Interview: Swear And Shake On Fueling The Fire

I’m standing outside the open mic night I used to go to in Buffalo and booming from the bar next door, I hear this girl soulfully belting The Band’s version of Marvin Gaye’s Baby Don’t You Do It. My jaw dropped and I immediately went inside to watch the rest of the set, quickly discovering Swear And Shake. Flash forward a year and a half, and I got a chance to catch up with Adam McHeffey, Benny Goldstein, Shaun Savage and Kari Spieler via FaceTime…

Adam has a solo song Shake Me Endlessly, but how did you arrive at the band name?

Adam: For inspiration we went through old song lyrics. We came upon that song and the last line of the chorus is “swear and shake me endlessly” – we thought that string of words taken out of context sounded great. It sang to us and spoke to our commitment to each other and the project.

When a new idea sparks, how much time passes before it’s a finished song? Ever complete a song and keep the music but write different lyrics or vice versa?

Adam: That totally varies. We’ve put a song together and recorded it in a few days. Some ideas are so strong that you keep coming back to it and eventually put it together as a band over a year.  On average let’s say a month. A song has its own identity that’s locked in with the music, lyrics and emotion. We’ll start from scratch if it’s not coming together.

Is there a song that you all feel a deep connection with while performing live or listening to the studio version? That could be two different songs…

Benny: Performing live I’ll have a favorite one night and that’ll change next week. The recordings age like wine. When we release an album I don’t want to listen to it. I just started enjoying the first record a few months ago. Any songs where our equipment doesn’t break, those are my favorite.

Adam: We had a great studio recording of Fire but it took months to figure out the live version. The instruments were always changing. After all that planning and discovery it’s become a set staple and favourite but it wasn’t always that way. Sometimes the trickier ones end up being the best.

Why release a single instead of saving the track for an EP or full album? (for example Brother and Fire)

Adam: Timing. We recorded that when Benny took over for our former drummer. It was also right before we went on our first national tour and we had Brother and Fire in the can but we weren’t ready to do another record. The band was going through a growth period.

Speaking of touring: drive to the gig, unload, sound check, drinks, play, pack up, get drunk, repeat. Does it get monotonous? How do you stay inspired?

Kari: Writing on the road is almost impossible for me but everyone’s different. You have to be careful not to drink every night or develop unhealthy habits. When you play a show it kind of sucks the life out of you in a really great way because it’s fun and exciting. It takes so much energy to do, so it’s important to keep healthy habits to stay focused. I usually sleep six to eight hours and feel refreshed, but after last night’s gig I slept till noon, which is so unlike me.

Adam: Habits change when you do it as a career. Your body begins to reject Taco Bell and the Coors Light diet.

Why the big move to Nashville?

Adam: While we were touring and trying to make our NYC rent, the amount of downtime was really restricting. We’d get back and the first thing that was on our minds was money. We thought, lets move to a community of people who also want to make records and immerse themselves in music. Nashville represented that for us. Already, we feel a great support system and we’re bringing life into the weeks we’re not on tour.

Does anyone have formal vocal or instrumental training?

Kari: I had to take voice therapy lessons in college because I partied too much. I learnt how to use my muscles more than how to sing. I also took guitar lessons for six months in ninth grade. If I extended that I would’ve been better but I just do my own thing.

Adam: I took guitar lessons in high school and a couple of voice lessons. Shaun and I grew up together and would go to each other’s lessons.

Shaun: I took bass lessons throughout my teenage years.

Benny: I took drum lessons on and off starting at age seven through college. I was a studio production major in college. My dad is a college professor of music so I grew up with someone who understood music education.

Do you consider yourselves full-time artists?

Adam: Definitely full-time artists. In Nashville we’ve started to experiment and work with different people. This band is absolutely on the front burner. We’re able to make ends meet just by touring around the country and that feels really good but when we get back home, a day job not only helps with extra income but also keeps us on schedule with a sense of sanity. You can’t just sit around all day trying to get that perfect song on an acoustic guitar. It helps to get out and look people in the face. Teaching is something I think all musicians do, which is helpful coming off tour. I teach music lessons.

Shaun: I also work at the School of Rock with Adam teaching music lessons and getting kids involved in playing in a band scenario. It’s like the movie with Jack Black.

Kari: I teach kids Jewish culture at a Hebrew school, I’m a sales associate at Anthropologie, and I drive for the personal cab company Lyft.

Benny: Besides producing, mixing and engineering I do professional driving like Kari and I’m hoping to get more work in Nashville. What I’m doing is changing rapidly there.

Who are your major influences, classic and current artists/bands?

Adam: One of the first bands we geeked out to together was The Band. Last night we played Ophelia. We also cover Ray Charles What Would I Do.

Kari: Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s, Phantom Planet. Recently Carole King, whose songs I loved growing up but never thought I could write like her. I’ve also developed a love for Jenny Lewis and think she’s pretty incredible.

You’ve shared the stage with The Lumineers, Ingrid Michaelson and G. Love & Special Sauce (he played on your latest release if I’m not mistaken?) Do you ever feel pressured or intimidated to develop a following like theirs?

Adam: Yes, G. Love played harmonica and slide guitar on Like You Do. I don’t know if the pressure is directly associated with opening for those acts. We feel if they could do it we could do it, too. Playing in front of an audience that knows and admires your music is the dream. It’s happened in small ways for us around the country, which is really cool. Playing with those artists makes it more inspiring and seems more doable. We don’t get intimidated playing for those crowds. It only fuels the fire.

To find out more about the exceptional Swear And Shake, check out their website!

Questions by Scott J. Herman