Discovery: Swim Deep
ABOVE: (LEFT TO RIGHT) CAVAN MCCARTHY, HIGGY, AUSTIN WILLIAMS, ZACH ROBINSON IN NEW YORK, MARCH 2013. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GABELLO.
Swim Deep is having fun. Composed of four boys from Birmingham, England, it’s the band’s first time in the US—as musicians or otherwise. They’ve just finished playing at SXSW and are on a mini East Coast tour. Catchy singles like “The Sea” and “King City” have earned the band a growing following in the UK, but, unlike most indie music of the moment, Swim Deep is more early- and mid-’90s Brit-Pop alternative than ’80s synth. A debut album is due out this summer.
When we meet Austin, Cavan, Higgy, and Zach in a backroom at Mercury Lounge before their debut New York show, there are none of the usual post-SXSW complaints, just a lot of jokes and gentle teasing. They seem equally excited about playing to a fresh audience and their visit to the American Museum of Natural History—”The one that Ben Stiller works at in Night At the Museum.”
BAND MEMBERS: Tom “Higgy” Higgins (guitar), Zach Robinson (drums), Cavan McCarthy (bass), Austin Williams (vocals)
HOMETOWN: Birmingham, UK
AGE[S]: 20 (McCarthy); 21 (Robinson and Williams)
STYLE OF MUSIC: Austin Williams: A little more roll than rock and a bit feel-good.
STARTING A BAND: Williams: Me and Higgy met in Morrisons; we both worked there. I was about 16, Higgy was 72. [laughs]
[Higgins walks by]
Cavan McCarthy: There he is himself. We’re in an interview.
Williams: Speak of the devil! We met these guys when I moved to Birmingham when I was 17, just met them out, just partying. Then we started the band when we finished partying.
McCarthy: Gave up partying for—
McCarthy: And wrote some songs.
LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS: Williams: Is asking people to be in your band like dating? Yeah, pretty much.
McCarthy: You get nervous about doing it.
Williams: [Zach] had kind of a girlfriend already—his other band—so it was like getting with a girl that wanted to get away from her boyfriend. And he kind of fancied her loads. With Cavan it was kind of a love-hate thing. I just loved him, and he hated me. And that was the love-hate. We’re sorted now, I reckon.
McCarthy: I wouldn’t say sorted completely. When I first met him, I hated him for about two weeks, but after the second week, it was okay. You know when you see someone and it’s like, “Cunt.” [all laugh]
Williams: I was a bit of a cunt back then.
McCarthy: It was something like that.
FIRST GIGS: Williams: It wasn’t all that interesting.
McCarthy: It was just a gig in Birmingham. That went… average.
Tom Higgins: I’ve had loads of first gigs, man. Like the first ever Swim Deep gig, when we did it with Surfer Blood. And then there was the first ever one when Jay left, then it was just us three, and then there was the first one when Cavan was in the band.
Williams: My first ever gig was when I covered Green Day’s “Brainstorm.” It was in [the sixth grade] in an assembly and I was on guitar. Did people think I was cool? Yeah, I got a girlfriend straight after that assembly—well, I held hands with a girl soon, so that was really good.
McCarthy: What was that like?
Williams: It was so good. I put it on Myspace.
McCarthy: Have you done it recently?
Williams: Hold hands? No, no. Did she have sweaty palms? Nah, it was quite dry. I quite like clammy palms, though. I don’t
mind them. You know what I mean?
McCarthy: Ugh. Freaks me out.
Williams: Not on myself.
AMERICA, THE BEAUTIFUL: Austin Williams: It’s been pretty nice to see America, ’cause this is our first time here. Our holidays were at, like, Butlins. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Butlins.
Cavan McCarthy: They were dark days.
Williams: No, they were great days. I’m not gonna lie. That over America, any day.
McCarthy: I’m not gonna lie. They were dark days.
