Wonderland.

SWIM DEEP

The Birmingham five-piece are back and it feels so good.

Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue

All clothing band’s own.

Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue
All clothing band’s own.

Taken from the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland. Get your copy now…

Growing up in Birmingham was strange. Northerners don’t let you into their gang and Southerners seem oddly proper. No-one wants to claim you, or god forbid, have your accent around on a regular basis. Brummies are hardy and humble, yes, but they weren’t exactly the qualities I was looking for in my hometown at the age of 16.

Around the 2012 mark, everything started to change. Our landlocked city (that’s looked like a building site and is in the county that has had some of the highest unemployment rates in the country for as long as I can remember) had become an inspiration for escapism. Everyone who was anyone was wearing baggy clothes, growing their hair and writing shoegaze and pop songs about California.

Swim Deep were one of the first bands in the “B-town” scene to bring together angsty teens to listen to sunny songs in the grey, brutal second city. “It was our Hacienda, I think,” frontman Austin Williams says of the era when I meet the five-piece in a north London boozer while we drip on one of the hottest days of the year. Like most of the bands I grew up watching/worshipping, once they found success on Chess Club Records, Swim Deep moved to the capital. Now, on their new label imprint Pop Committee, for album three — Emerald Classics — they’re paying respects to their roots. The title is even borrowed from a pub in Brum.

“The album is very much a love letter to Birmingham, but also we’re introducing our new bandmates to Swim Deep,” Williams explains, with Cavan McCarthy from the original lineup remaining on bass, James Balmont having joined in 2013 and new members Robbie Wood and Thomas Fisquet coming on board last year. “We’re shining a light on the world that we came from, and we didn’t really do that on the second album, or the first. It was about getting out of there. This was about paying homage… It’s about paying homage to your beliefs.”

Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue
Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue

Left: All clothing band’s own. Right: (Left) Cardigan YOU MUST CREATE, (Right) jumper BARENA, trousers MCQ ALEXANDER MCQUEEN.

Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue
Left: All clothing band’s own. Right: (Left) Cardigan YOU MUST CREATE, (Right) jumper BARENA, trousers MCQ ALEXANDER MCQUEEN.
Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue

It’s been four years since Swim Deep released their second album; the languid, psychedelic-tinted Mothers. In the interim, the original lineup lost two members — Zachary Robinson and Tom Higgins — after they landed back from the US touring album two. They spent three fruitless months in a Brighton studio before saying goodbye, then Swim Deep fell quiet for two years.

“That whole thing was quite depressing,” Williams admits. “It was all of us turning up, no-one really felt like they wanted to be there… Higgy and Zack decided to leave for different reasons, completely respectable reasons… But as soon as they left it felt like me, Cav and James sat around with our manager like, ‘What are we going to do?’” For Williams it was obvious they were going to carry on, but after Higgins’ resignation shocked everyone at their meeting down the pub, McCarthy felt doubts they could pull it off. As Balmont puts it, “We were doing a lot of work but it wasn’t going anywhere.”

Then, luckily, Williams tells me, “The stars definitely aligned for us for once.” In a writing room, he met Dave McCracken (producer and songwriter for the likes of Beyoncé and Ian Brown), who would go on to be the producer and “the saviour” of Emerald Classics. “It wouldn’t have happened without him,” McCarthy agrees. “I know that’s an easy thing to say… but it is genuinely true.”

“He really understood the emotion,” Wood explains, and with their focus realigned and their drive accelerated by McCracken, in May the band dropped the video for “To Feel Good”. The first single from the album is bleakly beautiful and overtly to the point. Spoken word verses document Williams’ real- life experience, living in Birmingham and on the dole, signing on while the Job Centre worker tells him not to forget him when he’s famous. “It’s a story of myself, of someone, not knowing how they get to what they want to be,” he explains. “I think that’s relatable.”

Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue

All clothing band’s own.

Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue
All clothing band’s own.

