Tasmania’s A Swayze & The Ghosts have tantalised these past few months with a clutch of singles which showcase the raw power, contemporary perspective but retro sound of this unashamedly angry group of young men in a hurry. To finish the song and get on with the next. To ensure what is not alright is in our face, "Suddenly". "Connect(ing) to Consume". Getting "Rich" will be the "Mess of Me". And don’t forget "Cancer", it’s in the "News" and on the "Beaches".
Their debut album, Paid Salvation, is out this Friday on Ivy League, and it’s a grower, a keeper, a noisy, nosey son of a beach, and deserves to be played loud and even louder.
I’m confused, I don’t know whether I can act my age or go back forty or more years, when punk swirled and raged around the dying prog rock light, and gave us the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, The Damned, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees and other angry names of angry bands who were very angry.
So, I am pleasantly surprised to find that angry Andrew, the singer and lyricist of a decidedly modern and egalitarian version of ancient punk, is polite, articulate and ever so patient with this old fart. He must have good parents.
A Swayze & the Ghosts, comprising Andrew Swayze, Hendrik Wipprecht on guitar, Zackary Blain on drums, and Ben Simms on bass, have grown up in relatively secluded, off the beaten track, Tasmania. Hobart used to be a sister city to Invercargill, where I hail from, so Andrew and I have this in common, off the beaten track, but someone in Hobart woke up one day and figured out there were better cities to be sisters with. After all, Mick Jagger called Invercargill the arsehole of the earth. Andrew woke up one day and figured he’d better say something through their music, not just be a happy thrasher, and you don’t have to live on the beaten track to have a world view.
Paid Salvation is the name of the album, and the title track is about the commodification of religion. Which is a good topic for an anthem (“God’s not here, God don’t work for me”). It’s also one of the band’s favourite songs, and as most of the songs are about negative aspects of modern society, the idea of paid salvation, i.e by the wealthy to morally subjugate the meagre, became the album name as well.
What is the album saying? What does it tell us about you?
Well, for a start the album sonically sounds like the band does when they play live. That was the sound they and producer Dean Tuza wanted. Aggressive, honest, charismatic. And lyrically, let me quote what Andrew says in the record company blurb: “It really shits me off when bands have this pedestal and they have the ability to influence so much around them and they waste it by singing about stupid shit like going to the pub or having a smoke break at work. If you’re given this audience, I think you have to have something to say. And I definitely intend on abusing that right” Know your rights, young man, know your rights, as the Clash did say. Know your writes.
"It’s Not Alright" is the first song, and I played it to my mate the other night. He’s about ten years younger than me, and therefore in his teens when punk hit. He just loved it. I think it’s pretty bloody good too, but he loved it. But what isn’t alright?
What’s not alright is the lack of abortion clinics in Tasmania which has caused many young females to have to leave for the mainland to exercise their choice. Which is symbolic of a typically conservative political influence despite the bohemian nature of much of Tasmanian society. Which then segues into a discourse about honesty in art and the nature of Tasmanian culture which creates a sense of community amongst artists regardless of genre. not unlike what we have here in Kiwi.
I get to the nub of the issue: Are you angry?
Well, yes, is the answer, and I refer again to the quote above, but also what makes Andrew angry also drives his muse. He finds it easier to write about what needs to change in society than what he’s happy about.
And he’s not happy about being rich and famous, despite the lyrics in “Rich”, a neat little song which pounds along to a Clash-like rhythm. Definitely tongue in cheek. “I want to be real rich, I'm gonna be a rich son of a”
So, I have more than one mate who likes your sound, which tells me you are taking us back at least 40 years, to the Damned, Siouxsie , early Clash, Boomtown Rats. Is that obvious, or intentional to you? Are you getting older audiences in Hobart?
Absolutely intentional. This is the music they all listened to, and they like the honesty and directness and urgency of early punk. And it ages their audience, which is great.
Tell us about your band and how you operate. Who writes, arranges, produces. Is it your band or is it the band?
These days it is very much "the" band, although originally, they were a three-piece dedicated to bringing Andrew’s songs to the stage. Then they brought in a fourth member and consciously decided to expand the sound and write as a team, which added breadth and depth both to the songs and to the arrangements. This democratization of the band has been both consensual and successful, and has created a bond and a culture between them all which Andrew describes, in very un-punk fashion as “lovely”. There’s a hippy in everyone, especially in Tasmania.
We talk about the prevalence these days of bands sharing songwriting credits essentially removing the distinction between writing and arranging which prevailed in the bands of yesteryear and often led to ill feeling and bust-ups. Drugs and alcohol didn’t help. Andrew calls it from hedonism to wholesome, although he admits they tried the hedonist approach with an earlier record and the results were less than gratifying. So they no longer indulge, especially while they work.
My favourite song is Cancer. I renamed you A Siouxsie and the Banshee Ghosts after hearing it.
"Cancer "is an older song, which has benefited from the breadth and depth of the new band approach.
It’s just a beauty ‘Irascible cancer, well I’m locking the door, Said, if you wanted in, if you wanted in, you should’ve walked through before” Pogo, bounce, pogo.
Ok, so what’s the future, what does it look like 10 years out. You guys are not yet full time, right? Day jobs? So what does success look like in those terms?
Success will be several albums and the ability to keep playing live in front of diverse audiences and give up the day jobs. But not just yet, whatever happens will happen, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Well. On that note of wisdom what can I say but congratulations and good luck with the album.
Paid Salvation is out this Friday September 18th on Ivy League. We’ve talked about some of the tracks and you can revisit the videos as you read this, but there are lots of other strong songs, in fact no weak ones. Strong hooks, spangling guitar, not just punk influences, but Cheap Trick pop up on one song, “Nothing Left To Do”, and love the gang vocal assault on social media in “Connect to Consume” There’s even a little Blur in “Mess of Me”.
Lots of unashamed influence on this most impressive of debuts. Oh the joy of never growing old, or at least doing so disgracefully….
Order/buy Paid Salvation here