Interview: Headswim

It’s been interesting, because we were all the same people, but back then we were very different people. We were young and confident and didn't care about anybody else's opinion about what we were doing.

With their debut album Flood, released back in 1994, Headswim mixed grunge riffs, crucial psychedelic flourishes, dense samples and passionate vocals over a massive groove to create a record that still sounds brilliant today. The band sadly split up after their second album Despite Yourself and were destined to be remembered for those two great albums and a whole host of well recurved live shows. Over twenty years later however, great news broke that Headswim were back with not only a re-release of Flood but also a special live reunion gig by the band. Gavin Brown caught up with Headswim bass player Clovis Taylor to get the inside story of the redux edition of Flood, the band’s live return  and the history of Headswim.

E&D: You’re just about to reissue your debut album Flood. How did the idea to reissue the album come about?

Clovis: Good question. Well, there are two main points really. One was that I happened to see an article in a newspaper that Sony Music, who Headswim were signed to back in the day, cancelled all debts to artists signed to that label before the year 2000. By the time Headswim left that label in late 90s, we were in a lot of debt, that kind of stymied any attempts to reissue any material because Sony, of course, would have wanted a lot of money for that to happen, they would have expected a lot of revenue to come back from sales, which would have made things very difficult for us, but they cancelled all debts, which was interesting. I just happened to see that in a newspaper and then a Facebook group was set up to fans who were frustrated about the band, disappearing really. We had two LPs, we tried to make a third LP, but that’s another story and then we just kind of disappeared, Dan, and Tom, the brothers from the band, they went on to do other projects. And Nick, the keyboard player, became Mew’s keyboard player. I went off and just got an ordinary day job. It was the combination of those two things, the debts been wiped by the record label, and the Facebook group.

E&D: Did Sony not tell you or anyone from the from the band? It seems a bit strange they you had to learn that from a newspaper!

Clovis: Exactly. Yeah, exactly! I mean, there you go, that’s serendipity for you, right. We probably wouldn’t ever have known had I not seen it in The Guardian, and then in under a minute, that was, we qualify for that. I managed to get a response from them by just firing off a few e mails, and to be fair to them, they have been 100% cooperative with us. They’ve  given us everything we want. Initially, I approached Sony to say do you want to do the reissue but the numbers that would have been involved would have been too small, so by chance, one of the guys on the Facebook group, the Headswim fan page, a guy called Joel Clayton, he runs his own record label called Trapped Animal. He was like, wow, you know, I used to listen to Headswim when I was 14, I’ve got a small independent record label. Wouldn’t it be great if we could work together and re-release Flood, so that’s how it worked out.

E&D: How was the experience of looking back at the album and revisiting that time?

Clovis: It’s it’s a well worn phrase, Gavin, but it’s been emotional. We’re in our 50s now, the band, when we made Flood, we were in our early 20s and we didn’t have a care in the world. We were thinking Okay, this is the beginning of a career in music that will see us into our old age. We just wanted to create, it sounds corny, but we just like playing music together. We like writing music together. We like trying to play as well as we could, and put a realistic interpretation of the music onto record, so looking back on it, it’s been interesting, because we were all the same people, but back then we were very different people. We were young and confident and didn’t care about anybody else’s opinion about what we were doing. For example, we were just so confident that we could play live well. We had a good fanbase and we were cocky, you know. As for coming back, I’m glad we’re doing it now because I think maybe in another ten years, we might not have the energy or the enthusiasm to do it. I’m aware of that. I’m aware of that in my life span. This is it, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic!

E&D: You’ve obviously reformed to play Flood in full at The Underworld in Camden. Are you excited about that and how did did the live gig come together? It’s been two decades since you’ve played live!

Clovis: Yeah, man. Absolutely, reforming the band was never part of the plan. That was not on the cards. As I told you how this all came about, I approached the other three members of the band and said, Would you be willing to look at reissuing some of our back catalogue. Yes was the reply, but there was a consensus to do the first album Flood. Then we had the conversation of okay, then, when it gets released, what should we do? Should we do a signing? Just turn up a venue, I don’t really know. We could play the record, and then we could meet the fans, say hello and sign stuff., but it became obvious. It’s like, Well, look, we’re all still here. We’re still friends, we can still play, why don’t we do a gig? We committed to it. We’ve been rehearsing solidly. We’re sounding good now, but it is a daunting prospect of tread the boards again for just one gig, remember, it’s not a tour, we’re just doing this show, so far anyway, so there’s a lot of pressure riding on it, we’ve got to get it right. We’ve got to sound good, but at the same time, enjoy ourselves. I would say it’s been a test of our abilities.


