“When we were writing ‘Honey’, I was sat in my bedroom with a Casio keyboard, and I turned to Cav and I remember saying, ”don’t just dream in your sleep, it’s just lazy’ – I’ve just come up with it, but is that too cheesy?'” It’s been nearly seven years since Swim Deep released their quintessential second single, and a lot has changed. “To think that if that were anyone else, or if that were now,” frontman Austin Williams laughs. “It’s crazy how much stuff would’ve been different if Cav had said that line was too cheesy.”
From skating down Birmingham’s Smallbrook Queensway in the video for ‘King City’, to recruiting Margate’s Social Singing choir on recent single ‘To Feel Good’, it almost seems like a different band. And in a way, it is. Following the departure of two of the group’s founding members, and the addition of two new faces, ‘Emerald Classics’ boasts the sound of a band reincarnated. Reflecting on their roots, to write what they describe as “a love letter to Birmingham,” this is Swim Deep as they always meant to be heard.
“That’s what I hear on that song,” bassist Cavan McCarthy comments of ‘To Feel Good’, “that kid that wrote ‘King City’.” A nostalgic day-in-the-life recount of life before the band really started out, that’s exactly what the single is about. “I’ve said I’m into music, and I’ve actually shown him a new song,” Austin drawls across the choral refrains, “and he- he must be one of the good guys, he smiled and laughed along.”
“I was just waking up, watching Gilmore Girls on TV, then going to the jobcentre,” the frontman laughs. “I knew there was something more. I was just waiting to see how I was going to get there.” More is exactly what they found. Spreading their wings and leaving Birmingham behind for London, the group released two sun-kissed records of escapism and elated sensation. Now, four years on from their last release, it’s all been about looking back and becoming comfortable with where and who they are.
“We worked out that it’s been a lot longer than we originally thought it had,” Austin comments on their two-year silence. Finding their feet again in a brand new form took its time, but the end result is the sound of a band with a whole new lease of life. “I think [the album] took about four years to make, but it took two weeks to record,” they laugh. “It felt like the first time that it really means something,” Austin enthuses. “The songs that we were making made sense to us. I think it was a long time coming, but as soon as we got those songs…”
“I think we were always going to make this album,” Cavan declares. An ode to where they came from, a celebration of where they are, ‘Emerald Classics’ is the sound of a band reborn. “Here you are, you’ve arrived, there’s nothing here that you should fear now, you’re alive,” Austin croons on ‘Happy As Larrie. “‘Cause you’re adored, and not alone, and everything is gonna be okay.” The sense of positivity that flows through this song is a defining characteristic of the band Swim Deep have become.
Named after the classic hits played in a Small Heath pub where Austin and Cavan spent a lot of their formative years, the record is Swim Deep at their most dancefloor-ready. “I was showing one of my best friends, who grew up with me, a demo of a song,” Austin recalls, “and he said ‘oh, it sounds like an Emerald classic.’ Meaning: it sounds like one of the songs we listened to in The Emerald as kids.” From elated gospel refrains, through blissed-out synths and contagiously crooned vocals, to all-out dance-pop and back again, ‘Emerald Classics’ is a jukebox-esque collection of songs presented with that characteristic Swim Deep shine.
“I wanted to make a song like Justice,” Austin grins, before singing “y’know, ‘D.A.A.N.N.C.E'” (almost: ‘do the D.A.N.C.E’). “You know when they just chant words?” From the dance-a-long nostalgia of the song in question (‘0121 Desire’, for the curious among you), through the rippling melancholy of a fond farewell (‘Sail Away, Say Goodbye’), to endearingly cute promises of adoration (‘Top Of The Pops’), there’s something for every mood as and when it strikes you.
“[The songs are] like a bunch of people that meet and realise that you know, on the surface you might look different, but deep down you all really have the same meaning,” Austin portrays. “It’s more of a feeling than a genre.” Whether sentimental or sensational, downcast or dreaming, feeling is what Swim Deep have always been about. “It is, honestly, just what I write down and what I feel,” Austin states. “It’s not sugar-coated. I don’t try to get clever.”
“I think simplicity in pop music is my favourite genre,” Cavan affirms, “and also, probably, one of the hardest to nail.” It’s something that’s always seemed to come naturally to Swim Deep: from the twitter-bio-ready lament of “don’t just dream in your sleep, it’s just lazy,” to ‘0121 Desire’ with its rallying refrain of “I’ve got friends that would die for my name,” straightforward sensation is something this group have always excelled at creating.
“It is quite easy to try and sound clever and not actually get anything said,” Austin agrees. “I don’t want to do that.” And they don’t need to. From ‘Happy As Larrie’ with its simple reassurance that “everything is gonna be okay” to the elated cry of “I’m alive” on ‘0121 Desire’, Swim Deep breathe life into the belief that it isn’t complicated to feel good. With songs about “lessons from drag queens in Soho, like ‘it’s okay to be yourself’,” (aptly titled ‘Drag Queens In Soho’) and “the desire of your hometown even though you don’t live there anymore,” ‘Emerald Classics’ is the sound of a band comfortable in their skin.
“I feel like we’ve got better than ever,” Austin enthuses. “I’m excited for it,” and his bandmates are quick to agree. “It’s so different now,” Cavan expresses. “There’s no better time. I’ve never felt as happy as I do now.” And it doesn’t stop here: it’s taken a long for years for this record to take shape, but now they’ve found their feet Swim Deep have no intentions of slowing down, even for a moment. “We’re not going to sit back and relax now it’s done,” Austin asserts. “We’re all so prepared for that hard work that we’ve got to put in.” With tour dates ahead of them, and more, no doubt, to follow, ‘Emerald Classics’ is the first of many steps in a brand new direction.
“I think we want to record new music to be out in January or February,” Austin reveals, before quickly adding “or March.” Soon, at any rate. “We’ve set ourselves up for a bigger year next year,” he enthuses. “We don’t want to stop.”
Taken from the October issue of Dork. Swim Deep’s album ‘Emerald Classics’ is out 4th October.
Words: Jessica Goodman