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SWAMP THINGGIG MICHAELS pulls no punches. He tells it like it is and anything that has nothing to do with family or making music is bullshit. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the music of his band SWAMPDAWAMP comes from a good place; the heart. Yeah. Yeah. Once again someone's gotta remind people that there is still music out there that's got heart. Well, in the case of SWAMPDAWAMP, this is true.
GIG MICHAELS OF SWAMPDAWAMP
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT WALKING AWAY FROM THE ROCK N ROLL LIFESTYLE
ONLY TO COMEBACK ROCKING HARDER THAN BEFORE
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
The best way to describe the band's debut CD is to forget everything having to do with your basic by-the-numbers rock album. SWAMPDAWAMP (BIG PENNY ENTERTAINMENT) is like a high speed car chase right out of the DUKES OF HAZARD (especially on the tracks I'M FEELING SATURDAY and BIRTHDAY) however the band does manage to slow down every now and then for a few slow-burners (the stirring SOMETIMES and the somber THE RIVER).
On a break from doing shows, GIG MICHAELS spoke with ROCKWIRED over the phone. Here is how it went.
How are you doing this evening?
I'm sitting back here with a nice cold drink.
What are you drinking?
We're drinking vodka tonight. So how many more minutes do we got?
What do you mean?
Is this a live thing?
No. I'm interviewing you for the website. This will be something for people to read.
Cool! I can drink more then. I didn't know. We do so many of these fucking things. We did one last night for some guy in Salida Colorado and it was live and we didn't know that it was live and all of a sudden one of my managers is looking at me like he wanted to shoot me in the head.
Why? Because every other word was 'fuck' and 'shit'?
I don't get that bad but we were getting off on a damn political tangent and even I knew that I needed to shut up.
You don't have to worry about that here.
Tell me about your show.
ROCKWIRED is a 30 minute weekly internet radio show.It's been happening since 2005 and I showcase independent music artists.
Your accent sounds like you're from Syracuse New York.
Are you really? There something about the way you said "about". I've got a lot of family up north.
I wouldn't have known listening to you.
You're reminding me of family already.
So you're southern raised.
I was actually born in Hartford, Connecticut but I was raised in the South from the age of nine. My family moved around a lot. I really love it up there in Connecticut and ended up moving to Johnston County North Carolina and worked in the tobacco fields from age ten till I was sixteen.
That's different from Connecticut.
Am I a Southern boy? Yes I am. But what does that mean? I don't know. Geographically speaking, what does it mean?
Exactly. I still can't believe that Baltimore is considered the South. But I've got to say that your CD is the rootsiest thing that I've ever come across in the two years that I've been doing ROCKWIRED. Take that as a compliment. I love the CD. It's great.
Thank you very much. Did we hook you up with any of our cool merchandise yet?
CHIP never gives me merchandise.
Well man, you've got to send me your address. We've just got our new line of shirts and hats and they look really good. Right now, we're stoked. This is my last night off for a little while and the bus is out there waiting on me.
The bus? Where are you guys heading?
We're going down to Myrtle Beach for BIKE WEEK and we've got four shows for four nights at four different clubs. Doing a HOUSE OF BLUES with JACKYL is going to be great. HOUSE OF BLUES is a kickass venue.We're all excited and just kind of chilled out tonight. We had good rehearsal today and we're ready to go.
That's an interesting band name that you guys got? Where does it come from and what does it mean?
It's very cool. I swear I didn't make this shit up, I promise you. When I write music I tend to look for melodies in phrasing. I'm not actually singing any words. Like (singing) "zee-bap-zee-gi-bi-dee-bo-bee-dee"
On the song BIRTHDAY is where the name SWAMPDAWAMP came from. At the end of the track you'll hear at the ending passage it goes (singing) "SWAMPDAWAMP,SWAMPDAWAMP, YEAH! GUNA-GUNK-GUNK-GUNA-GUNK-GUNK" When I was writing that song, the band was kicking ass with that heavy chunk stuff there and I was just doing phrasing over it. We always record rehearsals from start to finish and DAVID LEE our drummer is the wave lab head. He likes to tape our rehearsals and edits them out so he gets all of the "fuck you's" and Kiss-my-asses" out of them. When we played it back, it sounded like "SWAMPDAWAMP". I was writing the lyrics and scatting around with phrasing. That's how the name was born. It was actually born in the song and the way we chose it to be the name was, we couldn't come up with anything else. One of the guys said "Why don't we just call it SWAMPDAWAMP, like we do in that song BIRTHDAY?" As for what it means, there is an actual definition for it now on the back of our t-shirts. I'm gonna have to get one to tell you what it means. For the life of me I can't remember. It's cool though because on the back of the shirt it's got a breakdown of the pronunciation like they do in the dictionary. The 'verb' definition I remember. It's to celebrate in excess. But the definition offers up two nouns. Let me see what that are. One is "The evolution of Southern rock n' roll" and the second 'noun' is "just good music."
