Interview by Luc Brunot.
Original version of the interview published in Bands Of Dixie #86 (May - June 2012)
The music of SwampDaWamp is impressing you? It's a safe bet that the Gig Michaels character will impress you just as much! Interview with this singer whose charisma transpires into his words.
When and where were you born?
I was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on January 4, 1964, bounced around with the family a few years and I was settled and raised in Pine Level, North Carolina from the age of 9.
In which kind of family were you raised?
I'm from a big family, 6 siblings. My parents had to work all the time to support us and so we ended up not so close and with very little tradition as we grew up.
How did you come to music?
Having the loose bond with my folks as a kid it kind of left me getting emotional support from songs/music. I went thru some shit as a fat kid and held in the abuse from others to the point of becoming damn near suicidal. At 14 years of age I was pretty much independent and found myself relating to songs to find my inner peace with myself. That also led me into writing poetry as a release. Later, at 16 years of age I got into some serious trouble with the law and had my license revoked (1). That's when I picked up the guitar and began songwriting. I was able to overcome my pain thru songs. I was touched so deeply by music and song relating to the words was a healing process for me. I vowed to give that comfort back to people who listened to my songs. I think my writing style was at that time etched into stone as it is today. I get tons of mail from fans now explaining how they were able to get thru a death in the family or bullying from one of my songs... there is my payday!
What was your history before SwampDaWamp?
Having started to learn to play guitar while already being a pretty good word smith allowed me to skip the whole cover band era that most go thru in the beginning of creating a band. I came onto the local scene as an original artist and have been ever since. I've written and produced about 12 albums to date in various bands and have had a lot of success. After being in and out several bands it was in 1995 when I moved to Nashville and began chasing the dream there, leaving my 4 year old son in NC with his mother. After cutting a record there in 1998 and dealing with some real idiots I began recording my first solo record, avoiding attitudes of other band mates. It was 1999 and I was about halfway thru that recording when I got a call from my son that broke my heart and I dropped everything and moved back home and by 2002 had my son and was living as a single dad. That's when I started writing for what became SwampDaWamp...
What are these twelve albums recorded and are they available?
I can't answer this question because of the legalities surrounding the situation, however I will be able to release them in 2014!! LOL The music business...It's not for the weak.
What are your main musical influences? Which singers did influence you?
Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Beatles, Phil Collins, Yes, Pink Floyd, Bad Company, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones and The Who were probably the most influential on me both lyrically and musically. As far as singers that impressed me, all of the above would count, add Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker to the list.
How was SwampDaWamp set up in 2006? Can you tell us about your meeting with the other band founders, Marty Hill and David Lee? Can you introduce them?
I found David Lee (drums) thru an add on a musician service website. Oddly enough and began the band. Marty (lead Guitar) was the first pick at the time, however, he was replaced in 2008 with our present guy Keith Inman (the wizard). Then in 2010 we took some time off to regroup and that's when we took on Laney Strickland (Strycknine) on guitar, Rich Basco on bass and Joe Boogie on the B3 and piano. That is the current line up.
Why a band and not a solo career?
I will eventually put out a solo record, not sure when but for now I enjoy the camaraderie of being in a band and all the havoc that comes with it!! It's like an extended family that I want to be close to...
How Marty Hill came in the band? Through auditions?
Marty Hill was in the beginning and was replaced in 2008 with Keith, so we don't speak much about that
I think the band name came by chance when you were singing. Can you tell us a bit more about it for our readers?
Yea, this is when we were close enough to ready to begin our assault and were toying around with some names. I was scatting around at the time writing words on a track that turned out to be the song "Birthday" on our first album and when we played it back, in the tail end of the song, I clearly had said what sounded like SwampDaWamp. So as we were contemplating a name and coming up with cliché ideas one of the guys said "Hey let's call it SwampDaWamp", we had a good laugh and then it set in and seemed to make sense with the style of what we were writing....so Walla! You can hear it still in the end of the song birthday on our debut record.
How did you meet John Boyland, who had agreed to produce your first album?
I met Joe before I moved to Nashville, TN, in 95. Joe who was managing Skynyrd at the time was handed a copy of my then band (I won't mention who) and when he listened to it he flew in North Carolina and dropped a 3 album deal with Warner Bros on the table. Well, at that time we had stupid management and they got cold feet... long story but needless to say they screwed up the deal and that's when I said "fuck all of them" and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Joe and I parted as friends and stayed in touch for several years before I presented the demo of Swamp. He dug it and off we went.... He was a great producer, God Rest his soul...
The record was released by Big Penny Entertainment? It is you who created it?
Yes, Big Penny was and is our own Indie Label. I have always been big on the business side of things and fortunate enough to understand it.
Why did you choose to have your own label? Because you didn't find a label to sign you?
Just being educated on where things were headed 7 years ago, I think we made a good decision to start our own label. We never really shopped any of our records, but that's not to say if the right deal presented itself that we wouldn't sign...
