring together with The Mavericks, Swag was designed to be a different kind of band. Over thousands of miles and countless hours, they shared their mutual love of pop music and the concept of a utopian band.
"We were touring with Mary Chapin Carpenter in 1995", Reynolds recalls. "Late at night on the bus, Jerry and I would listen to groovy new pop records or break out a classic selection like the Hollies. The next thing you know we're putting these songs together."
"We wanted to try to dilute every known cliché about bands and lead singers and have everybody writing and contributing and sharing", adds Reynolds. And Swag was born. Songs were written and recording dates were booked. It was during these sessions that Coomer and Powell made their way into the group.
"We were a loose enough outfit that any visitor was welcome to become a part of the album", Reynolds explains. "We were really kind of putting it together in the studio. We had the creative process in mind and invited any and all to contribute."
Catch-all, their full-length debut on Yep Roc Records, is an enormously good-natured and catchy batch of songs. A collection of work recorded over the course of several years, these twelve power-pop ditties clock in around thirty-five minutes and make for a consistent album that holds together remarkably well.
An offering from music fans to music fans, Catch-all is a love poem to the sounds of days gone by, equal parts adoration and inspiration. The music is highly derivative, and that's not an insult. Listen closely and you'll hear the sonic fingerprints of Todd Rundgren, Ray Davies, Brian Wilson, Ronnie Lane and the Beatles. It's literally a "catch-all" of sounds and musical influences.
"When She Awoke" emerges as Jellyfish-flavored majestic pop with layers of harmonies and a cinematic flourish. "Please Don't Tell" plays like ‘60s pop nirvana, a marriage of The Zombies and The Kinks. There's a little Paul McCartney by way of Elliott Smith in "Near Perfect Smile" and "Different Girl" is a Beach Boys style charmer owing much to "Caroline No".
"The title Catch-all just seemed fitting", Reynolds remembers. "Some people call them 'catch-all drawers' and others call them 'junk drawers'. It's a drawer full of things you wouldn't throw away, so you just kind of put them somewhere. You don't really know what you need them for. You collect them and wait. The album represents, in a way, that whole concept, as does the group itself."
The common denominator here is an honest love for music. But Catch-all never sounds like a collection of genre exercises. It's actually a thoroughly modern collection that stands up well on its own, thanks to the combined talent and energies of the people involved.
"I might be giving the band too much credit", adds Reynolds humbly, "in saying that we tried to create an album full of little gems. It's one of those records that isn't focused on a single or a hit. It's really about a bunch of songs that reflect our musical nature."
Having just returned from a small tour through the Carolinas and up to Tennessee, Swag is preparing to share its musical nature and artistic camaraderie with Kentuckians as they make their way to Louisville.
As Reynolds explains, "These guys are really just so much fun to be around. I take a lot of pride in the fact that we are all kind of relaxed and mature in our approach to music. We're a bunch of old guys driving around in a van. And everybody's got such a great spirit about it. We're all just so thankful because we've been around for a while, doing this long enough to know that you can't take anything for granted."
Swag plays the Phoenix Hill Tavern on Saturday, August 4, at 8:30pm. Tickets are $ 8 in advance, $10 at the door. There will also be an in-store performance at Ear-x-tacy Records (Bardstown Rd.), 2pm.
August 2, 2001
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