Almost a year since my first interview with Dublin trio Swords and the release of their début album Lions & Gold, I sat down with Diane, Ian & Jarlath once again to talk about the record, their future and the band’s upcoming headline show in the Button Factory this month (July 25th).
Since it’s release Lions & Gold has received critical acclaim and propelled the group to appearances on RTÉ’s The Works and more recently a live session for influential DJ Paul McLoone’s radio show on Today FM. However, even during my first meeting with the three-piece it was clear that they wanted to constantly evolve and develop their sound, and one year later this ethos remains the same.
“I’m really proud of it, and what we achieved in the time we gave ourselves” says Diane Anglim about the album. “But once it was done we were ready to move on. I think I’ve only listened to the album in full about seven or eight times since. And when I do listen to it there are things I want to change, because I’m very critical of myself and especially my parts. I’ve always been like that ever since our first E.P”.
Bassist Jarlath Canning talks about the experience of recording the L.P. “It was a huge learning curve for us, we learned so much in the recording of it. Even in terms of writing we’ve learned a lot about how to structure songs and play off each other. I think that was a huge thing we’ve taken from the album.” Canning continues “The main thing for me is that it’s about longevity and creating a past for us to use as a reference on the next recording”.
With Swords now looking forward to their sophomore album drummer Ian Frawls comments on how the group’s songwriting and sound has changed. “The stuff we’re writing at the moment feels more flowing and musical. In the past we have been tagged with the label “electro-pop”, which made sense because the music had that staccato feel to it. But now it’s taken a more alternative, calmer sound and that’s just something that happened naturally”.
“When we were writing Lions & Gold we had in the back of our heads that we could actually leave holes in the songs because we could fill them in with Karl (producer Karl Odlum) in the studio later on because he has such a great ear for how to do that.” Frawls reflects. “Whereas now we are avoiding that. We’re listening more to our own songs and getting them between ninety to one-hundred percent done before we even go into the studio”.
With the expansive, mood-driven sound and large-scale production of Lions & Gold, Swords have always been able to maintain a strong songwriting core to each track something the trio are intent on keeping as part of their music. “I think a huge thing that we’ve done is that we always make sure that under everything the bones of the songs can stand by themselves” comments Jarlath. “This time especially, we’ve all agreed that however the tracks turn out in the studio we want to be able to strip all of that away and still have something that works where Diane can play it on piano or as acoustically as possible. It’s about less density and more purity”.
Indeed, with the band ever-looking to improve and expand artistically with each record, Diane speaks about how this approach will start to appear in Swords live shows and what inspired her and the band to start thinking about the visual side of performing. “We went to see Björk play Electric Picnic last year, and I was completely bowled over by it. And what I loved about it, besides the music, was that there was so much thought gone behind the stage set-up in terms of where she was in relation to the instruments. It felt like a complete sensory experience. You could have been there on your own and had an amazing time”.
“That’s something I hope we will start to develop now” continues Anglim. “Putting a real effort into making a visual show as well as a music show. Also it’s about really letting go while performing, and working on how to do that visually and instrumentally too”.
Ian recalls “There’s been two moments that have changed how we look at performing live in the last year. The first was, as Diane said, Bjork at Electric Picnic and the second was playing support to Ham Sandwich in the Olympia. That was a big gig for us and the venue filled up very early. We are normally used to having the crowd right next to us, but I remember a moment during it that performance when I finally felt it was OK to be that far away from the audience because the energy and openness was still there even in a place large like the Olympia.”
“I think that the Button Factory will be a defining gig for us” Frawls states. “We’re going to playing some of the new songs, we feel confident and we’re also asking ourselves questions like “what’s different from now and when we launched Lions & Gold in Whelan’s last year?”. What’s different is the new songs, how we are performing at the moment and, like Diane said, we’re thinking about the visual side of things too. Also I really like the fact we get to play with Deaf Joe and Elastic Sleep. I think they’re a brilliant choice to have perform with us on the night”.
Tickets to Swords’ headline show in the Button Factory on Friday July 25th are priced at €10 and are available now via entertainment.ie. Doors at 7.30pm with support from Deaf Joe & Elastic Sleep.