New Artist Spotlight: Psycho-pop group Swansgate ‘become someone’ with new album

Bringing psychedelic and jazz-inspired synths and production into rock or pop music is certainly not a new concept. See: the set of 60s, for example. Lately though, with all the fusion of EDM and ambient electronica with pop, there seems to be more of a push towards ravey or hip hop styles rather than jazzy or funky. Psychobilly or beach rock also made a comeback and relied heavily on electronica to produce these sounds, but usually pop bands don’t pull off these jazzy, beachy sounds. On top of all these different trends and sounds, however, is one band ready to merge it all together and create a new sound with: Swansgate

Hailing from Charlotte, NC and with a rhythm base straddling hip hop and trip hop, Swansgate’s 2020 debut EP Mirrors is much more strictly lofi than their last LP, To become someone, which fell a few weeks ago at the end of April. If you know your jazz, you’ll hear twinges of it in the interlude of “U In My Head” or the keys of “Sand to Glass,” but these could really be general funk a la Chromeo or Tame Impala. Indie pop? Sure. Funky? Absolutely. Venture into psycho-pop, not quite yet. Swansgate saved this for To become someone.

With real whips from The Doors, The Beach Boys, Miles Davis and even real The Cramps-style psychobilly, Swansgate really let it all hang out in terms of style on To become someone and it’s paid off in spades, creating a niche for their sound that truly has no equal. According to producer, vocalist, arranger and overall band leader Stu Draughn, this fusion of jazz, indie pop, rock, funk, lofi and psychedelic rock was born out of personal inspiration.

With this album, we really wanted to bottle over 20 years of musical influence into a 45 minute piece of music. My father died a year before the project started, and that pushed me into a kind of transformation. I went through a long process of reflection that allowed me to better understand who I am. Just as we are all children of our ancestors, this album is a child of all the musical ideas that inspired it. I really tried to capture the essence of every artist I’ve ever liked, while arranging things in a new way that was fun to listen to.

The silver lining of tragedy is often a letting go of worrying about what others think, which can lead to greater creative freedom. In this case, that creative freedom has created an album that is both relatable and technically strong, rooted in diverse influences but reaching a modern high that will appeal to modern audiences. It’s a tough thing to pull off, but Draughn and his team handle it beautifully.

Almost all tracks on To become someone has some form of psychedelic presence, from the Doors-like keyboard work in “Lust for Love” to the sitar sampling on “Island of Lies” to the ambient production on “Moving Forward”, it’s clear that the vibes of the beach rock are the icing on top of this funk-infused lofi dreamy pop. These psychedelic knots also help tie the album together, which ranges from the pure pop and funk of “Lost in the Sun” to the jazzy trip hop of “Drunken Limbo” to ambient jazz like “While the Nighttime Wades.” This chain of trippy sound design or synth or even a flourish connects all these many and varied styles on To become someone in a surprising way: psycho pop.

What is lyrically a journey through grief and loss to become whole again, or a different whole, is also a tribute to Draughn and his comrades’ love of music and its process. With both processes, one comes out different than it was before, and there’s usually a very good by-product. To become someone and the person they have become are the by-products of Swansgate.

To become someone is out now and can be streamed on Spotify alongside Swansgate’s previous EP, Mirrors. To see more videos and a recent live performance from the band, check out their YouTube page.

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