> Q&A: Swim School – making sense of it all - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Q&A: Swim School – making sense of it all

We caught up with Alice Johnson (Vocals/Guitar) from up with up-and-coming indie gems, Swim School, about their recent trip south to Latitude, to find out about the experience of returning to the live arena, and discuss their great new EP, making sense of it all.

With your two sets at Latitude, you’re one of the first Scottish bands to return to playing live after lockdown. Can you tell us about the experience of getting back on a stage and playing for a live audience?

No words can fully describe the feeling we all had while walking onto a stage that had a real life audience, after 18 months. It was a mixture of nerves, remembering how to play live, and getting used to interacting with an audience again.

We were all pretty nervous for the first couple of songs of the set, seeing as we hadn’t played in front of an audience in so long, but it all quickly came back to us. It was the first time we got to play our new heavier tunes live to people, and to see them loving the heavier side to swim school was an amazing feeling.

We witnessed our first mosh pits that weekend. Overall, the whole experience was overwhelming, and felt like a dream – we couldn’t be happier that live music is back.

Photo credit: Rory Barnes

Did you catch many bands at Latitude? What was the atmosphere like at the festival?

Not only were we excited to play Latitude, we were also so excited to go and see some live bands and acts. We are all massive music lovers and gig-goers, so the fact that we got to experience live music again from a fan point of view was amazing. Festivals always have an amazingly positive atmosphere because everyone is there for the same reason. Some of our favorite acts were Wolf Alice, Shame and Sorry. Shame know exactly how to control the audience and put on a show – they were so sick.

Sorry are a band I discovered over lockdown and fell in love with. The way they write, their lyrics and production, are inspirational, and I can’t wait to see them live again.

Wolf Alice are our favorite band, so it was quite emotional watching them, for all of us. It hit us all at once that we were standing in a field, surrounded by strangers, listening to our favorite band – we couldn’t have been happier.

We’re really enjoying your new EP, making sense of it all. Can you tell us about the process of making the it?

We had so much free time during lockdown that we decided that we would spend the majority of that time writing as much as we could. ‘outside’ was one of the first (good) songs that we wrote in lockdown; we knew it had potential.

Once we were legally allowed to rehearse again, we all started jamming it, making the song evolve even more. We loved the heavier sound to it, so we continued to write, and eventually wrote all the songs that are on the EP. A major difference with this material compared to our first releases is that the new tracks are a lot heavier, more dynamic, and also more mature.

After creating this portfolio of tunes, we thought, ‘why not just put it all together as a body of work, in EP form?’

Photo credit: Rory Barnes

Was there anything surprising or pleasing during the recording process?

We recorded the EP at Magic Box in Dundee, with our producer Scotty Anderson. We work well with Scotty and the studio is so beautiful – both of those combined resulted in a lot of motivation. We spent two full days on each track, which meant we had a lot of time to experiment and take risks. ‘anyway’ was the song that changed the most in the studio.

We went in with a slow, shoegaze song and came out with an upbeat, happy-sounding, early 2000s song – I think that was a pleasing moment, as we didn’t expect it to change so much, but we are glad it did.

Have you learned anything that you’d like to take into the recording process in future?

We have always stood by not sticking to the same genre or sound when it comes to writing. Whilst writing the EP, we wanted each track to have its own unique sound; we didn’t want every single song to sound the same, and I think we achieved that. Over the course of writing the EP, our confidence as a band and as musicians grew, so I’m excited for whatever we go on to write next. I feel like the confidence that we have from writing the EP will continue to grow in our next project.

The track ‘anyway’ talks about opening up your emotions. Did you find that making the EP and articulating your thoughts and feelings helped you through lockdown?

Writing songs and expressing how you feel through art is a form of therapy, for me anyway. You are able to express that emotion when you first write that piece of music, then again when you go into the studio to record it, and also when you play it live. I find I play the songs that mean the most to me a lot better, as I feel a lot of emotions when I’m singing the lyrics. So much passion and emotion goes into each song. But when you finish writing it, it’s onto the next one.

Is there a track from the new EP that you particularly enjoyed playing at Latitude, or found connected with the audience there? Was this expected? Why do you think this was?

I think our song ‘outside’ will always hold a special place in our hearts. As it was the first song we wrote in lockdown, it holds a lot of the uncertain feeling that we all felt at the start of the pandemic, which now feels like a distant memory, as live music is back. It was also the song that kicked off this new chapter of swim school, and our fans love moshing when we play it, which makes it even more special.

making sense of it all is the EP’s title. Did you go through a few titles along the way and why did you decide to go for this one?

The title came to us quite quickly. With the deadline of the EP coming up, we decided that we needed a title ASAP. I looked through my lyric book to see if there was anything that stood out and I saw the lyrics ‘trying to make sense of it all’. When I read those words I instantly knew it would be perfect for the title.

Each track on the EP is based on certain experiences that have happened within the last year, some good, but mostly bad. To get through the worst year of our lives, we knew the only thing we could do to protect our mental health is to see the good in every bad experience. The title ‘making sense of it all’ essentially means making sense of each bad situation you find yourself in, to understand why that has happened and to find the positivity that hides in it.

We’re looking forward to being able to take in live music again. What’s your opinion on the way the return to gigs has been handled by the government?

It feels like it’s only now that the music industry is getting some sort of attention. At the start of the pandemic, it felt like the music industry was being ignored – as if it wasn’t important. The most ironic part was when the government put out a statement telling the public that they were to listen to their favourite music, watch their favorite films, create art etc. in order to protect their mental health, yet the creative industries were being ignored.

Creatives were there to help the public during lockdown and we got repaid by the government by being ignored and getting no support. Loads of people lost their jobs, venues had to shut down – whilst the public were being told to rely on the creatives during a hard time, our industry was crumbling before us, yet there was nothing we could do.

I remember being really scared, during lockdown, for the music industry and the knock-on effect that it would have on the band. It was gutting to see stadiums packed with crowds during the Euros, yet festivals like Truck Festival and Kendall Calling were being cancelled. We feel so lucky that Latitude went ahead and we got to play; it’s just heartbreaking to see that the music industry still isn’t getting the support that it deserves.

making sense of it all is out on 20th August. swim school play King Tut’s on 21st August (sold out) and Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Festival on 16th September

More on Swim School

Main photo credit: Rory Barnes

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