Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley and Brad Kopplin
Some people. Richard Swift was at home Tuesday for a cool month - having just finished a tour with David Vandervelde - before heading over to Europe for a month and he mentioned, without any prompting, that some people tend to think of him as a sad bastard. Swift and Vandervelde had plenty of good times - proof that description should be re-thought. There was the margarita slushy machine they abused prodigiously in New York. There was the thwarting of some car thievery. There was the Vandervelde Moonstation band showing at a Swift soundcheck only in their wet underwear, after an afternoon swim.
Fun was had and even so, Swift's Dressed Up For The Letdown gives itself, just barely, to ideas of a depression that on occasion gets the best of one of the most talented songwriters working today. Some people crave the surface value and choose not to find the cravings for the complexities of a person all that compelling when it comes to these days. Snap judgments and the impressions that occur in the blink are respected as minor scripture. People are quick to say, "I know you. I know 10 others like you."
There's an archetype for every archetype, sure, but Richard Swift deserves the benefit of his complexities, for their wrinkles and dimples and sun spots are panoramic, allowing for the complete view. His depressions don't stay that way for longer than a dash or a comma because he folds his sorrows into white paper cranes which, when the necks are finally bent into place, beat their starchy, newborn wings and set out for skies unseen. His view - the one upon which his songs are diagramed - is not stock footage appropriated for moody effect, mined for the sad-pappy declarations such found material can be used for, without heart or soul. His words are catalytic.
"My friends know who I am," he says. "I have gone through bouts of serious depression in my life, but I think I've always had a really great sense of humor about it. I can imagine that all of the old blues players, if you sat down with them, all had great, hilarious stories to tell. I like to give some weight to my lyrics. I think Elliott Smith kind of got labeled that way too. I've got a lot of mutual friends of his and they'll tell you that Elliott was kind of crazy, but ultimately, he was one of the funniest guys to hang out with. It's like saying David Lynch is some crazy, twisted fuck who's obsessed with murder, but really, he's kind of a Zen master. I'm optimistic. There's always a twist at the ends of my songs."
Swift points out that in "Artist & Repertoire," even with a gun to his head (symbolizing pressure, not suicide - something he says he doesn't think about anymore, though at one time that wasn't necessarily true), he's still taking his chances, singing, "Still feel like I'm losing/But I'm placing my bet." In "Songs of National Freedom" near the close, he offers, "I feel alive/I feel alive/Like I could try for the first time.../I'm alive/I'm alive/I'm Alive/So tell my daughters not to cry." "These are incredibly optimistic lines," said Swift. "In 'Million Dollar Baby,' they always forget to quote, 'I wish I was dead/Most of the time/But I don't really mean it.' People look at this record as being about the record industry, but it's really about my struggle as an artist. And it's about my struggles as a fucking human being. It's about me trying to find some happiness in this world. It's actually a really positive view."