Exclusive Interview: 5 minutes with SWYM

In Interviews, Magazine by pg-admin Comments

Hailing from Aberdeen, Nassif Younes aka SWYM started playing guitar at the age of 17 and has done little else since being a latecomer to the world of music, but in a matter of time, he began learning Beethoven Sonatas on the piano and later on, bass and drums. Younes’ first few songs were acoustic, but once he was introduced to looping and recording techniques, the electric-guitar came into use. He now makes his living as a music tutor, classical guitarist, and producer. With the help of fellow bandmates and friends, Younes is joined in studio by Kris Elliot on drums, Scott Bruce on vocals and Byron Burnett on bass-guitar.

SWYM’s latest single ‘Up To You’ could be best described as a confident rock’n’roll anthem; exploring patterns of indie-rock, synth-pop, and progressive-rock, SWYM further their sound beyond individual influence, and create something almost familiar in tone, but quite like you’ve never heard before.

SWYM’s debut EP titled Your Distraction will be self-released on November 10th.

We caught up with SWYM on early influence and studio experiments:

(Be sure to watch the official music video for ‘Up To You’ by SWYM below)

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

That’s a hard one. I definitely wasn’t a natural at it. When I was 11 I auditioned for the school choir with a few other guys in my class and I was the only one who didn’t get in. I think the only albums I owned at the time were Backstreet Boys – Millennium, Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory and some S Club Juniors album. I also had Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish on tape. So I guess I never discriminated. When I discovered trance and drum n bass on the internet, I was totally in love with it and I even downloaded some dj software and tried making my own mixes. Then when I was 16 or 17, I eventually came across bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin. I tried learning a few of their riffs on an old guitar we had in the house and it just kind of carried on from there. I tried writing songs in their style and it was terrible. When I started listening to more chord based stuff, it got easier. I’d always liked poetry as a kid so the lyrics came from that. Later I started listening to Beethoven a lot so I took up the piano. Then I got guitar lessons from someone who played classical and had a recording studio so I wanted to do those too. I guess music was the thing I never grew tired off. I was quite lost growing up and I tried getting into pretty much everything but none of it stuck. If I was feeling pretentious, I’d say I never started living until I started making music but it does feel a bit like that. Because of all the advances in recording, it was also something I could do by myself. I didn’t even have a band until I was 22 but I always preferred doing things on my own, which a decade ago would have been a lot harder.

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

Probably both. There’s no formula really. Sometimes I’ll know exactly what I want and other times there’s a faint sound in my head that I need to dig around for. When the idea comes first, I feel like most of the time it fails. That might be because I’m easily excited by crazy ideas. When a friend of mine took a 50s wireless radio into the studio and hooked some inputs to it, I was determined I’d record all the vocals through it. It did sound pretty cool. Warm and nicely saturated but it didn’t work on any of the songs and I spent a lot of time trying to make it work because I loved the idea. As for songs, the hook is pretty much always the thread. Sometimes it will be a line of lyrics or a concept but it always has to work on an acoustic guitar or piano before I go further. Going straight into a full band sound can make things feel a little more exciting than they are, so I tend not to commit to a song unless it’s carrying itself as just the bare bones.

Does your material feature any collaborations?

The song, “Exo” on the EP was written with my friend, Scott Bruce from the band, Forest Fires. He also did lead vocal on most of the songs. It was quite an old collaboration that came out in about half an hour. I was messing about on the guitar and when I did that riff, he just stopped me and insisted we make a song with it. I still have the original phone recording of the riff looping through an amp and us trying to suss it out on an old Yamaha keyboard. The ones that go “DJ!”. It’s a weird time signature so we were really struggling with it. Scott ended up doing the verse and chorus chords and melodies and I did the bridge and lyrics. I ended up using the trashy keyboard on it too. That was a really interesting one for me because I’d have ditched that riff and forgotten it in seconds so it was good someone else was there.

What’s on your current playlist?

We Are The City, MGMT, DIIV, Mini Mansions. I’ve had Radiohead’s new album looping for months now too. It’s definitely the most sonically beautiful things they’ve done. I also just recently discovered the old Flaming Lips album, The Soft Bulletin. The drums on that record make me want to cry and it just has such a lovely haze to it. I always loved that kind of playful, childish sound they have.

Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.

I haven’t performed on stage with this project yet and have usually been on stage as guitar, bass or keyboard. I’ve always been in the backing so this will be my first time taking the front of a stage. I do host an open mic night so I’ve done plenty of crowd interaction and I don’t really get scared of it. Hopefully it’s the same on any stage!

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

I like doing things you’re not supposed to. Like if someone says there’s a rule I’ll try to do the opposite. Most of it is a total waste of time but once in a blue moon you get something out of it. I was always told with guitar pedals that reverb should go at the end but I tried the opposite and put it before everything. So putting reverb at the end is like having your amp in a big hall. But if you put the reverb before things like distortion and compression it’s like you’re in a hall made of speakers. And then with modulation pedals after that it sounds like the walls are bending. I’m sure I’ve heard it on other records before but I use it on pretty much everything. People also like to double track guitar parts, with one in the left speaker and one in the right but when I’m doing that I try to make each side a little different. Like putting vibrato on one speaker and and having the other straight so it sounds like one guitar but give it a nice surround sound feeling. Or I’ll put a different sounding delay on each side and then send the delays to each other so each repeat is unique and it feels quite random, bouncing around the speakers like fireflies.

