December 2012 “Band of the Month” – SWEAR AND SHAKE

We’ve been honored to have such a talented lineup of bands of our 2012 Band of the Month series. The series is definitely something we should have started last year but nonetheless, we’ve been able to speak with bands that we’ve been able to watch grow over the past months and it’s a pleasure being able to work with them. Ladies and gents, this is it, our 12 “Band of the Month” picks for the past year! Just in case you missed:

January 2012 – CUSSES
February 2012 – OF MONSTERS AND MEN
March 2012 – EXITMUSIC
April 2012 – YOUNG BENJAMIN
May 2012 – ALL TINY CREATURES
June 2012 – XAVII 

July 2012 – WOWSER BOWSER
August 2012 – PONDEROSA 
September 2012 – JUINOR ASTRONOMERS 
October 2012 – FAYE WEBSTER 
November 2012 – CHEAP GIRLS

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A few months back, Will and I headed back to Cincinnati to cover our first visit to the famed MidPoint Music Festival. With so many bands playing in such a short amount of time, we had to pick and choose. One of the most enjoyable moments of the weekend came when we decided to meet back with some friends at a club called MOTR to grab a drink. We were already quite awestruck from Bethesda‘s set, so we settled into a booth for a bit of quiet. 

All the while, a group was getting things set on the stage and since drinks were fresh, we decided to stick around. The room was near, if not over, capacity with hipsters and townies, guzzling down Burger Beer and talking loudly over one another, but when the small frame of singer Kari Spieler took the stage, all eyes and ears were hers. Accompanied by Adam McHeffey, Shaun Savage, and Thomas Elefante, the band we came to know as Swear and Shake (not Square Cake, as we had lost our schedules…) put on arguably one of the best sets of the 2012 festival. 

I’ve only seen a few artists bring a room to a hush, only to have their audience hooping and hollering moments later, and these four talented Yankees have joyfully mastered their ability to do so. By the end of the first song, we were out of our seats and upfront. Strangers instantly became neighbors as the entire venue was swept up in the action. 

A few months later, we noticed the four of them would be heading out on a US tour supporting G. Love & Special Sauce around the turn of the year and the timing just seemed perfect. Without further adieu, I’m immensely happy to present the band as our “Band of the Month” for December 2012. Read on!

Interview with Swear and Shake

The band claims Brooklyn as home, but are each of you actually from the city or did you move there with the intent of broadening your creative interests and living in an area that was more conducive to creating what would eventually become Swear and Shake?

Kari Spieler: We call Brooklyn our home, but no, we’re not from here. In fact, only two of us actually live here. Adam, Tom, and Shaun grew up together on Long Island and I grew up in Poughkeepsie, NY. Shaun is still out on the island and Tom is living just outside of Philadelphia. Swear and Shake was created by Adam and myself when we were still at school, not too far from the city. An entire year of Swear and Shake’s existence was spend with two of us on Long Island, one living in Greenwich, CT, and one living in Poughkeepsie. We used to rehearse in Astoria, Queens, so that became our centralized location. We called ourselves a New York band when we started out, for ease when people asked. Adam and I ended up in Brooklyn because we thought it would help our band. It did in a lot of ways. It’s a struggle, but it seems to be working out well.

Do you remember the very first time the four of you were in one room and ran through a song together? What was your first impression of how things would work out?

Adam McHelley: I do actually. It was the hottest day, one of many hot days in the summer of 2010. Kari and I had already been playing and had done a handful of shows as a duet, so the full band sound was way bigger than we were used to. I also remember dusting off my Stratocaster that I hadn’t played since high school and using that instead of my regular acoustic. It was fun, just super long and extremely sweaty, but I don’t think there was much discussion after that about taking the project on as a band. It just… clicked.

Just over two years ago, you released Extended Play, a five song collection featuring the first demo you recorded, “Johnnie”. What would you say is the most noticeable difference in the Swear and Shake of 2010 and the Swear and Shake we saw at MidPoint?

Shaun Savage: The release of Extended Play was, and I think still very much is a great representation of the four of us finding the corners of a puzzle. Over the past two years since the release we’ve filled out some of the middle of that puzzle and locked a few pieces in place. The writing, recording, and touring of Maple Ridge, along with the experiences we’ve shared, has sort of seasoned us a bit as storytellers and we’ve learned how to fit the pieces together to tell our stories in a more thorough and expressive way. That and Tom just got new hi hats today.

Does living in a community where you’re constantly surrounded by new music, new trends, and new people present hindrances for the band at times?

Tom Elefante: Living where we live definitely pushes us to a new and higher level. We have a lot of great and really talented friends within our music community. It greases the wheels of creativity.

What can you tell me about the band’s first tour together?

KS: The band used to go out on a lot of minitours. We’d hit up a few surrounding cities on the east coast for a weekend and come back. The first one I remember was a college date in Connecticut. It was something a close friend had set up for us in her on campus house. We were SO excited. I remember sitting in the back of Tom’s dad’s AstroVan ready to rage. The first thing we did was hit a volvo while parallel parking. That set up the rest of the night quite well. When we got there, nothing was setup and half of their stuff was broken. On top of that, there ended up being about 10 kids in the crowd just STARING at us. No clapping or dancing. I think I got one smile out of one student. We gave it our absolute all too. I was jumping into the crowd. Adam was jumping on speakers. We all played our hardest and we got silent listeners. When the show was over we drove home immediately (I think we all had to work the next day). It wouldn’t be our last show like that. We had a great time and knew we wanted to keep going together. For good shows and bad shows. I imagine the G. Love dates won’t be like that one.

