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Ram-Raid Dreamers

While Oxford burns in a fever of rioting and hot-rodding, eresidents Swervedriver release 'Raise', an album that unwittingly soundtracks our troubled Indian summer. THE STUD BROTHERS get tough with the new guitar heroes. Pic: PHIL NICHOLLS THEY'RE JUST A WHOLE LOT TOUGHER. You see their sort in certain pubs in London. Their hair's invariably long and scruffy, often looped and scrunched into dreadlocks. Their clothes are worn-in rather than worn-out. They drink cider or expensive imported lager and, if they live south of the River, they drink in Brixton's Prince Albert and score their gear on the Railton Rood. Without getting ripPed off. They're the Scruppies -young, upwardly-mobile crusties. And we're looking at one now.
He's standing on the platform at Oxford Circus, his veteran Underground eyes wistfully passing the tube map. He's definitely not planning a route, just killing time, losing himself in the beguiling filigree of possibilities. It's Adam, Swervedriver's singer/guitarist, caught as nature intended him. Street-smart aesthete.
We test his street-nerve, swagger up to him, pause, and say, "'Ere, are you that bloke from Siowdive?" "Swervedriver," he replies impassively. His expression's very precisely unfazed, neither worried nor defensive, bong between, "How ya doin'?" and, "Fuck off". You can't work on an expression like that. We relent and introduce ourselves.
Ten minutes later we're just off Tottenham Court Road, drinking Guinness, cider and expensive imported lager with Adam, Adi (bass), Jimmy (guitar) and Graham (drums). Adam and Jimmy are from Oxford - it's where they met Adi. And Oxford's burning. Oxford of all fucking places. Extraordinary.
"Yeah," says Adam. 'We used to go and score round the back of the Blackbird pub and that's where it's all going off. Even then there were always 20 or 30 people hanging around bock there. It was always very sinister."
"What they're doing now," says Jimmy "is nicking cars and having races up and down there, doing mad handbrake turns and stuff. And people pay a quid or something to watch them. I heard they're also doing those smash'n'grab ram-raids where they drive the car in the front of a shop, grobwhat they can and run off, leaving the car where it is. Like they do in Newcastle. I don't know why it's all going off now. Maybe it's just been too hot."
"The centre of Oxford' s all universities and touristy stuff," explains Adi, "but the back-end's as rough as anywhere else. All the housing estates round the car factories, like Cowley, that's where it's all happening. But they never used to do all that stuff when we were there. I don't remember hearing abaut it. Because if I had, I'd have been up there likea shot."

SWERVEDRIVER are currently based in London, they kind of formed in London. They arrived from Oxford as Shake Appeol, met their Scottish drummer, Graham, and turned suddenly and brillian~y into Swervedriver. This week Swervedriver release the magnificent "Raise", their first album, a stunning collection of very modern rock'n'roll songs. "Raise", with its chainsaw guitars, blissed-out solos and Adam's high, tired and emotional vocals, is a godsent counterpointto the current tyranny of English whimsy. Steve Sutherland recently remarked that Swervedriver uphold the time-honoured tradition of being both world-weary and wonderstruck and that's about as good a description as you're likely to read anywhere. They sound driven despite themselves. They sound like they know it's pointless, futile: but they're gonna do it anyway because there isn't a whole lot else to do.
And, leaving aside the somewhat puerile metaphysics, they write some storming pop songs - "Rave Down", "Feel So Real", "Mustang Ford", "Sci Flyer". The titles say it all. Stormers.
Oddly, though, Swervedriver have been overlooked by crits eager to sing the praises of the Rides, Revolvers and Slowdives - their more calculatedly innocent and infinitely cuter contemporaries. A lot of it's to do with Swervedriver's bruised, broken look. It's a look that's considered ugly and indeed is ugly if you share today's penchant for wide-eyed androgynous public school boys. So many groups now look like they could be fagging for Rupert Everett in "Another Country". "Haversham-Jones of Chapterhouse! Go and warm the lavatory seat forme!" ...
Swervedriver just look and sound just a whole lot tougher.
"Peaple have tried to lump us in with this Thames Valley thing," says Adi. "The Happy Valley. But it doesn't work because musically we're fucking miles away. I think The Stooges and The Velvet Underground are the only influences we share with any of these Christopher Robin bands at all."
Adi's potently not afraid to make enemies. Adam's a lime more generous.
"I don't think there's anything pretend abaut these bands," he says. "I think a lot of them are genuinely into what they're doing. It's just that there's a general non-attitude to them, nothing ever really seems to bother them. They're just dealing with the daily business of having a nice time."
It's been soid that Swervedriver sound American. If they do, it's in the way the Mary Chain sound American. They fetishise the country, adore its mythology and iconography. The Mary Chain used "sidewalk" rather than "pavement" because "sidewalk" sounded cooler. Swervedriver say "Mustang Ford" rather than "Ford Cortina" for the same reason. "A lot of people say we sound American," says Adam. "But if we do then it's totally subconscious. I mean, if being English-sounding means being whimsical and eccentric like The Smiths, then we don't sound English. Blur sound English in that way, we don't. But we're not really trying to sound like anything. Spontaneity is the key for us, we just have ideas and try to get them out. Our tracks are just representations of how we were that day.
"Live, the songs are different every time so being in the studio is a bit alien to us. We'll record a song and be happy with it but we know if we go bock in and do it again two days later it'll sound completeiy different."
Swervedriver recently returned from the States. The American thing may be subconscious but did America live up to its mythology?
"Well, we were thereabout six weeks ago," says Jimmy. "It was suitably insane. As soon as we got to New York City we saw this rat on the street. It was huge, just wandering about on the street, and people were walking past as if nothing was happening. We didn't see any violence though."
"The place we stayed in in San Francisco was pretty bad," continues Adi. "We were in this hotel where they put all the bonds. It's in a really rough area. Our soundman does Ride too and he stayed there with them once. Him and Steve (Querault, Ride's bassist) went out about 9.30 one night to get some cigarettes and got mugged right outside. Watches, money, everything was taken from them, right outside the hotel. I think people have obviously sussed that it's a good people have obviously sussed that it's a good patch to work."
He's clearly delighted by the idea that they were staying in a genuinely dangerous neighbourhood. So they liked the place?
"Oh yeah," says Adam. "But we didn't see a lot of America really. We did five dates in 10 days, flying from place to place. All you get to meet are music business people. We'll drive itnexttime. That's the only way to do it."
On the day of their return from America, Adi and Adam kicked the shit out ofeach other. An argument over typography or something.
"Yeah," says Adi. "We were bath completely pissed and jetlagged and frustrated. I thought the size of the print on the album sleeve was really important and he didn't. So we had a... discussion about it."
Adi may be a blunt, affable Yorkshire loudmouth but he is wise enough to immediately debunk the myth that he's Swervedriver's resident hardman.
"Once," he tells us, "at a gig in Derby, some bloke was getting on my tits so l offered him out. I thought, 'He's being really obnoxious so I can either ignore him or offer him out and pile straight in there or I can do the Clint Eastwood on him'. So I did the Clint Eastwood - I gave him the eyes and tried to make him back down. And he kicked my head in. He really kicked me in, completely and utterly kicked me round the room. That was my Waterloo."
Battered, brilliant, awesome and awestruck. Swervedriver sound like they've lived a little. They have a real edge.
Harder than the rest.

Originally Appeared in Melody Maker, September 28, 1991 Copyright © Melody Maker.


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