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Kelvin Swaby of The Heavy

On the road between Bath and Bristol in the U.K., there's a little town called Noid. From that quiet little blip on the world map has come forth a band so energetic and so unique that even David Letterman gave pause ~ and asked for an encore.

The band is The Heavy. You know them from the Kia Sorento commercial that aired during the Super Bowl in 2010, and has kept us lip-synching to the words ever since. Their sound is pretty indefinable (although the BBC did try), their talent indisputable, and their style – well, let's just say they're tilling rich soil with every song.

Shawna Hansen Ortega (Songfacts): You're the first person I've talked to whose music has been played during a Super Bowl. Super Bowl is huge. I don't know if you guys even care about it over there, but it's huge here. Huge.

Kelvin Swaby: We know that it's big, but I don't think that we can grasp how big it is, because we're from Britain.

Songfacts: Exactly. (laughing) So yes, I have to pay you some homage for "How Do You Like Me Now?" and for getting that in a commercial. And now we get to talk about that song.

Kelvin: It was that point of mine and Daniel's (Taylor - Heavy guitarist) life when we were kind of at ends with our girls. "How Do You Like Me Now" was when you can take advantage of a situation and it doesn't matter what you do. I'm trying to say that I've been really, really, really bad, you shouldn't love me after all. And I'm telling you I've done this and this and this, so how do you like me now? And it's almost like you're just being cocky with it, because you know that you can do it. And I think it's not a good way to have somebody not necessarily over a barrel, but…

Songfacts: So it's not because you actually went out and did something you shouldn't have done, it was just because…

Kelvin: No, no, no – exactly. It's like you know that you're in a position to be able to do that. It's when you realize that you're in that position, it's like what do you do? I mean, if after everything that I've told you, does that makes you love me? Really? Does that make you love me? And if it does, then it fucking just means that you can do whatever you want. Or it should bring you closer by the end of it. If you can acknowledge, Okay, there is someone that will love you wholeheartedly for whatever you will do, then you probably won't do those things, if you see what I mean.

Songfacts: Okay. I'm getting a grasp of that. When I listen to this back again, I'm sure it's gonna click.

Kelvin: Yeah, it'll make sense.

Songfacts: And your appearance on Letterman, I read that you had the distinction of being the only band that he's ever asked an encore of. You're aware of that?

Kelvin: We were aware only after it happened. As soon as it happened, and we all went backstage, and David had said, "Thank you so much, that was incredible," and blah blah blah, all of the staff were like, "I can't believe what just happened! That is unprecedented." And we were like, "What just happened?" We just played and we played again, sure. And then they start saying, in the whole history of that show that's never ever happened. But it was one of those, Okay, we're going onto David Letterman. And we'd watched a few performances of bands that we really liked on Letterman. We've played with the Noisettes before. But I remember just looking at our performance and thinking, Shingai (Shoniwa, Noisettes lead singer), you look as if you're playing it down a little bit. You're not playing it like you would play it. And I said to Dan, "When we go out, just play it like we would all play, and I think that was the best thing." We played it like we would play it at any show. And to see David kind of lose it over it was great.

Songfacts: That's high praise, indeed. On the surface, "Sixteen" is about young girls trying to grow up too fast. But I want to find out what it was about for you.

Kelvin: I was DJing quite a bit at that point whilst we were working on Great Vengeance, basically the first album. We come from a little town, and I'd be out DJing four or five nights a week. It was good for me - the money was good for me, the nights were great. But I always saw these kids that used to creep into the clubs. You know when people are too young, because they get there far too early, just because the doorman, their guard is down, and they want people in the club. So I used to note that there was all of these kids that were made up, they'd make themselves up to look like these 23-year-old dolls, but you knew that they were like 15, 16. So I'd see it night after night, whether I was in my town or whether I was in London, or whether I was in Bristol DJing. And for me, it was just like, Okay, that's one side of it. The other side of it is that you have these men that, I'm sure they know that these girls are young, kind of too young, maybe. So you see them plying them with alcohol. But these girls want to be in there because they want to be older, they want to grow up so quickly. And so I'm saying that they're playing with the devil. It was just an observation. It's an observational song.

Songfacts: The age to get into clubs in the U.S. and to drink is usually 21, what is the age there in the UK?

