Adam Franklin has been making music in several guises - most notably as the singer, guitarist, and songwriter in Swervedriver - for the best part of thirty years.
Currently putting together the follow up to 2015's critically acclaimed I Wasn't Born To Lose You, their first long player in seventeen years. Franklin took some time out from Swervedriver duties to record a new solo single. Released on Record Store Day last month, the limited edition seven inch features versions of Motorhead's 'Iron Horse/Born To Lose' and David Bowie's 'Thursday's Child'.
DiS caught up with him to talk about the single, Record Store Day, alleged altercation with Pete Doherty and all things Swervedriver.
DiS: What made you choose those two particular songs to cover?
Adam Franklin: The Motorhead one probably goes back ten or fifteen years ago when I was in LA. I had a solo acoustic gig that night and thought we'd better make our way to the venue, and as I was driving over my friend jokingly said, "So, are you going to play any Motorhead tonight?" So I said maybe I will. I'll take you up on that. I've always loved that song and often thought it could lend itself to what I do. It's a really cool song. It has a great lyric and a classic chord sequence with it. Bizarrely I don't think it's written by Lemmy. When we were checking the credits for the publishers one of the credits on there was Phil Taylor, their old late drummer. That song first appeared on the On Parole album and it's basically a collection of the first recordings Lemmy made with Motorhead after he left Hawkwind and got the band together. He'd gone in the studio and recorded some songs but whoever owned it never put them out until after they'd become successful. It sounded quite different to what Motorhead became. Larry Wallis from The Pink Fairies played guitar on the record and I've always loved that particular version of the song. There is a later version as well but that one is my favourite. So I had that song and thought maybe I should release it at some point. I had a bit of spare time so I thought maybe I should go and record something even if it is somebody else's song. So that was sitting on my hard drive, and then I also had the (David) Bowie song on there. It was a weird period for Bowie around that time - the mid to late 1990s - and he wasn't anywhere near the legend that people see him as now.
He was actually derided quite a lot in the music press around that time if I remember rightly. He was regarded as a bit of a joke back then which is astonishing when you think about it now.
I remember him playing V Festival one year. I wasn't there but a friend was and said he was walking across the field towards the dance tent and watched a bit of his set on the way and looking back now he wished he had watched more of his set. 'Thursday's Child' is quite a weird song because it reminds me of his very first album pre-'Space Oddity'. There's something quite sixties about it and it's also a strangely vulnerable kind of song really. In the first line he says, "All of my life I've tried so hard, doing my best with what I had." It was quite self-reflective but I thought the production on that song wasn't too great - it has these eighties style synths on it, great tune though. David Bowie passed away at the beginning of 2016 of course and it seemed to trigger somebody famous dying almost every week. You'd see a post on Facebook or Twitter where someone's name would come up and my immediate reaction would be "Oh no, not them!" Fortunately it would be something else, thank God. People said at the time it was the end of the baby boomer generation so more people would be dying but it seems to have slowed down a lot since we moved into 2017.
Was it your idea to release the single for Record Store Day? How did Club AC30 become involved?
I approached them. I had these two songs and I really wanted to do something with them but I wasn't sure what. They were both really bare bones, so I messed around with a loop guitar pedal and I came up with this sound that worked when played over the top so I recorded both tracks in one take then added a few weird noises and delays and stuff. So basically these songs were sitting here and the first people I thought might be up for releasing them were Duncan (Jones) and Robin (Allport) at Club AC30. So I contacted Duncan and he asked for the tracks straight away, thought they sounded great then asked if I'd be up for releasing them as a single for Record Store Day. I guess Record Story Day is much maligned now. When it was first introduced it was a cool thing and it has been taken over by the majors. But when you think about the guys running the record shops it's still quite high risk. They have to buy in the product and hope that people come in and buy it. Then of course there's the number of limited edition releases that end up on eBay. This has actually ended up on eBay. But the good thing about Record Store Day is it gives people a chance to do something a little different and the guys from Club AC30 suggested it so that's how the single came about.
Are you working on anything else at the minute?
We're working on a new Swervedriver album. We've been writing songs with a view to hopefully releasing something in the early part of next year.
How many songs have you written so far?