E&D: Have you all kept in touch with each other over the years?

Clovis: Yeah, more or less, we’ve always kept in touch. We’ve met up occasionally and we’ve kept tabs on each other’s lives and what we’re doing. I was very much supportive of Dan’s BlackCar project. In my opinion, it was probably overlooked. Those two records that Dan recorded under the BlackCar moniker are absolutely superb, across any genre, it doesn’t matter what you’re into, it’s just brilliant songwriting, could have been any style of music, so yeah, we kept in contact with each other and being in a band, it does test your patience with each other, you start friends, but of course, you spend a lot of time with each other and it’s a very diplomatic process as well, being in a band. It’s no good having one person saying, This is how it’s going to be because inevitably, everyone else gets pissed off. Diplomacy is important and  I think we were, on the whole, diplomatic with each other which has paid off because we’re still friends. We’ve still got a sense of humour about the whole thing and been able to reform to do this gig and cooperate with each other regarding the record.

E&D: Did the idea of reforming come up at any point, say ten years ago or whatever, or was it always a case of Headswim being done and dusted?

Clovis: Kind of like that, Gavin. I can only speak for myself, but I definitely hung up my bass guitar, because for me was, it was emotional for me, the band splitting up, and I didn’t really want to be in another band. I just thought, Well, that’s that, I’m gonna go and get a boring nine to five job now and pay the rent. I didn’t really want to face trying to form another band or join another band. It’s a daunting prospect, especially when you put a lot of effort into a band like Headswim like we all did and to begin that process again, so no we hadn’t really spoken about it, but as I said, we were still friends, so we would swap stories, you know, you remember this? Have you seen this on YouTube? That kind of thing, but the first conversation about reforming or doing any kind of reissue etc? only happened months ago.

E&D: Going back to the gig does it feel surreal to be playing it at the same venue you filmed the video for for ‘Dead’ all those years ago and is that why you chose chose the venue for the reunion gig?

Clovis: No, that’s a good point. Well, spotted! No, it just worked out that way. We were discussing what venues to play. The Underworld came out on top because of its accessibility for fans from all over, Someone’s coming from the States, believe it or not, to come and see us. People from all over the country. To get to Camden Town, there are major rail stations fairly nearby. It’s about 500 capacity, which we thought it’s about right. Now, if we don’t sell it out, then we won’t completely shame ourselves and yet at the same time, if we do sell it out, which we have, it will be a glorious atmosphere, so The Underworld  worked out. Then of course, as you pointed out, yeah, we recorded a video there for ‘Dead’ there and it will be odd. I’m not particularly looking forward to comparing the visual imagery. I’m talking from a very vain egotistical point of myself then, now on the second side of the stage, playing music, so maybe I won’t study that footage. I mean, it’s great, isn’t it? It’s great that the venue is still there, of course, because so many venues have closed, The Underworld is a great venue in Britain and I’m glad it’s still there, and I’m glad we’re playing

E&D: It must be a big thrill for the band, for the gig to be sold out?

Clovis: Honestly, it’s such a buzz and it’s given us a real boost, just knowing that on the night, there’ll be a really fizzing atmosphere. Just looking out on a sea of heads, and and not having to worry about any kind of awkward spaces at the rear of the venue. It’s given us all a really good boost and we can’t wait.

E&D: What are your main recollections recording Flood and how was the experience of doing it at a special place like Rockfield?

