I spoke with Swimm’s Chris Hess and Adam Winn, the latter of whom slept through much of the interview so this is more just an interview with Chris. We sat down a few hours after the up and coming psychedelic, indie rock band’s set at Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival and talked about their music, LA versus small-town Florida, and Zines featuring Tom Cruise and Gloria Estefan. You can catch them at Austin’s SXSW, and be on the look out for their full length album in the next 6-8 months that they recorded in January.
Maia Jacobson: What’s the story behind the name Swimm, with two M’s?
Chris Hess: We were starting a band, kind of restarting another project together because we were in another band together and it was just the two of us like more of a rock-and-roll, simple, meat and potatoes kinda setup, and we started writing music a little more expensive that had to be played by a full band and we were like alright this feels like a totally different thing so we were trying to think of names and there was like three months of trying to think of names and we always liked Swimm, but it was like there was a band in london who was also like just starting as Swimm, but we went back and forth and eventually were just like F it, we’re just doing it, and we’ll add an ‘M’. And it felt like, from a purely symmetrical aesthetic, it’s kinda nice to have an ‘I’ with two letters on each side, so we get kinda geeky about that stuff as well. And I mean it feels nice to have a name that we really like and actually makes sense for the music because we also kinda want to have music that makes you feel weightless in certain areas of songs, so I think that maybe that’s growing up in Florida and near the ocean, you grow up learning to love that feeling of floating, and so yeah I think it fits.
MJ: Tell me about the decision you guys made to move to LA.
CH: Yeah well, we had always talked about moving to New York because we were always doing tours up the coast to NY, and every time we almost did, it was just too expensive and we’d be sharing a room for so much money, and we’d never get to practice and what not. We just ended up in a tour, and the guys who we were on the tour with, the guys who were playing with us, had a warehouse in downtown LA and a spot had opened up in the warehouse and we were on tour for two months and we ended it near California, and we were like okay let’s just stay. So Adam and I shared a bed for like six months and then another spot opened up and we didn’t have to share a bed anymore, and yeah we’ve been there for like two and a half years.
MJ: Was adjusting to LA hard? The band SWMRS, from Oakland, say it’s a very exclusive scene.
CH: Um I don’t know, I have like a weird sense of LA pride now even in the two years I’ve lived here cause I loved it from the moment we got here. I feel like it gets a really bad rap, and I think I’m just used to being in places that get a bad rap being from Florida obviously. Some people around the country think I’m gonna eat their face when I say I’m from Florida, so I don’t know, but I do really, really, really love LA and I was lucky enough to like move into a warehouse in the eastside and immediately meet really great friends that ushered us in the direction of really, really creative and being immersed in a wonderful music scene that we’ve never had in our home town, which was a sleepy beach town, so it was a culture burst which was so, so nice to have that. I don’t mind if people are like “oh you’re an LA band” because I think of all the great bands who are from LA that I think are amazing and it’s pretty cool that we’re involved in that, but I also like do love it if people are like “oh you’re from florida!” because like that feels nice, but I don’t have a stigma about it.
MJ: How long have you been making music, you guys have worked together in the past before, but was there a defining moment that you were like, “this is what I want to do” or did you start really young and just grow up with it.
CH: Neither of us started super young and we both grew up surfing and kind of in my late teens, like 16, I started playing guitar and you [Adam] started playing drums around then?
Adam Winn: Yeah, about 19, or 20.
CH: Okay so even later, and I don’t know, it wasn’t like “I’m supposed to be in a band” and I was not a music guy at all and I would not play any songs for anybody for so long. Like sing to the walls of my bedroom and any second I’d hear a door open I’d like turn everything off.
MJ: What did you listen to growing up, do you think any of that music affected what you’re making now?
CH: Um it’s tough to know if Sarah Mclachlan works her way into every song… but I mean my mom and I, she would always have qutie the array of things from like Michael Jackson, to Toni Braxton, to weird spoken-word poetry stuff, and like my dad has really good music taste. So I don’t know, in our little town in florida there wasn’t a ton of good influence so you kinda had to go off of instinct of like “something about this feels wrong” [laughs] and I’m just not gonna dive in. I was lucky enough to have friends, older friends, that I surfed with who invited me over to like jam along and stuff?
