Friends of Friends is a feature on The Bay Bridged where a little name-dropping never hurt anyone. We interview a local band or musician and get the low-down on the music scene from their point of view. Last time around, Cruel Summer was interviewed and recommended Swiftumz, a.k.a. Chris McVicker. Who will he recommend for the next installment? Keep reading to find out.
If you’ve never heard of Swiftumz, chances are you’ve heard the music of Chris McVicker. He wrote the popular Hunx and his Punx single “Don’t Cha Want Me Back,” of which there’s a bonkers, drugged out version on his 2011 Swiftumz LP, appropriately titled Don’t Trip and out now on Holy Mountain.
Besides that, Don’t Trip delivers everything from guitar-dominated ballads to synthy pop songs and fuzzed-out lo-fi anthems. The track “Too Many Friends” begs to be blasted from a car stereo while cruising down Route 1 on a sunny day, and the love song “More Than Sleep” makes dysfunctional relationships seem awesome. It’s that good. The album is both sarcastic and sweet, and is the product of a year of McVicker struggling to get his songs recorded on a shoestring budget. That deeply personal sentiment shows, not only in the music, but also in the inclusion of his phone number with instructions to call him, Mike Jones style.
Since then, McVicker has assembled a band for live sets — Brian Hamilton on guitar, Marie Davenport on bass, and Chris Kohler on drums — to back up his guitar and vocals, and has been playing around town. I sat down with him at Mission Bar to watch the Warriors game and chat about music over whisky shots and laughs.
Chris McVicker: I’m not really prepared.
TBB: I’m not Barbara Walters. I’m not trying to stump anyone.
CM: What if I start crying?
TBB: That would be awesome.
CM: Haha, that should be your goal as a journalist, to make people cry. You should have done a little more research to find out how to make me cry
TBB: There’s plenty of time for that. How long have you been playing music?
CM: I’ve been playing music since I was little kid — piano lessons, band. I quit marching band in high school because it was boring and dumb, so then I just started playing guitar or whatever. You had to be in marching band in order to be in any of the other bands, like jazz or concert band, but the marching band music was so bad, everything about it sucked.
TBB: Do you prefer solo or collaborative music-making?
CM: I’ve always collaborated with people. A lot of times just one other person. I played in a band with Tina
TBB: Is Swiftumz a solo project?
CM: I wrote all of the songs, but it was also really collaborative. A lot of the songs I only play guitar on. Everything else is somebody else.
TBB: What about the track “It’s Beautiful”?
CM: That song is all samples. It was me in my room with a sampler and my records. I’m always afraid that we’re gonna get sued because the drum beat is just a Tommy Roe drumbeat and the music is from Cannibal Holocaust. We didn’t get permission.
TBB: Hopefully their lawyers don’t read the Bay Bridged. There’s a mellower version of Angelita on Youtube. Is that a demo?
CM: That’s an earlier version, just guitar and drums. My friend was like, “Let’s make a video.” He just filmed the TV and put it together. I like that version. Maybe I should have left it like that.
TBB: The album version is so great! Plus, it gives fans something to nerd out on.
CM: Like, for the limited edition re-release in 20 years?
TBB: Exactly. How did the current lineup come together?
CM: When I finished recording the record I needed people to play with so I started looking for a new band. I was kind of, like, looking for all new people and then I realized I should just have my friends in the band, the people I’ve been playing music with for years. I was in Special Ed with Marie, Hamilton I grew up with and we used to play music together. I was like, Oh this is easy, duh, why didn’t I think of this in the first place? It all fell in to place.
TBB: What was it like making Don’t Trip and working with Holy Mountain?
CM: I had no money so I basically begged my friends to record my record. And Holy Mountain…I’ve known John Whitson for a long time. I sent him stuff I had recorded by myself and he kinda offered to put out a record, so that was my motivation to get this going and start recording all the songs I had. I really love that label a lot. I don’t think he’s ever done a pop album like that before.
TBB: What’s it like to be a musician in the Bay Area?
