“For me, an album should take you on a journey,” insists Swindle, multi-instrumentalist and producer and creator of one of 2013’s most blissfully beautiful reaffirmations of the album form, his debut long-player ‘Long Live The Jazz’. “An album should have a flow, rather than just being a few good tracks and lots of filler. Anything else is a compilation.
“The most important thing for me when making ‘Let There Be Jazz’ was to make an honest body of music that documents where my head was at, at the time,” he continues. “‘Long Live The Jazz’ as an attitude has swallowed up my whole life over the past 18 months. I thought, 'I want to be able to look back on this album and remember exactly where I was at when I made it'. When people tell me that it works like an album, it’s the highest compliment — makes me feel like I did my job! An album should take you on a journey.”
Swindle’s journey has taken him from his South London roots across the planet. As DJ Mag speaks to him, he’s getting ready to play shows in San Fran and Santa Barbara as part of a month-long US jaunt, and this is after epic treks round Europe and the rest of the world — playing to a growing fanbase of folk hungry to hear something a little off the beaten track. Swindle started sending his music out to the world aged 16, at the same time that a college education enabled him to really start working in a fully-equipped studio.
Creating his own studio at home as well, he began recording instrumental CDs and distributed them locally, finally creating ‘The 140 Mixtape’ with guests from the grime scene’s sharpest edge, bringing him to the attention of big names in black radio and eventually ex-So Solid member Ashley Walters, who signed Swindle to his management company. A wealth of top line production work followed with Nate James, Roll Deep, The Mitchell Brothers, Wiley and ex-Sugababe Mutya Buena before the end of 2008 saw Swind part company with Walters’ AD82 agency and strike out with his own Swindle Productions base.
In 2010 the astonishing future-funk of ‘Airmiles’ for Planet Mu bought him crazy-mad attention that led to him joining the Butterz roster of cutting-edge grime producers like Royal T & Terror Danjah. That new sense of freedom that tracks like ‘Airmiles’ hinted at is what you hear throughout ‘Long Live The Jazz’ — unplaceable, unique, Swindle's music ain't quite dubstep, ain't quite electronica, ain't quite hip-hop, ain't quite jazz but could captivate fans of any or all those genres. Swindle’s diversity of listeners reflects the diversity of Swindle’s sounds, which in turn reflects his own musical upbringing.
“My dad put pianos and instruments in front of me from a young age and introduced me to all kinds of music,” he says. “I started playing stuff when I was eight years old and my brothers were always producing at home, so I was just surrounded by that world. Coming from a musical family helped me so much.”
In making music or just in living generally? “In life. Growing up I had a lot of attention problems that often got me into trouble, music was the only thing that could really hold my attention. Coolio, Fugees, Jamiroquai were some of the first albums I ever had. Tape was the format!”
“Do kids have the attention spans to listen to whole albums anymore? I think it all depends on the kid. My baby brother's recently been onto the same Tower Of Power albums I was fascinated by in my teens, and I know that’s not a normal thing for a 15-year-old London teen!”
DJ Mag can hear all kinds of different sounds flowing into 'Long Live The Jazz'. Plenty of electronic influences, but also a healthy dose of funk and jazz influences as well (Prince, Quincy Jones, George Benson, P-funk, Billy Cobham, a whole lotta Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Earth Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock) as well as hip-hop (Outkast, DJ Premier, Dilla).
“I don’t think about genre at all because I was never raised like that,” Swindle says. “I’ve been in stitches reading people argue over exactly what genre I’m in. Some of the YouTube comments, unbelievable! But what is a genre? Surely it’s down to the listener? And how could someone ever truly express themselves freely through writing music if they’re constantly restrained to the rules of a 'genre'? Genre/schmenre — music is everything and everything is music.”
That kind of over-the-traces fluidity seems to infect Swindle’s music on a nigh-on metabolic level. There’s a warmth to much of ‘Long Live The Jazz’, something non-macho and liquid about it that really suits female voices. Where so many producers seem to seek out male MCs with the sole intention of giving their productions the grit of aggression they deem lacking, Swindle’s confident enough to allow ‘Let There Be Jazz’, for much of its duration, to be a glistening beautiful 4-Hero-style symphony of Paisley Park smoothness, with the eruptions of ruffness coming purely from musical, not vocal, elements. It has traces of grime and garage but without the bullying sense of big persona that can limit the form.
“That’s not been a total decision I made — I just haven’t come across many options for my music!” he says. “Footsie is an example of where an MC dynamic works with my music but outside that the reason for the lack of male MC presence on my music is purely because, artistically, I don't have many to choose from. For me, I only collaborate with people if they can help the track I’m working on, not just for the sake of it.”
