Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Everyone I know who knows about Richard Swift - either knows him personally or solely through his music - find themselves getting exasperated quickly in their blushing and energetic approval of the man's songwriting, of his sensibilities, of his knack, of his timelessness and of his genius. They all use that word - that G-word, we all do, when we get going about Dicky Swift. He has the highest approval ratings of any songwriter I've ever come across, this side of Lennon-McCartney. We can't agree on what we what to have for dinner, or how to pray, or how to get along, or how to love, but we can agree on Richard Swift, goddammit. Maybe it's because he exudes all that we'd like to hear out of a person who writes songs as a hobby or for a living. He writes songs that are forceful, innocent, damaged and resplendent without being tricked out and "worked on." It's as if they were just picked, like flowers from a bed down by an undisturbed, freshwater stream somewhere out of harm's way. They are songs that were meant, from their inception, to be the objects of affection for the needles of turntables and people who geek out about authenticity in their music, people who get defensive about their record collections and what they'll let themselves be joined by. The first time that we taped Swift in Austin, during our first trip down to SXSW two years ago, the control room was jammed with people hanging on every word he sang, performing songs solo at the upright piano in Big Orange. Sitting Indian-style on the floor and on the arms of couches - all with sugar-high, glazed looks on their faces and covering their eyes - were all of the Cold War Kids, half of Voxtrot, half of the late Sound Team and all of us sat in stunned amazement at the man as well. He was all we listened to down and back, into and out of Austin, as adoring of the songs as we'd always been. To this day, that session is still referred to as a magical experience - even as it came the morning after a blowout birthday celebration with friends. We caught him in Austin again this past spring. He had the same black dinner coat on, only this time he came with a full band and he was just as enchanting, performing three songs from his newest, "The Atlantic Ocean." Two of the songs found an earlier home on an EP called "Ground Trouble Jaw" that he released last year, which featured Swift returning to the territory that he's so exceptional with: being sentimental and being self-deprecating. There's a familiar tone to a lot of Swift's writing that reflects both his opinions and those that his biggest fans have been expressing for so long. He's gone along as the forgotten man, a guy who makes such great art and wiles away as an obscurity. He writes about his obscurity and the invisibilities of the common man as well - people who get the dirt kicked on them, their noble hearts twisted and spun and have their eyes well up occasionally in frustration. He's been dressed up (that black blazer) for the letdown some many times now, hopes dashed and diced into pieces. He's been ignored by the Lady Luck that he sings about on "The Atlantic Ocean" in a song that bears her name, and still his resentment of the criminalities of these slights is light and rarely coarse. It's more of a shrug and a sigh, a whatever that allows him to keep the chin up, crack open a well-earned beer at the end of the day and sit down to a nice dinner with his family. He has a song on "Ground Trouble Jaw" called "The Bully" that had to be inspired by some encounter with a dickhead. Swift sings, "Hey buddy - nice jacket and nice fucking curly hair too. It looks great. You gonna say you're sorry yet for leaning on my car? You gonna say you're sorry? Hold on, second verse" and then after the verse, the bully's back, "Yeah, nice ending Jack, jackass." It's such an old school sound, like Smokey Robinson doing a Johnny Cash impersonation, and yet it's signature Swift, once again taking his frustrations and relative anonymity to task, making another caramelized drop of goodness. Again, to recap, Richard Swift is a genius.
Richard Swift Official Site
Secretly Canadian Records