Sometimes the best songs don’t tell a story, but rather describe a poignant feeling.
That is exactly what Los Angeles-based rock band Swerve has done with their latest single, “Ebbs and Flows”.
“Ebbs and Flows” is ripe with lush acoustic instrumentation, and is inspired by the sound and lore of Laurel Canyon. The track was written at the beginning of the pandemic and communicates how relationships break down, whether it be physical or emotional distance. There is no straightforward narrative, but rather a description of the chaos that occurs when you go through the feeling of losing someone you were once close to.
“Ebbs and Flows” was initially featured on the band’s first full length album, Ruin Your Day, which dropped last year, but this original version maintained their signature rock flair. This easy-on-the-ear new version is set to be released on an acoustically-charged EP showing another side of the band, along with a second EP which will stick to their rock roots. Both are scheduled to be released this year.
Swerve is made up of Gregory Mahdesian (vocals and guitar), Ryan Berti (guitar and vocals), Brandon Duncan (bass and vocals) and Mark Gardner (drummer).
We had the opportunity to speak with Mahdesian on the re-imagined new single, the background of the band, and the upcoming albums.
Can you give us some background on the origins of Swerve?
I started Swerve a few years back to flesh out all these song ideas I was writing on my own. I’ve always been inspired by melodic guitar music and was trying to write songs I wasn’t hearing other people write at the time, and I needed people to breathe life into them. Brandon, our bassist, produced the first Swerve EP and joined the band after that, and my friend Ryan joined as a lead so we could play live in LA, and the three of us form the core of the band as writers and arrangers, and it’s decidedly not a solo project. Mark joined after our initial drummer quit music, and while he’s on tour, his younger brother Dylan has been filling in and will be on our new material.
We put together our debut album over the course of pandemic with the producer Adam Lasus, and that’s when we really found our sound. It opened the door for us all across radio, playlists, becoming a Vox Amps artist, and now we’re ready to keep writing, recording, and getting out there in front of audiences.
Your songs cover a variety of topics from politically charged songs, failing relationships, and fears of never achieving what you expected. Where do you typically draw your inspiration from, and how does the band’s songwriting process work?
Oh man, that makes us sound like a bummer! You’re right though, that tends to be what we focus on in our writing, but despite the subject matter we always make it a good time for people. We draw our inspiration from our personal lives and our interactions with the wider world- we’ve seen some real shit since we’ve come of age, from recessions to pandemics to creeping right wing authoritarianism, and it would be impossible to ignore that when we write.
Heartbreak and failure seem to be evergreen topics in popular music- I don’t know anyone that hasn’t experienced that, and writing through it can make you feel better. I shouldn’t have any more stories about my own failed relationships unless I really mess things up in my personal life. When it comes to our process, I usually bring a basic song idea to Ryan and Brandon, who then tear it apart and rebuild it into something new and better. Sometimes Ryan starts with the idea, and we’re trying to get Brandon to do the same, but he’s stubborn.
Your new single, “Ebbs and Flows,” was written during the pandemic. It seems a lot of artists say that the pandemic allowed them to explore new ways to create and write music. How did the pandemic affect your personal/the band’s creative process, or did it?
Oh, it totally did. We used to just jam on songs and ideas and test them out live for a while before we would think of recording, but the pandemic kind of took that away from us. That ended up being okay though, because it forced each of us to be more thoughtful ahead of time about what a song should sound like, and made us communicate with each other more openly. We don’t function as well in silos though, and aren’t bedroom recording artists, so we still needed to get together to make things really loud, which was a pain in the ass before the vaccines came along. Personally, isolation probably made my writing a bit more melancholic and melodic, which definitely comes through on the new single.
What made you want to release “Ebbs and Flows” as a single as opposed to other songs that you plan to have on your upcoming Laurel Canyon-inspired EP?
Well, writing this song and figuring out we could arrange it differently was what ended up inspiring the rest of them. It came first and set the whole thing in motion.
I see you recently moved to the Laurel Canyon area, which inspired the new version of this song and as stated, the impending EP. What inspired the move there, and what made you want to re-imagine previous songs of yours versus writing new ones?
I had been living right off the busiest corner of Melrose for several years and it was time to get out of there. I got married right before we moved to the canyon, and it had always been a place we wanted to live. It’s such a uniquely LA location with an incredible musical history, and we got there right before the first lockdown took place, so I started writing songs in isolation while listening to all these great artists from Laurel Canyon like The Byrds and Carole King. They always had acoustic guitars, strings, piano, and since I wrote these songs on an acoustic, I decided we should try to do versions like that as well. Turns out it’s quite fun and liberating to go entirely out of our typical loud, electric wheelhouse.
How did you get in touch with producer Adam Lasus, and what made him the perfect match for your sound and vision?
We were introduced to Adam through a mutual connection who thought he might be a good fit for us. I went to his house to meet over coffee and ended up staying for hours just talking about music, getting into my favorite bands like the Stone Roses and The Replacements. I honestly don’t encounter too many people like that in LA in the 2020s. The rest of the band hit it off with him as well, and he’s been our collaborative partner and producer ever since. He makes us feel comfortable, intimately knows the sound we’re going for, and is a lot of fun to work with.
And if I’m not mistaken, you have a second EP in the works that sticks to your rock roots. What more can you tell us about both upcoming EPs you’ve been working on?
Completing and releasing a full-length album kind of opened the floodgates for us. We’ve been able to push ourselves with new sounds and ideas, whether they be acoustic and strings like the Laurel Canyon Sessions, or full-fledged rock like the EP we’re currently working on. We had a vision for Ruin Your Day, we achieved it, and now we have the confidence to keep trying new things. So, look out for more melodies and new guitar tones and different sounds coming from us at a more rapid pace than you’ve heard before. I doubt we’ll ever run out of things to say.
In a day and age where everyone and their cousin can pump out music in their bedroom, slap it on platforms, and saturate social media, what do you try to do to stand out? Or do you just do your thing and join the herd?
You never want to be gimmicky, so the best way to stand out is to just have great songs that are recorded well. I don’t think there are many others out there with our point of view who put together the kind of sounds we do. We probably need to be more aggressive on social media, but if you only have a certain amount of time to work on things its best to hone your craft and put real thought and care into your art. We like to have fun with song titles and lyrics too.
What does a dream gig look like for Swerve? Dream collaboration?
Opening for a Gallagher brother in London or Manchester or playing any big festival in Europe or South America- the fans are out of this world over there and they love guitars. Too many people we’d like to collaborate with to mention, but it can be a challenge because you don’t want to dilute the “band” aspect of being a band. It would be great to have a real left-field vocal accompaniment, like Serj Tankian from System of a Down.
Can fans expect any tour dates this summer or fall, or are you mostly preparing to release the new EPs?
You can expect to see us live as summer turns into fall. Playing is the best part of the band and we’re ready to go. We haven’t announced anything just yet, but keep your eyes peeled.
Featured photo by Mallory Turner