Singer-songwriter Scott Swain entwines the theme of Brexit into five films on his debut EP Goodbye Country, Goodbye Home out in May. Pairing a film with a Brexit theme for each of the tracks, it’s an EP he hopes will inspire despite being an oft-talked-about topic.
Not really country, not really Americana, not quite folk, but definitely fuelled by subtle angst, bourbon and trying to remain upbeat in the face of adversity.
First up, tell us bit about yourself - what first got you into music?
Me taking up the guitar was the result of having quite a big existential awakening when I was about 16 – at this point in time many of my friends had either got themselves time in prison, or expelled from school, and so I didn’t really have any mates.
So, the guitar became a companion and a distraction, whilst providing me with the start of a new identity. The problem was, at the time, I only really listened to drum & bass music - SL2’s ‘On A Ragga Tip’ doesn’t really lend itself to being played on the guitar.
Were there any particular bands or artists you took inspiration from to form your musical and thematic style?
I’d say my current style has been greatly influenced by a combination of people such as 16 Horsepower, Johnny Cash, Sufjan Stevens, and Daughter. Yet, at the same time, I think the bands which I’ve loved over the years, such as Tool, Deftones, The Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails, are in the veins of my music.
You’ve previously always performed as part of a band. What led you to pursue a solo path?
The honest answer: I got sick and tired of always being the one who did everything, and working with unreliable people. I was writing music, promoting the band, organising gigs, arranging rehearsals, emailing Tom, Dick and Sally to try and increase the band’s exposure, as well as loads of other things, and suddenly thought one day - why, when I’m in a band with other people, am I the only one who is doing all this work?
It made me understand that a band is very much like a car engine, it ain’t going anywhere if only one cylinder is firing. If you want power and speed then all cylinders need to be firing in exactly the same way, with the same amount of effort. That’s how things move forward and progress. If you’re not willing to put the hard work in then you really shouldn’t be in a band. It’s not fair on the others who are.
What experiences did you bring with you from your band days?
Knowing that it’s not about playing any old gig just for the sake of playing a gig; knowing what other instruments could do, ought to be doing, and should be doing in a song; learning from the many mistakes I made during my band days; knowing what works well on stage and what doesn’t; and most of all knowing that drugs are never the answer.
How would you describe your style?
Somewhat fractured, perhaps, but I’m absolutely at one with this. Not really country, not really Americana, not quite folk, but definitely fuelled by subtle angst, bourbon and trying to remain upbeat in the face of adversity.
Tell us about your debut EP Goodbye Country, Goodbye Home. On the one hand it’s about Brexit, why is that?
This issue was everywhere in 2017, and it’s pretty much all people spoke about. Meanwhile, so many other things were happening in the rest of the country, and the world, often completely unreported by the media. The Syrian refugee crisis, for instance, appeared to become forgotten about overnight (some politicians are now claiming that this crisis actually coloured the Brexit vote). It therefore made sense to write about Brexit, but not at all about my own political leanings, but instead to capture the event as a point in British political history, and some of the factors surrounding it.
There is another dimension to the EP, however: I don’t want to be another one of those annoying musicians/artists who think that just because they have a voice they are suddenly an expert in politics. All too often artists shoot their mouths off about politics when really they shouldn’t. Their opinions are often completely rooted in ignorance and naivite, or, they’re just straight up bloody stupid (although try to come across as intelligent!). In which instance, the EP is simply about five films which have stayed with me for one reason or another.
How is the EP structured? Can you talk us through each song?
Sure. The EP is mainly shaped by how I see the events surrounding Brexit unfolding:
‘Rachel’ - about the film Blade Runner – Theresa May and Brexit will go down in the history books as being almost synonymous to one another. It’s definitely going to be the defining issue of her entire career. The message behind this track is incredibly elementary, I’m afraid: I can’t help but see Theresa May as a replicant. In the context of my EP, it’s Brexit (as the Blade Runner) which has come to put her out of her existence.
‘It’s Too Late’– about the film Irréversible – I have to say, for a long time after the vote, and even to do this day, I’m appalled and disgusted to hear how some people, on either side of the vote, speak about, or refer to each other. Nothing good ever comes from hating people, or embracing an us versus them mentality. Sadly, an inevitable part of living in a democratic nation is that sometimes the vote won’t go your way. This is hard to accept but a reality.
‘Bury Bones’ – about the film Mad Max: Fury Road – a progression of the sentiment in the previous track: the vote has happened, accept it, bury bones and move on, else you’ll be imprisoning yourself in hatred, and that’s just not healthy.
‘All Is Well (Until You’re On Your Own)’ – about the film 50 Days of Summer – sort of written from the perspective of the EU imagining it as a partner who hasn’t really been treated with the respect that they deserved, and have had their needs somewhat neglected, and now because some people are beginning to realise that Brexit won’t be at all like they thought it would be, they want their partner, the EU, to take them back. (I was really tempted to place It’s Too Late just after this song, to really drive home this message).
‘Oil!’ – about the film There Will Be Blood - If you want to know what sort of financial impact Brexit will have on the UK, take a look at what’s it’s likely to do to UK gas and oil prices, and the annual cost this is likely to have.
When did you write it and where did you record it?
I started writing the EP around February 2017, but the overall sound of it traced back to 2016 when I first started writing as a solo artist. The writing continued throughout 2017 even when the recording had started. There are about four or five songs which didn’t make the final cut, simply due to them not fitting in with the tracks I knew I wanted to be on the EP. Track four, ‘All Is Well (Until You’re On Your Own)’, was the last to be written, and felt like it completed the writing journey for this project.
Tracks one, three and four were recorded at The Record Label (London), track two was recorded at Decimal Studios (just outside London), and track five was recorded in the beautiful grounds of South Hill park, Bracknell at Creative Control Studios.
Which songs are you most proud of?
I’m proud of all of them. Each one of them has its own story to tell – not just in what’s being communicated in the track, but also the events surrounding the writing of the track, the feelings gone in to each note, each silence, what I was going through in my own life during the recording of the song – even whether or not my dog, Rufus, was present during the recording. (If you listen hard you can actually hear him during a quiet part of track one, ‘Rachel’; I couldn’t get a dog sitter on that day, and I’m dead against leaving dogs at home for long periods of time).
Which song was hardest to finish?
Possibly ‘It’s Too Late’. It’s had many different incarnations. For a long time, I wasn’t happy with the dynamics of the track. It wasn’t until I wrote the intro as it stands now, that the song finally started to move in the direction I wanted it. The start of this track still makes me exceptionally happy.
Are there any you particularly look forward to playing live?
Yeah, definitely ‘It’s Too Late’ (mainly for the intro), and also ‘Oil!’ (especially when delivering the line “I live with whisky and it don’t cause me concern”).
What are your hopes for ‘Goodbye Country, Goodbye Home’?
Other than wanting people to like it, it’d be great if people could hear where I’m coming from, and want to hear more. If I manage to get a few genuine fans along the way then that would just be a bonus.
The ultimate dream would be for one of the tracks to feature in some cool Scandi drama like The Bridge.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
It would have to be Bjork. She’s sensational and utterly inspiring! The problem is, however, this would be far more of an education for me as a songwriter than a collaboration. I’d also put Nick Cave in to this category.
Finally, if you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, when would it be and what would you say?
There’s no profound, philosophical response to this. Plain and simple: I’d go back to 2015 and advise past-Scott to gather every single penny he could, and place as much money as possible on Leicester City to win the Premier League that year.
Listen to Goodbye Country, Goodbye Home on SoundCloud below. For news and tour dates go to scottswainmusic.com.