SWIMM are a Los Angeles’ based indie psych-pop band with a loyal following, comprising of vocalist Chris Hess and percussionist Adam Winn. They first met in Florida and moved to the sunny west coast which they now call home. Their addictive, tropical beats have earned them legions of fans around the country and they’ve cemented their name in the Los Angeles community by throwing some of the most original DIY shows.
Fresh off releasing a single early November and headling the Dr. Martens party at the Bootleg Theater, SWIMM is all set for their biggest annual music festival yet called “Love You Down”. Sold out for its first two years, Love You Down is SWIMM’s way of paying homage to their peers and integrating different artistic communities in Los Angeles.
We speak to the band members, Chris, Adam and guitarist Marton Bisits about their music, influences and their Love You Down festival.
Tell us more about your beginnings in music. When did you decide a music career was for you?
Chris: My beginnings in music were very communal. I was invited by a community of surfers that I grew up around to come try and play along. One of them ended up giving me my first guitar too. As I started to write music, it became a very private thing. I was petrified of singing in front of anyone or sharing anything I’d written. So for years and years, I would write and sing songs while no one was home. Finally, I started recording them and slowly got the courage to share.
My first band was with Adam. It was a two piece and by that time I was finishing college and had no real aspirations of making music a career. But next thing I knew we were touring in Japan and Europe and all over the US. The idea of a career in music is an ever-evolving idea to me. Somewhat of a paradox by nature. But with enough cerebral flexibility, the notion can come to fruition in some pretty wild ways.
Who were some of your biggest influences when you were growing up? Is there anything outside of music you look to for inspiration?
Chris: Some of the first bands that made me feel like I had to try and play music were Death From Above 1979, Queens of the Stone Age, Animal Collective, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Sonic Youth. Then I saw the Leonard Cohen documentary “I’m Your Man” and that flipped my world upside down too. Then artists like Stevie Nicks, Nick Cave, Paul Simon, Prince and the Pixies became huge for me in the songwriting aspect of it all.
I get so much from creative worlds outside of music. Authors like Tom Robbins and Etgar Keret became very influential in terms of freedom with creative license. I can watch movies like “Jackie Brown”, “No Country for Old Men”, “Get Shorty” and “Boogie Nights” over and over again and drool at the mouth over the wordplay and execution. Hell, watching “Reservoir Dogs”
makes me want to write a whole album of songs that could carry those dudes in suits down the street as buoyantly as “Little Green Bag” does.
You mention your music is “against the status quo of practising apathy”. What do you aim to communicate with your music?
Chris: Haha. I think I said that when we first moved to LA. I was noticing how in fashion it was to pretend you didn’t care. I kept seeing bands that would be on stage and look like they just as well have could have been at home watching The Simpsons and almost annoyed that people would be there to see them play music. I get why people think it’s cool and I love The Simpsons… but to a point, that shit is just a defence mechanism against putting yourself out there. If you care enough to write songs and care enough to try and get a show for your band then you obviously care. Caring is ok I think. I want to communicate that in our music. That it’s ok to care and feel and think about shit.
Share with us what your usual songwriting session looks like.
Chris: Traditionally, I’d have an idea or a skeleton of a song. Or maybe just lyrics. Then I’d bring it to the guys and see where they want to take it. Lately, we’ve been starting songs based on grooves that Hany will write on the bass, Adam will write on drums or even something rhythmic Marton writes on the guitar. And then the song will grow from there.
SWIMM’s annual festival Love You Down is a celebration of the community through music and arts. What inspired you to organize a festival like Love You Down?
Chris: We had thrown a handful of crazy DIY shows at our warehouse The Cube. We put a lot of effort into transforming our space for those shows and making them something memorable. Then we got to a point where we could headline our own shows in LA. After doing a few of those, it was time to plan our next and I was thinking about how I didn’t want to just play another headline show with two bands opening at a venue that had nothing to do with our band, aesthetically speaking. So I thought if we could take the energy of our DIY Cube Shows and bring that to a venue and also include way more of the community we had grown here in LA, then it would be much more memorable of an experience for friends and fans. Adam is such a machine when it comes to organization and management of resources that I knew together we could grow this thing into something big. And now it’s our third year and it’s literally going to be ten times the size of the first, with Warpaint headlining both nights.
You must have been at some pretty rad festivals and gigs. Can you share with us a memorable experience?
Chris: I think some of the most memorable would be the Cube Shows and last year’s Love You Down. The Cube shows were the first things we did in LA that felt like we were really leaving a lasting impression on people here. We’d wrap our entire warehouse in reflective, silver Mylar, built a stage, get free booze for people and play into the wee hours of the night. Usually, they’d end up in frenetic dance parties with people wrapping themselves in mylar and twirling into giant dogpiles on the tequila drenched floors.
Can you tell us more about the Los Angeles music scene and what it means to you?
Chris: I feel like the LA music scene is what you make it. There are so many incredible bands and musicians here. It is definitely easy to get comfortable in your own clique but we’ve tried to open things up. Honestly, that was the biggest goal of Love You Down – reminding people that it’s ok to love each others’ bands and fan out over me.
What MONO gear do you use at home, in the studio or on tour?
Marton: Depending on what I’m doing I’ve always got some form of MONO bag with me. I currently own five and each serves a different purpose. I have an M80 bag for each of my guitars – my 335, Strat and an acoustic. I also have a Dual case for electric and acoustic as well as and pedalboard bag. The Dual Case is one of the greatest things to ever happen to me. I’ve done a lot of touring that needs both electric and acoustic and carrying both separately was a pain. I would look for any excuse to try and only bring one or the other, usually resulting in people that I work with getting annoyed at me as it was clear I was just being lazy. Having the double case has made life easier for touring/studio work cause I can turn up with one bag, having it all there and not annoy anyone anymore.
What do you love about your MONO cases?
Marton: I love MONO cases cause they can take a beating. By no means would I say I treat my guitars like children that are fragile beings that would get hurt by falling over or someone saying bad things to them. That is because they are in MONO bags. Whilst being in a MONO bag I have watched my guitars fall, be stepped on, thrown, been left in the rain and many other things and nothing has happened to them. The fact that they are in MONO bags give me a peace of mind cause I know my guitars and pedals will be safe even if they are thrown about by me or someone at UNITED airlines. I’ve also had my MONO Semi-hollow case for 8 years and it still looks brand new which is a testament to how good they are cause it has been thrown all around the world.
So, what next for SWIMM?
Adam: We released our first full-length album this year ‘Sentimental Porno’. We are writing for a new one now. So between that, touring and planning Love You Down 3… Just lots of dancing… Tons and tons of dancing.