“The music of our generation”

Ellen Peirson-Hagger chats with Swim Deep at the O2 Academy Oxford

Photo: Wikimedia commons

When I wander backstage at Oxford’s O2 Academy to speak to Swim Deep, the psych-rocky Birmingham five-piece supporting Wolf Alice, I find Austin ‘Ozzy’ Williams and Cavan McCarthy curled up on the floor in a narrow dressing room. They refuse seats (words to the effect of “we like the floor” reverberate around me), and quickly offer me a bottle of water. Rock ‘n’ roll. Swim Deep’s second album, Mothers, was released in October last year, and a successful 11- date UK tour culminated in a show at Camden’s famous Roundhouse.

For now, they are back with old mates Wolf Alice, in an environment that’s hardly unfamiliar. Ozzy reminisces about good times spent in Oxford’s very own Purple Turtle and a certain “Jamaican bar down the road”. No longer so keen on Purple Turtle once I explain its Union ownership (“that’s disgusting”), and put-off by Cavan’s memories of what happened last time they were in said Jamaican bar, perhaps it’s for the best when they tell me they are heading off straight after the gig this time around. Initially, Swim Deep were synonymous with Birmingham boys Peace, both bands having come out of Digbeth around 2010 and dubbed as part of the “B-Town Scene” by the largely London-based music press. Cavan expresses bemusement at the term, saying, “yeah we were only joking – everyone took it really seriously. I mean it’s kinda changed now, but at the time…”.

Even more irritating than the labelling of their scene was the labelling of their sound. Ozzy tells me how annoying a lot of their early press was: “I find it bizarre that we were called a guitar band. And we were coined that because maybe people saw us live and we have guitars live, but there’s literally just one guitar-led song on that first album. When there was that big push of indie bands, we were lumped in with them.” Ozzy thinks Swim Deep are “just quite diverse and dynamic, I don’t know… I like neo-psychedelic. I like that. Psychedelic is about stuff that no-one’s heard before and stuff that’s mindbending. Psychedelic music is not what bands that call themselves psychedelic are making at the moment because they’re just copying Can – they’re doing this ride beat with everything, you know. These jangly guitars and stuff. I’ve heard it a million times. It sounds good – don’t get me wrong – I’ve got no qualms with people repeating themselves. But I don’t think that’s how you’re going to make psychedelic music.”

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The idea of the working class struggle – for the B-Town scene is all about working lads from Digbeth, of course! – is important to Swim Deep. “I think the proudest moment of my music career was when my first royalties cheque came,” says Ozzy. “It was the same time that these bailiffs were knocking on my mum’s door and I felt so good that I could go out there and say one: ‘Calm down, Mum’ and two: ‘I can pay you guys. Fuck! I can pay you guys! You guys can actually leave.’ I don’t care about headlining the Roundhouse or whatever – that was something of a moment for me.”

This year the band are crowd-funding to help raise money to tour the US. Although signed to major label Sony in the UK, Swim Deep have not been given the off er to release their album in America on the same label, and so have decided to ask their loyal fans for support. Sadly, Ozzy sees this as part of a wider problem. “The whole music industry is terrified of losing their job at the moment because it’s just so ruthless. There’s a lot less risk-taking which is really hindering the music of our generation. It’s making it very content and bland.” Fighting back against that blandness are two of five neopsych rockers clad in the clothes of local vintage, sitting on the grubby floors of venue dressing rooms. Since our March interview the band have announced nine stateside tour dates for this June. Power to the people and all that.