This year has been revelatory for Northampton band Bunny's A Swine. The indie rock trio played copious local shows, wrote and recorded a slew of songs, and embarked on its first expanded tour, a "geographically inefficient road trip adventure" that took them from Philadelphia to Cincinnati to Asheville, North Carolina and beyond.
Now the troupe can add the release of its first proper album, Nothing Bad Will Happen, comprised of 13 slices of jangly pop bliss that explore relationships, topical events and the music-making process itself. The band's bass-less, two-guitar attack and call-and-response, boy/girl vocals nestle nicely in a production style that perfectly suits their craft: not too overdone, not too lo-fi.
Listening to Nothing Bad Will Happen is like turning on a great local college radio station and hearing your new favorite band come bursting out of the speakers for the first time.
The group's three members—Candace Clement, Dustin Cote and Emerson Stevens—took time out upon their return to the Valley to talk about the tour, their new album and the majesty of Foamhenge.
Valley Advocate: Tell me about your recent tour. What were some of the highlights?
Emerson: It's funny to describe something where we made no money, often played for next to no people and slept on floors or in flea-bag motels as a success, but I think we all came home feeling like we had conquered the world. As for highlights: Asheville was a blast. We had booked two shows for one night, and the first turned out to be a total bust: a dive bar with no PA and no patrons, so we ditched out to play a bar/art gallery across town. This place was just slightly less empty, but way more our style. The front of the room was all plate glass with an open door to the street. At some point Candace started shouting at passers-by to come in—which many of them did. We played for about two hours, every one of our songs, to an ever-growing group of really enthusiastic people. They danced, hung out, bought us drinks, bought CDs. Completely winning over a bunch of strangers is good for the old ego, and it's something that's harder to get close to home.
Candace: Um, and Foamhenge, which is a full-scale replica of Stonehenge. Made out of Styrofoam.
Emerson: Cincinnati was a bit of a bummer. Some gutter-punk who called himself a "gang-banger" tried to sell me a gun when I tried to sell him a CD. But the low points were quickly spun into witty anecdotes to share with whoever we met in the next town. There were very few really down moments.
Dustin: Cincinnati was pretty fun because I got to have a microphone—even though the privileges have been taken away from me because of that show—and the show was so bad that by the end of the set I was screaming, "Fuck you!" to the three people sitting in the back. We've never packed up so quickly after a show as we did in Cincy.
How did people react to your songs and high-energy performances?
Emerson: Reactions seemed to be good, but that can be a very hard thing to read. I'm always happy when I see people dancing, but sometimes the room or the atmosphere just isn't right for it. Most people will tell you the set was great, but that's usually just a courtesy or someone blowing smoke up your ass.
What was the recording process like for your new album?
Emerson: We started recording about a year ago with our good friend Kevin Gebo. It was a very home-grown affair; he had just built a studio in the basement where we had played our first public set about a month earlier. I don't think we had planned to record an entire album. In fact, at the time we couldn't have had more than eight songs, but there was just some chemistry there. Gebo really got us and we really liked working with him. So we went back every month or so until we had recorded 14 tracks, 13 of which make up Nothing Bad Will Happen.
What's the songwriting process like for you?
Emerson: I write a lot of songs, most of which have a life span of only three or four hours and are forgotten by morning. Dustin and I are roommates and the discarding process drives him crazy. He's usually pounding out some beat on the couch before I even get to lyrics. Every once in a while something will really get stuck in my head. I obsess over it for a bit, then bring it to the band. After that we have this little ritual with candles and cat blood—we sprinkle some magic dust over it and next thing you know, rock song!
How would you describe your sound to the uninitiated listener?
Emerson: To the right person, we sound like the culminating moment of your life, where all your successes and failures suddenly make sense and you become one with the universe. But to most people, we sound like a bunch of kids who listened to punk music, then grew up, then started listening to punk music again and started a band.
Candace: Emerson, that is more pretentious than the time I said my old band's influences were comic books, British spy comedies and something about masturbatory subcultures.
Who are your influences? Who have folks compared you to?
Emerson: Influences are many—I feel like we wear many of them on our sleeves. The three of us are all commonly obsessed with The Breeders, Animal Collective and, the big one, Guided by Voices. Nineties indie rock in general is a big influence. I'm also really into artsy '70s punk bands like Television and Pere Ubu. I'm a real music geek, and obscure band comparisons are a good way to make me blush. I guess my favorite was from the singer of an Irish pub-punk band we played a brew-fest with. He said we sounded like "Sonic Youth and X in a mud-wrestling match."
What are the advantages to playing in a trio?
Emerson: It's a good way to be. We went on tour in a mini-van. If anything, our band is about simplicity, and I think our setup lends to an intimacy in our music while allowing for a lot of space in our sound. I'd like to say there's always a tie-breaker, but generally we have to all be on board with something in order for it to move forward.
You have said that you initially got together because of "equal levels of incompetence." Have you improved over time? Has that affected your sound?
Emerson: That's a funny question, because I'm not sure we've actually improved as musicians all that much. I think what really happened was we found our own styles and grew more confident with them. I still play three-string guitar like an otter crushing mussels with a rock, but now I believe in it, and would rather play like this than learn to play the right way. The important thing is we have grown as a band. Our new material—of which there's a lot—is much more thoughtful. We are more self-aware and in touch with how we want to sound. The new stuff is different but I don't think we are moving away from how we first sounded. I think we're still just finding out who we are.
Have you won over converts to your self-invented sub-genre, "Awk-Pop?"
Emerson: Awk-Pop is the inevitable future of music. I fully expect to see it bastardized by mainstream culture at some point within the next decade. Look around you: we live in a very awkward time. Awkward is sexy, it's the new black, just look at any hipster couple."
Bunny's A Swine appears at the Basement Nov. 14, and Dec. 17 at the Sierra Grille. For more information visit http://www.bunnysaswine.net.