Those That Can: The Making of Swansgate
“If it’s about anything/ then it’s gotta be style”, Dres of Black Sheep, “Butt…In The Meantime”, A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
The unfurling—of the career, the terrains covered, and the metaphysical planes—of the artistry of Swansgate is a wonder. Two years ago the band’s chief songwriter, producer, visionary, keyboardist, and point guard was just a college student, not unlike most others, quietly pursuing a degree in Electrical Engineering.
Less than two twelvemonths later the debut of his band would be on the streets. An irrepressible collection of a dozen tunes, it’s almost instantly recognizable, an immediate standout, and a sonic voyage into a misty, far-fetched region of melodious harmonies.
Such a rapid progression—from the university to the recording studio, from the album’s inception to its completion—happens not by accident. Nor, by fools.
Nor, by the uninitiated to the tacit freemasonry of music itself.
“I’m big on melody,” Swansgate frontman Stu Draughn asserted. “Modern music is like the king of rhythm. I think that, not to hate on all modern music, but if anything’s lacking, it’s the melody. I try to put extra focus into that, and I think that ends up having a beachy type of sound, naturally.”
“Everybody ain’t able, mane”, Mac Mall, “Immaculate”, Immaculate
Before the beaches, the island fueled sounds, the very definition of chill tracks, or any sort of recordings whatsoever, Draughn was playing piano.
It was the first instrument to which he gravitated. He played often; he played well.
So, it was only normal that at some point, he asked for lessons. Perhaps it was to refine his chops. Maybe it was to spur his development. Most likely, it was so he could spend a little more time on the instrument. His parents, nice enough, acquiesced.
He was barely six years old.
“I wanted to take lessons, since I had already been playing the piano since I don’t know how long before that,” Draughn recounted. “I didn’t really like the progression of it so I quit, and then I’ve been playing ever since on my own. Just kind of learning from listening to other people when recordings play, like jazz musicians or whatever, and trying to copy it.”
For the record, then, this approach is how Draughn learned to do some serious damage to the piano—and all the surplus of keyboards, synths, etc., the world over, too. That’s the same way he learned to do what he wants on the guitar. As Baby Beesh once said of big Happy Perez’s prowess on such stringed instruments, “never had any training, just picks ‘em up and plays those hoes”. More than likely that’s how Draughn earned his stripes on the drums and, of course, the bass guitar.
But if you want to really know something about Draughn, ask him which jazz musicians he’s studied, listened to, and dared emulate.
Then take a couple steps back.
“Another guy that I like is Sun Ra, but he’s not someone that a lot of people know,” Draughn admitted. “That dude was a wild man, not in a bad way.”
The term avant-garde may have existed beforehand, but it was certainly seared into the nation’s (if not a couple of nations’) collective consciousness once Sun Ra got a hold of it, tussled with it, and made it what it is today.
Small wonder, then, that it’s Draughn who devises the songs, arrangements, lyrics, and melodies for Swansgate. The other members, including Michael McKinney (guitar and keys), Gabe McKinney (bass), and Mike Kaloudis (drums), learn their parts for live performances, and helped out in spurts during the recording of Becoming Someone.
“…‘cuz it’s my daily routine”, B-Legit, “Daily Routine”, Trying to Get a Buck
For all their cohesiveness during performances and recording sessions, there are some seemingly wide expanses between the various band members in Swansgate. The most noticeable, perhaps, is that all of the young men have day jobs.
Except for Draughn.
“I’m spending all my time in the studio writing and recording stuff and keeping some things,” Draughn said. “I’m very blessed to be able to do it. I went to school for electrical engineering and I spent four years in the books. Once I graduated I was like, now it’s time for me to fully put all of my efforts into this music thing. At that point I had the resources to do it financially, put off work long enough to maybe make it work so that’s what I did. That’s what we’re doing.”
Those that doubt, who aren’t convinced, who need proof? Simply hit play below.