Bringing psychedelic and jazz-inspired synths and production into rock or pop music certainly isn’t a new concept. See: the entire 60s, for example. Lately, however, with all the merging of EDM and ambient electronica with pop, there seems to be push more to ravey or hip hoppy styles rather than jazzy or funky. Psychobilly or beach rock has also been making a comeback and leaning heavily on electronica to make those sounds, but generally pop acts don’t pull those jazzy and beachy sounds. At the vertex of all these different trends and sounds, however, is where we find a band willing to merge all that stuff and create a new sound with it: Swansgate
Hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina and with a beat basis straddling hip hop and trip hop, Swansgate’s first EP in 2020 Mirrors is much more strictly lofi than their most recent LP, Becoming Someone, which dropped a couple of weeks ago in late April. If you know your jazz, you’ll hear twinges of it in the interlude of “U In My Head” or the keys of “Sand to Glass” but these could really be general funk a’la Chromeo or Tame Impala. Indie pop? Sure. Funky? Absolutely. Venturing into psycho-pop, not quite yet. Swansgate saved that for Becoming Someone.
With real lashings of The Doors, The Beach Boys, Miles Davis and even actual The Cramps-style psychobilly, Swansgate really let it all hang out style-wise on Becoming Someone and it’s paid off in spades, creating a niche for their sound that’s really got no equal. According to the band’s producer, vocalis, arranger and general frontman Stu Draughn, that fusion of jazz, indie pop, rock, funk, lofi and psychedelic rock came from a personal inspiration point.
With this album, we really wanted to bottle up about 20+ years worth of musical influence into a 45 minute piece of music. My dad died a year before starting the project, and that thrust me into a transformation of sorts. I went through a long process of reflection, which led to a better understanding of who I am. Just as we are all children of our ancestors, this album is a child of all of the musical ideas that inspired it. I really tried hard to capture the essence of every artist I’ve ever loved, while arranging things in a way that is new and fun to listen to.
The silver lining with tragedy is often a letting go of worries about what others think which can lead to more creative freedom. In this case, that creative freedom created an album that’s both relatable and technically strong, rooted in diverse influence but coming to a modern apex that will appeal to modern audiences. It’s a tough thing to pull off but Draughn and crew manage it beautifully.
Almost every track on Becoming Someone has some form of psychedelic presence, from the Doors-like keyboard work in “Lust for Love” to the sitar sample on “Island of Lies” to the ambient production on “Moving Forward,” it’s clear that beach rock vibes are the cherry on top of this funk-infused lofi dream pop. These psychedelic nodes also help tie together the album, which goes from the pure pop and funk of “Lost in the Sun” to the jazzy trip hop of “Drunken Limbo” to ambient jazz like “While the Nighttime Wades.” That string of trippy sound design or synth or even a flourish connnects all these many and sundry styles on Becoming Someone in a surprising way: psycho pop.
What lyrically is a journey through grief and loss into becoming whole again, or a different whole is also an homage to Draughn and his bandmates’ love for music and its process. With both processes, one comes out different than they were before, and usually there’s a pretty great byproduct. Becoming Someone and the someone they’ve become are Swansgate’s byproducts.