GETTING TIPSY: McCarthy: Has it been a problem in America? Not really, actually.
Williams: He just uses my ID. So fake.
McCarthy: I just wait outside places for like 10 minutes.
Williams: And they’re always like, “Oh, you’ve got the same birthday as him!” What a coincidence…
McCarthy: And the same face.
Williams: And the same ID.
SXSW IS… Williams: Not really a grind, to be honest. I don’t really get the people moaning about it. It’s quite corporate, and you don’t really get good sound people.
McCarthy: It’s pretty stressful.
Williams: Yeah, but who gives a shit? It’s just fun. There’s loads of bands there that I wouldn’t have seen usually, or couldn’t have seen usually; we get the chance to visit. Yeah, there’s the corporate side of it, but it just means we get free drinks and free clothes and shit. I don’t see the point about moaning about it. We saw this band called Skaters, they really blew my socks off.
Williams: Solange was amazing as well. Kendrick Lamar was really good. And a band called Unknown Mortal Orchestra, they were pretty good. Pretty trippy.
FROM FESTIVAL FANS TO A FESTIVAL BAND: McCarthy: We all went once [to Reading Festival in England] in a massive group.
Williams: That was the last year we all went—as 19-year-olds. It was really great. We all just went and lost our minds. It’s nice to be able to play them; I didn’t used to go to them, because they used to cost a lot, so it’s nice that we can go there now and also play to the people that we were a year ago.
BEST FESTIVAL MEMORY: McCarthy: The Strokes headlining Reading for me.
Williams: I think when The Libertines played at Reading a few years ago. Even though it was a bit shit, the feeling in the air was really great. Blink-182 was great as well. I can remember some girl snogged me to “All the Small Things,” and it was probably my 16-year-old dream.
McCarthy: That was last year.
Williams: That was last week.
THE SWIM DEEP MAFIA: Williams: It’s not just our friends or people we make come down [to our shows] now. It’s really good that people are enjoying our music.
McCarthy: When we play Birmingham, there’s this massive group of people that meet and all come to the show together. Swim Deep fans.
Williams: We’ve got a Mafia as well. A big shout out to them. They come to the shows and just lose their fucking shit. They’re like 16, just trying get a drink, trying to have fun.
McCarthy: Someone gave my number out to them. They call me every day.
WORST NIGHTMARE: Williams: Probably being buried alive. Or breaking a string onstage. Either of those—on the same level.
Zach Robinson: Pedals not working on stage.
DREAM DATE: Robinson: Natalie Portman.
Williams: Kristen Stewart. Or Taylor Swift. Or you.
McCarthy: I’m not sure.
Robinson: [whispers] She might read it.
McCarthy: She probably will and hate me even more.
Higgins: You didn’t just pass on that question, did you?
Williams: Man, you’ve go to say it.
McCarthy: MS from MS MR. She would be a great date, I think.
CHILDHOOD AMBITIONS: Williams: I wanted to be a cloud. I’m not sure if I meant a clown, but I said a cloud.
Higgins: A gangbanger. No, I didn’t know what I wanted to be.
McCarthy: I used to want to be a footballer.
Williams: Cav still wants to be a footballer.
McCarthy: I still try to.
Williams: I’m scared if a football team wanted to sign you, you’d go to it.
McCarthy: I would.
WE STAY IN TRAVELODGES…: All: All the time.
Williams: We played this prank on Higgy—we said that we got banned from Travelodges for the rest of our lives; we can’t stay in Travelodges anymore. I think we were stoned, but he was freaking out, he was going, “No! Not Travelodges! They been like my home!”
Robinson: I started that prank. I’d like to get credit.
SWIM DEEP ARE PLAYING AT BROOKLYN BOWL TONIGHT, MARCH 22. THEIR DEBUT ALBUM, WHERE IN HEAVEN ARE WE, COMES OUT IN JULY. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE BAND’S FACEBOOK PAGE.