We're sifting through them at the minute but there's about 20, maybe even 25 at the minute. It's just finding the time to sit down and figure out which ones make sense as an album. Which could work together sonically over the course of an album and which might work better with one of my projects, because I've been thinking a lot about that recently as well. Should there be another Adam Franklin & The Bolts Of Melody record or even a new Toshack Highway one. I haven't done anything under that guise for a long time but there's a bunch of more electronic-based instrumentals that are quite different to the rest of the songs so it may be time to resurrect that project. My last solo record was Black Horses which came out in 2013 but then didn't officially come out in the UK which is ridiculous. I did something called White Horses about a year and a half ago which is meant to be a companion thing to that. Some of the songs are similar to those on Black Horses and others are reworkings of Bolts Of Melody tunes, but that's been on the back burner for a while as well.
Will you be looking for a label to release it or putting the album out yourselves?
We haven't decided yet. I guess there are certain advantages with both. With the last one we had Cherry Red put it out in Europe and a distribution company in the States. Then it was licensed to a few labels in Australia and Japan so we got the record out to where it needed to be. It's not like we're tied down or signed to anyone. The last record was a one-off thing when we made it. Now we're on the verge of finishing another one we'll just keep our options open and see what the best deal is that works for us. There are so many different platforms and ways of selling music nowadays. For a band like us, putting out an album makes sense whereas for a pop or hip hop artist its more about putting out tracks specifically to get played on the radio. To us, an album has an identity. There are still some cool things going on with singles. The Raveonettes released one single every month last year and I remember The Wedding Present doing that years ago. Then at the end of the year both bands released them all as compilation albums, which is good in a way as it alleviates the pressure of having to put together a full album. I think a lot of my favourite albums have been compilations. For example, my favourite Nirvana album is Incestide. It's great that you have the option today rather than the "three singles and an album" business model that most labels followed when we first started.
Are you quite surprised at the response to the return of Swervedriver, both with the live shows and your last album, I Wasn't Born To Lose You?
It was amazing. We love going around the world and playing places we've never played before, like South America last year in Brazil and Chile. We played in Singapore and Hong Kong which we'd never done before, and played in other places where we hadn't been for 18 years or more. New Zealand and Japan, places like that. It was quite incredible. I remember playing this little club in Singapore which two of our friends put on, a Scottish couple who've moved over there. They saw we were playing in Australia and messaged us to ask if there was a chance we'd be stopping off there. We had to stop off there between flights anyway so it kind of made sense to do a show as well. We opened with 'Autodidact' off the last record and there were all these girls down the front singing along to the chorus when it came, which was pretty amazing - rather than people only responding to the older songs like 'Rave Down' or 'Never Lose That Feeling' so that was great to see. Afterwards, people were coming up to us and saying it was like we'd never been away and the sound had advanced a bit. It's great for a band like us who'd been away for 10 years to discover the audience is still there to varying degrees, and a lot of younger kids as well, which was brilliant.
Do you see it as a case of unfinished business as far as Swervedriver's concerned?
I think that's the case for a lot of bands in general. Most bands break up unsatisfactorily. That's the nature of why a band breaks up, otherwise they'd just continue. There are examples of bands who've broken up at the top of their game but it is quite a rare thing. Generally speaking something went wrong whether that be certain band members or the label or the music industry as a whole. To a certain extent that was the same for us. We'd become quite disenchanted although we didn't technically break up. I'd moved to the States for a few years. But then it came back around and other bands from that era started reforming. The offers were there so we thought why not? I mean, who knows how long or how far we can take it, particularly in the current climate?
Do you still get the same buzz from writing, recording, and playing live that you did 20 years ago?
Yeah totally. I never really stopped making music or playing live. I always had something on the go whether it was in a band or on my own. Making those solo albums was always pretty exciting. I thought they were all quite special, but then things go as far as they can. That level of excitement you get just before an album comes out never goes away. The thought of people hearing these songs for the first time and playing them live then watching people's reactions after. In fact, by the time a new record finally does come out you tend to have had enough of it because you've heard it so many times by that point! But then you get the buzz back again from playing it live and seeing people's response to those songs.
Does it give you a sense of pride to have so many new bands citing Swervedriver as a reason for making music in the first place?
It's always flattering and satisfying to have a band namecheck us. When we first came out we didn't necessarily feel we had our own sound. So when you see your band cited as a reference point for another band's sound it's amazing. I guess it means we must have had something unique about us after all.
