The Brooklyn-based rockers of Swanky Tiger worked on their latest EP, “Mechanical Nightmares” (June 2017), for the better part of a year. Rather than saving songs for the studio and releasing them after, they perfected them on the road first. While an unusual move for the band—made up of Oliver Mashburn (guitar, vocals), Will Rockefeller (guitar), Michael Glendening (bass, keys), and Clemens Grassmann (drums)—it was a conscious decision to go outside the box.
“It’s been a totally different process by which we’ve come across these songs,” Rockefeller explains. “A lot of times, when we would record or commit to something, we would come back and say, ‘Oh, God! This could be so much better.’ This way we could get a real feel for the song—get inside it first. I feel we’ve made a much deeper record than we had previously.”
Swanky Tiger’s debut, “Empires” (2015), was more of a straight-forward punk album. With “Mechanical Nightmares,” they wanted to change rhythms and keys that seemed to show up in a lot of songs. They wanted to push themselves another direction.
“While I think this record is undoubtedly Swanky Tiger,” Rockefeller clarifies, “the music is purposefully varied and more eclectic. There’s blues, there’s pop, there’s metal-inspired stuff. . . . We wanted to produce a record way more consciously.”
“I Saw the Light” was a track that morphed quite a bit from stage to stage and then to studio. Rockefeller estimates it went through four iterations before they landed on a final version.
“It started out as a Metallica-chugging song, and it turned into something a little more sophisticated,” he tells. “We kept moving pieces around—trying to make the chorus bigger. The chorus never sat right. Mike and I just sat with it for a year or year and a half, continually changed things, added things, took things away…”
They got carried away at times, too: more keys, more lead lines, more texturing. They ran the risk of overworking the song to find its perfect form.
“We’d have to rein each other in sometimes,” Rockefeller admits. “When we actually recorded, we ended up adding even more stuff. Still, I think it turned out well. We’re more proud of this record than anything else.”
Swanky Tiger also brought on guest vocalists for some of the tracks. Both Kathleen Fogarty and J. Chris Griffin back up the track on “Mechanical Nightmares,” while Fogarty also sings backup on “All I Want” and “I Saw the Light.” Ultimately, they thought the added harmonies would make it a fun record, whether hearing it live or at home. Nevertheless, the added vocals were never something they thought or planned to do before. They gradually started testing the waters with harmonies.
“Mike and I would start singing at practice and then at shows—depending on how inebriated we got,” Rockefeller quips. “When it came time to make the record . . . we wanted to take the idea we had brewing from shows and practices, and run with it and make our voices more beautiful, so we used some better singer than us.”
All songs were written and composed by Mashburn, Rockefeller and Glendening. While “Empires” was heavy on electro-chainsaw bass, these four songs are guitar- and drum-driven.
“We didn’t feel like they needed to be any fuller than they were in terms of keys and such,” he tells. “There’s two big rock songs and no room for anything on those. There’s a blues song we felt really should stay one guitar and one bass. And then the song that does have keys [‘All I Want’]—it’s just a texture to sort of bolster a musical point.”
They’d like to explore other instrumentals again, with more keys and such, as well as circle back to the new-age-electronic-meets-rock sound. Rather than pursue a full-length record next, Swanky Tiger really plans to stretch their legs in a series of follow-up EPs. Because they’ve started writing more eclectically, the result is having a lot of songs that really don’t have much to do with each other on an album. While “Mechanical Nightmares” is a taste of what’s to come, Rockefeller estimates three more EPs are coming: one focused on heavy rock, another on blues and, of all things, a country record.
“We want something in there for everybody,” he continues. “We tout ourselves as a hard-rock band. . . . [But] we all cut our teeth on blues, and we tend to be pretty good at it, so we sort of felt like it was natural because we kept making these blues things or jams in songs. . . . I think country’s always been in our periphery as far as music we like and listen to—especially recently with acts like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson. Country has become more accessible to northerners, as it were.”
Though their homebase in Brooklyn may not be the most open to country twang, he knows fans below the Mason Dixon will provide a bit of inspiration. As it turns out, one of their next stopovers is at Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern. But the crowd at Reggie’s likely won’t hear any country songs in the works. “The country EP isn’t fully developed,” Rockefeller says. “It’s not show ready. If it were, we would be on it for sure.”
Swanky Tiger will play with garage-folk band The Menders from Gastonia, NC, and Wilmington-based Sunset Kings.