Q&A with Adam Franklin of Swervedriver
Adam Franklin is well known for his role as the singer and guitarist in Swervedriver. His work in post-Swervedriver projects such as Toshack Highway, Magnetic Morning and his solo work, however, shows a remarkable breadth of musical imagination and a wealth of sonic ideas that reveal dimensions of talent outside the melodically incendiary songs of his most famous band. We caught up with Franklin as he was rehearsing for his national tour with the Church, which hits the Gothic Theatre this evening, and talked about his new album and a bit of his history as a musician.
Westword (Tom Murphy): Why did you call your latest album Spent Bullets?
Adam Franklin: There's a kind of theme with the songs, I suppose. It's actually the name of Elliott Smith's publishing company as well. It was there in the back of my head somewhere, something about energy being expended and these songs sort of being spent bullet shells.
WW: I like that the song "End Credits" is not actually at the end of the album. Was that a conscious decision on your part?
AF: Not really. I mean, I was aware that it wasn't at the end, but that song needed a title, and it kind of sounds like a tune that would be playing at the end of a movie or at the end of a relationship.
WW: How would you describe the differences between the songwriting on your various projects [Swervedriver, Toshack Highway, Magnetic Morning and your solo material with Bolts of Melody]?
AF: As far as the Adam Franklin material, it's all what I write, whereas with Swervedriver, I didn't write all the material. With Magnetic Morning, it's a collaboration with Sam Fogarino. That's a good thing, because it pushes you in different directions. There is a stylistic difference, I guess, but it's never explicitly a conscious decision; you have to go with the flow.
WW: How did you come to collaborate with Sam Fogarino?
AF: I think I saw an interview or I saw it mentioned online, because he had done some recording with Bob Mould, and he was asked if there was anyone else he'd like to work with and he mentioned me. At the time, I was living in New York and thinking I needed a drummer. We had a mutual friend in Jack Rabid, who does The Big Take Over, and Jack introduced us. We hit it off and recorded. We didn't know how it would go, but before we knew it, we had an album of songs.
WW: I was looking at your musical history, and it appears that you got started fairly young with the band Shake Appeal. What inspired you to start playing music in a band like that, and what prompted the shift to writing the type of music you did in Swervedriver?
AF: With Shake Appeal, we were just sort of discovering the Stooges and MC5. It was a reaction against whatever else was going on in the '80s. There was a lot of sort of dross music in the '80s. That band sort of mutated into Swervedriver. We just figured we were playing it too much by the book, and then we discovered Sonic Youth and Hüsker Dü, and it shifted into something different.
Shake Appeal broke up, and I recorded some songs on a four-track portable studio at Steve George's house, and he heard them and said we should re-form the band. I ended up taking over the lead vocals, and we re-emerged as Swervedriver. We just wanted an exciting name, I guess, but we did listen to a lot of music driving around in a car.
WW: How did you come to be involved in the Sophia collective?
AF: I've known Robin a long time. He was from San Diego recently, and then he relocated the God Machine to London, and when the God Machine ended and Sophia began, I think I saw the first Sophia show. Then he asked me and Steve if we'd consider going out and playing with Sophia, and we've done that on and off ever since.
WW: Has your guitar rig been pretty consistent across your musical projects, or do you use very different gear for each?
AF: No, I use what I usually use: my Jazzmaster through a Vox. I use a Jazzmaster partially because Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr used them, and Elvis Costello used a Jazzmaster as well. They're just cool-looking guitars, and they actually sound good. There's that whole area behind the bridge where you can feel the tension of the strings and make clanging sounds. They're great guitars, really, and the whammy arm. I can't play a guitar without a whammy arm these days.
WW: What do you think accounts for your coming back all these years and producing music without really resting on your laurels?
AF: I don't think anyone would consciously do something they didn't think was good, right? I guess the idea is just to keep playing. I'm flattered that you don't think I've rested on my laurels. I think after a while it's what you do, really; some of us are happy making music no matter what kind of music it is. Some people maybe do it as a way of making money, but some of us keep doing it because it's in our blood and you just keep on keeping on and hope that you haven't lost it. Some people probably think I have lost it because I don't "rock" as hard as I did with Swervedriver.
I was having a discussion with someone and they said the new album didn't "rock." So I asked them about their definition of "rocking." Is it a question of temper, or is it because the guitars are overdriven? I think it rocks in different ways. It's like the contrast between Sophia and The God Machine. Sophia was more quiet, but the two things sort of meet around the back. But there's a sort of tension there in that quiet. Ultimately, whoever is making the music, you have to stay true to yourself instead of second-guessing what the audience might want to hear.