As I'm attempting to schedule some interview time with local Pop/Rock maestro Swarthy (born Brian Love), I'm having to rearrange the planned meetings due to some personal issues. First we're going to go bowling. Then we're going to meet up after Swarthy and his bandmates finish choir practice (they sing in the choir of a local Greek church). Finally, we settle for a "phoner," and chat for about an hour about his self-titled band's new (and finest) album, How They Look to the Skies.
Working with people who have erratic schedules is something Swarthy has dealt with a lot. After a few years playing acoustic, The Swarthy Band was formed with lifelong friends and brothers Michael (bass/vocals) and Nicholas Mavridoglou (drums), plus Jeremy Smart (guitar/vocals) in 2001. His bandmates had other professional gigs to tend to, so Swarthy would still play acoustic shows when the full band wasn't available. Then, members began buying houses and having children — basically settling down. (Mark Becknell joined the group in 2004.)
But with Skies, The Swarthy Band sounds more like a "real band" than ever before, more collaborative and fully self-contained, as Michael and Brad Meyers produced it mostly in their rehearsal space.
The sound is the crispest yet for a Swarthy Band album, still loaded with the effortless Pop elegance of the frontman's songwriting, but now augmented more than ever with songs written and sung by other members. It gives the album more depth — if Swarthy's songs represent his Beatles influence up to, say, Revolver, then the other members (who have studied music at CCM and played with the Jazz Mandolin Project and Ray's Music Exchange) stretch that breadth of influence up to Abbey Road and beyond.
CityBeat: How did you come to fall in love with music initially?
Swarthy: My mom was a Greek immigrant and she was in Greece right when Beatlemania started. I grew up listening to her vinyl copy of Please Please Me at a very, very young age. So The Beatles are pretty much encoded in my DNA.
CB: You didn't start writing songs until later, right?
Swarthy: It was much later. The idea came to me to from this Pop band with two of my dearest friends, Michael and Nicholas Mavridoglou. We all grew up together. At the time, they were both busy with Ray's Music Exchange and I didn't want to just do the band with anyone. I'd waited and waited and thought, "Well, if I wait any longer, this just isn't going to happen." So finally in the late '90s (there) was the first emergence of Swarthy with the acoustic guitar turned upside down, 'cause I'm a lefty. I've never had a lesson in my life, which surprises no one who has seen me play (laughs).
CB: Where did the Swarthy nickname come from?
Swarthy: There was a Saturday Night Live skit in the late '80s which was satirizing the presidential debate between George Bush and Michael Dukakis, with Jon Lovitz as Dukakis and Dana Carvey as Bush. One of the things Dukakis kept referencing was his immigrant heritage. Jon Lovitz says, "My parents were little people. Little, swarthy people." So I got gently teased in high school after that — my buddies going, "That's you, man, you're Swarthy." When I needed something to stop club owners from confusing me with (veteran local guitarist/songwriter/producer) Brian Lovely, I thought I'd use that.
CB: Guided By Voices were a big inspiration for you.
Swarthy: Without a doubt. When I saw Guided By Voices in the fall of 1994, I thought, "Enough is enough." Not only do I want to form a band, but that's the band I want to form. There was literally no other band that sounded like Guided By Voices. Not that they reinvented any wheel, but the '90s was almost too cool for itself. There wasn't anything that sounded like that mix of Abbey Road and Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy.
CB: So how do you write?
Swarthy: It's really an ongoing thing. I'm never not writing. If there's something that I'm doing all the time, it's writing — at work, away from work, while running. It might be a sentence, just words, it might come out in verse/chorus/verse form. I'm always working on a Pop song or several. It's not so much composing the songs as it is catching them. I just feel like they're everywhere. It almost sounds like you're talking to a crazy person, like, "Oh, you hear songs in your head?" And I'm like, "Yes, yes I do — don't you?"
CB: You recorded this essentially all by yourselves, with help from Brad Meyers, right?
Swarthy: It was basically our rehearsal space for three-fourths of it and that last fourth was done in Michael's basement. I'm really proud of this band for is that we're pretty good at restraint. We made a lot of great choices, not so much by adding things, but by not adding things.
CB: Like strings and horns! You're more of a "song band."
Swarthy: Don't expect a Jazz Fusion record from me, but I'm a lover of music, so I wouldn't be surprised if something like that crept in. But if there's not a melody there, forget it. If you can't hum the tune, I'm not going to play it. If I can't hum the tune, then forget it — what chance do you have?
THE SWARTHY BAND hosts a CD release party Saturday at The Poison Room. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here. The group plays an acoustic set at Everybody's Records at 1 p.m. Saturday.