Kelvin: It's 18. That's what I'm saying, kids kind of creep in, and they'll be creeping in with false IDs and stuff. And it doesn't just happen in the towns I was playing there. It happens all over the world. And they're only turning to 16. Just growing up too quickly, basically.

Songfacts: How did the sound come about? Like the whole carnival vibe with the video?

Kelvin: I remember I was listening to a whole lot of blues, and I love – I love the idea of the way that Screamin' Jay Hawkins did "I Put A Spell On You." It's just like, well, let's go with that style of blues, rather than just playing 8-bar blues. As much as it is 8-bar blues, it's just the horns, and the horns are big in what we do. It just emphasizes every single line I sing, it emphasizes. (Singing) "I saw her dancing with the devil," ba ba ba bum – so you're waiting for the next line: "And he was wearing my shoes," ba ba ba… so that was the way that we decided to go about that. The idea of it was Screamin' Jay rolling with Tom Waits. I think we just as obviously put our slant on it, and made it that whole carnival thing. And then it was Michael Maxxis, the video director, who decided that we should go to Coney Island. We were in New York for a few days, and he was like, "Let's go to Coney Island, because it's just so wrecked, so rotten down there now. And it just seethes the vibe of the song." And it does.

Songfacts: I didn't realize that was Coney Island. I was thinking that was over in your home territory.

Kelvin: No, that was Coney Island.

Songfacts: Tell me the "Colleen" story.

Kelvin: That was whilst I was watching E! Entertainment one day, and there was some kind of little docudrama about some girl that was just obsessed with going shopping. And her mom was footing the bill. And I was watching it almost with my mouth agape, just like, "Huh? Really? No, you're absolutely – " and it was just like seriously, wait – do you want that? And at the time I was working on that beat anyway, that (singing) bum bum bum, and so I'm watching it, and then literally I'm there with my son, and so I'm just like, (singing) "She wants everything, she wants the Gucci and the Louis –" because it's like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Juicy Couture, Canary bling, the canary diamonds. Just super expensive. And this guy was just made to foot the bill, and he was like, "Oh, I love her, I love her," and I'm just like, "No! I don't want that kind of love. I don't know how you could love that kind of love." But seriously, that isn't love. (laughing) I think by now we've got into this magazine age - the celebrity magazine age - and everybody wants to be like a celebrity. And so whether they're gonna throw themselves into a shitload of debt, they want to have that lifestyle. These magazines are selling that lifestyle. So it was just kind of mocking that a little bit.

For "Colleen" we didn't make a video for it. Radar Film Festival in L.A. got in contact with our record company and said, "We love the song 'Colleen,' can we use it so that all of these budding video directors can make a video to it?" And so they, without us knowing, said yes. Then when some of the entries started coming in, we started getting all these random videos coming in, it was like, What's going on here? It's just crazy, because there weren't a lot of great videos, to be quite honest. And they weren't representative of the song. So we never commissioned any of those videos, I'd just like to put that out there.

I've seen a lot of them. There's probably about 20. And I think the best one that I've seen is an animated one, it's like a Big Foot, and he's trying to get home to his wife. It's an animated thing. It's like real rough style drawing. But that was probably the best one. That's probably the one that I would say was passable. And I think that was actually the one that won, as well.

Songfacts: Okay. We'll give props to that. Gorgeous, gorgeous song, "In The Morning."

Kelvin: (laughing) Oh yeah. You know what that's about, no? "In the Morning" is just about morning sex. It's the best sex in the world. That's about it. It's as simple as that. "When you take me in the morning, and your eyes are like the sunrise." It's about morning sex, men wake up with morning glory and –

Songfacts: (laughing) Ummm…

Kelvin: Yeah, exactly. You don't need me to go into it. (laughing) It's just about morning sex, that's all you need to know.

Songfacts: (laughing) Got it. Onward! I'm intrigued by "Short Change Hero."

