Burlington-Based Band Swale Puts Out New Album With Witty Lyrics And Range Of Styles

Jul 14, 2017

Broadly speaking, the Burlington-based band Swale plays rock songs — though labeling their music that way is a little like filling a paint palette with just one color. 

On their new record, There’s No One Herethe band dips into country-flecked ballads, straight-up rock, a tinge of punk and even ambient.

VPR spoke to Amanda Gustafson, who plays keys, and her husband Eric Olsen, who plays guitar, about the new album.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full audio above.

VPR: The last Swale album came about almost three years ago. What was it like making this record?

Gustafson: “We finished the last album, kind of like high-fived and said ‘OK … we need to start the next one.’ I know I started trying to write some new things."

Olsen: “What's different about this album is that we had the opportunity — we all like put the kids in camp, everyone took off a week and we did that classic eating meals in the studio … just all day and so … we had a batch of songs and then there's some songs that were not finished or not written at all that we wrote in the studio."

How do you balance being in a band together and raising a family?

Gustafson: “A friend asked me recently if we fight; we don't really fight and we never have. And I've been thinking about it and thinking about it, and the answer I came up with — and I haven't talked to you about this — I really feel heard in this relationship.

"As a woman in the world ... there's a lot of places where I am not heard, and my house is not one of those places. And the band is not one of those places." — Amanda Gustafson, Swale

“And as a woman in the world — woman of a certain amount of privilege for sure — but still, in the world, there's a lot of places where I am not heard, and my house is not one of those places. And the band is not one of those places.

“But I've observed a lot of creative relationships with women and men where the women are not heard. And so I'm incredibly grateful for that situation, and it's the reason we're still together and the reason that we produce what we do.”

There's a beautiful song on the album called ‘Wooden Heart.’ It's just lovely — it’s got a sort of country-feel, we hear a saxophonist as well.

Gustafson: “That's Kal Traver ... She's a Vermont musician — played for years, and still does, with Rubblebucket, but she has a new band called Kalbells ... They just released an album on NNA Tapes, which is a local label, that's phenomenal.

Olsen: “She was working with Ryan Power ... on the album that just came out, so she was in the studio and I was in there doing something with Ryan as well. And she just was like, ‘Hey, put on some slapback effect and I’m [going to] go in there and blow on this.'"

Swale has been playing together for 15 years. How have you seen the music scene in Vermont change?

Gustafson: “I think we are operating in a very special little bubble where we both do work that pays the bills, pays the insurance. Flexible. I mean ... I'm here today [because] I'm not working [because] it's summer, [because] I’m a teacher.

“But we have an incredibly supportive community — we have a vinyl pressing studio down the road, we have a producer like Ryan Power who is 15 minutes from our house and has all the equipment we need. You know like, I think that we're incredibly fortunate that we've been able to continue to make music that we want to and with more regularity.

“I guess I just don't want to take for granted the fact that the record that's sitting on the table, it didn't happen just because, like, we work harder than other people. We work really, really hard because we love it. But also there's a lot of stuff working in our favor, not the least of which is venues that support us and continue to book us, and people who come to see us, people that buy our album.”

Right now, Swale doesn’t tour the country — you stay pretty local. Is that the level you want to stay at?  

Olsen: “I mean, if someone showed up and said ‘Hey, you don't have to work. Let's do this for a while," that might be ... But the fact that — "

Gustafson: “But at the end of the day, it would have to also be, like, in service of our family."

Olsen: "Exactly."

Gustafson: “Like, if I wasn't in this band and Eric had this exact band — and they were exactly where they were right now — they would absolutely be pursuing tours here and there, and I'd be home with the kids. But that's not our situation, so we do the thing that makes us feel fulfilled, and you know, we're there, we're there for our kids.”

"I think all of us also are really entrenched in our lives here in Vermont, as well. I think it would be hard to change that, but it is 100 percent, to me, gratifying and satisfying to be able to keep doing exactly what we're doing." — Eric Olsen, Swale

Olsen: “But I think all of us also are really entrenched in our lives here in Vermont, as well. I think it would be hard to change that, but it is 100 percent, to me, gratifying and satisfying to be able to keep doing exactly what we're doing.”

What are your favorite songs on There’s No One Here?

Olsen: “Like you say earlier, there's a lot of different kinds of things going on on the album. I mean, you bring up 'Wooden Heart.' That is special to me — it's the first Swale song we ever wrote. It's kind of one of the only ones we wrote together.”

Gustafson: "I think my favorite song is a song that we used to call ‘Be That Way,’ which is now on the record [as] ‘Every Last One Of Us.’ It's ... eight or nine minutes. There's a lot that happens over the course of those nine minutes with one of my favorite solos ever. I love that guitar solo that you do. I love it so much. When it drops — so good.”