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Interview mit Duane [Swirl], April 2015, mailer

Melodische Hardrock-Klänge gefällig? Eine Band, die sich diesem Sound verschrieben hat, nennt sich Swirl und kommt von der anderen Seite des großen Ozeans: USA. Dort konnte das Quartett seit Gründung durch Gitarrist Duane „DT“ Jones schon reichlich Erfolg einheimsen. Nun gilt es für die vier Herren, noch weitere Länder zu erobern. Ich sprach mit Duane über die aktuelle Veröffentlichung „Swirl“, die Songwriting-Prozesse der Band sowie ihre nächsten Ziele.

To be honest, it’s the first time I heard about Swirl here in Germany. How “big” is the band in the USA?

Duane: We have been recording and touring in North America and Japan since the late 90s. We have grown up in this lifestyle and love it. As for how well we are known in the USA: amazingly well even though we still consider ourselves a small band as we have not had any major FM radio exposure nor are we signed to any record label. We have been fortunate to tour with some very big rock bands/artists (Ratt, Extreme, Quiet Riot, Cinderella George Lynch and many, many others) and headlined our own shows. So there has been some very good exposure in North America at the underground artist level. We have been able to sell our CDs and gain a strong following with the amount of press we have received at home. We are now receiving a massive amount of global exposure from the underground music scenes of the world with reviews and interviews coming in from Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Canada and the UK since the release of “Swirl”.

How would you describe Swirl and the music in one sentence for someone who doesn’t know you yet? Is there any connection between the band’s name and sound?

Duane: I don`t know how I would describe us, but we had a review written that stated Swirl are “...an interesting and diverse band to check out, as they combine the best of the past 20 years of American Rock/Hardrock” – and we are just fine with that. We always just try to be who we are and let the listeners draw their own conclusions between the name or image and our sound. Obviously, the image is a little easier for people to make their connections to the name “Swirl” as we are a half white, half black band. For us it goes deeper than that as we all have very different tastes and influences that extend beyond musical preferences yet we come together to create what we are presenting to the world with Swirl.

What has been the motivation and crucial factor to found the band?

Duane: I started the band because I wanted to be in Kiss. I was already a musician (violinist) and while growing up in Anchorage Alaska discovered Kiss. Right away out went the violin and it was guitars for me. I left Alaska and moved to Seattle, Washington, to put together what became the first version of Swirl. I was looking for some likeminded individuals to create a visually attractive and sonically appealing band with. I didn`t have to look too far to find the drummer as I grew up with him. Brian “Bam Bam” Jones, my brother, came on board when it was time to record the first Swirl release “Out Of Nowhere”. That release was produced by the team of Carlos Cavazo (Quiet Riot and later Ratt) and Matt Thorr (Rough Cutt). We recorded at MT Studios in Burbank, CA. Swirl toured the USA and Japan on that CD, but the other members left shortly after the touring cycle on “Out Of Nowhere” was completed. I left Seattle and moved to Southern California with Brian to reform Swirl. With the help of Claude Schnell (Dio) and Fred Coury (Cinderella) we were able to not only find the right guys for the Swirl lineup, but also get into a creative groove that has led to the global buzz the band is currently enjoying.

Swirl is a band with four members – but is it also a democratic one?

Duane: Absolutely. We make all our decisions as a unit and are all very committed to making Swirl succeed. We are still selfmanaged. We are a team, a real band of brothers.

How do you handle the songwriting process? Who in the band has which task?

Duane: For the current “Swirl” release: I started our songs with the guitar parts, then Brian came in to work on the arrangements. When we had the basic structure, we took it to Alfred Ramirez (lead vocals). And while we were working up the songs in rehearsals, Shane Carlson (bass) further shaped the songs into what you hear on the current “Swirl” release we are promoting.

What does usually inspire your music and lyrics?

