Check out the full interview soon on the KAMP Student Radio Youtube channel!
Last weekend I sat down with Tucson's own Mute Swan over Zoom to talk about their excellent sophomore album Only Ever, their inspirations, and the ways the pandemic has affected their creative process.
Mute Swan is a local Tucson rock band consisting of vocalist and guitarist Mike, Bassist and vocalist Prab, and guitarist Thom, who combine their talents to create a harmonious blend of dream pop, shoegaze and fuzzy psych rock. I break the ice by asking the band about their favorite ways to pass the time during quarantine. Mike and Prab tell me they have both taken up skateboarding, and Prab tells me he has also gotten extremely invested in learning about cars, despite not owning one. Thom, on the other hand, has used his quarantine free time to go on biking and hiking excursions, and to practice using new instruments and gear. He also says that he recently bought four chickens, to the amusement of myself and his bandmates. Perhaps I should get some quarantine chickens of my own.
We then dive into musical discussion as the band explains the creative process of making Only Ever. I ask them if the pandemic was a big obstacle, as I know it has created hardship for a lot of musicians. “Surprisingly, the last year, the pandemic and everything, hasn’t played a huge role, because we had everything finished before then” says Mike. The band had wrapped up recording in December of 2020, shortly before lockdown reached the United States. The process of writing the album started around four years ago, when a friend of Mute Swan, who ran sound at the Flycatcher at the time, opened a studio and asked the band if they wanted to record there. This was the first time they had access to a real recording studio, as they had recorded all their previous work independently. Polishing and mixing the album took a long a time, since the band members had to balance music with their jobs and other responsibilities. A lot of changes were made to the original version of the record as new ideas were had and new parts were added, which, while improving the album, added time to the recording process. When the album was finally finished by the end of 2019, they started to look for a label. But then Covid-19 hit, bringing much of the music industry to a screeching halt, and Mute Swan began to think they would not be able to put out the album until the pandemic had run its course. However, they were pleasantly surprised to be contacted by Australian record label Salty Dog, and fortunately had the opportunity to release their record much earlier than expected with the help of Salty Dog records and Tucson's PIAPTK recordings.
In addition to slowing record releases, Covid has put a stop to almost all forms of live music, a loss grieved by music enthusiasts worldwide. I asked Mute Swan if the lack of ability to play live shows has made it more difficult for their music to get exposure and for their audience to grow. Surprisingly, Prab and Mike felt that in some ways the cancellation of live shows has been blessing, as it compelled them to put more effort into their online presence, which is vital to gaining popularity as a band in today’s digital world. “When you’re preparing for a show, you can’t really work on new songs” Mike told me, explaining how the absence of concerts and rehearsal time has given the band more time to perfect new material. Before the pandemic, Mute Swan had grown tired of practicing and performing the same songs over and over again, and plan to play sets of entirely new songs once venues open again. So if you want to hear Mute Swans newest tunes, be sure to catch them live once we’re all vaccinated!
I then asked Mute Swan about their influences, both musical and non-musical. Mike takes a lot of lyrical inspiration from meditation, as well as various social issues. He says meditation also influences the psychedelic, dreamy sound of his music. Prab adds that “the music makes me think of a moment of clarity”, and that he is inspired by moments in everyday life that feel “free of noise” (though he is aware that this is slightly ironic, given Mute Swan’s noisy sound). Thom focuses on writing music, not lyrics, and gets ideas by experimenting with pedals and loops. He often does this at home with a movie playing on silent in the background to set an ambiance and provide inspiration.
We moved on to discuss the Mute Swan origin story: how they met, and how they started playing music together. Mike moved to Tucson about 10 years ago and tried to find his way into the music scene as soon as he could. He was in a few bands, and eventually met Thom and Prab, who were in a different group at the time. Impressed by their sound, Mike convinced Thom and Prab to combine their band with his, and Mute Swan was born. They members approached the project with a deliberate plan for what they wanted to sound like, what genres and bands they wanted to be influenced by, and what they each wanted to bring to the table. It helped the band to have clear direction, but they still allowed themselves to change and progress naturally, which is what brought the dream pop and shoegaze influences into their sound in recent years. The most recent time the band discussed their vison for their sound with each other, they cited bands such as Stereolab, Cocteau Twins, Black Moth Super Rainbow, and My Bloody Valentine as influences.
As a Tucson band, Mute Swan has a lot of experience playing local clubs and restaurants (from before 2020, of course). Mike tells me that their favorite venue to play was Owl’s club, a bar in a renovated funeral home located close to 4th Avenue. Its location is ideal since it is offset from the 4th avenue chaos but still in a popular nightlife spot, and what it lacks in sound quality (funeral homes are not extremely well equipped for hosting shows) it makes up for in atmosphere. They also, of course, play at the usual Tucson venues, like Wooden Tooth, Club Congress, and Che’s Lounge, and they tell me they even play at local taco shops on occasion. Mike says they hope to set up some future shows at Groundworks, an art and music non-profit that unfortunately was about to open before being shut down by Covid.
As the last question, I ask Mute Swan what concert they would go see if quarantine would end tomorrow and they could see any artist they wanted. Mike was ready with a very specific answer: he would see My Bloody Valentine at the Rialto theater, with Stereolab opening, and with Mute Swan themselves as the local opener. Prab says he would like to see Tame Impala, since he had tickets to see them before Covid cancelled shows. Thom says he would also pick Tame Impala since he hadn’t had a chance to see them yet, which sparks a discussion about the evolution of Kevin Parker’s sound and his use of pedals.
Overall, I had a blast interviewing Mute Swan, they are a very talented and down to earth group of guys. If you haven’t already, check out Only Ever, available on streaming surfaces and for sale on Bandcamp!