Featuring Margate’s Social Singing choir, the track covers a sample of Rozalla’s “Everybody’s Free” to haunting effect, tempering Williams’ matter-of- fact lyrics. “I didn’t want to glamorise being on the dole…” Williams explains. “For me, it wasn’t a hard thing to go through, I was 18. My mum who was 45 who was on it – that’s a hard thing to go through. I didn’t know any different.”

It’s a stark difference from the undulating trippy pulse of Mothers and the sparkling, blissed-out indie on their 2012 debut, Where The Heaven Are We? “I think we’ll always, naturally without even trying, do what people don’t expect,” McCarthy says. “Contrary little bastards, aren’t we?” Williams laughs.

Emerald Classics still gleams with the Swim Deep feel-good factor, with dreamy lyrics and hollers for their fans to woop along to while they sling an arm around a mate’s shoulder. I tell them the album feels vulnerable, but hopeful and satisfied. “I think that’s literally it,” McCarthy laughs, “you’re describing Austin.”

The band seem more confident than ever before, with big sounds con- centrated into pop anthems instead of expansive experimental breakdowns. “Father I Pray” opens with Happy Mondays drums before giving way to a choir chorus, while “Sail Away Say Goodbye” chases trails of Talking Heads laser beam synths. “Never Stop Pinching Yourself” sees the album out big-band style; sheer joy distilled, as they wave and ride off into the sunset while the credits start to roll.

Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue

Cardigan TOURNE DE TRANSMISSIONS, t-shirt AUSTIN’s own, trousers LOUIS VUITTON.

Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue
Cardigan TOURNE DE TRANSMISSIONS, t-shirt AUSTIN’s own, trousers LOUIS VUITTON.

“The more you [DJ], the more you realise that the most fun everyone collectively has is when you’re playing stuff like ‘Dancing Queen’, or ‘Raspberry Beret’,” Balmont explains, after they all had stints between records as selectors they wanted to make a record to move to. “It’s just a humble genre, pop,” Fisquet agrees, “the more you try to be elite, the less you’re open.”

You can’t argue the five of them aren’t humble either, working second jobs while they make music in the face of an ever-changing industry. “I think it’s helped shape this record,” Williams says. “We’re all in it together, everyone’s taken that dive… Being able to cope, at the very least level, whilst doing something you love is good enough for me… I always tell the guys: ‘We’re not going to settle until we’re playing Madison Square Garden eight times in a row.’”

They’re already writing new songs for next year, even though Emerald isn’t due for release until 4th October. “I’ve started sending them some stuff,” Williams says, coy. “We’ve got 10 days off in Bangkok so much to the dismay of some of [the band], I was like, ‘Let’s go to the studio!’ I think it’s a bit more expensive than I thought it was going to be, but we’ll see.”

“That’s the thing,” Balmont grins, “any decision in Swim Deep is based on, ‘hopefully someone can give us some money’. It’s never definite… Sometimes you have to wait three years until someone like Dave turns up and then something happens. As long as you’re doing something, it will happen.”

“We want to go Ariana Grande on it and release a single every two months,” Williams promises hopefully, recharged and refusing to submit to another two year silence. “Post Malone, watch out.”

Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue
Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue

(Left): Shirt DANIEL W. FLETCHER, t-shirt MCQ ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, trousers STELLA MCCARTNEY. (Right): Jumper JAMES’ own.

Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue
(Left): Shirt DANIEL W. FLETCHER, t-shirt MCQ ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, trousers STELLA MCCARTNEY. (Right): Jumper JAMES’ own.
Wonderland Swim Deep interview Autumn 19 issue
Photography
Jose Solanes
Fashion
Abigail Hazard
Words
Lily Walker
Hair
Charli Avery at Untitled Artists using Glossier
Skin
Celia Evans at One Represents using Davines and MAC Cosmetics
Production
Federica Barletta
SWIM DEEP