MJ: What do you think your music is saying, or what do you want it to say?
CH: I think, especially after moving to LA and it was like culture just slapping you right in the face, I feel like I care way more about what it says as opposed to just a sonic vibe, you know? I feel like it would be nice if people got a little interest to be introspective, and just went “huh? Is anything about like the way we live? Is it really all great? Should we reevaluated it every once in awhile?”
MJ: moving a bit off topic, do you have any current favorite artists, or anyone you’re excited to see here?
CH: [laughs] Um I’m like the, I’m such a huge Kendrick Lamar fan, like we’re pretty much teething at just waiting. I really do want to try to catch a bit of Deertick, and maybe some Dr. Dog because we got to play with them and they’re always just amazing live…and that’s all I really know of today, But really more than anything, I cannot wait to see Kendrick Lamar, that album [To Pimp a Butterfly] was like the coolest thing I think in the last ten years.
MJ: Current favorite artists that aren’t here?
CH: Well we’re lucky enough to be roommates with a band called Sego, and I hear them all the time, cause they practice all the time, they’re amazing. And like I said, living in LA is so cool to me because there are so many bands that aren’t like huge or anything but I see and am just like “oh my god, that’s insane” and even when we come home to Florida, like FayRoy, and Someday River. These are guys that play with us everytime we come home to Florida, and everytime I see them I’m like freaking out too. So like a lot of our friend’s bands are honestly the ones that get my engine running.
MJ: Favorite song on your ‘Beverly Hells’ EP?
CH: Oh geez! my own favorite song? oh geez….Adam what’s your favorite song on Beverly Hells?
AW: Um probably ‘Shoulda Coulda’
CH: yeah I usually would say one of those two, but lately ‘Beverly Hells’ has been really doin it for me
MJ: I saw you have a Swimm zine, what is it, how long have you been doing it?
CH: Oh yeah, so when we moved to LA, I started making them, there’s three volumes now and I have everything for the fourth one I just haven’t formatted it or anything yet. But basically we started doing shows at the warehouse, it’s called The Cube, and for every show we’d do, like once every four months, we’d always try to make it crazy and weird and redecorate the whole place, like hang mylar strips everywhere so the whole place looks like a reflective space bubble. I kinda wanted something to go along with them, so I started making them to couple with our home shows at our warehouse, so it kinda started from that and I would collaborate with whatever artist I was really into. So I just started collaborating with them so it wasn’t just all my own shit and basically it’s just essays and stuff that I would write for our blog and some little sketches I would do, but they actually have some really amazing visual art by a different painter. That’s been the thing with each one, there’s been a different painter until the last one, it’s going to be more of like a fake fan mail zine, with little sketches of fake people, some of them real like Tom Cruise and Gloria Estefan are people who are like huge Swimm fans in my imagination and I write little synopsis of how they became huge fans.
MJ: Do you have any books, magazines, or any other publications that really inspire some of the writing you do?
CH: Yeah, I‘m like a huge Tom Robbins fan and I eat up anything he does. My mom is like an amazing writer and she’s just now releasing her second book, and it’s going to be called’The Butterfly Book’ and it’s going to be her writing letters to an imaginary life partner-to-be and then through like manifesting that and finding him, now he’s my stepdad and they’re amazing, I love them. So really I get it from all angles.
MJ: Here’s a couple quick little fun-fact type questions: what’s something nobody knows about you?
CH: Haha uh we’re moving quick…
MJ: let me rephrase, how about something your fans don’t know about you?
CH: I looooooove Ace ventura.
CH: Like I could pretty much base anything I ever needed to do, or think, or act around the character of Ace Ventura and I would be very okay with it. And I feel like I’d be pretty successful.
MJ: What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
CH: Probably writing a novel. Probably drinking a lot more.
MJ: What would the title be?
CH: Memoirs of a lilith fairy.