At a time when live concerts still seem like a distant reality, it’s easy to forget that certain shows exist for the sole purpose of escaping that reality. For Swallow Cave, the Bristol-based quartet consisting of vocalist Polly Jessett, guitarist Florrie Adamson-Leggett, bassist Sarah Currie, and drummer Isobel Waite, a dream gig would take place inside an episode of Twin Peaks – which is to say, it would feel a lot like an actual dream. It’s no surprise, then, that their brand of dream pop evokes that Lynchian vibe: new single ‘Cold Moon’ swirls around bluesy guitars and languid vocal melodies, before Polly’s poignant voice cuts through that ethereal soundscape in the chorus to inject a sense of humanity into the track’s shoegazey mix. Delving into themes of mental illness, it’s the band’s strongest release so far, following the similarly pensive early 2020 single ‘Nostalgia’, as well as their cavernous 2018 EP The Shoe Demos. For a group whose music aims to capture the dark, elusive corners of the mind, Swallow Cave never fade into the background – Sarah’s bass lines are steady and hypnotic, Florrie will often rip through a hazy guitar solo – a subtle reminder that, even when stuck in a liminal state, the smallest things can still feel inescapably present.
We caught up with Polly of Swallow Cave for this edition of our Artist Spotlight series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk about their music.
How did you form Swallow Cave?
The first seeds of Swallow Cave were sown when Sarah (bass) and I were travelling in Australia, we had both been heavily into music during our teens and kind of lost touch with it for a while but at this point in time we were both really finding our passion for music again. We visited ‘Swallow Cave’ and joked about starting a band of that name and discussed at length how we would sound etc. Neither of us had played our instruments for a few years and I’d always assumed through lack of trying that I could not sing or write songs. Fast forward a couple of years and we were back in England, I’d started writing some songs (following the advice of an Aussie pal who adamantly insisted that everyone can sing) and took them to Sarah who then roped in Izzi (drums) and we went from there.
Without using any genre terms, how would you describe the band’s sound?
We have always hated trying to describe our music to people even when using genre terms so this is a difficult one haha but words that we hear used to describe us a lot are cinematic and dreamy, there’s also been mention of David Lynch and cowboy hats when trying to describe us.
How do your musical influences vary across the group?
As a group we have a pretty big crossover area of music that we all love and that influences the band which is quite broad and hard to define from Beach House to Elvis and loads in between. I would say Sarah brings a lot of influence from 60’s rock n roll and french ye-ye music. Florrie has a lot of 90’s alternative influences like Yo La Tengo and Stereolab whilst Izzi is a big fan of Talking Heads, The Beatles and disco stuff.
You released The Shoe Demos EP back in 2018. In what ways has your approach to songwriting evolved since then?
So the songs on The Shoe Demos were the first songs I’d ever written and our first experiences of trying to be a band, we rehearsed as a 3-piece every week for a few months with essentially no idea of what we were doing but just enjoying figuring it out together. We put those songs online with no real expectations other than hoping to find a lead guitarist and get some gigs out of it. Since Florrie joined us on guitar and we started playing regular shows we started to feel more like a real band and that has definitely given us more confidence in our songwriting abilities and our collaborative creativity.
I read that ‘Cold Moon’ was written after a walk one morning and feeling everything around you intensify. Could you talk more about the experience that inspired the track, and the process of channelling it for the song?
I can’t remember why but I had been feeling particularly low one evening, sitting in my room late at night and going to those darker places in the mind. The following morning I got up early and went for a walk around Bristol Harbour, it was just one of those moments where you feel everything very intensely and I was wondering how my mind could have gotten so low the night before. I guess I just started questioning myself on all of it and essentially started writing the lyrics in my head, I rushed the end of the walk to get home and grab my guitar and that was it really.
What was it like recording the song? What do you feel producer Ali Chant brought to the track?
We recorded as a live take all spaced around Ali’s studio and then worked into it afterwards adding vocals and layers. Working with Ali was really great, we had a few ideas and so did he so we just tried things out to see what worked but ultimately he gave us the platform to record our song the way we wanted it. There were lots of bits and pieces to play with in the studio, we wanted to build layers and add depth but were also aware of not wanting to overcrowd it so the process was really about striking a balance, adding and taking away certain elements until we felt it was right.
What’s next for Swallow Cave? Anything else you’re excited to share in the near future?
We are just laying low at the moment due to obvious reasons, but we’re really excited to work on new music together and hopefully have an EP to release in 2021. When we start playing live shows again we want to be playing pretty much a whole new set which will be exciting.