Swim Deep

Swim Deep

Event Time Tue 4th Jun at 7:00pm-Tue 4th Jun at 11:00pm
Event Location The Deaf Institute, Manchester
The Deaf Institute
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Swim Deep

If one thing is clear from the offset of revelatory fourth album ‘There’s A Big Star Outside...’, it’s that Swim

Deep is no longer the same band you’ve always known.

After a rollercoaster of personal reckonings and extreme professional highs and lows, the quintet – vocalist

Austin ‘Ozzy’ Williams, bassist Cavan McCarthy, keyboardist James Balmont, guitarist Robbie Wood and

drummer Thomas Fiquet – emerge in 2024 having navigated a creative rebirth, following close collaboration

with beloved solo artist and producer Bill Ryder-Jones. With their most raw, affective and mature work to

date, they now stand on the precipice of something familiar but wholly new: a Swim Deep record that steps

into the confident, experienced territory that you just can’t claim when you’re a wide-eyed twenty-something.

It’s an album rooted in the changes that Ozzy found himself staring at head-on as he turned 30: getting

married; becoming an expectant father; even losing loved ones. But it’s also one indebted to the more

incremental revelations that only come from getting older and truly sitting with yourself. “My friend said the

best thing his therapist told him is to imagine yourself as a five-year-old and describe what you look like,” he

says. “I immediately saw this incredibly brave and confident but extremely anxious child, and I think I’ve had

all those emotions in me from the start.”

The road to Swim Deep’s fourth was a time of deep self-examination, but also one that saw the band tested

at multiple points. They’re almost certainly, after all, the only group who can say they’ve been personally

invited to support Harry Styles at London’s O2 Arena, and then also played “to two people at

Buckinghamshire uni” within the space of one album cycle.

That album, 2019’s ‘Emerald Classics’ – their first following the departure of two original members – was

heralded by critics as some of their most bold and inventive work to date, with lead single ‘To Feel Good’

amassing 3m Spotify streams in the wake of its release. “Swim Deep have never sounded as good as they

do here,” praised the NME. A hugely successful tour stretching from Birmingham to Beijing followed –

cementing their continued place within UK guitar music’s most well-loved exports. But then came 2020, and

its ensuing domino effect: show cancellations; abandoned recording sessions; estrangement between

bandmembers as they moved to separate countries; and the termination of relationships with both label and

management. “It felt like the band was done and over,” says James.

This was never the case for Ozzy, but he had his own problems during this period. Prone to extreme anxiety,

he describes suffering from “pretty much a six-day-long panic attack” at one point. “My heart was beating out

of my chest the entire time,” he recalls. “Doctors couldn’t work out what it was.” But he never went for more

than two weeks without writing – drawing out songs that reflected on the tangible changes occurring in his

life.

The frontman spent a lot of time thinking: about the tougher elements of his childhood that he’d buried for

years; about his own growth as an adult; and the people he’d lost along the way. When he and his new wife

learnt that they’d be expecting their first child, Ozzy began thinking about these ideas in relation to the new

life they were about to bring into the world, and the kind of parent he wanted to be. Out came songs like lead

single ‘How Many Love Songs Have Died In Vegas?’ – a lament to the broken marriage he witnessed

between his parents as a child, and how it affected himself and his relationships.

“My parents showed me great love individually and raised me to be kind, fair and generous. But I don’t think

anyone escapes childhood without any trauma – and the way that I learnt love was, unfortunately, just

witnessing my parents basically hate each other,” he says. “That song’s about seeing people love each other

in that way, which is a bad way to love someone – and then having a child myself and figuring out what

behaviours I don’t want to pass on and what ones I do.”

Elsewhere, the singer pans out to consider the widescreen realisations of loss, and the full circle of life, on

‘These Words’. That track, and its pivotal line “death comes to mock a point in time”, came from a very

specific personal moment: “I’m dealing with someone close to me that’s losing someone, and they’ve been

given a time to live that fell on our [baby’s] due date, which was really magical in a dark way,” Ozzy explains.

“It fucked with us for a bit. Death presents itself at times when it doesn’t feel fair, but we all live by this clock

that we’re quite inferior to.”

In some ways, Swim Deep’s fourth album – full of acoustic guitars and floral notes courtesy of a Mellotron

keyboard (one of the finest musical exports from their native Birmingham) – has no business being as

luscious and evolved as it is. But ‘There’s A Big Star Outside...’ could only have surfaced as a result of such

testing years. It takes the youthful dreaming of their debut, and the excitable experimentalism of its

follow-ups, and leads it to a more assured space, aided hugely by the input of producer Bill Ryder-Jones,

who became a mentor throughout the journey. “A lot of the album, Bill’s drawn out of me,” Ozzy nods. “That

sense of boldness and not hiding behind the music that he’s instilled in me has really made the album

flourish, and be what I want it to be. It’s a cliché to say, but I feel I’ve been writing towards this record my

whole life.”

The band-producer pairing is one that Cav had been pushing for years, but Ozzy had never felt ready for. “I

never thought I was worthy,” he admits. But from their first phone calls, into a series of sessions at Bill’s

Yawn Studios in the Wirral, through to a two-week stint recording out in Brussels at ICP Studios (birthplace,

previously, of both debut ‘Where The Heaven Are We’ and second album ‘Mothers’), the collaboration proved

to be immediately fruitful – founded upon mutual respect; a shared passion for bands like Red House

Painters, Verve and Super Furry Animals; a keen ear for the more heart-tugging ends of melody; and an

inclination to guide the songs to their most honest points.

The sense of pushing forward that has always underpinned Swim Deep’s output remains, but it’s employed

in deft, nuanced new ways. The shoegazey catharsis of ‘First Song’ was written after Cav turned Ozzy on to

Mogwai; ‘Very Heaven’ brings in rousing brass and twinkling electronics, its title taken from a William

Wordsworth quote (‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven’); ‘Big Star’,

meanwhile, takes the sepia tinge threaded throughout Swim Deep’s past music and distils it into what the

frontman sees as its purest form. “‘Big Star’ is how I’d always imagined Swim Deep to sound in my head but

had never been able to capture,” says Ozzy. “...That feeling of longing and nostalgia, but for a present time –

that ‘golden time’ state. People talk about their golden years, but nine times out of ten they’re happening right

now.”

It’s fitting that this is the message Swim Deep have arrived at, because ‘There’s A Big Star Outside...’

genuinely does feel like a golden moment for the band. Across more than a decade in the industry, they’ve

revelled in the highs and weathered the lows – but their fourth feels like an album that exists outside of all

that. It’s one that’s less about chasing the next rungs of success and more about really nailing their flag to

the mast as artists, as adults, and as a group who were always in it for more than just fleeting scenes and

early buzz.

“I feel like there’s unfinished business. I feel like I have a duty to our fans and to whatever Swim Deep is – to

the entity of it,” says Ozzy. “Sometimes I think, ‘I could have gotten this far in a company in this time’ or ‘I

could have done this or that’. Maybe I’ve sacrificed a lot. But this is what I want to do: I want to look back on

my life and see Swim Deep records.”

Venue

The Deaf Institute
135 Grosvenor St, Manchester M1 7HE, UK