Punching Swans – Greg Webster (guitar and vocals), Joe Wise (bass and vocals) and Pablo Paganotto (drums) – have just released their second album “Mollusc” through Skingasm Records, which has already garnered rave reviews and extensive radio play. In this, their first full-length “print” interview, the 2/3’s Medway-based band talk to Aidan Hehir about how they started, how it feels to punch swans, their influences, Pete Bevan’s infallibility, the Medway music scene and their nipple-themed future plans.
Aidan: So how did the band start?
Joe: It started at a “Twin Peaks Night” around the end of 2011. Greg’s then band Houdini couldn’t play so he got me and Matt Bonner to play.
Greg: Yeah, we were called “Laura Palmer and the One-Eyed Jacks”
Joe: We had about two rehearsals and it went really well so after that Greg and I wanted to jam and we didn’t have a drummer so I suggested Pablo.
Pablo: I was in “The Explorers Collective” at that time. I’d been the drummer in “The Contortionists” with Joe.
Joe: It was a side project. Just us three getting together having a jam to see what happened. And it was good and we stuck at it.
Aidan: How did you decide on the name “Punching Swans”?
Joe: Very briefly we were called “Randy Marsh”, one of the dads from South Park.
Greg: We chose it through texts we sent each other. It was a text war.
Joe: That was an epic exchange. We had a huge list of names and it was the one that made us laugh most.
Pablo: Wasn’t it also an attempt to shock and annoy some people?
Greg: Yeah it is quite reactionary isn’t it? It’s violent and funny and that’s what we wanted.
Pablo: I don’t think anyone would think that we were actually advocating punching swans…probably because we’d come off worse.
Joe: If you did punch a swan I imagine it would be kind of flimsy. Probably like punching a balloon.
Aidan: They can hurt you with those wings apparently.
Pablo: They say they can break a man’s arm.
Greg: Yeah, we also liked the idea of a swan that punches people.
Aidan: What are your main influences?
Pablo: I listen to a lot of British post-punk music and art-school stuff. I think Joe and Greg’s influences are possibly more American than mine.
Joe: Kind of. I just have an aesthetic that I like; I want the bass to sound a certain way.
Greg: It’s always been a jam thing. Sometimes in bands you say “I’d really like a band that sounds like this” but we’ve never done that. What we play is just what we sound like when we play together.
Pablo: That’s the lovely thing about this band; I think in all my other bands there was a real attempt to have a particular sound. What I liked about us was the musical freedom of jamming with two other fine musicians and just enjoying it.
Joe: Most of the time we don’t rehearse, we just jam. It’s a bit like having a kick around. Not that I like football or play it. This is the easiest band I’ve ever been in; it’s no effort at all.
Greg: Yeah there’s no worrying about going wrong, none of that anxiety that can ruin a whole gig.
Aidan: You describe yourselves as “heavy math punk”; is that a genre you came up with yourselves?
Joe: That’s the closest we could get to describing how our sound crosses over because we’re not fret tapping, ridiculous time signatures math rock.
Pablo: That’s funny because I often say, “Joe why are you doing this to me? Why are you putting in all these weird skip beats?” Like most rock drummers I’m used to playing in 4/4 time.
Joe: We are a tiny bit math.
Pablo: Yeah but math is very head-led whereas we’re more feel orientated. We are math but we’re not as polished as some.
Greg: No, hence the word “punk”. It is what it is and it does it cos it fucking wants to do it.
Joe: It’s sort of grungey. It’s heavier than indie and not metal so the only other place to go is grunge.
Greg: No its not. I hate that word, it’s horrible. All those words are horrible; it’s pointless trying to fit into them.
Aidan: Do you think there’s any point to those labels?
Greg: No, never. It’s just because being online you have to pick one don’t you?
Joe: It’s like with my other band Frau Pouch people ask me what we sound like and I say, “We sound a bit like the Pixies”, and they say they’ve never heard of them. I’m like, “You’re shitting me?”
Aidan: The new album is full of very rich and bizarre imagery; what’s going on or do you want people to figure it for themselves?
Greg: There’s a strong narrative; the whole album is a world.
Joe: People can figure it out; the artwork is quite explicit about that. It’s kind of “Where The Wild Things Are” meets “Lovecraft”.
Greg: There was one draft of the artwork, an old school map but we decided not to spell it out for people.
Aidan: In creating that world you seem to have taken the lyrics seriously rather than just throw-away punk lyrics.
Greg: Yeah, as we accumulated songs we said, “Oh that would tie in with that” and it sort of built itself.
Joe: It kind of just happened.
Pablo: It wasn’t particularly planned but the joy for me was hearing it when it was finished and I remember saying to Joe and Greg that there was a strong theme and narrative, because I only heard the vocals later after we recorded the instruments. And the art adds a real aesthetic.