Duane: I know for myself I am constantly playing guitar or even “noodling” on one. And if I play something that catches my ear, I start with that and create a piece of music that I can then share with my band mates. As for the lyrical inspiration Alfred Ramirez says: “My lyrics are inspired by my life experiences and the world we live in. These songs all deal with universal themes. What I feel is most important is not such my specific experiences, but the experiences of the listener. I want the listener to find their own story within my lyrics and the music. In turn I hope the music of Swirl captivates you, elevates you and most importantly inspires you.”

The selftitled album was released back in 2013. What have been the challenges during the recording process?

Duane: We didn`t really have too many challenges with the recording sessions for the “Swirl” release as we were able to draw on previous experiences in the recording sessions Swirl has had with artists, who have achieved a great amount of success with their own careers. With a Grammy nominated engineer in Matt and multi-platinum selling musicians (Carlos and Fred) guiding us through sessions, we learned how to serve the song first when writing and get the possible sound quality in the studio. We were quite comfortable creating the CD. If there have been any “challenges”, they have come after the CD was finished. Mainly to our patience. What I mean is as we were wrapping up the “Swirl” CD we received an opportunity to get our music licensed into an independent horror film called “Ditch Day Massacre”. The film stars Emmy Award winning actor Bill Oberst Jr. It is done. We have seen the finished product, read the reviews for the film and even saw it receive its own award last fall for “Best Feature Film” at the 2014 Burbank International Film Festival on September 7. We have delayed our own touring while the film`s producers are working on worldwide distribution for the movie. The movie continues to receive high scores and ratings in reviews. The songs “Rise Up”, “Spell” and “We Are Alive” are in “Ditch Day Massacre”. Swirl have been approached by three other films and a TV show as well, so very soon we hope to be able to finalize those deals, capitalize on the exposure and tour behind the “Swirl” release. In the meantime we continue to perform regionally with established bands (Skid Row and Jake E Lee`s Red Dragon Cartel for example) and headline our own shows. April 18, 2015 we will play the 4th Annual Kosher Metal Festival here in California.

Who helped you production wise and which studio did you visit?

Duane: We recorded the songs “Time to Fly (Adrenaline)” and “Mad Disease (Sleepwalker)” with Fred Coury at his studio in Los Angeles. He co-wrote those two songs. He also produced, mixed and tracked drums for them. We then moved out of Los Angeles and into Wildomar, California, to record the songs “Rise Up”, “Spell”, “Fourth Of July”, “We Are Alive” and “Message” at Baxter Rd Studios with Bruce Copeland engineering the drums and guitar sessions. The final production and mixes on those songs were done in Lake Elsinore, California, with James Rieger. He and his wife Carol helped immensely in allowing us to bring our vision for the music to life. Carol even contributed harmony vocals on some of the tracks. The finished CD was mastered by James Rieger.

Are those songs on the album connected in a way? Is it a kind of concept album?

Duane: If there is anything they are connected with it`s in the positive vibe of the band`s message from start to finish of “Swirl”. It wasn`t necessarily a concept we were going for as much as just us being who we are – and that created what you are hearing when you listen to the music.

Which song is your personal favorite and why?

Duane: That is always an impossible question for me to answer as I am intimately involved in the creation of each song. I like different ones at different times for different reason. They create emotions and stir up memories of different events, so it depends on the day. For example right now “Fourth Of July” is my favorite as we are preparing the campaign to promote it as our 2015 summer single.

Are you already working on new stuff?

Duane: We absolutely are working on writing new songs all the time. Just a few weeks ago I was talking with Shane and he was saying he has three new songs ready to go. When the time is right we will jump right into the studio, create the follow up to “Swirl” and hopefully release it to a much larger audience that is aware of Swirl. I have a handful of ideas and I am sure Alfred has ideas as well. We will undoubtedly have experiences throughout the tour cycle for the “Swirl” CD that will contribute to the follow up.

Is it still worth it to publish physical albums in these days instead of digital download CDs? What do you think about the “streaming era”?