Now I really can't wait to get a tee-shirt.
They look sharp man. I'll get a couple out there. To me, good music is just what we do. I don't get off on categorizing. Everybody is calling what we do Southern Rock and I don't mind it at all. We're finally getting play on commercial radio so we're beating the odds. WMWX out in Cincinatti were the first people to grab it and it's doing terrific out there. We just got picked up on XM RADIO and SIRIUS is hopping on board in the fall. We're also going to be doing this big showcase up in Manhattan. We've got the record label setting up a lot of these showcases for industry people to come and hear us and to see what we're like live. The album, as good as it is, doesn't capture what we do live. We're such a fun jam band you know but we don't get lost for two hours noodling. It's not that kind of jam band, you know what I mean?
Yeah, you guys aren't like PHISH.
Yeah. That's not the stuff that we do. We just like to keep it fun and keep it lively.
Other than yourself, who makes up SWAMPDAWAMP? Who are the other members?
We have DAVID LEE on the drums who is the co-founder and my brother-in-arms. Him an I have been really tight for a few years. Him and I worked really feverishly to put this thing together but we'll get more into that later I guess. We've also got MICHAEL HOUGH (pronounced HUFF) and thats H-O-U-G-H. He's corrected me a couple of times on that by now. We were actually on the air at WRFX in Charlotte this 99.7 classic rock station and the dj read everyones name off of a piece of paper and asked me if he pronounced everyone's name right. Of course I wasn't paying a fuckin' bit of attention to anything that he said and he ended up calling MICHAEL HOUGH, MICHAEL HUGH. And there I was going "yeah, man you got 'em all right!" Then we've got MARTY HILL on guitar. He's the main lead player. He plays all of the slide and he is a true southern boy. He grew up on SKYNYRD. He loves LYNYRD SKYNYRD so much the embroidment in his year book from high school says LYNYRD SKYNYRD instead of his name so that's where he's coming from. Super player, that man. Everyone in the band is fucking outrageous. We've got ROBBIE HEGLER on the bass and ROBBIE has a tremendous resume of everything he's done and everyone that he's played with. He has a SPECTOR endorsement. I don't know if you know what SPECTOR basses are. They're certainly one of the most high end basses on the market. Great sounding instrument.
Is it one of those six-string basses or something?
Then I do know what it is.
It's pretty cool for him to be a player and to be recognized by them. He's on the first page of their website. In the band we also have BROOK HANSEN. BROOK is new to the band. The guy that was here before didn't want to tour for whatever reason. We understood and he worked with us long enough to find his replacements that worked out great. BROOK comes to us from Nashville, Tennessee. He's a good southern boy and fits right in with the rest of us. Everything about SWAMPDAWAMP is like family and we treat it that way. It's one big family that's making this machine roll. I didn't forget anyone did I?
No, I don't think you did but you would know better than me. How did this band begin?
It's a long story. I'll try and condense it for you. I've been playing music forever and I've had quite a bit of success with songwriting and I've written and produced nine records in my career of which a couple may have sold 30 to 40 thousand copies. Being a musician-singer-songwriter is like disease. You can't shake it. You have to do it. I'm compelled to want to touch people through song. It's such a great reward. It really is.
It might sound fluffy but it's the truth. I was in Nashville Tennessee from 1995 to 2000. I had a kid and then it became suddenly more important to be with my son then to be with a bunch of fucking coke usin' whore chasin' rock n roll musicians. That was the lifestyle back then. It was just party, party, party. I took five years off. I never completely stopped playing but I went and I raised my son. He wasn't an infant or anything. At that time, he was nine or ten years old and he really needed his dad in his life. I originally went out to Nashville to audition for VINCE NEIL's second record as his guitar player. At that point I was just the guitar player. Then, VINCE's daughter had that wild disease and the doctor's couldn't figure it out and his little girl died and that was just tragic. The whole project fell through the cracks and it was just done. It was understandable though. He (VINCE NEIL) kind of fell of the face of the earth for a little while and I was stuck in Nashville. I left Nashville in 2000 and moved to Charlotte and shelved the music as my priority for a little while and raised my son. Eventually I built a studio and started recording some stuff. Three years later, I guess it was '03 or '04 when I met DAVID LEE and he and I just hit it off really well. We're about the same age and had been in bands and had traveled and had always been right there at the cusp of success and the big thing never happened. We just started playing together. He really dug the demos that I had done and truly felt the music and after playing with him for a little while, it became apparent that he really was sharing a vision with me as opposed to just playing my music. I can tell you now three and a half years later DAVID is truly my brother and we both share a vision and we are really seeing it through. We're truly fortunate to have a record deal that has a decent budget. It's so tough and so expensive these days. BIG PENNY is a small independent label and we're the first band on the label. That being said, we've got some of the heaviest names in the industry that are running the label. I'm not going to go into the names of all of those people, but we do. There are lot of short cuts that are enabled because these guys are veterans of SONY, VIRGIN and WARNER BROTHERS. These are older guys who've got their shit together and they fell in love with the music and I can't thank those people enough. JOE BOYLAND who produced the record was a genius. We went to him with these tracks. We had to really sell him on it but once he got into the project you started to hear a piece of him coming out of those speakers. He was pretty pivotal in putting everything together for us.