For this first album, the band has been expanded from three to six musicians. How did you to choose the new players?
We went thru many, many auditions to get the people with similar feel and vision...it was painstaking at times..... Ultimately leading us to where we are now, so well worth the ride.
For this record, did you just re-record the demos you had presented to John Boyland or did you put other songs?
Yes, we had enough good songs written to weed thru on the demos, and Joe always dug my writing style anyway so he was sold on producing the same tracks... he did take them to another level.
How were the recording sessions?
Long and grueling with Joe. We spent like 12 weeks in the studio!
Why did you use additional musicians such as Mike Brignardello, Zippy Dokes, when you already had a bass player and a keyboard player?
That all came down to timing and creativity. Those guys just didn't have what we needed and after many days of trying to fix things it was evident that we needed to use session players, who knocked out the whole record in a day.
Was the disc commercially successful?
It was on a couple different levels. We ended up charting at #4 and spending 6 weeks on the XM Country charts. Did it break the band into commercial success...no, but it certainly got our name out in the States.
When did SwampDaWamp start playing concerts?
We started about 4 months prior to the first record coming out in May of 2007.
"2.0" is a curious CD seeing that there are only three pieces, each one presented in two versions: short and long. Why did you do that?
Joe got really ill while we were beginning our 2nd record and time was eluding our efforts. We needed to get something new out there so just went with a couple radio cuts and put the video "Dance" on the same disc and let it fly while we tried to get a grip on what was going on with Joe and at that time a couple members were acting like assholes too....
The line-up has changed considerably. Can you tell us about that?
Yea, well, member changes are always scary you know, if your fans will accept it or not, the retraining of new people etc. Ain't much to tell other than some things just run their course. It's really hard to get a group of guys together and hold it together thru tough times.
For "Rock This Country" in 2009, why did the producer change?
Well, we just wanted stay fresh and work with a different perspective as an outside ear.
Unlike your first album, where you wrote all the songs, there are many people credited for the writing of the songs. Why this change?
Mainly to keep things fair for all the members. There are many in the band that are good solid songwriters. It was also a shell I had lived in for many years and I wanted to explore more as a writer. Working with other people on writing does have it's pro's and con's. The pros being open minded and trying new things, that's what I was looking for to expand my vocabulary.
For "Short Stories From A Long Road", you don't have no more keyboard player. Is it temporary? If not, why this choice?
Actually we had Peter Keys from Skynyrd and John Henry from Randy Houser both on piano and B3 on this record. We were in between players and actually used this album to recruit Joe Boogie, our now permanent B3 player...
Can you introduce us David Karns and Kaney Srickland who joined the band on bass and guitar?
David Karns was also a temporary player in the band last year and was replaced with our current guy Rich Basco. Laney Strickland was brought in on guitar 2 years ago now.
How is shared the job among guitarists. Is one of them more focused on the rhythmic aspect while the other focused on the lead or is it balanced?
It's pretty balanced. Laney brings in the chicken picken authentic southern Georgia sound while Keith is more the 70's/ 80's rocker style. Together they work great. You'll hear many dueling leads in our music and slide as well.
Did you evolve since your beginnings in the way you manage the recording of an album?
Oh Yea, absolutely. Let's just say that I know what not to do now!! LOL!
Looking back on those first four discs, are you satisfied with it or would you change today some things that you did?
I would probably change a few things but nothing too drastic. I'm pretty happy with all of the records especially the latest "Short Stories From A Long Road". I feel like that has some of my best work on it.
The thing that strikes me at first with SwampDaWamp, is your incredible voice. The second is the constant quality of your compositions while it is rare a band have not some weak pieces in a four albums set. Can you tell us about your work as a songwriter?
Thank you for the compliment. I think it all gets back to my roots of how I was so emotionally touched by songs at an early age. I just write about life, good bad or otherwise and I try to get the good out of any situation so that the song, maybe is about losing your father like in "Daddy Said" off "Rock This Country" or looking back on a lost love you can't seem to live without like in "Happy Anniversary" off "Short Stories From A Long Road", When you listen to these songs you can so much relate to the situation I am able to instill a positive spin in the end that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside and find that "peace" I spoke of earlier. Early on I found out that music is in fact a healer and it is my goal to heal my listeners as I was healed emotionally as a teen from listening to a variety songs.
How are the CD sales divided geographically and between CDs and downloads?
Physical CD's make up about 60 % to 40% digital, but we're seeing that evolve too. Geographically we're seeing the European markets taking a great leap this year as the new record expands over there to the tune of about half overall. Our previous albums are now flying off the shelves, too, we're pretty excited about that.
Digitally, do people buy whole albums or song here and there?
You know I am surprised that we sell a lot of whole albums digitally. A lot of folks buy 1 or 2 tracks and end up buying the rest of the album!! Some say there is not a bad song on it!!LOL! Which is cool to hear...
Are you affected by the illegal downloading problems?
