From 1986 to 1991 I lived in Nashville, and during that time I learned a great deal about “college music” as an avid listener to college radio (the dearly departed WRVU out of Vanderbilt University) and as a budding musician, playing shows around town at places like Pan’s Starship Trooper, The Cannery and Elliston Place. In February 1991, right after turning 16, I was forced to move back to my hometown of Owensboro, KY. It was a bit of a culture shock. Owensboro in 1991 had no all ages clubs and nothing the likes of what I was accustomed to. Owensboro had one show a year, a multi-band Earth Day show that was like a miniature Lollapalooza with bands and booths from Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund and Planned Parenthood and the like. And all the local bands would come out, but the rest of the year bands just practiced, and people saw bands at those bands’ practice rooms. If we wanted to see live music that wasn’t cover bands at the bars, we had to drive two hours to Nashville, an hour to Bowling Green or 40 minutes across the river to Evansville, IN.
Evansville had a little bit of a scene back then, what with Inverted Nipples, The Gerunds and The Outhouse Spiders. A little bit of metal, a little bit of punk rock, a little bit of college geek rock, and then there was The Swing. A band of four individuals who looked an awful lot like goths. Dyed black hair, black lipstick, black clothes, etc. Musically, well, they weren’t really gothic exactly, but it’s not that inaccurate of a descriptor. Their drummer, Mark Emge, was rumored to have been a drum corps guy, and I’d believe it. Mark played with a technical virtuosity and sheer inventiveness that had more than a taste of Budgie’s work with Siouxsie & The Banshees and Boris Williams’ playing with The Cure. Lots of odd patterns incorporating his bevy of drums and effect cymbals. Guitarist Tommy Weder laid down a solid chorused-out wash of Simon Guthrie guitar that was never showy, sometimes finger picked, sometimes downstroke heaven and always immersed in modulation effects. Bassist/keyboardist Marc Chevalier played some serious Simon Gallup bass and his basslines carried the melody, in effect switching places with Tommy, letting Tommy carry the basis of the song while Marc ran all the filigree. The synth work was always more in the manner of light touch here and there, and never really took over the music. And vocalist Christina Wiednagel, who was probably the band’s weakest link. She couldn’t sing very well live, and was usually buried in the mix. All together, The Swing sounded to my 1991 ears a lot like The Cure and Siouxsie & The Banshees.
To my 2012 ears, listening back to Meaningless, the band’s self-released cassette, it was a bit more than that. They were kind of like a live band version of Cocteau Twins with Simon Gallup and Budgie along for the ride, and with more than a hint of late ’80s dream pop bands like Lush. They were definitely an English band stuck in the middle of Indiana. This cassette was recorded at home by Marc, and features nine fairly long songs, the cassette weighing in at nearly an hour. The instrumentation is definitely the strength on this recording, and Wiednagel’s vocals are kinda shaky throughout. Her style is reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser so the lyrics are near incoherent and there’s no pop structure in sight. Lots of interesting moods and twists and turns, with the bass lines and the Steve Jansen-esque drumming carrying the hooks of the songs. “Lack Thereof” has that definite combination of Cocteau Twins guitar with The Cure bass and drums. “Conversation With a Storm” begins the second side of the tape with a rock song that definitely could have been on Tinderbox. “Teardrop Dreams of Ms. D. Shore” is my favorite song on the cassette, with delicate arpeggiated guitar and off-kilter drumming. “Just Be” rocks out and lets Mark show off some of his Terry Bozzio-esque rhythmic cluster fills. And the last song on the album, the title track, is the most produced of the set. “Meaningless” is mostly guitar noise, menacing synthesizer pads and a circular tom-tom beat played with brushes. It’s darker than anything else on the album. The other eight songs are mostly melancholic, the last song though is real dark.
The Swing broke up some time in 1992. Tommy went on to play in Stop The Car. Marc opened a club, DJ’ed raves and I nearly started a band with him (the drive to Evansville for practices turned out to be a non-starter so Marc and I never played together). He wound up in Nashville and has become a touring soundman, having worked some for Ben Folds. As for the other two, who knows. What I do know is that I have listened to this cassette (now digitized) probably once a month for 20 years. And even though it has its weaknesses, what’s charming about it has never ceased to dazzle me. So rather than share with you some weird vinyl record I found, I figured I’d share this cassette with you of a band that was pretty important to me. There were probably hundreds of bands like them around this country in the late ’80s and early ’90s that no one outside of their home scene ever heard of. This band deserves to be heard, then and now. Here’s your chance.
SOURCE: The original 1991 cassette release -> Tascam Portastudio 484 MKII cassette recorder -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition. No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.