By Gina Tron
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By Bree Davies
The Swayback has been together for a decade, but you'd hardly know it from speaking with the guys. The way they talk and the way they interact with one another, they genuinely sound like members of a freshly minted high-school band getting ready to play their first gig.
"I have moments of the nectar that I'm going for in practice — the musical nectar where we're all together and sort of elevating our consciousness with the music — that are ten times sweeter than playing with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or being in Spin, or any of that, man," says frontman Eric Halborg. "Those moments — that's the stuff that feeds your soul, and that's why we play."
"Everything is still exciting in the Swayback," declares guitarist Adam Tymn. "When I first started playing in bands — this band still feels like one of those bands."
The way these guys are still so obviously consumed with making music, it's hard to believe that ten years has passed already since Halborg and guitarist Bill Murphy first started playing together in Breckenridge.
By the time most bands have been around as long as the Swayback, they either begin to stagnate — the fire and creativity that first fueled the engine have been depleted — or they crumble under the weight of their own expectations or arbitrary self-imposed deadlines. Or, rather than being allowed to develop as artists in this singles-driven environment and move past their primary set of influences to craft something unique, many groups get thrust into the spotlight well before they're ready and end up wilting in the searing heat of notoriety.
The Swayback, meanwhile, has a certain timelessness that resembles that of the all-time great classic-rock bands that became more compelling over time. Rather than follow the career-minded cookie cutter bands that are enslaved by trends and focused on branding instead of passion, Halborg and company have spent their time cultivating their artistry. You know, the way it used to be.
"We're conscious about the business aspects," Halborg clarifies, "but it's so much more about the music first, because when we've strayed that way, we've gotten lost and we've lost time."
One more thing the outfit has in common with the endangered greats that came before it: The Swayback is driven by the interplay of a core duo.
"It was Bill and I learning to play off each other," says Halborg. "And really, this being the first band the two of us have been in, the two of us had a language together that we were working on, trying to figure out how to talk back and forth to each other musically. There was something powerful about not complicating that conversation. And then we just organically got to the point where we were like, 'Hey, you know what? I think we could go for having some help.'"
At first that help came in the form of keyboardist Shawn Astrom, who became the fourth member of the Swayback, bolstering the core of Halborg and Murphy, and Martijn Bolster, the act's most tenured drummer. An uber-talented computer wiz and audiophile, Astrom introduced Halborg and Murphy to Abelton, the program they used to slice and dice the songs for Long Gone Lads, their last album. With his help, the Swayback expanded the dimensions of its sound considerably. "From there, we realized the breath that you can take to have another player," says Halborg. "The space that that creates to be a little bit more sparse. Where before, Bill and I really had to be filling the whole show to make the sonic feel that we wanted. Once we brought Shawn in, it opened the floodgates of us being open to that possibility."
Astrom eventually proved to be more suited to the studio than playing live, so he and the band later parted ways. But the group realized the value of having another member. Enter Tymn, a guy seemingly destined to be in the Swayback. Born in California and raised in Broomfield, Tymn was a member of the dearly departed Denver band Vaux. Halborg met Tymn through Vaux bassist Ryder Robison, with whom he'd become great friends at the University of Colorado. Although Tymn didn't end up joining the Swayback until long after Vaux broke up, the seeds were planted one especially drunken night of debauchery in Chicago almost a decade ago. Tymn was on tour with Vaux, and Halborg and company were in the Windy City recording with Doug McBride at Gravity Studios when their paths crossed at the L&L, an infamous Chicago bar.
The anecdote is rather insane and much too lengthy to get into here — it involves a bloody bar brawl and overtures from a quintet of dominatrixes trying to coax the boys into joining them at their dungeon, and it ends with Chicago's finest doing the boys a solid by letting them sober up at a Dunkin' Donuts across the street rather than arresting them on the spot — but it encapsulates a moment that later proved to be pivotal.
Somewhere in the midst of all this mayhem, Tymn, exhausted from the rigors of being on the road, made a stunning proposition to Halborg. "He kind of took me aside," Halborg remembers, "and he's like, 'If you let me be in the Swayback, I'll get in your van right now and leave.'" The two recognized something kindred in each other, but they also both recognized that the timing and circumstances weren't right (not to mention that the conversation had taken place at five in the morning, after a night of heavy drinking): Tymn's band was in the process of inking a deal with Atlantic Records and about to head to England to record its landmark album, Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice, with Jacknife Lee, and Robison was one of Halborg's best friends, as well as a bit of a mentor. More than that, though, Halborg and Murphy were still pretty sold on the Swayback being a trio at the time.