Swim Deep: “This record proves that we’re one of the best bands in the country”

With the help of producer Bill Ryder-Jones, Swim Deep have created their most personal and transformative album yet, ‘There’s A Big Star Outside’, a record that celebrates growth, hope, and the enduring power of music.

Words: Neive McCarthy.
Photos: Steve Gullick.

Newborns and new album releases don’t typically get grouped together. In the world of Swim Deep, however, there have been new arrivals aplenty of late. As well as the birth of frontman Austin Williams and bassist Cavan McCarthy’s children, they’re ready to bring something else into the world. Their fourth album, ‘There’s A Big Star Outside’, lands after a lot of growth and change for the band – the kind that allows you to make some of your best work yet, it seems. 

“You get proud at different stages of your life,” says Austin. “I’m very proud of the first record now. At the time, I was just happy that we had made a record, and we were just rolling with it. Everything was easy then – we were getting festivals, press, fans. It was all just a fun ride. ‘Mothers’, we were proud because we stepped up and we made music for the life of it and the story of it. We experimented a lot. ‘Emerald Classics’, the pride was that we kept going and proved there was still a reason for us to be making music.”

He pauses. “This one is the best music we’ve made, hands down. Whether the mainstream success agrees with it, I think that’ll come in time. We’re not wrong about this. This record sets us apart and proves that we’re one of the best bands in the country – I think, anyway.”

It’s quite the claim, but as soon as the first track, ‘How Many Love Songs Have Died In Vegas?’ begins, it is clear that it’s a very legitimate assertion. It’s as though the band have ascended to a higher version of themselves; ethereal, thought-provoking and delicately arranged, the track re-introduces Swim Deep as masters at crafting a mystical atmosphere to get wrapped up in. In a new stage of life and with a new level of vulnerability to share, they began to weave together songs that captured the sound they had always strived towards.

“I think at the time, it just felt like we were making good stuff,” Austin reflects. “It felt very personal, very real, and honest and raw. It felt like we were all playing and gelling together, and we all had this shared vision. Bill Ryder-Jones was a massive, massive part of that. He brought out the best in us, in every single member. I don’t think anyone has felt they’ve been as good as a musician as they were recording that album.”

Working with the producer and musician was something Cav had been keen to do for a long time, but Austin was hesitant for various reasons. This time around, however, the timing felt right. “I just couldn’t say no to Cav again,” Austin laughs.  

“You probably made the right call, looking back,” says Cav. “It’s the first time we’ve actually decided to make a guitar record. I think Ozzy, as a songwriter, wanted to focus on that a bit more. In the past, if we’d used Bill, it wouldn’t have turned out like this.” 

“It’s the first time we’ve actually decided to make a guitar record”

Cav McCarthy

Heralding Bill the “king of melancholy”, it’s clear how his Midas touch brought out a gleaming new side to the band on ‘There’s A Big Star Outside’. There’s a haze of blue, bittersweet nostalgia across the album, but beams of light cut through it. The opening track repeats the mantra “it gets better” as it reflects on what has come before, and the album clings to that idea throughout. It’s been a tumultuous few years for the band since the release of ‘Emerald Classics’, but on the other side of that, there have been some arresting revelations that find their way into the lush guitar tones of the album.

It’s in conversation with the Swim Deep that came before, just elevated. Making the album saw the band return to ICP Studios in Brussels, where their first two albums, ‘Where The Heaven Are We?’ and ‘Mothers’ came to life. After a period of being DIY, it was a rejuvenating opportunity for the band.

“It was completely mental,” Cav laughs. “I didn’t really know what to expect again. We’d been there before, but you don’t take that much in. Coming back as what should be an adult was different.” Austin agrees: “We were definitely children when we first went.”

“The nostalgia was crazy,” Cav continues. “Even little details. It’s honestly my favourite place on Earth.”

“It holds a lot of really solid core memories,” says Austin. “We were all a bit scared. Robbie [Wood, guitarist] and Tom [Fiquet, drums], and James [Balmont, keys] had been for ‘Mothers’, but we hadn’t been since 2015. I was scared that I have such high memories of the place that we’d get there and it’d be different. It’d be a bit rundown or just not the same. It was literally exactly the same. The smell as soon as we walked in. The guys that work there are incredible and made us feel so at home – it had been eight years since we’d been there, and it felt like they knew us all. It was important that we went there because it’s part of the history of the band and the story, and it’s a home away from home for us now. There was some kind of vibration about that place.”