Kelvin: Ah, okay. A relative of mine had got into a whole heap of shit with the law. It's that whole peer pressure and group thing. He was quite young, when he was like 15, and got into a whole heap of shit with the police. And it was really, really bad. And at the moment in Britain, youth culture is on the rise. So many children are carrying knives around and there have been so many deaths within the past couple of years through kids just sticking kids. It's absolutely ridiculous. And the situation I was writing about was very, very similar to what I've just described. I'm not gonna go into the full detail, but it was very, very harrowing for the whole family. And I was in the airport writing this beat, and then I start doing this humming. So I did the humming, came up with the beat, and I took it to Dan. He immediately started playing something like straight out of a Western. I said, "Yeah, this is the road that we need to go down." Because it reminds me of that whole sentiment of the bad guy coming into town and being run out of town, if you see what I mean. So that was the whole sentiment of "Short Change Hero." We needed to go about it like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. I think it works. That was really, really cool. We had Dan walking in his cat's cat litter, because at the beginning you can hear it's like the villains walking into town.

Songfacts: Yes, I wondered about that. Okay.

Kelvin: Yeah, so you can just hear these footsteps, and that was Dan walking in cat litter. Admittedly, he did do it in cowboy boots. And the cat litter was clean. But that was such attention to detail. We wanted people to think we'd written that from a film. And so many people have said, "What film does that come from?" It's great. It's really, really cool when you sound like something you wanted to sound like.

Songfacts: Exactly, that's the best compliment to know you accomplished that. Next up, "Long Way From Home."

Kelvin: The funny thing about that is that we had the chorus for "Long Way From Home" about 8 years ago. Dan had that loop and chorus going. And immediately the first thing I heard as soon as he played that is, "Long way from home, so much pressure on my bones, I'm such a long way from home." And we had that for 8 years, but we never had any verses. Then we actually got signed, and we were away for so long. Daniel has a little girl, and I have a little boy and a little girl, so when you're spending so much time away from your family, you see a lot of airports. And I think I was in Valencia airport, it just came to me after something like 6 years of having it around in my head. For some reason, there was that ache in my heart, and everything just kind of came. So I sang it into my phone so I wouldn't forget. And then I said to Dan, "This is the way that we need to go about this song." And we wrote it. We wanted it so that it could be strummed. So if we were around a campfire we could strum it out like that. But then we said, "No, it's still Kinks-y. So let's do it Kinks-y." So we sit tight, the kind of acoustic guitar vibe, and just made it quite kind of Kinks-like. Ray Davies. But that's through us being on the road and missing the things that we truly, truly love. Like your children. And marmite. (Kelvin isn't the first Englishman to tell us about his love for marmite. It's a tar-like paste enjoyed in England on toast, but the mere thought of it is repulsive to Americans.)

Songfacts: Now, speaking of being on the road, you're on your second tour of North America?

Kelvin: Yes. It is our second tour of North America.

Songfacts: Okay. And then do you get to go home?

Kelvin: Well, we get to go back to Europe. (laughing) Which is cool, because then it's festival season, and we're pretty much doing 3 tour shows out of the week for the whole summer, which will be really, really cool when we get back from North America.

Songfacts: I have heard your music defined as a mixture of blaxploitation soundtrack, soul, funk… I would like to get your description of your sound.

Kelvin: Actually, the description I've kind of put on us, is: it's no compromise, basically. But the description that someone has written that I think kind of sums us up was in a review by the BBC of the album The House That Dirt Built. So it didn't come from me, and it's not come from the rest of the band. It came from the BBC. It was an excellent review. And basically the last couple of lines said, "Imagine if you could be in all your favorite bands at once. Well, the Heavy already are." So it was an amazing quote. And I think that's a way to sum us up. We take from all of our influences, we wear them on our sleeves a little bit. But essentially it's our sound. I don't think anyone's done what we're doing, which is good.

Songfacts: Describe to me what you mean by "dirt."