Duane: I guess that depends on what you mean when you say “worth it”. There is still something to be said for getting a physical copy of the music on a CD or vinyl. People want those things. We have had success selling CDs via mail order and at our live shows. Clearly you can`t put liner notes or pictures on a streamed bit of music and for people, who want to know more about the artist than just hearing a song, it is very much so worth it. Some websites/blogs/e-zines still will not review your music unless it is sent to them in a commercially produced CD format. Besides the fact I have yet to autograph an mp3… [grins] I am not opposed to the streaming era, because it allows us to get our music out to people much faster than shipping the CD to stores and hoping they “discover” our music. Again as an unsigned band streaming has been an invaluable tool for exposure. I must admit I do not like the quality of the streamed music as opposed to hearing a vinyl or even CD recording. It is very compressed and loses some warmth, tone and fullness, but that is the way of the music world today. So fighting technology is about as effective as trying to hold back the ocean with a broom.

How realistic is it to live from the music nowadays?

Duane: It is very realistic if you understand the new business model for the music industry. Your songs are your introduction to a listener or potential fan. You have to earn their support through your live shows and creating some exciting merchandise unique to your band. You have to love the touring side of things and be willing to put that work in. Fortunately for us we still love nearly everything about touring. It`s still so new to us that we can`t begin to complain about having to do it.

What are your interests beside the music?

Duane: The band members are all sports fans. We regularly discuss NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB for example. Brian and I grew up in Alaska – so fishing is something we are always up for. Alfred has a theater background. We all have our own friends outside of Swirl and are constantly involved with different things in our communities. I think that helps us when it is time for us to come together as Swirl and take care of business.

What can we expect from a Swirl live show?

Duane: Swirl live is a high energy event. We are constantly moving and engaging the audience with a take no prisoners and affect everyone in the audience approach. There is always something to see from the band on stage as well as what we are giving you sonically. We definitely break a sweat up there. Not much standing around looking at the tops of our shoes. We received this quote as part of a review of our live show when we opened for Jake E Lee`s Red Dragon Cartel at the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood: “Strong vocals, scorching guitar leads and a high energy stage presence were only some of the many positive traits of Swirl`s greatly enjoyable performance...”.

As mentioned you already toured through Japan. How did this come about and which experiences did you collect over there?

Duane: After we completed the “Out Of Nowhere” recording process we started touring in North America. While on tour we met a promoter from Japan that was creating a travelling festival for lesser known bands. He invited us to take part. Of course we said yes and wound up headlining three shows over our nine day stay in Japan. The first show was in a small arena and when we took the stage there was just a massive amount of people in this venue. The next day we were on the cover of the local newspaper. I still have a copy of it. The subsequent shows were amazing as well. It was an incredible experience and what I took from it was that there is so much more to the world than I knew. I thought I knew and was always ready to acknowledge there was more out there to experience than the USA, but until I got just my first taste of it with Japan, I don`t think I really appreciated the magnitude of world travel. I know I want to experience Japan again, but I want to add Europe, Australia, Germany, the UK and anywhere else people are showing an interest in Swirl. I always say: “The only things we require are electricity and interest”. Our passports are ready and bags are packed – so bring on the world.

Any chance to see you live in near future? When and where?

Duane: Well, in Germany not quite yet, but we expect that will be changing with the release of the “ Swirl” CD. As I said we are playing the Kosher Metal Festival on April 18 in Santa Ana, CA. If you can`t make it to Santa Ana, I offer up the Swirl Youtube channel where we have many live performances from previous tours as well as headlined shows.

Last but not least: How would you continue the sentence “Music is…”?

Duane: Music is the best way to communicate with people from different parts of the world and different cultures. It can bring people together with a shared experience. Music is love, music is life.

Interview: Lea S.
Fotos: taken & (c) by Neil Zlozower
Website Band: www.swirltheband.com

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