by Will Yannacoulias
Saskatoon punk rock mainstays shine on passionate, furious sophomore release
Saskatoon’s Swayze have been a constant mainstay of the city’s local music scene since their inception in 2014. The band impressed listeners with their 2017 debut release None of This Matters. In May 2020 they followed up with St. Angry, a five song effort that has been enthusiastically well received. A lyrically mature, structurally complex collection of aggressive yet melodic punk rock, the professional quality production highlights the seamless playing of guitar/vocalist Erik Hepp, drummer Jesse Sawitsky, bass/vocalist Justin Bruce and guitar/vocalist Matt Koroluk.
Against a backdrop of barking dogs and lonesome train whistles we were able to interview Justin Bruce at home in Saskatoon about the band, the EP and whether or not Metallica will help design the next album cover.
North Sask Music Zine: You guys came together from a few different bands?
Justin Bruce: Myself and Erik were both in a band called Prom Night, not at the same time but at different times. Jesse and Matt were both in The Chuds, and Jesse drummed in Morning Fresh. When we started a friend of ours, Sean Elliott, was in the band, he was in Morning Fresh as well, and he was another vocalist we had. He’s since moved to Ontario.”
NSMZ: And these were Saskatoon bands, just playing locally?
JB: Prom Night toured a fair amount, both with me and with Erik in different lineups. The Chuds and Morning Fresh didn’t play much outside the city but they were around for quite a while.
NSMZ: We were speculating whether the band name was a reference the actor Patrick Swayze or the Swayze Express of Trailer Park Boys fame.
JB: We originally got together because we were gonna play a cover show at the university bar and we had to come up with a name to put on the poster. We came up with a few, the one was Swayze, one had to do with the Neopets. We sent them to the promoter and told him to pick, and he picked Swayze, which worked out ok.
NSMZ: 2017’s None Of This Matters was full length album at ten songs, St. Angry is half that length. Any reason why?
JB: The first two songs on the EP we had written probably a year before we’d recorded them, and the remaining three happened within that year. We kinda just wanted to get it recorded and out of the way... didn’t want to get bored of the songs before we’d even recorded them. With how short everyone’s attention span is, myself included, fifteen minutes is a lot easier to get through.
NSMZ: The quality of the recording itself stands out. On Facebook you guys credited The Sweat Shoppe, Chris Dimas and John Harcus.
JB: Yeah we’re really happy with how that turned out. The Sweat Shoppe, Mike Lefebvre, he recorded our last album there as well, he was in bands like Rehashed and DFA. We’ve known him for a long time, he’s done sound at The Black Cat Tavern which is where we typically play. Chris Dimas is in a Regina band called Surf Dads and I think he started his own recording setup. He did some drum editing to make it sound more balanced. John Harcus is a guy from England who mixed and mastered it, he’s played in a couple punk bands and we were happy with how they sounded.
NSMZ: What’s Swayze’s songwriting process? Are you all writing together or are guys bringing in finished songs?
JB: It’s usually a combination. Erik has a really good ear for writing a whole song, whereas I usually bring three or four parts in and we’ll workshop them until we fit them together or scrap them. Lyrically usually myself, Erik or Matthew bring a whole song. Large Island Iced Tea we wrote together, Erik brought a couple lines and we workshopped them as a group.”
NSMZ: I love the arrangements of the songs, time changes, loud/soft, it’s more complex and mature than just verse-chorus-verse.
JB: Yeah we get bored kind of easily so it’s trying to make things a little more... progressive without getting too far out of a standard song structure. It’s nice to know that worked out the way we were hoping.
NSMZ:You guys also produced a couple videos with Jason Hamill. How did you end up collaborating with him?
JB: We’ve known Jason for a long time, Erik and I specifically. He’s originally from Moose Jaw, he’s since moved to Vancouver for film work. He played in a band called Perverts, we did some light touring together. We’ve gotten to know him pretty well over the years. When COVID hit he and everyone he works with got laid off, he was just bored and wanted to do something.
NSMZ: The videos are very different in style, one animation and one live performance.
JB: He started the St. Angry video quite a while ago, he doesn’t do animation and just wanted to challenge himself. Large Island we shot by Alvena where Jesse lives. None of us had ever shot a music video so it was definitely a weird experience, just playing the same song twenty times in a trailer.
NSMZ: The album was released May 15th. What was your experience releasing an album during all the shutdown and restrictions?
JB: We started recording in the summer of 2019 and it took forever to get done, just through scheduling things mostly. We had it ready for release probably mid February and we were deciding how we wanted to do things, a release show and all that. When everything started shutting down we waited a month or two to see if things were gonna get back to normal; obviously they didn’t and we just said ’screw it, put the album out.
NSMZ: I think we saw a lot of artists with spring releases scheduled, trying to rethink how to promote new material.
JB: All we did was put a little more into digital distribution, so many great bands were putting out albums, we gotta make sure ours doesn’t completely fall by the wayside.”
NSMZ: Was the release impacted by not being able to play live to support it?
JB: Online it’s been received really well, and by a wider audience than we anticipated. Obviously we would have loved to play a release show for it, maybe a few shows in Alberta. For what we were up against I think we did as well as we could have, if not better than we expected.
NSMZ: Do you guys have any side projects outside of Swayze?
JB: Erik and I play in a band called A Ghost In Drag. We had our tenth anniversary show in the winter. Nothing on the horizon for that, we play and write as we feel kinda thing.”
NSMZ: On the track Gorilla For Sale there were guest vocals from Derek Kuchirka. Is that someone you guys regularly play with?
JB: Derek has a band called Me The Guts... we’ve known him for quite a while now. He’s got a unique voice that I think sounds really cool, so it was exciting to hear him on one of our songs.
NSMZ: The name of the album is obviously a play on Metallica’s 2003 album St. Anger. In the St. Angry video there’s a quick pop up that reads “You Are Being Sued by Lars Ulrich”. What’s with the Metallica feud?
JB: No real feud... we’ve watched the Some Kind Of Monster documentary about the making of St. Anger about one hundred times. It’s funny to see that they took themselves that seriously for two years to put out a complete piece of shit. Our ultimate goal is to get a Cease & Desist from Metallica over the album name, but we’re not sure it’s gonna happen.
NSMZ: Cease & Desist would be a great name if you have to change it!
JB: Yeah, we could put the letter on the cover instead for the Deluxe Edition”
Justin Bruce’s artists people should be listening to:
Me The Guts from Saskatoon
Dead End Drive In from Vancouver
Screaming At Traffic from Winnipeg
The Greatest Sons from Vancouver
*photo #1 courtesy of Swayze
*Photo #2 at the Capitol Music Club courtesy of Kyle Boyko
*Album cover pic courtesy of Swayze
*Photo #3 courtesy of Jason Hamill