Listen to The Jimmy Swift Band on Rhapsody!
By Cory Laibovitz
The Jimmy Swift Band has been putting in the hours. The band averages about 200 a shows a year, and they make a habit of heading south of the border, working hard to break into the difficult American market.
The Jimmy Swift Band
Formed about six years ago in Halifax, Nova Scotia, JSB is comprised of Aaron Collier on keyboards and effects, Craig Mercer on guitar, vocals, and effects, Mike MacDougall on bass, and Nick Wombolt on drums. The band members reference groups like, Van Halen, Pink Floyd and Iron Maiden as influences, but somehow manage to inject the balls rock with a dance-heavy dose of electornica to create "Rocktronica."
Before a recent show at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern, I caught up with Craig Mercer to ask a few questions and find out what it's like to be a Canadian band breaking in America?
JamBase: You guys are really becoming one of the biggest Canadian representatives within this grass roots jam band notion. When you guys go out, in a way, you are really representing all of us [Canadians]. How does that make you feel? Do you feel any social responsibility? Do you feel any pressure?
Mercer: I certainly don't feel any pressure; the only thing I really feel is pride. I do feel like it is a very grass roots approach that all the jam bands have taken. It's a lot of people who have similar tastes in music – maybe not even similar tastes but they all embrace the jam band aesthetic. We don't sound like a typical jam band at all. A lot of the time we don't call ourselves a jam band because we don't want to have people interpret our music as sounding a certain way when they haven't heard us. Some people think we sound like the Grateful Dead – because they haven't heard us. What we do have in common with bands like the Grateful Dead is that we embrace the moment, the now. If our songs want to go "here" now, then that's where they're going. We don't want to go out and play the same song the same way we played it on the album.
Craig Mercer - JSB
JamBase: You play music for entertainment. What about the spiritual aspect, when you play music you really get to people? Do you guys take that into consideration as you go along?
Mercer: Absolutely. Going back to social responsibility, it's a really special thing we've got going on – this jam movement and how it's almost like a large group of friends. You show up somewhere, like we did tonight, and we're going to look out at the crowd. Even though we're not personal friends with a lot of these people, because you can only stretch yourself so thin, we recognize them. It's like we share this thing - you see them at all your shows, and that in and of itself is sort of a spiritual thing. They continue to come on this journey with us every time we are around. I identify places that I go based on the people who I know are going to be there and the conversations that I have with these people. It's massively spiritual. I think it's a fantastic thing that we are involved in, a unique music culture. I certainly wouldn't want to have it any other way.
JSB by Scott McGuigan
JamBase: You guys are really taking the grass roots ideal to heart. Your record label, Below Me Music, takes on a lot of indie bands and gets them connected with great venues throughout Canada. You take the time to look back, help other bands, and help the scene progress. Who started Below Me Music?
Mercer: I started that with our band, Grand Theft Bus, and a band called Slowcoaster - three great bands from the East Coast. Essentially, we built a whole network of clubs across the country that were into like-minded music, and I think that in some instances we've been responsible for helping the scene grow – especially on the East Coast and even in Ontario as well. We are providing people with music that they won't hear otherwise.
I heard that your American tour dates were recently cancelled. I'm sure that you guys were really looking forward to going down there, and I'm sure there are many people who are disappointed. Are you willing to talk about it?
I'm happy to talk about it because there are big problems with the whole procedure now. As far as I'm concerned, both Canadian and American bands are governed by the same union, the AF of M (American Federation of Musicians). Would it not seem that if the same union governs one group of people, that everybody should have the same procedures and rules in place? You would think that, but it's not the case. For us to go to The States, we have to supply the government with our tour dates three months in advance, and we have to pay a fee. We could also get them in up to three weeks before, but we would have to pay a $1500 US dollar fee. So every time we go to The States, we just lost $1500 that we paid on logistics. It absolutely comes back in different ways, and we we're happy to go down there because we really feel like there are a lot of people in The States that are into this kind of scene. We really want to go there and play, and we certainly aren't giving up. We are concentrating all of our efforts after our new record comes out on going out there. The problem basically is that we didn't know the capacity of this outdoor festival we were playing, and we didn't fill it in, thinking that they didn't need to know that. The whole process is fraught with technicalities. As far as I'm concerned, the union has to get their shit together and make some sort of appeal to Congress or something to try to get some parity between Canadian and American bands.
The Evolve Festival is one of Canada's biggest jam band festivals [in Antigonish County, Nova Scotia]. How many years have you played there? How do you feel about the overall impact of the festival, and how do you feel about the overall vibe?
We have played there every year except for one. Evolve has been a great festival on the East Coast, and it has really helped. Below Me Music has helped Evolve a bit, and Evolve has helped Below Me Music. It gave us a great event that hired a lot of bands that we worked with. It's given us a lot more exposure, pulled out a lot more people, and has pulled a lot more people into the scene. Sometimes people that may not have been into the kind of music we were putting out before come out to the Evolve Festival, and they're hearing the music and they're loving it. I think that the festival has changed a lot of people; the name is definitely a telling tale. It's also great that they promote green living and environmentally conscious ideals, which is something that we all need to be concerned with in today's day and age.
Aaron Collier - JSB
Your new album is in the works. What can we expect from this album, and when will it be available for purchase?
Two weeks ago we went to the studio and all played together live off the floor, and it sounds way better than the stuff that we've spent about 50 grand on now. So we've basically thrown all that stuff away and we're going to go back and remix a couple of the tracks, but most of the record is going to be stuff that we recorded over two days last week. We've been working on this record for six or seven months. I'm very confident that the end result will be a lot more like the live show. I've changed the way I've been thinking about our band recently. We were going to put out a record of singles. I love song writing, and it's great to share your songs and thoughts with people. Lately, I have been feeling that we have to embrace the thing about our band that makes us different – I don't really know what that is. We have newly adopted the approach that we want people to leave the album the same way they leave our live shows. The tentative release date for the new album is September 19th.
To learn more about The Jimmy Swift Band, get tour date information, or view blogs and other info, visit www.thejimmyswiftband.com or www.myspace.com/tjsb. To learn more about the Evolve Festival, visit www.evolvefestival.
THE JIMMY SWIFT BAND TOUR DATES
09.13 | Rockin Rodeo | Moncton, NB
09.14 | Sweetwater | Fredericton, NB
09.21 | Chuggles | Antigonish, NS
09.22 | Neptunes | Saint John, NB
09.28 | The Rack and Roll | New Waterford, NS
09.30 | The Marquee Club | Halifax, NS
10.06 | The Paramount Lounge | Moncton, NB
10.13 | Fanshawe College | London, ON
10.14 | Queens University | Kingston, ON
10.19 | Vinyl | Guelph, ON
10.20 | Horseshoe Tavern | Toronto, ON
10.21 | Babylon | Ottawa, ON
10.28 | The Marquee Club Halifax, NS
JamBase | Canada
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