Guitar Player, June 2001
Featuring members of the Mavericks, Wilco, Sixpence None the Richer, and Cheap Trick, Swag might be the world’s only underground supergroup. The band’s first full-length release, Catch-all (Yep Roc), provided an opportunity for the members to write music and play songs that wouldn’t fly in their 'full-time' groups.
“The record was made because none of us had the chance to explore the music that inspired us as kids”, says co-guitarist Doug Powell - Swag’s 'token non-star' in a band that includes Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson, Wilco’s Ken Coomer, and the Mavericks’ Robert Reynolds. The music that influenced Powell and friends includes the Small Faces, the Zombies, the Byrds, and the Beatles. Elements of all those bands can be heard on Catchall - jangly 12-strings, ringing acoustics, and plenty of AC30 snarl.
The tunes succeed in maintaining the childlike innocence that inspired their writing with recorded performances that are playful and ragged. “That was partially premeditated and partially mandated by time and money constraints', explains Powell. “We had seven tunes that we wanted to record and mix in seven days!”
To create their power-pop stylings, Powell and co-guitarist Reynolds called upon the band’s collection of vintage gear: a Vox Phantom 12-string, a Rickenbacker 330, a Fender Telecaster, Gibson J-45 and Dove acoustics, and assorted Supro, Fender, and Vox amps. One nod to modern technology was a Line 6 Pod. “A lot of my stuff was tracked with my Rickenbacker through the AC30 setting on the Pod”, says Powell. “You have to crank the channel volume on the Pod - which represents the cut control on an AC30 - in order to get that Vox-style high end. Once you do, it’s pretty convincing on tape.”
While several of the songs on Catchall were fairly well thought out, others were concocted on the spot. “I played all the guitars on the demo for “When She Awoke”, says Powell, “but then I let the other guys play them in the studio to give the song more of a band feel. “Near Perfect Smile” was the exact opposite. Nothing was planned out for that one - we wrote it in the studio while we were waiting for our producer to mix a tune.”
That spontaneity also led to Reynolds’ off-the-cuff guitar solo in “Please Don’t Tell”, which he cut while he was recording the vocal. “I’m not the most technically astounding guitarist, says Reynolds, who plays bass in the Mavericks, “but I can get in there and create something that’s my own. I’ve always believed that if you give a kid crayons, he’ll create some serious art. It’s the same with music. Grab an instrument - even if it’s not your main instrument - and play what you can on it. It might just become something beautiful.”
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