Extending the Swim Deep family with a host of collaborations on their new project, the band speak on making it big across the globe, and creativity stemming from solitude.
They’ve toured the world, built themselves an incredible fanbase, and curated a unique sound, but now Swim Deep are emerging from the depths with something a little more experimental. Having seen exceptional success from their first previous studio albums, lead singer Austin Williams grew frustrated at the sound of his own voice on the band’s tracks, and so embarked on journey down a different, more collaborative path.
For their latest EP, ‘Familiarise Yourself with Your Closest Exit’, Swim Deep are exploring the route of collaborations, with an aim of building friendships globally, and allowing access to future tours around the world. A friend recommended a Thai band called Dept who had been a long-term fan of Swim Deep, and remarkably were in the crowd for the 2014 Swim Deep Converse concert in Thailand. Falling deeply in love with the country, and wishing to return at the next possible opportunity, Swim Deep scheduled another concert in what they call the ‘Land of smiles’. However, like many others, their plans were scuppered due to pandemic-related disruption. However, it in fact appeared to provide Swim Deep with an immense spark of collaborative creativity.
During the lockdown, Williams, sitting in his girlfriend’s garden writing music, began fantasising over who Swim Deep could team up with for their latest project. Building on their friendship with Thai band Dept, and their desire to expand their fanbase in Asia, the band became fully engaged in the collaboration process and ran with it. Fast forward to now, their brand new EP, ‘Familiarise Yourself with Your Closest Exit’, is solely curated through collaborations.
Having already received support on the project’s first three releases, “On The Floor” ft. Phoebe Green, “World’s Unluckiest Guy” ft. Hatchie and “Big Green Apple” ft. Nell, when Swim Deep played the EP live for the first time to a sold-out comeback show at London’s 100 Club last night, they were met with rapturous receipt.
There’s often a sense of uncertainty that comes with exploring the unknown, but it’s fairly safe to say that Swim Deep have courageously cast their lines out and are reeling in a new era.
Having toured the likes of the UK, Europe, USA, China and Japan, which was your favourite, and is there anywhere still on the bucket list?
Swim Deep: James is like the traveller of the band. When we go to venues, he is the first one to go and see all the landmarks and see what is what’s going on.
We feel like whenever we go somewhere we haven’t been to before it is always the most fun. But especially when it’s places like Thailand and Japan and China because you have no concept of what those kinds of countries are going to be like. We remember when we were in China there were so many cool kids, and you just never hear about that in the news. There was a music festival we played where we watched like Chinese Hip-Hop bands and because it’s so insular as a country, it’s things that you’re never exposed to.
Anywhere else you’d like to play?
Yeah South America, one hundred percent. We haven’t been to Brazil.
We think that’s another thing that we’ve mentioned before is that there’s always this thing where bands always want to do Europe and America, and obviously Japan, but then bands always seem to have that one extra territory where they have a fanbase, but for us it’s Thailand. That’s one place that we’ve been able to go back to. Australia would be good, but it’s so far away.
How did you find collaborating with Thai duo Dept on the new single “Good News”, and how did the partnership happen?
Well, we’ve always wanted to kind of build on the buzz that we feel like we have out there, and we wanted to go back there. We were thinking how we could go out there more, and we thought one way would be to collaborate with someone out there, so that was our grand plan. Then our friend Onsiri who lives in Bangkok, whenever we do gigs out there, she’s the music industry out as far as we’re concerned, she recommended this label called Small Room and this band called Dept and we really liked them, and we just thought – why are they not heard in England or in the world? It just feels like it was such a good way to combine our fan bases, and it opened up a door to a load of bands that we’d never heard of, and building a bridge between different kinds of national music cultures. But we think even before that, we went out to Thailand in 2014, it was such a good gig that we were really excited when we got the opportunity to go back again, and it’s just always been a place where we’ve had really memorable events and shows, so that’s why we wanted to collaborate with one of the artists from there anyway.
Dept were in the crowd for the Converse show which was which was 2014 for the ‘Where The Heaven Are We’ show, so that’s a nice connection.
How does it feel to have developed such a loyal following in Thailand in particular?
Yeah, great because it means we been able to go back, but the first time we went there and we played in this disused shopping centre, and you have no idea if these people have even heard your music, then to turn to turn up, and play to a sold out show, with all these really cool young kids who know all the words, and to have that kind of reception, it feels validating. It’s the same as when we first had fans, it was that same kind of feeling. We think that’s why we crave it so much because over anything it feels like validation, like when people are excited about your music coming out, and what you’ve done already, it feels so good. They’re excited about the future of Swim Deep, not just the past.
I think there’s kind of this sense of, I’m not sure if loyalty is the right word, but some of these places that are quite far away, they stay excited about the band. It’s not like in the UK where the cycle is so short of new bands coming out all the time. I think in places like Thailand, if you’re a UK band and you’ve been putting out albums, it’s always exciting when you come back and visit again.
Also, you said that this collaboration was born out of being bored of your own voice. Do you feel a renewed vigour for playing live and making music?
Yeah, definitely. We feel like every time we record, and we write and then record that music, and it comes out as a good product that’s good enough for us to release, we feel that definitely. We think it’s given us a bit more confidence in the scope that we have as a band as well, and what we are as a band where we like to kind of push the envelope of what we’re what we’re doing. We think it’s opened up so many doors for us.