Yes, we are. I mean do you go to work every day as a magazine editor and at the end of the week your paycheck is randomly selected to be a fraction of the hours you really worked to be paid for? If you're a roofer and you go out and buy $4,000.00 worth of shingles for the roof job and you put them onsite for tomorrows work to be performed and then when you show up tomorrow morning and your shingles are gone what do you do? Charge the guy who hired you to put on the roofing? He's not responsible is he? NO. Well the carpenter is just fucked. People either don't realize or just don't care that bands like Swamp are trying to make a living at this. Music is our product that we sell to survive. Just like stealing the shingles is taking money out of the carpenters' pockets, downloading our music for free is very much the same, stealing from us.
How many concerts each year?
We'll do over 150 this year while preparing to double that next year.
Do you tour outside the U.S.?
We are hitting the other side of the pond early next year. We had a tour scheduled for the UK but we've decided to wait for next year so we can spend a couple months over there. We are all stoked to see Europe and meet the people!!
Which concerts were the most important? Regarding the audience and also regarding the shows you keep especially the memory?
The biggest crowd we've played in front of was 18,000 people, and I must say that it was absolutely the show of a lifetime having that many people involved at once. But that being said we still jam just hard to an audience of 18 people, because we love what we do and once we start playing we all go to another place in our minds. As for the most memorable shows, we've done 2 Simple Man cruises with Lynyrd Skynyrd and then last year we did the Rock Legends Cruise with ZZ Top as Jr Legends!! We are going to be on the Rock Legends 2 cruise in Jan 2013 too with 38 Special, Foreigner, Paul Rogers and more..... The cruises are phenomenal to say the least, man... People should do this at least once in their life! Check it out here rocklegendscruise.com
Once you go on a cruise like these, you'll never take a regular cruise again, lol... I can't say enough about how cool of a time it is.
What is, for you, different with these different cruises from conventional concerts? And do you have the time to enjoy the other shows of the cruises?
Well the difference from this type of concert and a conventional concert is that 1; you are captive for 4 days, 2; the people that book these cruises are music lovers from all over the free world and you get to meet all of them 3; you don't have to drive!! lol! However I do have a deal with the Captain to steer on the next one! Hold on Bitches!! lol!! But seriously, all good people all good parties and all great music! You have to do one my friend. We play 3 shows on the cruise. 90 minute sets on 3 separate days, so yes, all the bands go to see all the other bands, it is fucking awesome!! For the fans, they get to meet the bands and hang out with them which is a treat, and still is for me as well!!
Are there any bands with which you have bind special relationships?
Yes indeed. I have become close with a lot of the bands on the cruises, some more than others but certainly have made a friend in all of them. We'll be touring with a few of them later this year....stay tuned to our website for more info on that!
What can we find one in your play lists? Only your own songs or some covers too?
Sometimes we'll burn up some tunes like "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf, "Stay With Me" by Rod Stewart or "Whatever We Fell Like", AC/DC, Zeppelin... of course we don't play covers often but when we do they are very special in a Swampy way.
And now, what are your projects?
We'll be popping out a couple new singles next month and we are planning our first double live album, "Live From The Rock Legends Cruise" in January for a Feb 2013 release. That record will have some brand new tracks on it as well. We've never really captured the true essence of SwampDaWamp in the studio so we hope this record gets it done!
How do you define the Southern rock and how is SwampDaWamp positioned in relation with it?
Southern Rock is about family, friends and tradition, all those things I never had growing up!!LOL! Go figure, I should turn out being a writer of such. We consider our style to be Modern Southern Rock. We have a twist on it that is commercially viable on accident. Doug Gray from the Marshall Tucker Band told me a couple years ago that Swamp reminded him of having the same flair as the early Lynyrd Skynyrd had back in the day, not that we sounded like Skynyrd, but possessed the same freshness in the genre.
Which are your favorite Southern rock albums?
"Second Helping" and "One More From The Road", Lynyrd Skynyrd,
"Marshall Tucker Band", any of them,
Molly Hatchet's "Flirtin' with Disaster",
Mentions; Kentucky Headhunters, Bone Pony, Blackstone Cherry, Allman Brothers.
Thank you my friend and cheers to our friends and fans all over the world!! Please sign up for our mailing list at swampdawamp.com
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(1) I was arrested for running in a high speed chase from the cops!! A stupid teenager I was lol! I had a 1969 Super Sport Chevelle, 350 small block, munci 222 trans, maxxed out power.... It was me and 3 of buddies, 2 bottles of Jim Beam (drink of choice at the time) just cruising and suddenly the cops threw on the blues.... A guy in the back seat shouted "go go go" ... so I went went went!!lol!! We continued over 130 MPH for about 6 miles before I was trapped in traffic and had to stop. Well 4 tickets and 8 charges later. Everything from eluding arrest, failing to stop for stop signs to Careless and reckless...off to jail I went!! That's the night my license was revoked...
You find out who your real friends are in times like that. They all seem to disappear!! But hey it got me started on guitar and the rest is history. I pretty much have stayed clear from the law since then.