Kelvin: Well, it's the mistakes, the imperfections of everything that's gone past and gone into the recording. We are huge, huge fans of everything that is raw within the influences that we choose to bring to the table. And that's what the dirt is, that's how we built this house for the second album. We started with Great Vengeance, which was like a bedroom album, and there's so much filth and dirt and so many mistakes within that album. But the mistakes seem to make the album. And I think nowadays people are striving for perfection, and you strive for perfection to sell records, but you're losing so much of the soul. And I think what we do, we keep all of those imperfections in. We keep all of that dirt and grime and crusty sand. We keep it all in, because it adds to the soul. We were recording a track for a film the other day, and I got stuck in Barcelona because of the volcano. The guys had to send me across the track to do a vocal in Barcelona, but I'd already laid the guide vocals on the track itself. And this guide vocal I did had my daughter, she was tugging on my shirt saying, "Daddy, Daddy, come and play! Daddy, Daddy, what are you doing? Daddy – Daddy!" And I'm singing and I'm trying to get this idea down for the original demo. So in the end, they actually used that vocal. Because the vocal I did in Barcelona they said it was too perfect. So it's that kind of thing. To have all the noise in there. Marvin Gaye used to – and I think Bill Withers used to do it, as well – when those guys used to record, they used to put in the drunks and people in off the street and get them drinking around the studio watching them perform, because they loved to have that noise and that kind of clatter and chattering in the background. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all.

Songfacts: That's intriguing. Is it generally known as "dirt" or is that your word for it?

Kelvin: No, that's our word for it. We're just saying that it's the dirt that kind of makes this sound.

Songfacts: I like that. Any other songs that you would like to bring to the forefront that I haven't asked you about?

Kelvin: Let me think… I think you'd have to ask Daniel about "Stuck," I love that song. I think it's a brilliant closer to the album. Really, really beautiful. And people think it's about a relationship – I mean, all of the tracks are about relationships in some way. It's a relationship between yourself and whatever the entity is. But Dan believed that his house was haunted for "Stuck." (laughing) Because he just believed there was something in the house. I just started coming up and he was playing this amazing piano line, and then pretty much within the afternoon, we had it down, we'd written the beats and written the bass line, and then the vocal literally came within a matter of a day. I'd left Daniel after we'd come and did that work. And then we came back, and it's just like he believed the house was haunted, and this is how it manifested itself. I think "Stuck" is a beautiful song.

We can do "Oh No Not You Again!" When me and Dan met, we started bonding, started hanging out more and more with each other, and started making music together. We both used to smoke a lot of weed. But then as soon as I had my son, I couldn't go smoking weed anymore, because you can't have a child and smoke weed and try and multi-task and do all of that business. I tried to do it, I flooded the bathroom three times, and it was just a nightmare. So I remember a friend of mine asked me if I could look after his flat whist he was going away. And I said, "Yeah, cool. Cool. I can do that." And he goes, "Yeah, I left you a present, if you want, in the drawer." And he didn't say what it was. I was just like, "Okay." So I go to the apartment, and I'm just having a nice time. And I can smell the smell. I just thought, That smells like skunk (a potent kind of marijuana). He doesn't smoke skunk. It smells like skunk. And so I open this drawer, and there's skunk. And it smelt so good, and I was just like, Oh, do I want some? Do I want some? And I just had this battle. That's how I came up with the bass line to that, and put it into my computer that day. I was just playing around with it, and it was one of those things that kind of came to me. It's like no matter where I went around the flat, I could smell it. And then you have to keep on going back to the drawer and just having a little look. So it's like, "She won't leave me alone, and she's always in my home, playing with my head and messing with my pheromones. Because I know she wants some evil man to dance with her evil plan, so I'm praying that she hears when I say, Oh no, not you again." So it's like you're just battling with your demons.

Songfacts: Did you give in?

Kelvin: I didn't give in, no.

Songfacts: Oh, good for you. (laughs)

Kelvin: Yeah, I didn't give in. But I heard her in my head saying, 'baby, baby, wanna play? Baby what you say?'" (laughing) No, no, no. I'm not playing with you, not tonight. I've got work to do. So there you go.

After some crossed wires and bad connections, Kelvin came across loud and clear on May 20, 2010.

To hear more of their dirt, take some time and visit them at The Heavy
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Comments: 2

I saw the Kia ad when it came out, and remember thinking: that's a really cool song, but for some reason didn't look it up. I few days ago I came across with the video from the Letterman presentation and was blown away, searched for more songs and info about the band and what can I say, I fell in love =D. Will look for their CDs to buy them, this is one of the cases in which getting the cds makes total sense, and it's a way to support them. Come soon to NYC ;o)Lili Ny from Paraguay
Simply awesome and amazing...the making of a legend!Eve Galati from Ny Usa

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