What was the point where you all realized as a group that Swear and Shake was something that was really going to work out and you became fully invested?

AM: I’m still not sure it’s going to “work out” haha. I mean, anything could happen. But I’d say I became fully invested when Kari and I first played live together for an audience. The only songs we had were “Johnnie”, a handful of mutual covers, and I could pick through a few of her older songs by ear. We didn’t even have a band name yet. We were in this little Manhattan artist loft where they they were having a songwriter’s circle of some kind, and everyone was so into the tunes that I regretted not having a pen and paper to collect email addresses.

Some of the most important lessons I learned from spending time on the road were to always wear clean socks (if you have them), clean up after yourself, claim the first bed you can find, and that McDoubles don’t save well overnight. What are a few valuable things you’ve learned that make life in a van easier?

SS: Those are definitely some important and probably the most valuable lessons to learn. Additionally, finding the balance between drinking enough coffee to stay awake while driving and drinking too much coffee that you have pee is crucial, Pennsylvania is WAY bigger than you think, and cover your head if the van stops short or you may take a snare drum to the cranium.

You recently announced that you’ll be supporting G. Love & Special Sauce on their US tour in January. You’ll be spending a great deal of time in the South, with six shows in Florida alone. Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to about your time down here?

TE: we are looking forward to warm weather, great cooking, and good ol’ Southern hospitality.

What did Swear and Shake do for Thanksgiving this year? Do you all head your separate ways for the holiday or instead throw a giant celebration together?

KS: We didn’t feast together but we did have a great pre-T’gives evening. We all went out to the boys hometown and hit up the local bars. We gave thanks with whiskey, throwback 90’s dance jams, and good friends. It’s great when we can get together without having to head to the next venue or meet with whoever about whatever.

In what ways did Hurricane Sandy affect you all? There are plenty of great organizations working with clean-up and aid (Red Cross, Hope for New York), but do you all have any suggestions of ways that people can help?

AM: When Sandy hit, Kari and I went to work recording demos for a two day stint. We called them the “Hurricane Demos,” and they have a real dark and isolated feel to them. There wasn’t much to do or anywhere to go, and the songs sounded very focused because of that. It seems that all of those organizations don’t need anymore volunteers, rather food and clothing and most importantly, money donations. We’re playing a Hurricane Sandy benefit show with Communion NYC at Union Hall on December 6th. Showing up and donating at the door will go a long way helping to rebuild, and we’re happy we can do something to help.

In the weeks following the hurricane, what has been the most inspiring and reassuring in the rebuilding and recovery process?

SS: New York City is a very hustling and bustling sort of place. After Sandy that hustle and bustle didn’t stop, but it really shifted it’s focus to those who needed help. From opening their homes to those who lost power and forming volunteer cleanup crews to food drives and blood drives there have been tons of New Yorkers getting involved and having each other’s backs.

We all know that Brooklyn is choc-full of all kinds of talent, but if Swear and Shake could put together a “friends and family” tour of artists from around the city, who a few of the names you would consider bringing with you?

TE: We have so many great friends and it’s hard to choose. If I had to narrow the list down to a handful I would say our picks would be these animals, Pearl and the Beard, Tall Tall Trees, These Animals, and Anthony da Costa. Not only are they the best people on the planet, but they can play like mothers.

We’ve got $100.00 and twenty-four hours in Brooklyn. What can we do to get the most bang for our buck?

KS: Go home. Ha! Just Kidding. Plenty of things to do on $100. You could visit the botanical gardens in Prospect Park, check out the Brooklyn Museum AND historic library while in that neighborhood (all for free). Head over to Williamsburg for a tour of Brooklyn Brewery (free) or see an old movie with fancy snacks at The Nitehawk (not so free). Of course, there’s lots of music too! You could see a show at the Williamsburg Music Hall. There are also lots of free museums and galleries. In fact, you’d probably spend most of your money on food and transportation, which is pretty good for someone like me who loves to eat. I recommend Spritzenhaus, Marlow and Sons or Roberta’s for tasty pretentious food, Meatball Shop or Peter’s for homestyle cooking, and Vinnie’s Pizza for cheap, yet delicious pizza.

What’s the best joke you’ve heard recently?

AM: I just put my two weeks notice in, but I’ve been teaching preschool full time, on and off, for years. This isn’t so much a joke, but I asked a student what his favorite holiday is, and he said “snow.”       I said, “Snow’s not a holiday,” and he laughed and said, “Yes… it is.”

Let’s say the band invents a time machine and has the chance to open up one show for anyone you want; Who would it be and when?

SS: The Band – November 25, 1976

What album from the past ten years best sums up life in New York City for you all?

TE: An album? Each member of the band would say something different, but maybe Up From Below by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. It’s deefinitely an influential album for all of us in the band.

You’re playing at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on Jan. 25. Will this be the bands first time in Atlanta, and if not, do you have any memorable experiences from your time there? 

KS: This will be the band’s first time in Atlanta. If we have any off time at all, I’m going to the aquarium to see the whale shark. I love aquariums and I love whale sharks.

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