London may be the United Kingdom’s music capital, and Liverpool the birthplace of the Beatles but they’re not the only two English cities that possess a vibrant, vital music scene. Consider Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the home to those British invaders The Animals, the folk-popsters Friends of Harry, and the contemporary noise-rockers Dose. Also worthy of more than a mention? The up-and-comers Swine Tax, a trio that’s been steadily churning out delightful singles since shortly after frontman, guitarist and songwriter Vince, drummer Charlie, and bassist TK decided to get together and form a band. Now if they’d only put out that long-awaited LP! Well, until then…
Q: Your band has three members — the eternal triangle! So who would you say is the peacemaker of the group?
A: We’ve never really had a good bust up and get on well. We’re all on the same page musically and very open to experiment with different styles and indulge each other’s new ideas. That said, every now and then, Charlie and I will bicker about a drum part at band practice. TK (who plays bass) will basically just keep hush and watch it play out rather than intervening in the raging conflict.
Q: Your song “Brittle” goes to a pretty dark place (“please don’t love me / I’m not worth it”) without sounding mawkish or self-pitying. Do you think a lyric can ever get too personal? How do you avoid that?
A: I’m glad you don’t think it sounds over-sentimental, but it’s never really been something that I’ve concerned myself with. The words for that song came very quickly and from a place of honesty, so I wasn’t really worried about obscuring the meaning. I just tried not to make the lyrics sound glib and tacky. We like to mix things up and experiment with mood and style though, so a lot of Swine Tax lyrics are much more impersonal and sardonic.
Q: You’re not afraid of getting political either (e.g., “Tory Water”). So how would you describe a Tory to an uninformed American abroad?
A: The straight answer would be that they’re right-wingers. They want to preserve existing hierarchy and privilege. When in government, they dismantle the public sector and concentrate wealth and power in ever-fewer hands.
Q: You actually made a pretty amusing video for your song “Feels Like.” Who came up with the concept?
A: Well, we were all keen to try and make a video at the time, despite not having much spare cash. We enjoy the other creative aspects of being in a group – making the artwork, posters, photo shoots etc. – and basically take up any opportunity to be a bit daft and explore new ideas. The tone of the song is playful and optimistic, so a light-hearted video felt appropriate. It was my idea; I’m a big fan of early slapstick comedy (like Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy) so I thought it would be fun to mimic the style of a silent film and intersperse it with footage of us playing live. Our friend Ste (the singer in Garage-rock duo Mouses) shot and edited the video for us and I think he did a very good job.
Q: The language in your songs doesn’t shy away from getting poetic. So who is your favorite poet outside the world of rock?
A: That’s flattering thanks. I’m not so well read in poetry, to be honest (though TK reads a fair bit and likes Paul Farley and Emily Berry), but I do appreciate the poetry of Dylan Thomas, Philip Larkin, and Linton Kwesi Johnson. In terms of influence though, I probably pinch more ideas from literature (Philip K. Dick, Mark Fisher, Shakespeare) and films (Mike Leigh, Andrea Arnold, Ken Loach).
Q: The Swine Tax logo on your merch features eyes with bottles for lashes. Who came up with this design? Would you like to see it paired with the Rolling Stone tongue?
A: Haha. Yeah, that sounds like an excellent idea, I’m sure the Stones would be honored. Tom designed that one. The bottle is meant to resemble the notorious Buckfast tonic wine which is a popular drink within the music scene here. We have a line in our song ‘Tory Water’ which is: “I’ll make a fast buck from the Buckfast bastards” – so that’s where the idea originates. Aesthetically, we always like bold and simple designs that don’t look too clinical.
Q: Are there any artists, your trio has covered in concert? What drew you to them?
A: We don’t do covers typically, but when Mark E. Smith died early this year we opened our next show with a ramshackle cover of ‘Touch Sensitive’ by the Fall. It was good fun… [Mark E. Smith] would obviously have hated it.
Q: Your band is based in Newcastle-on-Tyne. What other local bands would you recommend we get on our radar?
A: There are loads of local bands that we like, but just off the top of my head: Roxy Girls, Pigs x7, the Noise & the Naive, Faithful Johannes, Ceiling Demons, Baker Island, No Teeth, Mouses, Causal Threats, Twist Helix, Eigengrau, Slurs…
Q: Do you have a favorite place to perform in Newcastle?
A: Our favorite venues to play in our hometown are probably: Think Tank, The Cluny, Cumberland Arms, and Little Buildings. Think Tank might be our absolute favorite though because we have fond memories of playing a show there last year with Spiral Stairs and Canshaker Pi. We were also lucky enough to put on a headline show there this year and play to a room full of all our friends.
Photo Credit: Image of Swine Tax by Chris Crowder