I was about to ask you about JOE. What was he like to work with?
He was tough, man! Genius isn't the right word. He'll get pissed off when he reads that I said he was a genius. He was tough in the studio. He would work your ass like there was no tomorrow. You would think that you were doing something magnificent, right? And he'd say shit to me like "GIG, your not on fuckin' MTV! Who are you trying to impress? God dammit! Your not singing at church." He's very careful about hurting your ego and good producers are very conscious of that. If you crush a guys ego, your not going to get a performance out of them. He wasn't an asshole or anything. He was good-hearted in what he had to say. For example, the song SOMETIMES. When I cut this record I was sick the whole fucking time but I progressively got better. I really struggled through it and finally in the last few days I was well. But in recording the vocal track for SOMETIMES, we spent about three or four hours doing it. For the most part it was working on the chorus. How many frickin' ways can I say 'sometimes'?! What do you want out of me?! And he'd shoot some shit at me and we do it again and again. But it turns out that he got a lot of emotion out of me and it sounds great and it sounded better than it did before he got his hands on it, let me tell you.
How long did it take to record everything?
Twelve to fourteen weeks while living in a motel in Nashville. We Recorded it a t 17 GRAND and the engineer was DAVID KLINE and MICHAEL TEANEY was the assistant engineer. They worked with JOE and I tell you what - we're gonna use this same combination on the next album.
I read that you briefly pursued a solo career. Did anything materialize from that?
I did. As a matter of fact that was what I was working on when I left Nashville. I was starting as GIG MICHAELS and I was working with STEVE HAGGARD in Nashville. They offered me a deal and I started working on it. The demos that I was working on for this solo project ended up being the demos for this band.
What were the first gigs like?
We never did our first live gig until we finished the record.
A lot of bands are starting to do it that way now.
Well you know, the old school thinking is you get a band together, you get out and you play, you play, you play, you hope somebody sees you and you hope that a deal comes along and years ago that shit worked. Don't get me wrong, you've still got to get out there and play, play, play, but if you get out there and play, play, play, and people have nothing that they can purchase or touch, then the impression is gone. Everything today is so 'instant gratification'. It's so 'hurry up' with everything. People nowadays don't have the patience to sit through one minute of a track. If people don't like it, it's done. Now you've got singles so all you have to do is buy what you like.
You don't even have to buy them anymore. That's a little scary.
You know what's cool man? I was looking at your site and I saw that you interviewed MITCH EASTER.
Yeah, I just showcased him last Saturday.
Coincidentally, we mixed down the first demo for this album at MITCH's place.
Small world! you guys weren't even referred to me by the same people.
Yeah MITCH is a super guy man and his facility is excellent.
I read that you guys started work on a documentary?
THE REAL MAKING OF REAL BAND How is that going?
You know, you are the first one to ask me that and I never fuckin' remember to bring it up. We've been shootin' it for over a God damn year!!! It coincided with us cutting the first record - our version before we cut it again with JOE BOYLAND. I wanted to document this thing from start to finish and my main motivator was watching that pile of shit on a T.V. station that I won't name, about putting a band together. You know what I'm talking about?
You know what? I haven't watched MTV since '93. I wouldn't.
Then you could assume that this thing was so far from reality.
Like most reality TV is.
That was why I wanted to call this documentary the REAL MAKING OF A REAL BAND. We didn't have any fuckin' money when we started this thing. We had a pipe dream and you kind of see from the beginning how the money came in and how the money got us to point B and how a record company got us to C.
What songs have audiences gravitated towards the most?
It's becoming easier to answer this question, I'm happy to say to you. BIRTHDAY seems to be the big one. BLIND CRIPPLED AND CRAZY is another one and SATURDAY is a great party tune. We played for this fraternity and these kids knew the words to our songs. There was no one there over the age of twenty two and needless to say, they love SWAMPDAWAMP. It was great seeing these young kids respond to our music like that.
Because no one expected them to do so.
Exactly.I will tell you that music seems to be taking a turn,and your more melodic rock sing-spongy stuff is coming back around - something thats got a meaning that you can sing with that you don't have to be JOE PERRY to sing 'cause anybody can sing my shit. Have a few shots of whiskey and smoke a pack of cigarettes and you're there.
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