There's a startling freshness to the electronic textures Swindle uses — they remind DJ Mag of things like Goldie and 4-Hero, not just sonically but in their suggestiveness and emotion. It's that crucial link they always seemed to lay down back to '70s/'80s fusion pioneers, that essential hopefulness they had in their sound that the future was something to look forward to. Would you say that 'Long Live the Jazz' is essentially an uplifting record, Swindle?
“I hope so,” he chuckles, “because the intent is certainly positive and uplifting. ‘Long Live The Jazz’ as an expression means get up and do what you want, the title didn't start off at all literal, it was my response to general obstacles.”
And jazz is all about freedom? “Exactly. Jazz is an art form that gives you almost absolute freedom and it will always set me free. I lose a job? 'Long Live The Jazz'. I get kicked out of school? 'Long Live The Jazz'. Having a hard time getting by in the industry? 'Long Live The Jazz'! Basically, no matter what your situation is, you’ve got to keep finding that thing that keeps your world turning. Trust in it, and life is good!”
DJ Mag starts wondering if there's a typical way that Swindle works? Do ideas come from kinda jamming in the studio with himself, or could he be walking down the street and hear something that might spark an idea? “I try to keep things as honest as possible,” he replies. He pauses and thinks back. “For instance, me and Terri Walker wrote ‘Running Cold’ when I was breaking up with my ex. Yeah, lol. The intro is made from recordings from previous Butterz parties. 'Start Me Up' was the first track I made with my new computer!”
So even though fantastical, your music’s rooted in reality? “I let life make the music. Or at least I try. That’s the battle.”
Is 'Long Live The Jazz' a 'compilation' of your last couple of years musically, or is it a statement you visualised and put together all by itself? “A bit of both really — new ideas would change my perception of the whole listen and entail changes. Some tracks I felt I had to put on there just for how they came about. I did conceive the album as a whole but I didn't want to think about an album every time I opened Logic! That would really start to stunt the raw energy that I think is the best thing, the thing you really need to make music.”
That unique mix between the cerebral and physical, the considered and spontaneous is what gives the album it’s jazziness of SPIRIT as well as sound. Some of the musicianship on the album is exquisite — licks and loops where you can't as a listener place exactly how they were created. It's that mix of what feels 'real' and unreal that makes so much of the album so fascinating.
“I know what you mean, like on ‘Forest Funk’. I played that guitar! I just do what feels right. I mean, I’ve grown up around great music, especially jazz and funk and of course drum & bass, garage and everything else. I just like to play around. I’ll play with any instrument that I can get my hands on. A little bit of madness. I like to try and get my head working crazy, to make crazy music.”
Because the collaborators are few (but vital), it'd seem the album was very much created in a state of isolation — just Swindle working in the studio. Is that when he's happiest/most free? What would be the ideal working situation he'd like to end up in, or is he there already?
“Studio can be a personal time, it’s like you lose track of reality,” he replies. “Hours and hours can pass by and I don’t even realise it. I will always need that time, even just to relax. It’s something I’ve done for so long now, if I’m not in the studio on my own for a time I start to get weirded out.
“At the same time I LOVE the energy of someone else in the studio. My ideal situation would be to have my studio attached to me somehow — like a fold-out studio from my chest... maybe a keyboard rack on my back!”
Swindle grew up in a time when we had to WAIT for music, and pay proper money for it too. How as an artist does he utilise the power of the net without feeling that he's losing control of what he's putting out? “That instant access has made it possible to for me to play my music to people all around the world,” he counters. “I’m careful, though. I don't do masses of free downloads, or try to divert crazy traffic through social networks or whatever. For me, music having an online presence makes the world smaller, and for that I'm super thankful. I can DJ in South Africa and the USA in the same week. I never saw that coming!”
Travelling the world more has affected his perceptions of his music, seeing as he started out so locally. “I’ve actually been making music on the road, which is new for me,” he admits. “I’ll never be able to make music on a laptop on a plane. It’s just too closed and claustrophobic for me, but I’ve been lucky to get into studios in some other places. Yesterday I did a session in Atlanta, home of the 808 roll!The week before I was in Cape Town collabing with a Zulu vocalist. I’ve really learned just how much the environment affects your output. And of course, my environment still has a massive effect. If I hadn't grown up in London within the radius of great pirate radio stations and by the side of my father’s record collection, I would no way make the music I have until this point!”
Swindle claims not to be a perfectionist when it comes to finishing tracks – stating that finishing and releasing quality tracks is principlally the desired end. “For me, the finishing process is stemming through hardware, once that’s done it’s DONE,” he says. “That’s something I learned from Danny C. There’s gotta be a point where you say, 'OK, it’s ready'. Perfect doesn't exist, but finished can!” Perfect might not exist but as soundtracks for this summer go, ‘Long Live The Jazz’ comes damn close. Let’s go swimming.