Aidan: Have you got any favourite songs on the new album?
Joe: Yeah, “Rhino in Heels”. And “Monster Pilots” because I wasn’t expecting that to turn out so good. “Favourite Nightmare” live is awesome, just absolutely mental.
Pablo: I like “Limpet” a lot because the middle bit sounds like Can. Like something off “Tago Mago”. I like “Hell Fissure” too because it’s a really stupid punk song.
Joe: Every time we play that Greg tries to play it as fast as humanly possible and we can’t keep up.
Greg: That’s the point of the song. It’s on the edge of falling apart.
Aidan: You’ve already got some good radio play; what are your hopes for the album?
Greg: Just for people to hear it and enjoy it. I think ultimately it’s about making it so you can share it. So other people can listen to that other world that you’ve made and just enjoy it, right? It’s been nice having Pete [Bevan] and the Skingasm guys to help promote it more than we could do on our own.
Pablo: I’m really grateful to the Skingasm guys because I’m hopeless at promotion. It’s great to have friends who enjoy what we do and are supportive.
Joe: I’m just interested to see what happens; I’ve got no expectations really. I’d always rather have peer respect than fame; we’re not going to be famous. It’s just interesting that we’ve been played on Radio 1. I’m like, “Oh my god really!”
Greg: It’s fucking hilarious.
Aidan: You played in Rafters in Maidstone with Slaves and Mourning Birds who have both gone down a more commercial orientated route, Slaves in particular, is that something you want to avoid?
Joe: If I could make a living out of Punching Swans I’d do it. But even bands like Future of the Left struggle to do that as their job. Or Les Savy Fav or Shellac; this is what destroys my brain.
Pablo: I’ve always preferred inky fanzines to football stadiums and I know this might sound like a cliché but enjoying doing it is why you should do it.
Greg: Being with Skingasm has enabled us to get down to the creative stuff though we’re still involved; it’s not like you’d get with a major label where it would be, “You’re the band, we deal with the other stuff”. We’re all involved and it’s a nice little clan.
Pablo: And we trust Pete implicitly. It’s like, “If Pete says that it must be true”.
Aidan: And what about playing in London; lots of bands seem to think they have to play there three nights a week and concentrate their efforts there.
Joe: We want to play London more but the London DIY scene is dwindling; Rip This Joint is very sporadic, I Hate The Kids has stopped, Double Edge Scissor finished. Now you’re largely left with rubbish promoters who put on five or six bands of different genres just to make money.
Aidan: Do you think the decline of the DIY scene there is a general trend?
Joe: Its funny, some of the people involved say the Medway scene is more interesting than the London scene at the moment.
Pablo: Yeah, as someone who lives in London and has played in London for fifteen years, I’d say the scene down here is much more interesting.
Greg: I think that’s what’s good about being in a little town; you’ve got maybe one or two venues so everyone makes an effort to put on good stuff. Whereas in London you’ve got an infinite amount of venues and c***s who want to put on gigs.
Pablo: I can count on the fingers of one hand all the bands in London who I’ve seen who I thought were original and interesting and not derivative. I come down here though and there’s so many good bands around.
Aidan: How healthy do you think the Medway music scene is right now?
Greg: The venue thing is a big problem.
Joe: There’s tons of good bands but where the hell are they going to play? Places keep telling bands to turn down. I don’t know how we can fix that. The Billabong is one of the only places where you can play as loud as you want.
Greg: It’s a great venue but it’s a bummer that you have to hire it because it means you have to charge on the door.
Aidan: Ok, some stupid questions; which band would you most like to support, alive or dead?
Pablo: I have to say The Fall; not The Fall now, The Fall between 1978 and 1995. Now there’s a load of anonymous musicians in the group and Smith’s just treading water a bit.
Joe: I’m stuck between two, Les Savy Fav and Shellac.
Greg: Between Nirvana and Sonic Youth. I’d say Nirvana. They’re my favourite band.
Aidan: If you could have another member in the band who would it be?
Joe: Another drummer, Thomas Close; having him play naked would be pretty cool.
Pablo: If we’re talking double drums I’d have Bill Bruford from King Crimson. Or Karl Burns from The Fall.
Greg: I really like what we’ve got as a three piece. It pushes you to be creative with what you’ve got.
Aidan: So, finally, what’s next?
Joe: We’re going to do a six track EP about nipples.
Pablo: Are we?
Joe: Yeah that’s happening!
Punching Swans album release gig is at The Billabong Club, Rochester, on Friday 22nd August, with support from Shitwife and Black Light Brigade. “Mollusc” is available through bandcamp here: https://punchingswans.bandcamp.com/album/mollusc
Punching Swans on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PunchingSwans
Words and picture: Aidan Hehir