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Smith & Swanson's Phil Swanson: "Grow and evolve. Don't stagnate and rot"

Interview with Phil Swanson from Smith & Swanson
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 02 April 2022, 7:01 PM

If there is one thing in music that is so grand is that musicians, and artists, feel the need to do more outside of their comfort zones, their bands, and so on. These individuals create collaborations, burning minds think alike, doing stuff together that enriches the experience of the music, and produces more material for others to digest. Phil Swanson and Tim Schmidt, both playing in the same band, wanted more to themselves outside of mother band, and formed their own studio duo, Smith & Swanson. Already out with their self-titled debut album, via No Remorse Records, there is much to listen in their perception of Doom Metal. Steinmetal had a talk with Phil Swanson about it.

Hello Phil, it is amazing to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing?

Thanks a lot Lior, all is well

With me knowing some of your past endeavours, and also your previous collaboration, I never thought that it would come to an actual release with only you two involved. Did this dangerous meeting just happen out of nowhere, or there had been signs over the years that might have led to it?

The little known reality and unintentional best kept secret is that for the whole of Tim's and my involvement in Seamount has always been as a duo except for in live situations where Markus and Jens have always joined us. Originally we set out to be a full band but it turned out much easier from a production standpoint to just work as the two of us. So everything you hear on record has always been just Tim and I. Tim handling all the music and myself doing the lyrics and vocals.

Usually I never talk about a band’s chosen name, even the newcomers, yet I believe that in your case, the word game of Smith & Swanson, against the arms corporation, Smith & Wesson, had me triggered to ask. Is there a statement in that name or is it just for kicks, to make a kind of mark?

Yes, Smith & Swanson is a nod to the rifle company Smith & Wesson. We are both very peace minded individuals so there is no gun rights influence here as I myself advocate heavily against guns of any kind. As a vegan and anti-fascist I hardly see the need in the modern world. But I grew up in the 60s and 70s with all the western movies and still will watch old spaghetti westerns periodically as does Tim so think of it as our Lord of the Rings type reference to our particular genre. So yes for kicks for sure.

There were plenty of cases of collaborations that were created by veteran musicians simply for having fun, good work relations and sorts. However, and perhaps I am wrong, but I have the feeling that Smith & Swanson emerged due to a mutual will to write, and record, material that didn’t really work out in your early bands. Is that the case right here?

Pretty much yes. Tim had a batch of songs he had written way back that didn't really sit well with what we were doing in Seamount at the time. He more recently wanted to revisit them and we weren't really doing Seamount stuff so we decided to finish them proper just to be working together again.

Signing with No Remorse Records was a great decision no doubt, a powerful, old school at heart, Greek record label that knows how to make things happen. What can you tell about this signing? Other than the pure release, would you say that there will be a continuation going forward?

Yeah Greece is the mecca right now and No Remorse was very pivotal to that reality. Greece is what is keeping the underground alive right now in my opinion, at least the integrity of the movement. A long time it was Germany, then Brazil. Now Greece owns the title of truth in heavy metal with much thanks to No Remorse so it's a privilege to be recognized by them.

Going forward I would say No Remorse may be a big deciding factor in that. While we are working on new material we don't get to decide if it ever gets heard so that's a question you will have to ask No Remorse. Our hope is that there will be more because I am already promising the next one be better than the last one.

Your debut album, “Smith & Swanson”, delivers a portrayal of powerful songs, which appeared to me as a sort of each to its own. In your view, is there a leading narrative that drives the songs as a whole?

Definitely not a narrative here. These are all songs from different times in my life and while Tim lives a very consistent and grounded life I live in chaos so that chaos influences my writing and mood greatly so it's a constant changing narrative if not approached in a timely manner.

I believe that there is a moral to every story, and that there is a point to every word, in particular when you are displaying such depth in the music. What are you trying to convey to the listener throughout your debut record?

Don't be ignorant. Don't be a fool. Know what the right thing is and live your life by that right. Calibrate your moral compass as the times demand. Grow and evolve. Don't stagnate and rot. Respect the world and its people, its nature and its resources. Know the difference between storytelling and reality. Escape it when you must but when you return respect it. Don't bring the darkness of entertainment back to the light of the real world.

Since we are in rather troubled times so to speak, with the Covid-19 still there, along with the War going in the East. As a matter of philosophy, is the record a chance to escape everything or rather show a different kind of reality that has ties to the world we are living in at the moment?

Wow I guess I led myself right into answering this with my last answer. Yes, use this music and any music to escape this current and future reality whether it be to the extreme or not but always understand there is really no true escape. Reality awaits but it is more than okay to step away from it especially when it becomes overwhelming. I have already spoke to Tim about the themes of the next record reflecting a more positive light to allow that escape. There is only black and grey on this record the next plans to lead us to white.

Your musical direction, from the very first chord of the opener, is like an open book, and no doubt that Black Sabbath left quite a big mark on your perception of Doom Metal. Other than being influenced, which is highly normal for every artist out there, how would you say that “Smith & Swanson” took you forward musically?

