Interview by Ian Morales.
Chances are, if you own a television or watch American television shows online, you’ve heard The Heavy’s music already. It was that smashing soul song that made you turn the volume up while watching Entourage or kept you from changing the channel every time that Kia commercial with the sock monkey came on. Perhaps you know them as the first band that David Letterman asked to keep on playing after their Late Show performance was done. Yes, that’s The Heavy.
The British indie-soul quartet is arguably the most rock and roll soul band on the planet. They are a group of friends from a small town in England who first generated a buzz in the U.S. during South By Southwest in 2008. Their world, and ours for that matter, has not been the same since. Now armed with a touring horn section, The Heavy are currently on the road and performing at Mohawk in Austin on Friday, Oct. 29. We caught up with frontman Kelvin Swaby to get know a little more about the group beginnings, what records influenced him growing up and the “dirt” about their current album.
How did you guys come together? Where you childhood friends or college buddies?
Swaby: We got together a lot later in life. It all started with myself and Dan (Taylor). Chris came a little later. Dan and I met each other at work. We both used to work for The Gap of all places. We used to go out to see football (soccer) matches and hang out in clubs. We both had a band at the time and used to go to each others shows. The next thing you know, we started playing acoustic together over a bunch of different sampled beats from Bo Diddley and Howard Wolfe.
What was the conversation like that started The Heavy officially?
Swaby: There wasn’t a conversation that started it all, but rather being comfortable with one another. We realized we had a lot in common. Once that starts to happen, you actually start to set up a style. It also became evident that we needed more people. We always found it difficult to get four people in a room which is why we started sampling our beats.
Did you guys have any idea as to what kind of band you were going to be or did it just somehow evolve from your acoustic-beat sampling sessions?
Swaby: We actually developed a style first before we got anyone else involved so we had an idea of where we wanted to go. When Spencer (Page) came along it was great. From there we started going at it as a band. We had a couple of different drummers but drummers are really-really difficult. They either want to play way too much or as we found, they just don’t want to play enough. When Chris came aboard as we got signed, it was amazing. Chris is just absolutely perfect, both technically and in terms of his knowledge around the studio. We just work very well as a team.
What do you guys remember about Austin? After all, this was the place where you made your U.S. debut at South By Southwest in 2008.
Swaby: I just remember it being really mental. I only have good things that I think about when I think of Austin. It was one big, amazing party from the time we arrived until the time we left. We were received really well down there. I’m really looking forward to playing in Austin again to see if we can get the same kind of reception. Also, we actually had people comment on our MySpace asking us to “please-please-please” come to Austin. It’s going to be great.
Going back to when I first saw you guys perform on Letterman earlier in the year, what was going through your mind as you were finishing your performance and Dave asked you to keep playing? That never happens.
Swaby: Well, we weren’t prepared. I mean, you can’t be prepared for it because then you’d be arrogant. When we played Carson Daly the year before, we were only scheduled to pay one song. Carson was so taken back by us that he wanted us to play another song. That was really quite cool. So going into the Letterman thing, Dan and I were talking and thought it would be a good idea to always have another song ready to go. He thought there was no way he was going to ask us, but I knew how we were going to go out. We were going to go out and blow the roof off the place. It was a different type of gig too. When you have an audience that didn’t come to see you and around ninety five percent of the audience is on their feet clapping for you, it is a little strange. I didn’t expect it from Dave, but it is great that it happened.
It seemed that the Letterman performance kind of set the tone for your year, at least in terms of what we here in the United States know of you aside from the TV shows and commercials. What’s the year been like since then for you?
Swaby: It’s a little crazy but you know, but I think our presence on American television has been there for a couple of years since the first album. Americans that like Entourage are familiar with our music. I think that until know, a lot of people in this country (U.S.) haven’t realized who it was they were listening to until now. They whole year has been a string of fortunate events. We played Letterman and then Kia decided they wanted to use that song for their Super Bowl commercial. After that, suddenly people want to jump on using this track (“How You Like Me Now”?). Other than that, we have been incredibly busy.
While listening to your music lately, I can’t help but wonder what kind of amazing records influenced you growing up. Tell me about some of the records that inspired you.
Swaby: I remember listening to a lot of Frankie Lemon and Teenagers when I was younger. I really loved that whole kind of doo-wop, rock and roll sound that my father used to play. I love a lot of reggae as well. I used to love it when my father used to play Toots (and the Maytals) and a lot of Prince Buster. I’m lie one of eleven children, so my brothers and sisters would be playing music around the house as well. They’d play everything from reggae to Hendrix. You kind of develop an appreciation for all this kind of music, the kind of music that was in my household anyway. There wasn’t any kind of music that really disliked. For me, the Hi Records label artists were a huge musical influence.
Now let’s talk about your album, The House That Dirt Built. In a lot of interviews you’ve given this year, you mention the word “mistakes” quite often when talking about the making of the album. Can you elaborate what you mean by “mistakes?”
Swaby: Agh, leaving the mistakes in. When we talk about the dirt, it was about establishing our own thing and building our own house. We realized we were very different from a lot of bands. No matter how we record or where we record, there isn’t an A-typical recording style that we do. People often ask how we write our songs. It can start anywhere. It can start in an airport and end up in Daniel’s front room playing through a tiny amp and me playing it through with a shitty mic. When we record from wherever or however, if it sounds right then it sounds right. With all those mistakes together you can build a pretty impressive house, which I believe we kind of did on this record.
That being said, did you record the album live in the studio or it is “polished” so to speak?
Swaby: If you listen to “What You Want Me To Do,” that is completely live. “Home Away From Home” is completely live. What we do is we play the tracks completely live and then we chop it up and sample it. We just went from sampling other people’s stuff to sampling ourselves. There are definitely mistakes we keep in there.
I ask this because I know it is becoming more of a trend with bands these days to just record live in the studio and in less takes. I think fans appreciate it because the album, ideally, would sound like they live show they pay good money to see.
Swaby: I think after you actually finish an album is the point when you realize what you are going to understand how you’re going to play it. I can tell you this…when you come see us live, expect more. There will be more dirt.
How did you guys connect with The Dap Kings and get them to play on your EP and some live sets with you?
Swaby: When we had the Letterman offer come up, we were in Germany at the time. We knew the only guys we wanted to be playing horns with us Letterman were The Dap Kings. Within twelve hours The Dap Kings said yes. As I later found out, they were fans of ours from our very first release, That Kind of Man. They absolutely loved what we were doing. We became very good friends with the majority of the band and we toured with them early in the year as well. It was an amazing tour and it was just crazy. Expect to hear them on the next record because we’ve already talked about it.
What do you guys miss most about home when you are on tour?
What’s coming up for you guys after this tour is done?
Swaby: We go to Greece for five days. We literally have a day and half off before we go to the Middle East and get back before the beginning of December. We’ll take a week off to do nothing and then get back in to the studio to track up some new stuff. The demos for the next record sound ridiculous. We hope to have it finished by April.