Seemingly out of nowhere came Michigan’s The Swill and surprised both me and others with their excellent second EP “Master of Delusion”. As the CD-version of this EP, done by Dystopian Dogs, also included the band’s debut EP, “Thirst For Misery”, it became obvious that The Swill were certainly not newcomers. As I guess I am not the only one who didn’t follow the band from the very first steps, this interview with guitarist Dan McCormick tries to catch up with the history of the band as well as celebrating the release of the impressive,brand new EP.
When was The Swill formed, and by whom? Did all of you know each other from before? What were you intentions with the band at this early stage?
– The Swill was formed in 2012 by guitarists Dan McCormick and Matt Preston. After a few beers and exchanging ideas on guitar we asked Matt Watrous about writing lyrics for a new project. Once he joined up, we found Rael Andrews to play drums and began rehearsing. By the time we decided to record, I had already been thinking of working with my friend Rob Hultz who ended up playing bass on the “Thirst for Misery” EP. I had previously known everyone for a number of years with the exception of Matt Preston who at the time had recently relocated to Michigan to play in Borrowed Time. With the exception of Rob, who is based in Chicago, we all were living on the east side of Lansing, Michigan so everyone else came to know one another through the local music scene. I think our earliest intentions were just to write, play, drink beer and have fun playing music. I always had recording in the back of my mind and when these songs took form we decided to start tracking.
The Swill might seem like an unusual band name. What do you want to communicate with it, and why was it chosen to begin with?
– The name of the band is indeed a bit different. It was derived from both Matt Watrous and Matt Preston’s love of pirates. This is more evident on the artwork for both “Thirst for Misery” and “Master of Delusion” which portray scenes from pirate ships. These guys absolutely love pirates. They originally suggested calling the project Pirate Mann, yes, with two N’s. We couldn’t all agree on that moniker so instead we settled for The Swill.
I don’t think a lot of people here in Europe noticed your first EP “Thirst For Misery”. Was this mainly a digital release with a limited tape only-release in addition? Did you actively seek to promote it and get reviews for it?
– Yes, the “Thirst for Misery” EP was mainly a digital release with limited tape release here in the states. We had a handful of reviews from various internet blogs which helped in selling out all the tapes produced. In addition some of the tapes were sent out with digital download for promotional purposes, but otherwise we were not actively searching for reviews so for the most part it was under the radar.
How do you view this EP today, do you feel it sits nicely alongside “Master Of Delusion” on the CD-release?
– I think it’s a much different recording from both the standpoint of content and production. The “Thirst for Misery” EP is demonstrates more of our rock than metal roots and shows a good contrast in comparison with the “Master of Delusion” tracks. The production on “Thirst for Misery” is less polished than the on “Master of Delusion” and the rawness of the tracks really come through. I think it makes the release more interesting in displaying the progression of the band. Despite being such different recordings I feel they work well together.
The first EP was released towards the end of 2013, so it took three and a half years for you to have another collection of songs out. Is it your involvement in other acts that slowed down the process?
– After the release of “Thirst for Misery”, Matt Preston moved out of state for employment reasons. I had been working on new song structures and by early 2014 I began jamming the songs for “Master of Delusion” with Rael. Rob was busy with Trouble and due to his location from us we decided to enlist Derek Kasperlik who joined us for a live show to on bass. Rael had resurrected an older project called Red Teeth and Derek was active in Mountain Goat. Matt Watrous was still involved in Wastelander and I had started a project called Cruthu, so it took the majority of 2014 to write the rhythm parts with Rael and Derek. During this time Matt Preston was working on some of his other projects like Ghost Tower and Dungeon Beast. By spring of 2015 we began tracking drums and bass for the “Master of Delusion” EP. It took until 2017 for the remainder of the recording to be completed including mixing. Safe to say that our other projects slowed down the recording process but I feel like it also gave us all time to grow musically and “Master of Delusion” is the result.
Do you think “Master of Delusion” turned out differently compared to what would have been the case if you had finished it in 2015?
– Absolutely. I think everyone in the band has had more time to reflect on the music during that extended period of time between the two releases. Nothing was rushed and there was little pressure to finish the tracks. They just came together as time and schedules would allow. If we had written and recorded these tracks back in 2015, I’m certain they would be much different today. I admit there were times when I thought these track might have never been completed, but I’m glad everyone stuck with it and very pleased with the end result.
Combined, you have a quite diverse musical background. What is the common factor that makes it possible for you to be in a band together and create the type of music that you do in The Swill?
– We all come from different backgrounds musically and that is definitely part of what allows us to sound a bit different. If I had to narrow it down though, I would say the one thing that allows The Swill to be a band is our chemistry. Each person brings something unique to the music we create and at the same time complimenting one another’s parts without any preconceived expectations. It has a certain flow and feeling in the way it moves and at the same time knows no boundaries. More of a natural occurrence as we never really discussed our sound or what direction to take the music.
“Bleed The Years” is one of the best tracks of the year for me. Tell us a little on how this song came together. Is the recipe you used here typical for the songwriting in The Swill?
