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Dollars to Pounds: Swim Deep

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San Francisco-born Kim Taylor Bennett fled to Europe at 11, currently resides in London and once played guitar onstage with Green Day. She’ll report on new British music every other week.

A few months ago I went to see Swim Deep play in the black-walled sticky basement of my local pub, the Sebright Arms. They looked like the boys I ran around with as a teenager in the ’90s: oversized T-shirts, checked flannel, hair center-parted and falling in lank curtains around their faces. On record, songs like “Honey” mooch along slacker-pop grooves with guitar tones swiped from The Cure and Echo and The Bunnymen, the perfect soundtrack to a movie montage about two outsider teens falling for each other over one sprawling, getting-to-know-you adventure that spans day to night to dawn. The video for “King City”, their crushed-out ode to Warpaint’s Jenny Lee Lindberg, is an accurate snapshot of teenage Britain: aimless meandering in a shopping mall, flicking through records, buying a kebab, skinning up, doing shots, playing fussball incorrectly (spinning! amateurs!) and looking forlorn in a bedroom plastered with posters. The tune takes a certain pleasure from affections destined to be unrequited.

In the sweaty basement on the night of the concert, the quartet—that’s Austin (the oldest at 21), Zach, Higgy and Cavan (the youngest at 19)—were scrappy and ramshackle. Technical proficiency was not their strong suit, but it didn’t matter, the sold-out crowd was crashing into each other dancing, and Austin looked equal parts shocked and thrilled when the first few rows started to sing along. Swim Deep responded excitedly, breaking the venue’s lights and later, letting off the fire extinguisher. The promoter was distinctly unimpressed. But hey, they’d just inked a deal with RCA and the foursome were in a celebratory mood.

Like Peace (not to be confused with this Vancouver band of the same name), who I spoke to in my last column, Swim Deep hail from Birmingham, having emerged from the same thriving scene. In fact, three members of Peace went to high school with Austin. I caught up with Austin from the back of their tour van as they drove around, stoned, in search of that night's venue. “We’re the band, we’re looking to play. Are we in the right place?” Listen to their forthcoming single, “The Sea”, and read my interview below.

Your songs are heavily inspired by a desire to escape. Where do you want to go? Nicer places, sunnier grounds, the beach.

You better apply some sunscreen because you guys are as pale as Casper. Hey what? I tan well! When I’m somewhere sunny, I’m the tanned guy.

So you and Higgy (guitar) met when you worked in a supermarket when you were 16… He had short hair and he looked pretty down. I was real chatty and he seemed like he didn’t want to talk to me, but I saw his Reading Festival wristband and I was like, “Hey Thomas”—which is what I called him back in the day—“Did you go to Reading Festival?” It all started there and here we are now, smoking weed in the back of a van. This is the life.

Weren’t you chucked out of school for smoking too much pot? Hah! No, don’t say that, I was just chucked out of college [high school] for being a brat, and not going to class definitely helped. It’s worked out for the best I guess. At the time I was devastated. I thought you went to college and it was all sweet. But it made me think, wait, what can I do? I’ll just be in a band and I’ll get signed. I’m a bit of a lucky bastard.

Judging from that show at the Sebright, it seems like Cavan (bass) has a lot of female fans. I think it’s going that way. People love Zach [drums], he’s the babe of the band, but all those girls were there on Cavan’s guestlist. It was like that song: “A little bit of Monica in my life/A little bit of Erica by my side…” It was basically him doing the “Mambo No. 5” for the guestlist.

Is it true that Cavan didn’t play bass before Swim Deep? He still can’t play bass! Haha! I knew he couldn’t play bass one bit, but knowing that one of my friends could be in a band with me and share all these amazing things that might happen… If I could take all my friends with me I would. I wanted to give him that. That makes me sound like I’m God! But really I just wanted him to be in the band because he’s my friend and I love him.

I was surprised to read that you admit to being a fan of the new 90210. Yeah man! I don’t really care if anyone thinks it’s lame. I think it’s so good! The characters are brilliant! My favourite is Liam, the geezer, the moody one. He’s like building a boat, but he’s real moody about it. He gets all these modeling jobs and he doesn’t give a shit. He’s like, “I don’t care that I’m really good looking!” 

So I heard your top date place in Birmingham is the Sea Life Centre. How many girls have you taken there? Sixty-nine! Nah, not really! Zach’s taken a lot of girls to the Sea Life Centre, but you can’t really go more than once or word gets around. You can’t reel off the same facts that you did with the other girl about a ray mantis.

A what? Do you mean a stingray? You can’t even remember the correct facts. Oh yeah. See? I’m doomed!

What makes you guys tick? We're motivated. The glue that keeps us together is ambition. It drives us and it doesn’t let us go. One of our ambitions is to influence pop music on a general level. Obviously I want to be one of the biggest bands in the world. One Direction can get a whole city to shut down for the day, but they don’t have as much influence as a band like Sigur Ros. You can be massive and have no influence. I don’t want that. We want people to hear us and be like, “We want to start a band like Swim Deep.” We want to make music that will make people smile. I guess it’s about getting the whole world to smile.

Dollars to Pounds: Swim Deep