Do you think if Swervedriver were a new band just starting out now they'd be able to enjoy the same level of success they did 25 years ago?
Probably not. It's a weird situation because we signed with an independent label - of course Creation were a very large independent - and were licensed to other major labels particularly in the States. Then people are surprised that you don't actually own the recordings. We only found out a couple of weeks ago there's a label in Holland reissuing Mezcal Head. Somebody messaged me about it on Twitter the other night so we contacted this label. That album is owned by Universal in the US and who by Sony in the UK who of course bought Creation and it's unrecouped so anyone can license it. There's so many labels from back in the day who've been swallowed up by other majors that it's difficult to keep track with who actually owns certain parts of our back catalogue. If Swervedriver just started now, what would we be doing? Would we be putting stuff out ourselves or signing to a label? It's the eternal question mark.
The internet has made it easier for bands to get their music out there but with so much music to sift through, the big question is whether anyone would notice and ultimately hear it.
I read somewhere that there are four times as many bands in existence as there were in 1990. Back then, we'd have rehearsed in a garage, paid to record a demo, then pressed up a seven-inch on our own which we'd send to labels and the music press. Now, anybody can record their own music and put it out themselves on Bandcamp or Soundcloud. Like you said, there's so much more to sift through. You can find gems online like Dirty Sidewalks and Divided for example. They both sent me links to their music recently and they sound great. But there is so much stuff it's really difficult to find something good at the best of times. I remember sending our demo to Bob Mould back in the day. He was starting up a label but we never heard back from him. Then unbeknown to us he turned up down the front at our first gig in New York. After the show we asked him what he was doing here, and he said he liked the tracks we'd sent so wanted to check us out live. And it's a great thing when someone you look up to and admire comes to your show. So it's great when new bands tell me how much they like Swervedriver and send me their music.
Are there any other new bands you've been particularly impressed with recently?
The new Children Of Alice record is great. It's James Cargill from Broadcast's new group and I'd definitely recommend the album. Also, the new Blonde Redhead stuff is sounding great. I'm also rediscovering a lot of stuff like this Brian Eno album from years ago that I'd never heard before. I was listening to The Damned's second album on Spotify the other day because I don't think I'd ever heard it before! It's great for kids now. They've got access to all this stuff from the whole of the twentieth century to the present day. Back in the day when we were teenagers, you were very much into the newer stuff rather than liking bands from 20 years ago.
What advice would you give to new bands that are just starting out?
It's always a difficult one to give advice to bands other than to say do what you want to do. To be honest, I don't think anyone is that hung up on commercial success anyway. Does anyone even know what's in the charts these days? You always knew who was in the top ten yet at some point that just died off. Now whenever I watch a quiz show on TV and they get to the pop music round, I don't know any of the answers. But then I guess social media is the same in a different kind of way. Because you see certain things appear regularly on your Facebook timeline you assume they're quite big but that's because you're friends with people that have similar tastes. Once you move outside it then you realise they're not necessarily that big after all. It actually only represents a very small demographic in the grand scheme of things.
Finally, the last time you made the headlines in the music press was over an alleged incident involving Pete Doherty while you were both playing a festival in Hong Kong at the back end of 2015. What actually happened?
It was absolutely ridiculous. It's quite ironic that the most press we've had in a long time was over a situation like that. We were at this festival in Hong Kong and he was invited into our tour manager's hotel room with his entourage because the bar was closed. I don't know what happened but a little fracas broke out. It all happened in a split second. Suddenly he's flying across the room and lands on the side I'm sat on talking to some friends. Then he gets up and takes a swing. I moved my head. It wasn't a very good swing. So to defend myself I took a swing back and clocked him on the chin. Then I looked over him and apparently said, "So you're the famous Pete Doherty are you?!" Then his friends dragged him back out of the room and Gary (Powell) the drummer - who's a lovely guy - came out and apologised profusely. I was prepared to forget the whole thing but then there was a thing in the NME about how The Libertines fared in Hong Kong and I just saw his face which pissed me off so thought fuck it. So that's how the story got out.
The Record Store Day single 'Iron Horse/Born To Lose/Thursday's Child' can be purchased online from Club AC30 here.
For more information on Adam Franklin please visit his official website.