It's the swimsuit edition of the outsideleft interview with UK-north based musician, sound architect, singer, songwriter JJ Swimsuit. JJ's been working on his first full length album for Wakefield's Pholophobia music... Imagine if Brian Wilson and David Berman had a big row and recorded it and remixed it and messed it all up... That's the scope and ambition of the record or what we've heard so far. What's Not To Love? It was really something we needed JJ to tell us about...
OL: When will the LP be available? What will it be called?
JJ Swimsuit: Yo guys. Right now I’m not sure when the record’ll be out; I only have one more vocal to get down, so soon hopefully. I’m pretty sure it’ll be called ‘Icarus Tanning Solutions’, though. That title’s been kicking around for years and it seems to sum up the vibe of the album: Fatalistic with a wink.
OL: I loved what you were saying about constructing the record... How long has it taken to record, where was it recorded?
JJ Swimsuit: I’ve been recording / re-recording songs and swapping out the track list for years, (you can hear demos for most of ‘em on my soundcloud, if yr feeling brave: https://soundcloud.com/jjswimsuit ). It’s taking a toll on my hard drive. I have four or five completely different versions of some songs, different tempos, different chords, different styles.
The fact is, I have a potentially unlimited amount of time to finish the album, I’m recording everything at home and that’s a double-edged sword. On one hand I can sculpt and pick at it until I’m completely happy with it, there’s no studio costs to keep an eye on. On the other hand, that sculpting could go on forever. It’s never going to be ‘perfect’. I tend to get caught up in bullshit existential questioning: Does this need to exist? Has someone else done this better? I should just finish the damn record. Having unlimited time can also make you self-conscious: A vocal could always be better. The mix could always be clearer. Plus I’m just getting better, technically, at recording all the time. So sometimes I’ll go back and just record a song again just because I’m better at capturing it now. Also, I have this thing about a song ‘earning it’s worth’ through time. I always think, if I still like a song a few months down the line, then it’s probably a good song and deserves to be on the record, but it takes time to find that out.
Having said that I think I’m pretty close to finishing. I have a set of songs in a certain sequence that seems to work and come together as more than the sum of parts. Plus, it’s not like I’ve just been continuously working on this album alone for those years, I’ve put out a bunch of records in other projects and right now I’m just finishing up the second album from my other project, Black Ribbon (bandcamp). I wrote a whole bunch of songs really quickly for that. Once that’s done, I’ll revisit the Swimsuit stuff and hopefully finish it pretty quickly.
OL: Aside from you, who else playing on the record?
JJ Swimsuit: It’s just me. I wouldn’t put someone else through the torture. Although sometimes someone there to tell me to leave a song the fuck alone might be useful.
OL: How did the relationship with Philophobia come about - they seem like the perfect fit for you...
JJ Swimsuit: Around 2006 my band Lapels recorded a cassette demo and started playing a few shows around Wakefield. Pretty soon we noticed this mysterious bearded guy was turning up to most of them, stoically standing at the back, observing like some sorta friendly lookin’ spectre.
That turned out to be Rob, who basically IS Philophobia. Eventually after one of these shows he approached us about putting a record out. At that time he was involved with another Wakefield label, Louder Than Bombs, and we put out an EP through them. Then he split from LTB to found Philophobia and we put out a vinyl double A-side single. I think he had 300 pressed. I’d guess around 295 of those are still propping up his mattress.
Since then Rob has put out stuff from all my projects; St Gregory Orange, Yard Wars, Black Ribbon, Gary Gore & EE Viles, Riot Joy, JJ Swimsuit and a couple of album albums under my own name (Tim Metcalfe). Without Rob’s initial enthusiasm for what I was making, who knows if I’d still be putting out music? I owe him a lot.
OL: Will there be any live shows to accompany the record release?
JJ Swimsuit: No doubt. I’m going to hustle a band together for some shows. I’ve been playing solo acoustic shows as JJ Swimsuit for a while, but I’m not sure I enjoy ‘em all that much. There’s always the feeling that I’m not communicating the songs well enough in that setting, compared with the full sound of the record. I think at a certain point, you realise what your strengths are, and that you’re stuck with a certain skill set whether you like it or not. I’m not the greatest singer or guitarist; a lot the JJ stuff is about studio craft and arrangement. Hopefully I can bring that to life with a full band.
OL: If I wasn't listening to JJ Swimsuit, who else should I be listening to right now?
JJ Swimsuit: On Philophobia: The Dead Slow Hoot album is great. Piskie Sits continue to put out good stuff. If I can get all shamelessly self-promotional, check out my other projects mentioned above.
In the wider world: The Tropical Fuck Storm album is amazing. I think Gareth Liddard is a massively underappreciated songwriter. His stuff with The Drones is great too.