A space that truly captures the ethos and sound of Swim Deep proved crucial in the record, and it is seeped in that comfortability. Though it was a return to a place they love dearly, it also marked a new era as they re-entered the studio, with a new outlook and lease of life.

“It afforded us to be able to back and record an album properly,” Austin notes. “We’ve done it DIY for four years, and it just got really tiring. I was wanting to make a proper record with proper gear and play to our best abilities. You can only play football in Dr Martens for so long. Sometimes, you just need some COPA90s.”

With the best boots in the game now laced up tight, Swim Deep were able to create tracks like ‘It’s Just Sun In Your Eyes’ – arguably one of the best in their repertoire. A first instance of a song the band had jammed together in the studio making it onto an album, it was an example of Bill’s ability to strip the band back and create something that cut to the core of what they were trying to say. The track revels in dejection for some time, but its build is nothing short of euphoric – it’s a long period of dark clouds and rain and their long-awaited shift to make way for some bluer skies.

“The fears and anxiety or themes of love around those are very present on the album,” says Austin. “A lot of it, in hindsight, makes sense. There are a few obvious things going on – the birth of my child, the death of a family member, all coinciding with the birth. There was a lot of death. My grandad died three months before that as well. So many circle of life themes seeped into the record and stained it in various ways.”

It was undoubtedly a period that left the band with much to think about and dwell on, particularly around how far the band have come. Their debut was released eleven years ago, and it’s been an unpredictable decade since – change has been rife, and the band soon realised that the key to getting through that was appreciating each moment as it comes.

“Me and Cav had a massive DMC in the toilet during my stag do,” Austin remembers. “One of the topics we were talking about was how much we’ve been through together, and how much we’ve seen the world, and how many dreams we’ve realised and how many are yet to realise. It just all goes by so past, and we have to appreciate it. On this record, we were being very present and not worrying about the past or the future.” 

“Me and Cav had a massive DMC in the toilet during my stag do”

Austin Williams

In the sometimes hazy, sometimes cinematic riffs that linger throughout the album, there is a real sense of those precious moments being immortalised. “Already, I’m quite nostalgic about it,” Austin notes. 

The everyday minutiae of the album’s creation are tightly wound into each track – partly because the band were performing the songs in the studio as they would live. It’s something they feel was missing on earlier releases, but a quality that makes the album’s vivid emotions even more keenly felt. 

“For the first time ever, we recorded an album and actually played them together,” Cav explains. “It hasn’t been a nightmare trying to learn the songs this time. As soon as we finished the record, we were thinking about when we can get back in with Bill. This form and sound that we’re on now, we’re feeling quite good about it all.” 

That excitement and confidence is transformative. The last few years have not been easy for the band, but with ‘There’s A Big Star Outside’, there’s a sense that they’ve found their feet and are ready to march on with the knowledge that they have the potential to continue on this winning streak. The dark times were, of course, vital learning curves, but it’s the positives that leave their mark here. Yes, they grapple sensitively with anxieties and the toll they take, but coming away from the album, you are not struck with a lingering sense of those. It’s the hope that prevails.

“I definitely want that hope to be there,” Austin confirms. “A big part of this band is that we come from places where it’s not really normal to just do what you want. It’s normal to do what you should do. From the start, there has always been that ‘come on, you can do it’, but not everyone can. We’re very grateful that we can. As much as we think we’re shouting into the echo chamber at times, we have got a really good fanbase that give us encouragement.” 

‘There’s A Big Star Outside’ is a testament to surviving, growing, and changing – mainstays in the world of Swim Deep of late. By the final track, ‘Fire Surrounds’, so much has come to light, and those six minutes of mystical acoustics and earnest vocals leaves you ready to face the world from a new, golden perspective. 

“I can’t wait to get back to it,” Austin concludes. “I don’t think I’ll want as much of a break this time. It feels ready, we’ve got pace and we are so ready to play it live.” 

Taken from the June 2024 issue of Dork. Swim Deep’s album ‘There’s A Big Star Outside’ is out 7th June.


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