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

It’s mostly frustrating. I get quite obsessed with details and like to take my time with pretty much everything. I’ve never understood studios that charge hourly rates for that reason. I feel a lot better when there’s no clock on the wall and you can just get lost in it. We have a small Nord synth in the studio that I use quite a lot and it has over 1000 sounds on it but if I get stuck with a synth part, I’ll look through all of them and find maybe 10 or 15 that work and then eliminate it from there. Everyone thinks it’s mad but I never get bored doing it. That’s just how I go about things though. When I’m recording other artists and doing production for them I tend to go fast because people get impatient. The outcome is often just as good but I guess everyone has their own style. Anyway I’m quite lucky in the studio I work in. It’s a shared space but it’s always empty after 6pm, so I’m kind of like the night manager. There are a lot of rooms patched together in the building so you can do a lot of fun things. Like miking a guitar amp from across the hall and lining it up with a close mic for those Hendrix size solos.

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?

Probably when I wrote my first full song at 19. Until then, I wasn’t too confident in what I was doing but when I finished that and recorded it with a few layers on a laptop I remember listening back and thinking “this is actually ok!”. A lot of my friends really like it too and one of them had the lyrics printed onto a jacket for a fashion project. I think someone in California has it now. So that was definitely the moment I think. I’ve never wanted to do anything else since that.

What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?

A setlist and spare cables probably. If one of my pedal cables goes, I have to test through all of them to find the cable not working which hasn’t happened yet but I’m dreading the day, even though I’m always prepared for it. And spare strings but I don’t need much else.

Any emerging artists on your radar?

I really like We Are The City and Mini Mansions. Neither of them are a 10th as big as they should be. Live and on the record, they’re both amazing.

What gets your creative juices flowing?

If only I knew! All I know is that it only happens when I’m doing it. Most of what I write is just done with a blank slate in my head. Every now and then something will hit me out of nowhere but it’s very rare and even then, it’s usually just a little bit and I need to work to suss out the rest. The song ‘Up To You’ was one of those epiphany songs. I was at a local blues jam and that opening riff just came out and while I was playing, I could hear the rest of the song coming together so I unplugged my guitar and walked off stage while the other performers were playing which probably made me look like a total asshole! My flat was just round the corner so I got in and wrote the rest of the song in the time it takes to play. The words were done about 10 minutes later. Most of the time, it’s a slug though. If I get a really good verse or chorus, I just have to wait, sometimes for months, for the rest to come. It never works if you force it. I do feel like it gets easier the more I do it though. The 5 songs on my EP were chosen from the first 40 or 50 I’d written. The album I’m doing now is 12 songs chosen from about 300. But yeah, I don’t know where the ‘juices’ come from. Perspiration more than inspiration as they say!

Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.

I have a massive problem when it comes to guitar pedals. I own about 25 and used all of them on my EP. Since I’ve started working on my album, I’ve gone and bought another 5. I especially like fuzz pedals and delays. You get different characters from each different type, cheap and expensive, they all have a place somewhere. I also have a really nice Japanese Yamaha acoustic from the 1960s. I didn’t use it on my EP but it’s gonna be on a lot of my newer stuff. Most of my favourite gear isn’t actually owned by me. I’m lucky enough to be working in a studio with an old BBC producer so he has a lot of cool vintage things that I like to use. He has this Yamaha analog synth from the 1980s that has all kinds of wacky sounds on it. Like really white noisey and super-expressive LFO patterns that I can never seem to get a hold of from digital synths. All the whooshing sounds on the EP are from that combined with a Roland delay unit. The bass on them is second to none too. My favourite trick is the 50s radio though. He hooked it up to some quarter inch inputs so you could use it as a guitar amp and the clean sound on it is gorgeous. Apparently those radios had a lot of parts similar to the old Vox amps that everyone goes on about. I compared it to my modern handwired AC30 and it’s really striking. I actually preferred the radio in some scenarios, especially for picking through chords. I think he paid less than 20 pounds for it too.

Any side projects you’re working on?

Not at the moment. I still work as a producer and do recordings for people through various community projects so I’m always working with other artists. I do love it but it’s more of a job really. I used to play in a few other bands but it only gave me so much time to work on my own songs so I just left it.

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

I’ve gotten a lot better at finishing things. I used to always just collect piles of ideas but never commit to any of them. Mostly because of a lack of confidence I think. After working with a few other bands and getting some practice with taking a song all the way from tracking to mastering, it got a lot easier to do it with my own songs. I also used to work a day job but now that I do music all the time, I feel like the whole process comes a lot more naturally. Like your ear gets better and it’s easier to hear parts to go over tunes. Some people say that kills the excitement, but I think that’s just in the sense that it raises the bar. If you’re writing all the time, you get less impressed by what you’re doing which means only the really good things get to stand out and all the rest just goes in the bin. When I used to write less frequently, I would just get really excited that I’d created something even if it wasn’t that good. Now I’ve just accepted that I’m probably more like the monkey at a typewriter, bashing the keys until Shakespeare comes out.

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?

I’ve managed to get a hold of some session musicians so I’d love to bring the songs to a live show soon. I’ve never liked gigging as much as recording but I’d never rule it out either. I’ve also got an album fully written now, with most of the parts recorded so that will be following the EP pretty closely. There will be at least a couple of singles coming from that first though. The only risk there is that it comes out too soon!

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