And what’s the story behind the name, ‘Familiarise Yourself With The Closest Exit’?
It came about when we were on a plane to, it was during maybe just after ‘Mother’s’. It was just a sign on the plane, and I remember being terrified, and everyone was pretty scared for some reason on that flight, and we went through our terrified of flying phases.
And yeah, I just saw that sign, and it kind of resonated. It was like one of those things that you see that you see a lot and you don’t really think about it, and then you think about it, I just thought it was really cool. It meant a lot. We actually had it as a title for a song a few years ago but that was the end of that Swim Deep as we knew it.
It was when Dave was getting involved, and like he was amazing, but it was when we were in that grotty little fucking rehearsal room that we rented off Wolf Alice, we call them the crack years, it was just dark, Iwejust remember we had no money, we used to take to the studio a packet of digestives, a Lucozade and a block of hash, and just throughout that whole month, we just nibbled it, and that was it.
That was all we had. And then Zach quit pretty soon after that. That was the turning point for the band. So, the title is a reminder of dark times, in a number of ways.
Talk me through some of the themes and experiences that are discussed on the record.
Love, family and relying on relying on your family to listen to you through the dark times, and really them relying on you and how that is effective on you. ‘World’s Unluckiest’, the general theme was friendship, love and relationships, to be honest, and that’s kind of like all we had to really think about during lockdown was other people, hours reflecting on that in such solitude.
When you were writing the songs, you were fantasising about who you could collaborate with. Did every artist you initially thought of working with come to fruition?
No, definitely not. We’re so ambitious, but we knew that it wasn’t gonna be easy to just get people. It was kind of like we got people that were friends of the band, or that we were fans of, and they were mutual fans of. People that really meant something to us as a band anyway and that have influenced us. I asked Beabadoobee for ‘Big Green Apple’ to do the bit that Nell now sings, and she was kind of up for it. Actually, to be honest, she said the song was really good, but it just didn’t happen. I know she doesn’t need to be collaborating with Swim Deep, but we think her voice is really cool. But we’re really glad that it was Nell that sung that in the end, because that was the scratch vocal that she recorded, we were recording it in a room and we needed someone to record that bit, and she did that. We thought her voice was really good.
What about the other artists? Were they people you already had a connection with, or people you aspired to work with for a long time?
Hatchie was quite a good one, because we first saw Hatchie at The Great Escape, and then we made friends with them when they played their first shows in the UK, and we’ve been to see them whenever they’ve come back.
They reached out to us as a fan of Swim Deep and ‘Mothers’ especially really, and he was talking about his band, and then we went back and forth online just talking about music and became friends. He then came over to England with his girlfriend Harriet who is Hatchie and they played a show, and we were like “this is fucking amazing”. It’s incredible music. Then we just kind of became friends with them, we think there’s a mutual appreciation of each other’s music. Her music has influenced the whole EP, not just that one song. And then Phoebe [Green] obviously we went on tour with her. She’s incredible.
Phoebe is one of those classic sorts of stories where we asked her to support us when we were touring the album ‘Emerald Classics’ and just became really good friends with her on tour. We had some pretty mad nights out and like Newcastle and other places, and she’s just a good energy, perfect energy for the EP.
It’s also quite nice with Phoebe because she’s signed to Chess Club who are our old label. So, it’s almost like it’s done in the family a little bit. In our opinion, there’s some kind of like, mutual heritage.
That song ‘Darklands’ you were just talking about is another song that was written around the ages ago around the time of ‘Mothers’ but it was never really finished at the time, but it was one that we always really liked and we were in synth mode. But we were really happy that that one’s been brought out again and made like 10 times better because Harriet is such a good vocalist, and just made into the ethereal banger that it always should have been.
And if you could collaborate with any artist dead or alive, who would it be?
We know there are so many like amazing vocals that could feature, people with amazing vocals and melodies that could feature on songs but as a collaboration we feel like David Friedman as a producer is a good one.
That was actually someone we mentioned, we’ve been mentioning him for years. We remember when we were doing the second album, we wanted David Friedman to produce it, he did the Flaming Lips album, and that MGMT album that’s our main reference for him the way that he made ‘Kids’ and ‘Time to Pretend’ when he got those drums that sounded like can, also Pete Kember from Sonic Boom Spectrum.
We’d love to write songs for like Cyndi Lauper or something, we feel like that would be good.
You’re about to play a show at the 100 Club. Having received such high praise from the first two tracks off the EP, are you excited to see what the reaction will be like from a live audience?
Yeah, we’re nervous to be honest. We always feel like when you play something live, the work is being given birth to and it’s out in the world. And obviously, you get an instantaneous reaction. So, we’ll know if it’s good or not.
We’re quite up for it, though. Because to be honest, we were just thinking about all the times that when we first started as a band, we were constantly kind of playing new songs, and on tour playing them, it would gain attention by us playing them. I just think that never really happens anymore. Like, it’s kind of not a good idea to play all your shit new songs that no one knows live if they’re not ever going to get released, but yeah, we’re quite excited to just get in the set and get some energy behind it.
We were rehearsing all day yesterday, and Placebo were rehearsing next door, which was proper professional, huge unit of roadies and techies and stuff there. And apparently, they said we sounded good, so we were all quite buzzing from that. So that was a nice little kick before the show today. This has been James, Austin, and we had a bit of Kev and a little bit of Robbie at the end.