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Changing Lanes: Swervedriver frontman Adam Franklin makes his solo debut

Website: Toshack Highway
Latest Release: Adam Franklin: Buy Bolts Of Melody
MP3 Download:  Seize The Day
Sound Samples: Seize The Day
Shining Somewhere
Perhaps it was because they were signed to Creation Records – or that they hailed from the same town as Ride – or maybe it was just the fact that their guitars were really, really loud, but Swervedriver were always classified as a shoegaze band, despite the fact that their propulsive and melodic rock songs had more in common with alt-rock acts like Soundgarden and The Smashing Pumpkins. Then again, there is no denying the hypnotic and blissful effect that their swirling guitars produced. Although the band developed a loyal fanbase during the 90's, Swervedriver encountered an endless string of record label woes and went on hiatus at the end of the decade. After a few assorted experimental LPs and EPs under the moniker Toshack Highway, frontman Adam Franklin has returned in 2007 with a fresh batch of songs, his first release under his own name.

Bolts of Melody ventures into varied sonic territory that is sure to enrapture Swervedriver fans all over again: catchy alt-rock, acoustic laments, spacey instrumentals, and songs that defy easy classification. While in the midst of his US tour, Adam was kind enough to speak to Auralgasms about his latest musical creation, as well as the Swervedriver legacy.

From the opening notes of "Seize the Day" the first song off of Adam Franklin's new solo CD, one thing is clear: the former Swervedriver frontman is back. The song is exactly the kind of cool, driving, melodic rock song that fans have come to expect of him (give or take a guitar pedal or two), and, clocking in at just over two minutes, it's short and catchy enough to hold the attention of the MySpace generation. It's the perfect way to start off Bolts of Melody, an impressive and varied collection of alt-rock tracks, acoustic ballads, and psychedelic instrumentals.

Of course, Franklin never really went away. He's been releasing music at a steady clip since the early 90's, first with his band Swervedriver and later on his own as Toshack Highway. But don't feel too bad if you haven't heard of the latter.

Adam admits, "There was a sense that the [Toshack Highway] records would have done better with a more memorable name."

Thus, Bolts of Melody is his first release under his own name and the perfect chance for Swervedriver fans to become reacquainted with the celebrated singer/guitarist.

Bolts of Melody is an apt title for a record that finds Franklin exploring wide sonic territory without ever losing focus on his keen melodic sense. Adam happened upon the title for the album after spotting the Emily Dickinson poetry collection of the same name.

The title just seemed to sum up and represent the record," Adam explains.

Astute fans will recognize that some of the album's tracks, like "Seize the Day" and "Birdsong," have appeared in different forms on Toshack Highway releases.

"I like the idea that songs are continually evolving," Adam says. "A song you've heard on the radio a hundred times can sound completely new when you start singing it with a different harmony...I prefer to see songs as living and breathing, rather than set in stone."

He compares this idea to a film soundtrack, for which the composer writes one main theme but plays different variations on that theme throughout the score.

Adam explains that his view of songs as "having a life of their own" came shortly after Swervedriver went on hiatus and he began performing the songs they'd written on his own. "Since there was only one of me and not a band, I had to come up with a new arrangement," he says.

This revision of his own material revealed just how malleable the songs were.

One of the highlights on Bolts of Melody is the instrumental track titled "Walking in Heaven's Foothills," which is actually an unofficial "sequel" to a Toshack Highway song. "Walking..." is a spacey, neo-psychedelic jam that balances dreamy, clean guitar lines with bursts of space rock noise, courtesy of a whammy pedal loaned to Adam by Swervedriver's other axeman, Jimmy Hartridge. The song tells a loose narrative through static-y radio transmissions, picking up where Toshack Highway's "Just Landed" left off, and tracking the fate of an astronaut who is very much lost in space.

It's one of Bolts of Melody's most epic moments, though Adam admits with a laugh that right now he has "no intention to perform it live."

Adam's songwriting process varies:

"Generally, I have a guitar part first, but sometimes lyrics come first," he relays.

Adam enjoys trying to write music that fits lyrics he's already written so that both music and words work together to effectively convey the mood of the song. There are also the mornings when he wakes up with a melody in his head and must immediately write it down.

"Whichever way it comes, as long as it comes," he says

As a whole, Bolts of Melody relies less on guitar effects and massive walls of distortion than Adam's old band, though Adam says this has more to do with touring logistics than any kind of songwriting agenda. He recalls that Swervedriver never did have a pedal board so it was difficult to keep track of which amps and pedals they had used on previous albums and then lug those around on tour.

"I could still do something heavy-heavy," he says, "But I think you can get just as much intensity from a quiet song as a loud rock song. You can get the same emotion across even if it's stripped down.".

Of course, it's nearly impossible to discuss Swervedriver without mentioning the "shoegaze" genre, of which Swervedriver has become a staple of, despite the fact that most fans and critics have agreed that the band had more in common with early 90's alternative rock and grunge.

"First of all, nobody cares for the name [shoegaze]," Adam admits, "But it was great music." Adam recalls the barren landscape of late 80's music, particularly in the UK. "It seemed like every band had synthesizers, a three horn section, and three black back-up singers...There were people saying guitars were gonna be phased out. But that'll never happen."

Around the time the hardcore scene was developing in the US, shoegaze emerged in the UK, in part as a reaction against the bland state of popular music.

"It was exciting guitar music," he says. "There was a sense that they were really pushing the boundaries. It was all about making noise." In retrospect, he says, "I'm proud to have been a part of that...At its best, it really created the proverbial ‘cathedral of sound.'"

Adam recalls a particular show in 1986, which he played as a pre-Swervedriver configuration called Shake Appeal, named after the Stooges song. The opening act was another up-and-coming group known My Bloody Valentine, who performed the very same Stooges song that night.

"They were just a great band to have open up for you," he remembers.

Adam cites American acts such as Sonic Youth, Husker Du, and Dinosaur Jr. as major influences upon his sound, with Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation being a particularly landmark record.

"Sonic Youth aren't really considered a shoegaze band, but I think they were a big influence on the genre," he adds.

Besides a nationwide US tour for Bolts of Melody, fans can look forward to Adam's next project, a collaboration with Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino, titled The Setting Suns. The duo met through a mutual friend and began working together shortly thereafter. They've since recorded some demos and fleshed out a handful of songs, a few of which can be heard on the band's MySpace (www.myspace.com/thesettingsuns). Adam's looking forward to having another outlet for his music and says to expect an official release from The Setting Suns in "late 2007."

In addition, Adam can be seen in the upcoming documentary Beautiful Noise from first-time filmmaker Eric Green. The film aims to show the beginnings and reaching influence of the shoegaze genre, and features interviews from such luminaries as Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie, My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields, and Adam himself.

When asked if there's a chance Swervedriver will reunite – the band never officially broke up and has merely been on hiatus since 1999 – Adam replies with one word: "Yeah." After a pause, he elaborates. "It's a possibility. We'll see what happens. To have those two guitars playing again would be a gas."

Until then, Swervedriver fans who miss that band's cruising alt-rock sound, as well as those simply interested in a quality singer/songwriter album, will find much to love about Bolts of Melody. Though Adam wonders "This feeling can't last all day, can it?" on the opening track, it's clear that shoegaze fans will ‘never lose that feeling' their favorite music provides them as long as talented musicians like Franklin keep building their cathedrals of sound.