Clovis: It was absolutely brilliant, Gavin. I’ve nothing but fond memories of that time recording the album, and we feel so fortunate to have recorded it at Rockfield. Like I was saying earlier, back in the day, we were cocky. We just took that as almost like a right, yeah, we’re doing Rockfield! Now of course, I look back and I think, bloody hell! We were so fortunate to be in the music industry at that time when there was money to put back into studios like that, which I know is very different now, so I feel nothing but great fortune to have to have been there. We had a brilliant time. A guy called Dave Eringa produced the record. And I knew Dave when we were teenagers from various music clubs in in and around East London. I just knew him as as a mate and then he was introduced to us again by the record company as a possible producer for the record, so that in itself was fun. We had a great time. We smoked a lot, we took a lot of drugs, we misbehaved, we had unbridled creative freedom, and that’s what that Rockfield Studios gave us because you live there, and you get dinners given to you. It’s up to you. You can stay in the studio all night if you want. You can take advantage of live echo chambers. You have that brilliant valve technology recording equipment, which I don’t even know whether it’s still there. I guess it must be and of course the whole place is saturated with history. Rockfield Studios with particularly rock bands who’ve been through there as well of course. You just feel this atmosphere when you’re there and we had a great time. The band was really firing. We were touring a lot then as well and knew the songs back to front. We knew each other as well very, very well. We had brilliant engineer called Phil Alt as well, who was local, he got some great sounds, positioned all the microphones perfectly. Dave was the perfect producer for that record, he had just done the Manics Gold Against The Soul album, he was full of confidence and enthusiasm. We were very enthusiastic, so it all worked out really well.

E&D: How was it revisiting the songs from Flood for the gig?

Clovis: It was terrible at first! Tom, our drummer, he had a shed in his back garden that was kind of soundproofed and initially we set up in there. I gently began to approach this material again and at first we played quietly, we played relatively softly because we didn’t want to annoy the neighbours and also we just weren’t used to it. Tom just wasn’t used to physically raising his arms that high to strike the kit because that’s how we played back then. I played very hard. Nick, the keyboard player as well. My God, what a job he’s got. He’s playing many, many different parts at once, triggering samples, which we were into back then as well. Lots of repetitive basslines and keyboard parts. Dan, not only does he have to play those mad riffs, at a hundred miles an hour, but he’s got to sing as well.  Since then, he’s learned to sing in a different way, so in a way, he’s had to untie the voice that he sings in now, take it back to that old voice when he was screaming. I remember cancelling tour dates, because it was common for him to lose his voice because he was putting so much into it. I think gradually, we’ve built up. Dan has managed to approach singing them now in a way that he can still hit those high notes without shredding his throat. We’re match fit, we’re getting stronger but it’s been really, really difficult. That material is fast and sometimes complex and very demanding but it’s going well.

E&D: Have you had any discussions about doing the redux treatment for the Despite Yourself album?

Clovis: The way I’m looking at it at moment, Gavin, is one step at a time, so who knows? Maybe? I think we decided to do Flood because we were so young then and it doesn’t come with any baggage. I think when we did Despite Yourself, we had a top 30 hit from that record, we’re on Top of the Pops but maybe we felt that we were shoved into a category of, oh are they doing this now because they think that’s popular. I guess there may be a bit of residual sting from those days associated with Despite Yourself. Never say never, and who knows, we might play one or two songs from it at The Underworld as well on the 7th of October. We also recorded a third album that never saw the light. Dan, when he formed BlackCar which I spoke of previously, he re/recorded some of that material from that third Headswim album, in part because those songs were his and he wrote them and so fair enough, but there is some material that we wrote collectively, that is yet to see the light of day. Whether or not the band will agree because as I said earlier, diplomacy is important amongst us and we’ve all got to agree and we’ve all got to be behind it. That remains to be seen. Despite Yourself, third album stuff maybe. I reckon it’ll depend how this gig goes and the level of enthusiasm and general good cheer we’re in after the event.

E&D: Looking back at the Flood days, how was the experience of opening Monsters Of Rock at Donington in 1994? That must have been amazing!

Clovis: It was, it was brilliant. We loved it. It was the first year they had a second stage. Donington previously just had the main stage with the big bands. This time, they had the smaller stage for young up and coming bands, which is a great idea, right. Now all festivals have loads of stages. It was great, because we got to play with bands at a similar level of us. We had a great time. We were touring a lot by that time, so we were match fit. I do remember Cadburys sponsoring and giving out star bars confectionery and remember quite a few of them did accidentally slip out of the audience’s grasp and end up on the stage! I don’t know how this happened, but I do remember feeling a bit like a tin duck in an air rifle range!, but it was great, man and  we had a brilliant time. A lot of the time we were just taking the piss out of hair metal bands, enjoying ourselves and we absolutely revelled in it! We felt at that time and I don’t want to sound egotistical, but we were playing in a slightly different form from other rock bands, if you like, keyboards featured a great deal in our music and that was something that not necessarily other bands were doing. We even had sample drum tracks as well, we were into Check Your Head by the Beastie Boys. That kind of thing kind of bled into our sound, so we felt a bit cocky and we like to be a little bit outside of the norm.