I wish I could answer this for Tim but I really can't completely be in his head to say. I know when he first introduced me to these songs he was in a heavier mind-set that's why they never appeared on a Seamount record. Though I think they would have set very well around our Seamount debut. But as we progressed we started adding more rock influences and that's why many of these songs were sidelined.

Earlier on, prior to the signing with No Remorse Records, you had an EP with three songs, which would later find their way to the debut. What can you tell in regards to the vibe when those were written, against the later tracks that were included in the album in order to complete it?

As answered in your last question the early songs were approached with heavier intent and Lucifer and Diana was written for an unreleased Seamount / Beelzefuzz split. The other songs were written to complete an album and kind of fall somewhat towards our heavier side of Seamount. The material we are working on now leans more towards a traditional heavy metal sound. Much more melody.

Going back to the songwriting sessions of the early songs, you already knew what your musical direction would be, yet, what can you tell about the songwriting process itself, and perhaps the roles that you gave each other while things started to materialize?

I don't think much of anything has changed in our process in over a decade. It's all about the moment and what we are feeling creatively in that moment. We are not working within a template we are just doing our natural thing for better or worse. Tim is always 100% in charge of the music and I 100% of lyrics and vocals. We record and produce ourselves independently. We are not involved in each other's creative process in any way.

The guitar work on the album created riffs that are classic, he has a living, breathing Iommi in him. Some of those riffs generated even a psychedelic feel on occasion. What can you tell in regards to how he came up with some of those riffs? What is his position concerning the aura that these riffs channel throughout the record?

While Tim may not fully appreciate the compliment I always give to him when others speak to me of his greatness. But my feeling is Tim has all the qualities of both Michael Schenker and Wolf Hoffman which to me is the dream to have as a partner with the only downfall of me never being able to live up to his capabilities. I know he isn't influenced by either but he shares their precision in both melody and technicality. Something very few guitarists have. Most either don't have the chops or over compensate when they do. Tim is always about the song. I know he is very influenced by Billy Gibbons and Angus Young and that is very visible but he also adds so much atmosphere and groove that makes him so very metal in comparison so maybe sprinkle some Chris DeGarmo and Tony Iommi on that and that's what you get with Tim. Tim is in my opinion the most underrated guitarist in the genre. He is a great player and composer that truly knows how to put a song first. He would of been a "hero" in the 70s or 80s. He is all style. Most players these days are copycats with none of their own influence, they steal rather than borrow.

Both of you gents have quite the experience in your fields, whether as songwriters, and musicians. Nonetheless, every newfound venture is yet another learning curve, for something new to learn from. How did this journey of the making of “Smith & Swanson” contribute to your skills? What did it teach you about yourselves and your capability to work with one another?
It taught us that we are spiritually connected with our music and regardless how far we go outside our self we will always easily connect with each other with our music. We are effortlessly fluid when we write together. It is very organic and natural in a meant to be sense and I honestly believe we haven't even been given the chance to achieve what we could if given the opportunity.

Opportunity has never been in our favour so we do the best that we can with the resources we have which have always been very limited. This has always just been Tim and I making music for Tim and I.

Another great aspect of the record is the sound, you nailed the guitar sounds and the placement of the vocals in the mix. There is that early 80s feel in overall, quality work. How engineered the release? Once you listened to the entire thing, what is your appreciation of the sound?

Tim is a great producer and self-engineer. We have always recorded, produced and engineered ourselves throughout our releases. Like I said, limited resources. But we also know what we want and that's why we do everything ourselves. I would love to record with a full band and producer but wouldn't be surprised if that ever happened we both went home and re-recorded everything on our own and scraped the studio recordings. But I would still want to do it for the experience of being together in the studio.

The album’s heaviest tune is “Like Glass”, cutting deep with meaty riffs, and explosive performance. Sure, it sounds simple, I might even say basic, yet its lyrics penetrate. What is your take on this track? What can you tell about the song’s creative process?

Tim wanted to write something heavy and I was experiencing a great deal of emotional pain in my life. The two most important ingredients to making and confidently performing proper doom I would think.

In the way you see it, is there a chance that this collaboration would end up being a full time band, which would actually be able to head out there and go live?

I would say it is a proper band, as proper in respect to Tim and I any way. We have been speaking with Justin DeTore (Sumerlands, Solemn Lament, Magic Circle) about joining us on the next record order that would be the closest we have ever got to a full band format. Live we would probably just perform as Seamount and draw songs from that discography as well, and if that were the case my hope would be that Markus and Jens be there as that is traditional.

Can you tell if there is new material coming from you two or was this just a one time deal?

We are writing new material in fact, so far it leans a little bit more melodic in a traditional heavy metal sense. Not lighter by any stretch and nothing like some of the poppy Seamount stuff. Just more atmospheric and less brutish. A different side of heavy. So not a one-time deal if we can help it.

Phil, I wish to thank you for this interview, and for your time, classic Doom Metal was awarded with a great addition. All the best

Thank you for the interview Lior


 



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