– Thanks for holding it in such high regard. It’s definitely a personal favorite and we all love playing it. “Bleed the Years” was the first track we recorded for the new release. It followed the same songwriting process as the other tracks on “Master of Delusion”. It starts with writing the rhythm guitar as a foundation for the song. I usually do this on acoustic guitar before transposing it to electric guitar and then introduce the song to the drums and bass. After recording the same instrumentation to tape with a rough mix, I send the idea to both Matt Preston and Watrous for review. Vocals follow next and then Matt Preston guitars are written around the vocal patterns and structure of the song. This was the format we followed for writing and recording the EP.
Epic metal is a term that has been used to describe your music, is this something you can live with?
– Absolutely. I think bands like Manilla Road, Candlemass and Cirith Ungol come to mind as epic among other things so I feel honored to have the term describe The Swill.
Seen from the outside, the Michigan scene is very exciting, personally I love bands like Borrowed Time, White Magician and Demon Bitch, which, just like The Swill, have or has had their own unique sound.
– Indeed. There’s a certain amount of excitement that comes with those bands and I’m talking from personal experience as I’m a fan and have seen them all play live numerous times. I’ve lived in Michigan my entire life and there’s always been bands creating unique music here and mostly under the radar. Right now there’s an incredible amount of talent in the Michigan metal scene creating some amazing music. I don’t think it coincidence but rather a reflection of the environment here.
What is it about the environment that helps great bands like these spring forth?
– The environment here is ever changing. Four seasons with often harsh and cold winters. The economy has not been the greatest. So I think that people here are resilient in adapting to change and the conditions in general. The bands and artists here support one another so there’s a real positive music environment for bands to be creative and flourish. We have some great promoters in Detroit that attract touring bands in so the opportunity to play with known bands brings in more people as the scene continues to grow.
A CD-Version featuring the two EPs we have spoken about was recently released on Dystopian Dogs, who have also put out a bunch of other fine stuff. How important is the label for the scene over there?
– The Dystopian Dogs label has three of the most knowledgeable individuals when it comes to heavy metal that I’ve ever known. Victor is such a great promoter so I think it very important that this label exists not only for the music scene here, but for fans everywhere. It’s just a matter of time before more people start paying attention to their releases.
The lyrics for the song “Bizarrian Riders” seem to be quite different compared to the words for the rest of the songs on the new EP, which seems to be more personal and introspective. Are there room for different topics in your lyrics, and does the music influence what the lyrics are about?
– Yes, “Bizzarian Riders” is different lyrically than the rest of the tracks. We wrote “Deeper Dungeons” from the “Thirst for Misery” EP based on one of our favorite classic arcade games Gauntlet. It seemed only right to follow suit and write another song based on another classic. This time we used Golden Axe for inspiration. So there’s clearly room for other topics in our music. When we discussed writing a song based on Golden Axe, the music had already been written and Matt Watrous chose this piece to use for the idea, so it’s safe to say the music influenced the lyrics to some extent.
Your compositions certainly need a handful of listens or more to really fall into place, do you deliberately set out to pen songs that demand a bit from the listener and maybe also from yourself when you perform them?
– I definitely want to captivate our audience and I think these songs demand a bit of attention from the listener. There’s quite a bit to digest from each track and it might take a few times through. It’s not necessarily intentional, but I felt the songs should move like a story and it requires us to really pay attention to detail when performing. Luckily everyone involved has been playing for a number of years so hopefully some of that experience comes through during our live performance.
“Galleon Plunderer” is a great instrumental with some awesome riffs and solo work. Was this one written to be an instrumental, or did it end up this way?
– It really just ended up as an instrumental. Originally I wanted some vocals on that track but as Matt Watrous was writing lyrics for the “Master of Delusion” session it became apparent that there was less room for him to sing and develop vocals over the parts in that song. We put what was later named “Galleon Plunderer” on the back burner and worked on the other tracks. Towards the end of the recording process Matt Preston began writing his guitar parts for “Galleon Plunderer” and we really liked what was going on so we decided it would make a good instrumental piece for the EP.
Not to take anything away from the rest of you, but since Matt is the one I know best from earlier recordings, how would you describe him as a guitarist and songwriter? He is pretty unique to my ears at least…
– As a guitarist and songwriter Matt is definitely unique. Nothing he plays is completely typical and yet he finds a way to make everything sound like it belongs there. He has this ability to change the entire feeling of the song with the direction of his leads. His writing is far beyond his years and I hope people are paying attention. He’s transcended most people’s ability to play guitar. Pretty sure he’s a shape shifting reptilian overlord.
Especially the last EP has an awesome sound. I guess what we hear on the CD is the definitive versions of those songs, with no need to re-record any of that material for a possible full length release?
– I think everyone in the band is very pleased with the way the songs turned out on this recording. Despite never being mastered, the final mixes that George Szegedy and Matt Preston worked on turned out fantastic. I don’t see a need for us to change anything.
What do you see as the next step for The Swill? More and more bands see the EP format as more expedient than the album format. Is it important for you to release a full length album in the future?
– The next step would hopefully be to attract a label to press both EP’s to vinyl. If we could make that happen then all the better. Beyond that the future is uncertain. Matt Preston has recently moved back to Michigan so the opportunity is much greater for us to continue working together. Recently Matt Watrous made a move to the Detroit area but that’s within fair distance from the rest of us. I’d like to think that in the ethereal sense that the conditions are optimal for us to continue playing music together. Only time will tell. In the meantime I hope you all enjoy “Master of Delusion” and thanks for taking interest in The Swill!