About Swallows’ Songs for Strippers (and other professions) (2008)
The End of an Era
The first line-up for Swallows came together in 2008 on the eve of the band’s debut album Songs for Strippers (and other professions) release show. The tracking for the album had begun under another band name altogether, as the record was originally intended to be the alt-rock band Thinland’s sophomore offering. However, during the course of recording the album, Thinland lost three of its members, including the band’s rhythm section and lead guitarist.
Prior to the break-up, the Thinland line-up had recorded two sets of music for the record, laying down the basic tracks for most of the songs during a marathon recording session at The Terrarium Recording Studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2006. The first set of material had come from Thinland’s live set, which had been written in the years following the release of their 2003 album Tracing the Cracks. As the recording sessions neared, lead singer and songwriter Jeff Crandall was completing a second set of music that had not been road tested by the band. The band wound up learning the new songs in a crash course of band practices just prior to the initial album recording sessions. At the time, it wasn’t clear which set of material would make the final cut for the new album, so the band laid down basic tracks for both sets.
The new songs were more roadhouse blues- and art-rock-oriented and they had a heavier, edgier sound than the first set the band had been working on. By the time the initial tracking was completed, the band had gotten down the basics for about twenty new cuts; however, there was little agreement about which songs would ultimately make the album. The older songs were familiar and the arrangements had been ironed out over time; the songs were more anthemic and would lend themselves to a production style that was a good fit for the mid-2000s. In contrast, the new set of songs sounded more lo-fi and raw in comparison. The decision about which set of songs to pursue would ultimately be fateful for the future of Thinland.
The first member to leave the band was lead guitarist Yub Yu, whose stellar electric guitar playing had transformed Thinland’s live set during the years he played with the band. Unfortunately, Yub’s playing was never captured on any of Thinland’s studio efforts; however, his playing can be heard on a few choice live cuts, including “The Ghosts of Karma,” a song that didn’t ultimately make the cut for the Songs for Strippers album. Shortly after Yub departed from the band, drummer Patrick Hennessey and bassist Jason Fritts also decided to call it quits after six years with Thinland. The Thinland break-up left the remaining band members, cellist Aaron Kerr and vocalist/guitarist Jeff Crandall, with an abundance of recorded material in various states but with no band to finish up and launch the record. The pair decided to finish the album anyway, hoping they could recruit new members once the album was completed.
Out of the Ashes
The duo settled on a new band name that reflected the more recent material the band had been working on. The songs for the new album were largely picked from the second set of songs that Crandall had written for the album, although a couple of the songs, including “The Last Happy Shot” and “Undone” had come from Thinland’s live set. The basic criteria for selection – outside of solid band performances – was that the songs needed to fit the overall theme that was emerging for the album. The material needed to hang together tonally and maintain the artsy roadhouse vibe of key songs like “Hardball,” “The Craven King” and “Come to Me.”
The final group of songs that Kerr and Crandall picked for the album turned out to be more aggressive, rawer and darker than Thinland’s earlier material had been. The themes were more sexual and provocative; the writing was first person, self-concerned and immediate. The characters in the songs were broken, limited and definitely not the good guys. The songs were snapshots of scenes from relationships, largely from a male perspective, and they presented one-sided points of view without narrative distancing or politically correct moralizing to soften them. These were intimate portraits of imperfect people, and the songs were about the kinds of things that people don’t normally talk about out loud.
The songs selected for the album were like aspects of one’s personality being dissected and turned inside out with the cancerous parts exposed, yet there was a certain beauty to the implicit self-critique beneath the bombastic surface of the material. Aaron and Jeff decided to call the album Songs for Strippers (and other professions), which was both tongue in cheek but also true enough to the genesis and substance of the album, which was really about stripping down a personality and exposing one’s deviant fetishes alongside one’s spiritual aspirations. The new band name “Swallows” came to be only after the album name had been decided on. The name Thinland just wouldn’t work for the new album. On the other hand, Swallows seemed like the name of a band that would be audacious enough to put out an album called Songs for Strippers (and other professions). For better or worse, the idea stuck.
Aaron and Jeff finished the recording and mixed the record at GilderSound Recording Studio in Forest Lake, Minnesota, where they worked with long-time collaborator and engineer Randy Gildersleeve. Aaron and Jeff shared the duties of arranging the additional layers for the songs and played most of the remaining parts on the album. Long-time friend and Mellow Drunk vocalist/guitarist Leigh Gregory chipped in with some long-distance tracking from San Francisco. Leigh played a few key lead, fuzz and supporting guitar parts on the songs “I’m Not Your Kind of Man,” “I Won’t Let You Down” and “Bottomfeeder,” and Randy added a couple of choice performances on slide guitar (“Undone”) and lead guitar (“Kerouac”) to help finish up the record.
Songs for Strippers (and other professions) was released with a provisional band line-up in July 2008 at a dive bar in Minneapolis. For the 2008 release, Americana-inspired guitarist Frank Spencer joined the band and Emperor Penguin Record’s Tyson Allison agreed to step in and play drums and sing backing vocals. These temporary positions wound up stretching into a year and a half with Swallows. In the end, Tyson wound up staying with the band, but he decided to move into more of an auxiliary role (second guitar, keys, percussion, backing vocals) after he moved from Minneapolis to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Frank stayed on through the beginning of 2010, but left before the band’s 2010 Clear Sky Relapse EP was released.
Songs for Strippers went on to receive a smattering of national and international acclaim, including a spot (#57) on Consequence of Sounds’ Top Albums of 2008 list and reviews in the All Music Guide, The Red Alert, Broken Pencil and Zeitgeist (UK).
Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, the band was still struggling to maintain a cohesive line-up.