Swim Deep look like they’ve stepped out of a ‘90s Cameron Crowe slacker flick to lounge on your sofa and flip dejectedly through your magazines. Beyond the ripped denim and oversized Nirvana tees, though, they’re ambitious little buggers. New song ‘Honey’, all lumbering grunge bass line and chiming swathes of synth and guitar, is a true mission of intent. The chorus’ snotty refrain “Don’t just dream in your sleep, it’s just lazy” sticks two fingers right up at mediocrity – kind of bratty and kind of brilliant, it could be the Birmingham lot’s permanent manifesto.
Consisting of Austin Williams (vocals), Higgy (guitar, just the one name) and Zach Robinson (drums), Swim Deep started up a year ago, when Austin and Higgy worked at Morrisons. They’ve since acquired a bassist in Cavan McCarthy and taught him to play his instrument, confirmed a big old UK-wide tour with Spector and in August were signed to mahoosive super-label RCA. Which ain’t bad, considering the band’s average age is 20.
We got Austin on the blower for a chat. He was in the pub and it sounded a bit rowdy, but he was a good sport and it was only mildly annoying that everyone in the background roared with boozy laughter whenever he said something vaguely funny.
Hi Austin. Are you a local celebrity in Birmingham now?
Nah. Actually, we get more of that in London. In Birmingham it’s just like our friends [who make a fuss]. I still live there, although I’m not there very much. But it’s good to go back to Birmingham now and then, ‘cause everyone’s really cool and congratulatory about what’s happening with the band. And it’s only really a recent thing that people have started asking for photos at gigs and stuff. It’s pretty crazy.
There’s a lot of talk about Birmingham being good for music right now. Do you reckon that’s true?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, there’s great music everywhere but I just think two or three really great original bands have come out of one place at the same time and they’ve been good enough to pay on the radio, so someone’s called it a ‘scene’. And it’s a social scene, definitely. Without a doubt, if you go in Birmingham you’ll see us all together. So yeah, it’s a real family of good music [laughs].
What other bands has Birmingham go to offer, then?
There’s Peace and a band called Jaws who are coming through at the moment. Jaws are really young – they’re still at college and they’re making really good music. Loads of bands are starting in Birmingham at the moment, which is weird to see. They’ll be picked up a lot easier because the whole scene is trending, so it’s a great time for anyone in Birmingham to start a band – even if it’s shit [laughs].
Any idea why are those bands happen to be starting up at the same time?
Well, Birmingham’s a shit place. So it’s just escapism, really.
You seem to have this weird relationship with Birmingham, where you’re totally identified by it but you don’t seem to like it that much either.
Yeah, it’s like having a shit bed that’s you’ve pissed in. You definitely wanna get out of it, but at the end of the day, it’s your bed. You’ve made your bed, you’ve pissed in it – unless you can get a record deal and you can move away.
Ha ha. So Birmingham’s kind of an inspiration, in a way.
Definitely. If I had a really nice life and didn’t have to worry about money and shit, I’d still be in a band but I wouldn’t have it as quickly and with as much motivation. Before this, I was just like, ‘What the fuck am I doing with my life?’ I got kicked out college for smoking too much weed so I started a band. Now I wanna be able to retire without thinking about anything. Actually, I don’t wanna retire. I don’t think I’ll ever retire from pop music. You can’t quit pop; it quits you.
Besides the handful of tracks on SoundCloud, how many songs have you got now?
We’re writing songs every day. They might be crap, but I’ve got a song a day. We’ve got enough for an album, basically. The only focus at the moment is picking the best 10 songs – or whatever – for an album. This is our first one, so we can only do it once. It’ll always be the first album. I just hope that in five albums’ time people can say, ‘That was the defining Swim Deep album, that was the start of it and it sounds like the start of it.’ We don’t wanna blow our loads too soon, though. We don’t want a premature pop ejaculation.
But if you can just record songs at your mate’s house and get attention by putting them online, and do shows off the back of that, why do you need a label?
We could have done it ourselves, but it wouldn’t be as fun and we wouldn’t get to meet so many great people or travel as much. We wouldn’t be able to put out the record as hard or tell the world about it as much as we can. So there are a lot of advantages to getting signed. But yeah, of course you can do it on your own – that’s just not what’s happened for us. We’re grateful to not just sit in our bedrooms and make a good record that no one hears. We can do more with it now.
The label you’re on, Chess Club Records, is part of RCA – you’re joining some pretty illustrious company there
Yeah, I think JLS are on RCA. [Yells to someone in pub “Are JLS on RCA?”] Yeah, they’re our boys. They’re gonna be in the next video. Exclusive! [Laughs].
Have you met Chris Brown? He’s on RCA, too.
No, I haven’t met Chris Brown. I’m not sure I want to. I really like his music, though. It’s brilliant. I think I sang a Chris Brown song to a girl at a school disco and I’m pretty sure she lifted her skirt up for me. I sang all the wrong lyrics, but it still worked.
If you do have a moral issue with someone on the label’s roster, do you have to think about that when you sign?
No, everyone’s to their own. No matter how much shit someone could do, they just release records on that label. They’ve not signed their personal life over. If the label posted something online like, ‘Oh yeah, big up Chris Brown for beating up Rihanna’, then obviously I would take that into account. I probably wouldn’t sign. But it’s all separate. There are the records and there’s your personal life.
You’ve also been in the studio with Charlie Hugall, who’s worked with Florence + the Machine and loads of other high-profile people. It must be weird to go from recording at your mate’s to this fancy studio.
Charlie’s our boy! He like one of us; he really knows what’s going on. It’s like he’s got a mixing desk in my mind and he’s just sat in it. But yeah – it’s definitely a bit weird. We don’t wanna take away any of the pissing around in your mate’s house in Birmingham. We haven’t lost anything we had before we were signed, which is good ‘cause I was scared we might. It’s not changed us. We can just piss around with more expensive wine now.