Kurt Stifle and the Swing Shift have just released the brand new video for their single Swampee. We caught an interview with the front man himself to find out more about this and their equally new album The Pilgrims’ Guide to the River of Salvation. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hey, great to be able to chat with you – thanks for your time! Brilliant new video for Swampee – where did the puppet idea come from, and how long did it take to bring it all to fruition?
Angelus, the director and Will Crespo, the puppeteer came up with it while we shot the video for The Rant Is Due. It was all their idea. I had a little input, but it’s all them. It’s amazing what you can come up with… without a budget.
What do you hope people take away from the video?
How nice the little swamp muppets are…
But they’ll get you if you don’t watch your step…
so if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em
“Oh, how much fun it can be,
you living in a swamp with me”
Tell us about The Pilgrims’ Guide to the River of Salvation – what inspired this as an album title and concept?
I was composing some instrumentals, the ones that are on the record, as ‘movie soundtrack’ demos. Just for fun. As I was writing “Oh, Pilgrim”, I had the idea of actually writing songs for a movie soundtrack that doesn’t exist. I loosely wrote the rest of the songs along a story arch.
A young man wants to come to LA and make it big and hang with the famous beautiful people… He hears the call of the river… sirens. Anyways he’s actually not that smart or talented. He hooks up with the lovable hooker, Daisy. Who just rips off the poor fool. He ends up destitute on skid row after returning to LA from Vegas… maybe he murdered Daisy in a drug-fueled rampage in Vegas? I don’t know, that could work. Anyways on skid row he decides to redeem himself and joins up with the midnight mission. After which, he lands a job at one of those new sex robot brothels… as a bucket boy.
Well it doesn’t take long for him to fall in love with one of them. Being that he’s been redeemed, but still an idiot, he steals his robot lover and takes her home to consummate his relationship. But the robot ends up malfunctioning, and ripping him to pieces. Just another LA story. The crowd and choir sing Love is Everywhere and his soul is flying up above LA while We All Have Wings plays. Curtain.
How do you write songs – what comes first, and do you ever worry about revealing too much of yourself in your lyrics and your music?
I usually start with a riff and / or a beat and build from that. But sometimes I’ll write all the words and just write the music then edit. It’s a mixed approach. I think most people who write songs will tell you. It’s like some just write themselves, some take a lot of work, thought and focus. I’ll think about some songs for months, or a line I’ll repeat over and over just to know if it’s right. OCD.
I’ll strum chord progressions, over and over and then see where else the chords want to go. Maybe the right approach is to allow the composition to go where it wants to go, and not over think it. An example is Laisy Daisy. Our dog ‘Daisy’ has this incredible gate and waddle. Her rear ends rocks back and forth like an ‘ol’ timey’ stripper. Funniest thing. So I wrote the rhythm track with that swing to mimic her walk.
So that became Laisy Daisy. I scored the brass, and wrote the backing lyrics. Kat Arthur came in the studio to ad lib the hooker babble, and it’s a great track! So I can thank our laisy dog, ‘Daisy’ for that inspiration, and Kat’s fantastic voice and character acting.
There’s a lot of influence on the album, from the Beach Boys to the Beatles and back through Bowie – not exclusive to the letter B of course, but you get the idea. From Goodbye Laura to Laisy Daisy, the sound is incredibly varied. Who are your favourite creatives right now, and what do you think makes a superb song?
You forgot Blue Oyster Cult and Badfinger in your list! I don’t want to play to genres too much so I think I just go with what I want to do, and not worry so much about straying off the ‘alternative’ plantation. Why limit yourself to one style? That’s weak. A person is only limited by their frame of mind… and then ability comes into play. But I’m no genius. I just want to produce cool music.
I hear some new music I like but I’ve noticed that so much of it follows the same road-map. Dronie melodies and rhythms. The stuff I do hear and like, I never remember their names after I hear it. I did grab the Durand Jones & The Indications album. I really like Arial Pink. He’s a brilliant song-smith, and has a great artistry and aesthetic for sounds. I don’t think he plays into genres either, his stuff is very diverse.
Listen to Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, or the Beatles I Saw Her Standing There or Chuck Berry’s Maybellene – you’ll find everything you need for a superb rock and roll song. But why stop there? Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown is up there with the rest. But that’s just rock music.. there so much good stuff out there. Hard to choose.
So I guess what makes for a superb song is this question… ‘Is it authentic?’ – Does it ring true? Does it make you tap your foot? The quality of the recording or skill of the musicians really matters little. If it’s good then it will stand on its own, because it will be truth, and the sentiment of a true song or melody will resonate. I don’t think I’m at that point… I’m still trying to pry my way inside.
Your sound is authentically raw – as classic rock was and always should be – what do you think the future holds for real rock and roll?
Well, I’m happy you consider our songs as ‘real rock and roll’. I guess the future of rock and roll depends on writers and performers who just want to rock. And a vibrant scene and culture. Maybe that’s going on somewhere, I’m out of the loop. Our culture is much different than it was 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago.
Authentic music will always find an audience. I really think there’s an appetite and pent up desire for something authentic, and I’m sure it’s out there somewhere. I’ve heard bands lately, and I can’t figure out why they bother. And don’t get me started on tribute bands.
Subject-wise there seem to be no constraints on the project, nothing is out of reach. From Drugs and Alcohol to Jesus Saves Blues, the experience is thoughtful, provocative, and totally interesting. How do you choose or know what to write about at any given time, and what are some of your personal favourite lyrics?
I write what I’m working on or thinking about at the given time. For example, if I’m in the middle of writing a song or 2, 3 at a time, I’m focused on those as a project. I try to get those ‘out of the way’ so I can move on.
My personal favorite lyrics, of my own stuff? Probably Oh, Pilgrim. All-time greatest? That’s hard to say because what’s your favorite at one time depends on your circumstance and sentiment.
Is live performance an important part of what you do, and what can audiences expect from a live show?
We just began playing live shows. So it’s just a matter of fine tuning a set, and hearing what works live, and how to play some of the tracks live. The ‘Swing Shift’ is a fucking great band!!! So they always sound good. My vocals are on shaky ground. I’ve always played guitar. So I’m learning how to deliver lyrics live, regardless of bad stage sound, etc. while playing guitar. It’s a new challenge for me.
What has been the greatest gig you’ve witnessed to date, and what it made it stand out?
One I remember was at the Bergemont Station. Exene had an exhibit and at the close, Devo and a bunch of other great bands played. 1997 maybe? The Big Boys at Bob Forrest’s ‘Sunday Club’ matinee in 1982? Black Flag, Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, Nig Heist, Nip Drivers, Redd Kross in Mike Webbers living room. Henry Rollins helped Mikes’s mom clean up the kitchen afterwards. 1981? Imperial Butt Wizards. Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, Redd Kross, Minutemen, Psi-Com in the desert at the Desolation Center’s Gila Monster Jamboree. 1984? Led Zeppelin at the LA Forum, 1978. KISS at Anaheim Stadium, 1974…
What’s the bigger picture – what are your hopes for the future?
I don’t have any goals as far as a music career, etc. For me the big picture is to try and write and produce music and songs that are good, as best I can. It makes me happy. I’m not even sure of my own ability or talent, nor what I’m subjecting the listener to.
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