CM: It seems like there are a lot of people who are really in to music and ready to listen to new music — kinda a lot of music nerds here. It’s also really expensive here, which makes music really hard to make. Everybody I know, we have to work full time — where do you practice? How do you afford new equipment? — that kind of thing. For example, my friend Justin from Nobunny just moved out to Arizona to write and record because he could rent a house and have a place to do that there, and not have to work so much.
TBB: Do you think the Bay Bridge and eight dollar BART fare — not to mention the lack of service — disconnects the Bay Area music scene?
CM: Yeah, I guess when I go to a show in Oakland, I have to crash on a friend’s couch, but I feel pretty connected to the Bay Area because I grew up in Benicia. That’s not even the East Bay, I guess it’s the West Delta.
TBB: What was it like growing up there?
CM: Looking back, it’s pretty isolated because it’s between two bridges and there’s no bus that runs past 7pm, but when I go back I think, “Wow, this is a beautiful town.”
TBB: The last time I was in that area, I met a couple from Benicia. They are same age as me, early 30s, and recently visited San Francisco for the first time. For their honeymoon. I was blown away.
CM: Haha, yeah that sounds about right.
TBB: What do you listen to?
CM: KMEL all day. But I started listening to college radio because they play my record, haha. That sounds bad, but before that I just always listened to KMEL. Oh, and the Eminem rap station on Sirius is great. He put together a mix of the best Halloween rap songs ever.
TBB: What about local bands?
CM: I don’t go see bands very often but I listen to them on the internet. I like Water Borders a lot and I haven’t gone to see them yet, but I want to.
TBB: They did a live score to old-timey short films that was really cool.
CM: Yeah, I keep not going to stuff, haha. That seemed really cool, though! I also really like The Spundays, which is kind of a home project still, but there’s a Youtube channel. We cover Spundays songs a lot, too. Speaking of Youtube, I heard a really good Mantles song yesterday called Raspberry Thighs. I’ve actually seen them live, they’re really good. So, what’s that? Three or four? Haha, I don’t know man. I just listen to Led Zepplin, you know? Haha…Oh yeah, I also really like Dirty Ghosts!
TBB: What would make you want to go to shows more?
CM: I feel like unless I’m dancing I should just be sitting down. Like, why is everyone just standing there, looking? I guess so they can fit more people? One of the best shows I saw was Robert Forster from the Go-Betweens at Great American Music Hall, and the reason why was that there were tables where everyone could sit down. Also, it was a really good show. But also, everybody got to sit down, haha.
TBB: Where do you like to play live?
CM: I like the Knockout a lot because they have a projector. Last time, we had some David Attenborough nature documentaries projected onto us and it looked really cool. But the sound is really good too. 1-2-3-4 Go! is a really cool all-ages space. There’s nothing else like it really except maybe for Gilman. Shows are early so you can take BART. There’s an all mac and cheese restaurant next door. It’s pretty trashy.
TBB: That sounds amazing.
CM: The best mac and cheese is just Kraft in a box.
TBB: Have you tried the mac and cheese grilled cheese sandwich at Bender’s?
CM: No, I haven’t. I’m always afraid I’m gonna get beat up there. Don’t put that in your article, haha.
TBB: Something tells me you wouldn’t be bothered.
CM: One punch and I’m down. Seriously.
TBB: Maybe that’s how I’ll get you to cry.
CM: Haha, just punch me in the face, haha.
TBB: What’s next for Swiftumz?
CM: We just recorded a new single at Different Fur that will be released on Rocinante, and I’ve started working on a new album. It will have different collaborators and recorded with whatever methods are available with no money. My dad is gonna play bassoon on one track.
TBB: Can you recommend another band or musician for the next installment of Friends of Friends?
CM: Myles Cooper, because he has a new cassette coming out, and he works so hard. He’s a DJ too, constantly working on things. He’s the best.
Alright, kids. You heard the guy. Keep an eye out for the next Friends of Friends with Myles Cooper right here on The Bay Bridged. And be sure to check out Swiftumz on Tuesday, February 21 at a Noise Pop Happy Hour, with Permanent Collection and Sorry Ever After at Bender’s (5pm, free). Please don’t beat him up.