Our very first interview, over three years ago in issue #1, was with Swan Dive. We're very pleased to have another conversation with them for issue #40.
Bill DeMain and Molly Felder are some of the first friends I made in Nashville when I first came to town in '89. It wasn't too long before they had a group called Wild About Harry that was doing a lot of Bill's disarmingly torchy songs. They were very good, right from the start, and I always considered Bill's writing very highly. Along with that, since our early days, Molly has been the blueprint for what I like best in a female vocalist.
Coincidentally, my next door neighbor was an athletic rock and roller named Brad Jones. He had a band called the Dig Mandrakes that I missed out on, wasn't there yet in my mind. Like many, I'd come because I liked the sound and spirit of the New Traditionalists like Randy Travis and upstarts like Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett, and thought I'd better come and have a look. Brad invited me over one time, and showed me this song he was working on, about Mexican food. I was a little too green and earnest to get that at the time, but he was nice about it. When Wild About Harry later turned into Swan Dive, Brad by then had started Alex the Great Studio with his friend Robin Eaton. They went on to become the most important pop producers in town, in this writer's opinion, though there a number of other esteemed candidates.
Bill's jazzy material expanded in several directions, and one focus became the sixties-influenced pop sound of Burt Bacharach and the Brill Building mafia, among other things like Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Danny Wilson, French and Brazilian music... Curiously devoid of blues or bluegrass influences, his grasp of all things pop, rock, and soul oriented is encyclopedic, in an entirely artistic way. Classic Country he also seems to have a love for, though I've not seen him write too much in that vein.
He's a suburban Jersey culture vulture, from the land of Frank, who aspires to be published in the humor pages of the New Yorker someday. He is already a respected music journalist, and a longtime editor of Performing Songwriter Magazine. He still contributes to that publication regularly, as well as to the legendary English magazine Mojo. He is currently working on his second book of interviews, In Their Own Words, for Praeger. His first book is called Behind the Muse. And as a humorist, he has penned a very funny book called The Sterling Huck Letters, a collection of prank letters and their equally ridiculous responses from companies and organizations ripe for Sterling's picking.
Their first breaks as a duo came from Japan, and that story is well documented in our first interview. They've had very good luck over there, major airplay and several Top Ten songs. Their success at home has been well-deserved but slow in arriving. They appeared on Conan O'Brian, but have yet to be broken in any substantial way in the States. Nashville's Compass Records have released a few discs (God bless 'em) with little apparent promotion. It's an absolute mystery to me why labels like Ryko, YepRoc, BarNone, and a number of other possibles have not scooped up this incredible duo, with a songwriter of apparently endless great material.
A few years back, the Spanish label Siesta commissioned the group to do an electronic album (see our review of Words You Whisper) and recently popped up again with a modest budget to record a disc of their artistic choosing.
This meant a few things. First, that Swan Dive would not have to do a happy record, which the Japanese market rather expects from them, as it is their image there. Secondly, it meant that they'd probably have to record in Brad's house, since the studio was more expensive, and was indeed already booked. So, as fate would have it, the way was made clear for the sad and beautiful record that they were keen to make, with an emphasis this time on strings, courtesy of the deeply talented Chris Carmichael. William and Marlys [pronounced MAR-liss] is a real achievement in the rarely attempted Bookends vein. If you've not yet heard our good friends Swan Dive, I'm afraid we rather insist that you do so at the earliest convenience, that is to say, these clips right here.
Thank you. And now, without undo ado, our conversation with Bill DeMain and Molly Felder, Swan Dive.