Swervedriver’s Jim Hartridge and Adam Franklin often swap gear. Hartridge notably plays Les Pauls, but he’s recently been playing an offset-shaped custom David Ayers guitar that belongs to Franklin. Photo by Liv Niles
What’s different about touring and recording these days? Franklin: It’s better, and we have more freedom. It might be harder for some bands, but we have a history to lean on. It’s so easy to make a record now. We’ve been touring the last few years, but having a new album has upped the ante. There are people who didn’t know about us, but have heard the new album. I’ve seen people tweeting, “I’ve just discovered this great new band: Swervedriver.”
I assume you spent considerably less making this record. Hartridge: Considerably less.Adam: For major-label bands it’s probably the same as it always was. The labels push bands to spend a phenomenal amount of money. If they don’t make it back, they’ll be dropped within one album. These days, they don’t want to spend a million quid twice over. It’s a dangerous time to get involved with a major label.You don’t have to, unless you’re trying to become an arena band.
Hartridge: It was a double-edged thing for us to be on a major label. At the time, it was the only thing to do, but we don’t own those records. The dreaded words “in perpetuity” are in the contract, so we can never get those recordings back. At the same time, if we’d been on an indie label, we might not have been well known in the States.
Adam, were always a Jazzmaster player? Franklin: I played a Jaguar on the first EP, Son of Mustang Ford, when I was also playing my Shergold Nu Meteor. On the second, Rave Down, we rented a Jaguar for some reason, but it didn’t have the right crunch, so we had some pedal on all the time. Then I realized the Jazzmaster is a bigger guitar with a bigger sound.
Do you still have the Shergold? Those are really underrated. Franklin: It’s still in good nick, yeah. I recently learned that only a few Nu Meteors were made. In 1980 there were only like 30 or something.
They’re associated with many bands: Joy Division, Genesis, Julian Cope, the Church. Franklin: I got mine in Wheatley, after I sold my first guitar, a Les Paul copy. It was an ugly guitar, but then we sprayed it purple—typical of the era, I guess. In ’85 our original bass player made the metal scratch plate. It looks kind of cool, and it plays like a dream. I remember the day I picked it up and went, “Fucking hell, this is quite good, isn’t it?”
Jim, you’ve always been a Les Paul player? Hartridge: I have, though I’ve got a lot of other guitars that we use when we record. There are three Telecasters on the album, for example. I’ve got a ’74, but funnily enough, the one that sounds best is an old Squier.
An early Japanese Squier?
Hartridge: Yes. It’s really good. Mine has a humbucker—and a great rhythm tone. I’ve also got a newer Squier Jazzmaster. Some of them are terrible, but mine is actually quite good.We used a Danelectro on this record, too. I went to do a soft part on “Everso,” and engineer thought I meant to just mic it acoustically. He convinced me to try it, so we just put a mic out in front of it.It wasn’t plugged in at all, just close-miked. When the sound fades out, it’s just that Danelectro.
Franklin:Some of the backing tracks on the album were recorded in Melbourne in a one-day session. I used a great Les Paul that I bought from Tym Guitars in Brisbane.
What is the offset guitar that you play, Jim? Hartridge: That’s a guitar Adam was given by David Ayers.
Franklin: He’s a luthier in Arizona. He made one for Debbie Smith from the bands Curve and Echobelly. He just approached me and said he’d like to make me a guitar and asked what I wanted. I found this picture of a “Telemaster,” which has a Jazzmaster shape, but some Telecaster features. He showed up at a gig in Portland with that amazing guitar.
Hartridge: It’s got a really good whammy bar.
Jazzmaster-style? Franklin: More or less.
Do you record with full-sized amps, or low-power combos? Franklin:In the London studio, we both used a Marshall JCM800 on every song.
Jim, I noticed you’re playing Blackstars live. Hartridge: Yeah. They sound like Marshalls, but they’re thicker. You’ve got to pick and choose with Marshalls—some can sound thin. I didn’t even know what to expect with the Blackstars, but I got the half-stack and the Artisan combo. The combo sounds best. It’s got no gain control—just the natural sound. I’m very happy with them.
Adam, you’re still using an AC30 live? Franklin: Yes. For a while I was partially sponsored by Matchless, who are great people, and I played a DC-30. Vox AC30s had a habit of blowing up or doing other strange things, but the Matchless ones are really sturdy. I do prefer the Vox, though. I also use a 50-watt Marshall JCM800, going through a smaller [Mesa/Boogie 2x12] cabinet. I’ve always had the Marshall for the grit and the Vox for the chime. The crazier pedals go to the Vox, with the signal split at the reverbs, delays, and Roland Space Echo. The Marshall holds it all down.
You’re using the new RE-20 Space Echo pedal? Franklin: Yeah, a nice guy I know who works in a guitar shop in Minneapolis came to a show and said, “Adam, I want to give you this.” I said, “I can’t accept this!” His girlfriend said, “Look, he’s not going to take no for an answer.” The thing about real Space Echoes is, you need your hands to play around with them, so it’s a bit counterintuitive to have it down at your feet. There’s one particular setting I like for swells at the end of songs.I also use a Boss Feedbacker and Distortion pedal for a sound that no other pedal makes, because mine is broken. It doesn’t hold the note, like it’s supposed to—it oscillates. I always dread it fixing itself. Years ago I was onstage at Cat’s Cradle [in Chapel Hill, North Carolina], and it did. I picked it up and threw it down on the ground, and it was fixed! Or broken again [laughs].
Hartridge: It’s my pedal, actually. I bought it 25 years ago, and it didn’t work. Adam started using it, and I haven’t gotten it back since.
Jim, why do you use two Whammy pedals? Hartridge: The original Whammy has a setting the others just don’t do. For some reason, it’s not on the later versions, and it’s the best sound in the pedal. I use it on three songs, so I keep that pedal on that setting. I use the other one just for wobbling down a tone or two semitones. I should mention that I also love the Line 6 Echo Park. It does the backwards tape thing well, and some other cool things.
Franklin: I did a tour last year with David Baker from Mercury Rev, borrowed his Echo Park, and had to buy one. They’re ugly pedals, but great ones, and you can stomp them like a boss. It doesn’t have any fiddly buttons.
You guys still use a lot of Boss pedals. Franklin: It’s funny: People get obsessed with boutique effects. Someone online was discussing our rigs, and how many Boss pedals we use, and said, “They get a pretty good sound, considering the gear they use.”
Franklin: They’re quite sturdy.
Hartridge: They’ll last your whole life.
You don’t use pedalboards—your effects are laid out in semicircles. Hartridge: I can’t stand hunting for a little switch on a tight pedalboard. If you’re in a rush, you can’t be delicate. It’s rock ’n’ roll! Pedalboards are good for carrying around. Beyond that, I don’t understand them one bit. They’re just too dainty.
Watch Swervedriver playing a live set in the KEXP studios.