Monday, August 06, 2012

FREE SWIM She Dreams In Lights + Q&A

Last month saw the release of the fourth Free Swim EP "She Dreams In Lights". The previous three - I became a devotee upon hearing the second one last Februrary - are splendid cuts of English whimsy DIY pop that tell tall tales with utter conviction. The latest contains many familiar Free Swim motifs - deliciously clever wordplay, exotic animals ("
a twist-necked turtle...from Venezuela") and surreal pop culture references (Leo Sayer's Fortune Teller?) but is a more cryptic and dream-like listen, beautifully encapsulated by Sweeping The Nation as a "cinematic, washed out haze, as if Felt had listened to latter Mercury Rev". Here band mastermind Paul Coltofeanu answers some questions to shed some more light on "She Dreams In Lights" and the world of Free Swim.

Earlier Free Swim EPs have had a strong - often surreal - narrative but "She Dreams In Lights" seems more allusive and reflective - and even quite sorrowful? What's the story here? Is it a conscious stylistic shift?
I think I was totally ‘whimsied’ out after the last EP, "Dennis". As fun as it is to have fun and make fun music for fun, I think every once in a while it’s good form to try and create something with a little more substance. Also, ex-Christian Bob Dylan once said that it‘s important for artists to never stand still. He wrote ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ so I think we ought to take the bastard seriously.

On the surface ‘She Dreams In Lights’ is a simple tale about the dreams of a girl when she goes to sleep one night after a hard day doing whatever it is she does. The opening crash of ‘Records in the Basement’ is supposed to be the moment she falls asleep and then on the last track, ‘The Snooze Function’, she wakes up. In between, the songs recount the seemingly nonsensical dreams she has. I’m afraid I need to quote someone else here, forgive me I promise this is the last one, but Dali said “just because something makes no sense, it doesn’t mean it has no meaning”. This is something one needs to bear in mind at virtually all times when listening to a Free Swim EP, in particular this one!

On a deeper level I think it’s also a little about the self-important artist in me feeling slightly narked that despite the endorsement of a heap of respected BBC DJs, reputable music blogs and the Political Editor of ITV Wales, Free Swim can’t get a record deal, a manager nor even a bloody booking agent so we can take the bastard Panda out on tour. So I think there’s definitely an element of me just retreating into my imagination, throwing my toys out of the pram and roaring “FUCK YOU ENGLAND, FUCK YOU SIMON COWELL AND WHILE I’M HERE, FUCK YOU JOHN TERRY!”

Despite all that, I think 'She Dreams In Lights' is the most ‘beautiful’ Free Swim EP yet.

Will a Free Swim LP ever appear or are you sticking with the shorter 4 or 5 track format?
When you end up writing, recording, producing, promoting and releasing an entire record yourself, from your bedroom, with nothing but six seasons of Dexter and the occasional Magnum Ecuador (I’m a man of taste) as a respite, I’ve learnt that if you try and do a fully-orchestrated 10 track album, the quality can suffer. I learnt that lesson from doing the three Android Angel albums – each was an enormous undertaking and I think they all have 3 or 4 truly charming ditties, but there’s an absolute ocean of filler and dross on there too.

Traditionally, concept albums are associated almost exclusively with bearded men and their penchants for ales, cheeses and farting loudly. Plus I think that over the last ten years or so the attention span of the music-listening masses seems to have crumbled in line with this whole ‘MUST HAVE NEW MUSIC ALL THE TIME’ mentality. Me and Dave (friend who does the spoken word parts on Free Swim records) meet every fortnight for ‘Album Club’ where we listen to three albums in their entirety. I tell people this and they often look at me like I’m insane, which I probably am, but is it so wrong to listen to and enjoy a body of work as it was intended?

Ultimately, I suppose I think that surreal concept EPs strike a balance and deserve a place somewhere in the grand scheme of thing.

How are you able to record and release all EPs free of charge?
In terms of recording, it’s just evolved that way. Basically, I have ended up working as a Science Technician in a secondary school. It’s surreal (I am bollocks at Science), not ideal (I should, of course, be headlining Glastonbury every year) and phenomenally poorly paid, but it does give me 3 months off a year to create all this eccentric nonsense in peace.

I’ve lugged my computer and mic stands down to the school music department during school holidays a number of times and I have some very patient friends who kindly lend me unfathomably expensive microphones. Most importantly, I haven’t had a proper girlfriend for what must now be approaching an age of man so I’ve had innumerable Friday evenings to familiarise myself with the intricacies of Multiband Compression on Garageband.

I put out "Two Hands Is OK" for free because I thought an EP about a man who has two hands grafted to his chest to help him multi-task more efficiently would be of no interest to anyone other than myself and Dave. Bizarrely, early reviewers actually seemed to find it rather refreshing so I made "Yolanda the Panda" a couple of months later and the reviews, reception and radioplay for that were unlike anything I’d ever known.

I have been stubbornly reluctant to alter the creative process or the ‘price’ ever since for fear of compromising the ethic on which the whole project was founded. Will I be able to sustain this in the future? Who knows? Who bloody cares?

What are the differences between Free Swim and your other (solo) musical project The Android Angel?
I think the easiest way to put it is that Free Swim is the music of my head, and The Android Angel is the music of my heart. That sounds gash. But it’s probably true. The creative processes are very different – Android Angel nowadays seems to involve me leaving England for a month or so every summer to drag my arse off to a far corner of the planet and fall in and out of love with a host of foreign women and then coming home and making a carefully constructed record all about them. Free Swim is the stream of consciousness sound of the farcical, giddy delirium my day-to-day life has become in middle-class suburban England! It’s going to be ok though because I think I might relocate to Vancouver next year and become a whaling enthusiast.

And what are your own basement records?
Let’s go for Mercury Rev’s "Deserter's Songs", Spiritualized’s "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" and Super Furry Animals’ "Radiator".

Free Swim
She Dreams In Lights [BUY]