Few artists have as unified a message as New Swears: they like to party. A lot. So much so that every song, video and gig finds the jangly Ottawa quartet swimming in an endless supply of smokes, drinks, snacks and antics. But beyond the boozin' and cruisin' lie catchy guitar licks and urgent lyrics, found in spades throughout their first two records, 2013's Funny Isn't Real and 2015's Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever.
Their recent signing to Dine Alone Records has only served to give the band a bigger budget for vices and virtues alike, if their Brand New Spot/Sugar Heavy Metal 7-inch (and accompanying videos) is any indication.
Before they play Exclaim!'s second Class of 2017 show on January 14, we got in touch with New Swears to talk music, performance and life on the road. The band's Sammy told Exclaim! all we needed to prepare ourselves for the show. Below, let them tell you a good few reasons to catch Ottawa's favourite party punks in concert.
Six Reasons You Gotta See New Swears Live:
1. Each bandmate has a "party persona" that emerges when they cut loose.
While the quartet go by Al, Ben, Sammy and Nick in real life, onstage they morph into guitarists Scru Bar and Beej Eh, bassist Sammy J. Scorpion and drummer Nick Nofun, respectively. According to Sammy in an interview with Exclaim!, the monikers are derived from each member's "party persona," defined as "a split personality [that emerges] once someone starts partying." For example, Nick Nofun's persona is "a character that is not super fun to be around," says Sammy with a laugh.
According to Sammy, some of the nicknames are indicative of their onstage antics. On the origins of "Scru Bar," he says, "One point, during a show with his previous band, he lost his whammy bar and ended up using a screwdriver and sticking it in the hole, so it was a 'screw bar.'"
2. Their sets are memorable to everyone — except the band themselves.
During their 2015 set at Ottawa's Arboretum Music Festival, we reported that the band played guitars with their feet, climbed a fire escape whilst riffing and "[left] the stage to get food from festival vendors mid-song." Pretty crazy.
Sammy revealed that "a lot of the live show came from us going to a lot of shows and discovering what we like to see from artists. We like getting really involved in the show, whether that be, like, dancing or whatnot.
"When we're onstage and the roles are reversed, we like to get the audience participating, in a way. I guess, sometimes, that leads to what people call 'stunts,' where we end up doing some acrobatic work or gymnastics or stuff like that. We always joke that one day, we'll get rid of the guitars and have a bunch of exercise trampolines and just do front flips and backflips while a tape plays the record. So hopefully we can get to that level at some point, but we're still working on it."
Their recent live shows seem to be somewhere in the middle: they still have the guitars, but there are plenty of backflips in the mix as well. Here's Sammy on backflipping with a guitar in tow: "It takes some practice, for sure. There was definitely a couple shows where we'd drop guitars and break shit. I guess it's still a work in progress now, but every show, we learn something new."
When pressed on his most memorable in-show moment, though, he draws a blank. "I usually black out for the show and wake up after, and my body's in excruciating pain."
3. They've got new material in the works, which may seep into upcoming sets.
Their upcoming third album was written on acoustic guitars, but is poised to rock just as hard as their older material. "We wrote the new record primarily on acoustic guitars, so there's a lot of vocal-heavy songs," says Sammy. "We were working on vocals with four-part harmonies and stuff like that. But even though we wrote it on acoustic, I don't think it takes away from the high energy of it."
Returning from their older albums is producer Paul "Yogi" Granger, a mainstay in the Ottawa music scene as proprietor of venue House of TARG. "He's a very good friend of ours and we get along great, so it was good to be back working with him."
4. Everyone's equal, and instruments are up for grabs.
All right, so they might not read The Communist Manifesto before every gig or call each other "comrade," but when Sammy describes the group's organizational structure, it's hard not to see the Marxist parallels. "All four of us are songwriters. Every song's written differently but everyone contributes equally, for sure."
Not only do they share equal credit for songwriting, but they even share instrument duties, down to the oft-harmonized vocals. Explains Sammy, "We're all multi-instrumentalists, so on the very first record, we played different instruments: I was on guitar, Ben was on drums, Nick was on bass, and then the second record, we switched it up. Now, we've got the same instruments that we stick to live, but when we're writing music, we switch it up, which creates different vibes for different songs — creates a wide variety of styles.
"We have, during live shows, just switched in the middle of a song for no reason, but we feel that this current lineup, we're on our strongest instruments, so it works pretty well." Though once the booze gets flowing, nothing can truly be deemed off-limits.
5. Their on-the-road listening material is more magical than musical.
While most bands listen to their favourite artists or biggest inspirations to pump them up before a gig, New Swears take a more enchanted approach. On the road, the band are "listening to motivational speakers, audiobooks, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, a bunch of fantasy stuff to get our head in the right place. We're thinking about magic, thinking out of the box. Trying to get our head in the right space to get our show to run smoothly," says Sammy.
"It gives a bit of a mystical effect. If you're thinking about magic, you're gonna play like magic. Think good, play good. That's where the motivation comes in."
6. They might tell you the story about they how were once almost deported from Switzerland.
Sammy began telling Exclaim! the story, but quickly stopped. But if you catch him after a gig (and enough beers), maybe he'll spill the beans.
New Swears will headline the second instalment of the Class of 2017 concert series on January 14 at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. Keep an eye out for more interviews with the Class of 2017 in the coming weeks.
Check out the video for "Brand New Spot" below.