Devotees of A. Swayze and the Ghosts’ smart, pummelling styles are rewarded this month with a debut album that knits form and content into some of the most spirited punk finery you’ll hear this year. Frontman Andrew Swayze spoke to Zoë Radas about the stunning Paid Salvation.
When A. Swayze and the Ghosts’ single Connect to Consume came out 12 months ago, TikTok and its now ubiquitous dances weren’t a thing. That’s why it’s so bizarre that the clip for this track – which namechecks dozens of social media platforms, “most of which don’t exist now,” laughs Swayze – features a bunch of dolled-up punters dancing in deadpan unison. “How good is that – when you accidentally predict something?” the singer-songwriter chuckles.
Connect to Consume and its excoriating missive about social media’s vice grip on us (“I’m sorry Roger Daltrey, but f-ck my generation!”) heralded the approach of Paid Salvation, the debut album from the Tasmanian four-piece who have long been a favourite of every Aussie festival you can poke a stick at, and are championed for their ability to whip socio-political memos into energetic punk gold.
Swayze isn’t milquetoast about his commitment to this task. “I think it’s f-cking ridiculous not to use that platform for some sort of social change, or some sort of commentary,” he attests. “So many movements within culture and society start with the arts; I’ve learned a lot about society, alternative ways of thought, struggles, and whatnot, through the music that I’ve listened to over the years. I’ve written songs that are meaningless, but coming to this album, I was like, ‘I’m really going to focus on my writing, and having stuff to say – using this platform that I’ve always wanted, and have been given.’”
It’s also a matter of genre: A. Swayze and the Ghosts bend the edges of their field, but they are ‘punk’, which historically is all about subversion – standing up and flipping the table on the existing condition. “The way I consider the punk ethos is not in the clothes that you wear, or looking alternative – it’s a matter of asking questions,” Swayze says. “’Why do I have to live like this? Why do I have to do certain things, or conform to certain ideas that I’ve been raised on?’” He mentions that his wife – an academic, apparently very non-punk-looking person – is far more punk than he is, because of her progressive ideas.
It was Swayze’s wife who helped him write the brilliant Suddenly, which Swayze initially sang in the third person before he decided to embody its protagonist: “I’m forced to wait when I want to speak/ And when I do, you say that I’m weak… I do these things and I do them again/ Because I have to/ To deal with pressure… What do I owe the world?” The arrangement of the song itself is a masterclass in cool, with a guitar hook Julian Casablancas would drool over and Swayze’s distinct, half-hollered delivery resulting in a thrilling earworm.
The combo of sound and message is of course deliberate. “I would hope that I would have younger guys look at me, and whether they realise it or not, be influenced by that message in this song or that song, in a positive way,” Swayze says.
And the messages are myriad: News (“It’s like a diet that claims it’s more than it can do,” go the lyrics) considers media and media literacy – the method of influence and learning itself – while the genuinely menacing thrash of Beaches is full of scorn for those in power whose pockets bulge after selling out our most precious resources. “You aren’t an animal, you’re a disgrace,” Swayze snarls with Peter Garrett-esque passion on the track, which contains no room for satire. “I guess it’s the severity of the topic – it’s not something I joke about,” says Swayze. “Putting profit before your nation or your community or your responsibility as a leader – it just pisses me off. And it pisses people off. And the topic is just an annoying topic – like, how are we still having these problems?”
Ultimately, the band’s punk ideology is indeed matched by their songs’ visceral, propulsive style – and, it turns out, their performance. In live footage available on YouTube of the group playing Suddenly, discerning viewers will see a liberal red smear across the body of guitarist Hendrik Wipprecht’s instrument.
“Yeah, that’s blood,” says Swayze. “He plays his guitar really weird – when we go on tour, no matter what, he’ll always end up cutting his fingers on the strings after a couple of shows. It progressively gets worse and worse, and by the end of the tour the guitar’s covered in blood.” He recalls a time he took everyone’s guitars to get serviced, and was knocked back because the blood presented a health risk to the technician – a literal biohazard. “It’s gnarly, but it does look pretty cool,” he says. “Got to give him that.”
Paid Salvation by A. Swayze and the Ghosts is out Friday September 18 via Ivy League.
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