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Tattoos, Touring and Turning Thirty: Ten years of Swim Deep

Photo By Ellisha Iddon

October is always a strange month to navigate: an odd middle- ground point in the year where you’ve spent too much money over the summer to justify an autumnal mini-jaunt to the warmer climes of some European city, yet it still feels far too early to get excited about Christmas, and not cold enough to justify becoming a total social recluse.

Thankfully, in recent years Live at Leeds has reared its head two weeks into this miserable month to provide the people of Yorkshire with one last chance to pretend that summer isn’t quite over. Kind on the bank account of many a broke student, the festival offers an affordable day (and night) of revelry, which welcomes both established and emerging artists to independent venues across both Leeds city centre and Hyde Park.

Having spent a lovely afternoon at the Brudenell enjoying some post-punk goodness, in the early evening I found myself huddled round a bench at Hyde Park Book Club with Swim Deep, enjoying a pint or two of house lager ahead of their 9pm set. Before sitting down with the band, I’d excitedly turned to chat to some younger friends covering the event, keen to reminisce about the nostalgia seeing the band would bring after witnessing their meteoric come-up as part of B-Town scene in the early to mid 2010s. Now it’s not often you’re made to feel ancient in your early 20s, but as my 19-year-old peers gently reminded me that they were still in primary school in 2013, I realised that whilst we shared a mutual love of the band’s music, our relationship with it was very different.

Whilst I associate Swim Deep with that wonderful Digbeth era of indie spearheaded by the likes of Spilt Milk Society, JAWS and of course, Peace, they first encountered the band and began listening to their music after Harry Styles infamously donned their merch on the cover of Rolling Stone back in 2020.

As the band hurtle towards the 10th anniversary of their debut album Where The Heaven We Are in 2023, its evident that their ability to traverse generations of music fans has been key to their enduring success. Here I speak with founding members Austin Williams and Cavan McCarthy about their decade spent in Swim Deep.

Where The Heaven We Are turns 10 next year (which also marks 10 years since your first interview with DARKUS), what have some of the highlights been?

Austin: Ooh bloody hell. I think one of the biggest highlights for me is that we’ve been in a band for ten years now, and that we’ve seen so much- but not enough yet! But yea we’ve seen so much out of that first album, and the others that followed. But how much of an impact Where The Heaven We are had will be a highlight of my life forever- on my deathbed I’ll be thinking about all the things that we did… so I guess that’s a pretty good highlight.

Cavan: Mine are the obvious ones like touring Asia and America- it proved to us how much people wanted us. You need that in this industry; sometimes you feel very unwanted and not rewarded.

And when we played Birmingham town hall on that ‘Where The Heaven We Are’ Tour, actually. People never really play gigs there beyond Black Sabbath and Bowie, and I remember my mum telling me that when they were walking up to the venue, in the queue there were people with CD players blasting out the album- or whatever, like, speakers.

Austin: Grammarphones!

And the amount tattoos too- there’s a lot of people with Swim Deep tattoos out there!

Austin: You should see our DMs, it’s like a tattoo shop in there. I think whats great about that is that we’re seeing people get fresh ones all the time. I always kind of thought that maybe when you’re in a buzz band and everything’s quite exciting- that’s when people usually get a tattoo, so the fact that we’re still going 10 years later and people are still getting tattoos, that’s very exciting.

And in terms of the challenges you’ve faced- I guess Covid will always be a big one?

Austin: We lost a lot of work and we had a tour in Asia coming up at the time it happened. We got home from China in November and were supposed to be going back out in January… in fact we might have brought Covid to England?

Cavan: We definitely did.

That’s quite the headline!

Austin: One thing which has been quite annoying about Covid is that we love going to China and we’ve been there a couple of times, and have always had such a good time and reception there- it felt as though we were kind of just getting started. Then it hit, and now we’re obviously not going to make it back there any time soon.

Cavan: Although Austin was really productive in lockdown, I think everyone else it took the wind out of us a bit.

Austin: You were productive! You got a lot done… psychedelically.

Well, speaking of Asia, much like every Uni student ever I’m going travelling next year- any recommendations?

Austin: If you wanna go somewhere that’s not super touristy but also you can do that sort of thing if you want, we love this island called Ko Chang in Thailand. There’s a strip but there are no nightclubs on the island- I’d say they’ve been banned for maybe 15, 25 years. We’ve been there twice now and its incredible. there’s a bar on the island called indie beach and they love us there haha… we did a very impromptu gig there once.

Photo By Ellisha Iddon

In terms of looking back at the evolution of your sound, I was reading people’s thoughts on your latest single Little Blue and someone mentioned that it sounded quite Caribou-esque. Does the single mark a divergence from your old sound or is it more of a one-off?

Cavan: Its more of a one off. It’s completely different to our new record, probably the polar opposite.

Austin: Not in terms of the feeling though- I’d like to think there’s always a Swim Deep undercurrent to every song we make. And I think actually Little Blue showed that more than a lot of the songs we’ve done. But it was a one off- it was made around the EP ‘Familiarise Yourself’ and it was something that we wanted to do as a stop-gap before the 10 year anniversary stuff next year and the new album tour. We wanted something to keep it exciting.

So, album four is on the way, is there anything you can tell us about it?

Austin: The moniker for it is ‘heavy deep’. It’s pretty much purely guitar, quite dark and moody. We didn’t want to do the guitar thing when we first came about because everyone was doing it. We looked at bands like MGMT and Beach Boss and American music for inspiration, because as much as we loved bands like the Libertines growing up, we didn’t want to be one of those lad bands. We weren’t lads, and so we didn’t want to do that whole thing.

But this album – I don’t know, I feel as though it takes it back to the real purity of writing music. For the first time we actually are just writing with guitars…or trying to. It’s something we’ve never done before- we’ve got to keep it moving and keep it changing, or there’s no point in doing it anymore.

Familiarise Yourself With Your Closest Exit EP

So, a very interesting recent-ish development which I’m sure many people have already asked you about is Harry Styles revealing himself as a fan of Swim Deep by wearing your merch on the cover of Rolling Stone. Did you find out at the same time your fans did or had he reached out to you beforehand?

Austin: It was a surprise to us when we saw it, but I knew he had the tshirt! We had the tshirt at X’s and then he took it from X’s house.

Cavan: Yea he’s friends with my housemate!

Austin: I think he must know how much that must mean for a band when you’re wearing someone’s merch- its been done before with Kurt Cobain, and so many other people. I think it’s so amazing that he did that and then asked us to support him on tour, but then Covid got in the way. But even the fact that we were on the bill, on the poster, helped us gain loads of new fans and actually reconnected some fans that were fans in the first place. We always had fans who were also fans of other boy bands like One Direction, so I think there was a reconnection when people saw Harry Styles wearing the tee, like two worlds colliding. Yea that was pretty cool.

And finally, as you head towards your ten-year anniversary and prepare to head back out on the road in November, can you recommend any foolproof hangover cures?

Austin: Ginger shots, and not being 30.

To stay up to date with all the latest Swim Deep news visit Instagram: @swimdeepbaby

Article By Maddi Fearn - Portraits By Ellisha Iddon

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