E&D: Headswim also played loads of other festivals. The first ever T In The Park, Reading, Phoenix. Have you got good memories of playing all these huge festivals back in the day?

Clovis: I totally do, because we were really well received, particularly at T In The Park, we had a beautiful reception. We were greeted with great enthusiasm and the same as Reading as well. We were lucky in that we had a loud rock sound, and yet at the same time, Daniel Glendining, has got a beautiful voice and we do songs like ‘Years On Me’ which feature on this record, which have a certain delicacy about them, without sounding pretentious. We were a band of more than one hue in the terms in respect to the music we were making, so we could go to T in the Park, or we could go to Reading , and we could go to Donington and appeal to a rock audience. at the same time, we had enough music in our set to appeal to a more indie focus music fan who might be there to see somebody else but maybe they’ve heard Headswim and thought, I don’t really know what that is, but that’s alright. We had a great time and we recently found some brilliant footage of Headswim playing at T In The Park that we’ve put on YouTube, and wow, it breaks my heart to watch it. I can barely look at it and how long my hair was!

E&D: You mentioned how much touring you did. Headswim toured with Body Count, how did that tour go?

Clovis: Oh my god! Yeah, it was great, Body Count were absolute gentleman and they welcomed us with open arms on that tour. They gave us time to soundcheck. They always said hello to us, they spoke to us. We felt welcome on that tour. We were highly amused at how during our soundcheck Body Count would set up their weightlifting equipment on the floor of the venue in front of the stage and benchpress and lift weights, which we found hilarious in a bizarrely homoerotic kind of way! It was great and they were great guys. However, I’ve got to mention at that particular time during that tour, Dan and Toms younger brother Matthew, who did all the artwork for Flood, was undergoing treatment for leukaemia, so we had to cut back the tour because their brother was so ill. Dan and Tom had to return back to be at his bedside. It was a tour that I remember with great fondness and most of the time, we were laughing and joking. Yet it had this dark side of Matthew, who sadly eventually died from leukaemia at 18 years old. when the band was operational.

E&D: You also toured and played with a lot of different bands like Rage Against The Machine, Tool, Paw and loads more. How do you feel having played these great gigs and on such varied bills?

Clovis: Yeah, that’s right, exactly. That’s a good point. Well, for one thing, I feel very fortunate, I’m speaking for the band here but like I said earlier, we were a band that was signed to a label at the time, which probably wouldn’t happen now, with a budget and an advance. Imagine that, getting an advance! There were lots of music venues to take your pick of playing in and the live circuit was very, very healthy. Lots of bands were touring, lots of bands that we could support, like those bands and Monster Magnet as well, who we toured with, which was great, that we would appeal to their fans, as well as maybe not being a typical kind of rock band, if you see what I mean. We had some great times, and I’ve got to say every single one of those bands, Tool in particular were great. We toured with Brad as well, who were a Pearl Jam offshoot, Stone Gossard’s band. He was absolutely a gentleman and treated us well and there was a good camaraderie there. Sometimes, when you see a band from the stage, obviously, there’s quite a bit of theatre in seeing a band and some musicians can come across as sometimes being quite terrifying but you’ll often find offstage, they are absolute sweethearts. We had a great time and we were always welcomed warmly by the fans as well from those bands because a lot of the time  rock fans are interested in the music and are keen to discover something different and at the same time familiar so it was a great, great time.

E&D: What have been some of the other highlights with Headswim over the years that stick out in your memory today?

Clovis: Oh my god, well. Recording at Rockfield Studios is one of them, recording Despite Yourself at Wool Hall Studios, which was Van Morrison’s studio. I remember he borrowed a guitar from Dan. That was good, and then we recorded the third album at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios in Wiltshire. I mean, the names are really sound like I could have made it up but we did all this stuff. That’s incredible, you know? No wonder we were so much in debt by the time that label dropped us! I remember fondly appearing on television shows like TFI Friday and Top of the Pops. I remember meeting Terry Hall, we were all fans of The Specials. That’s the kind of music we kind of grew up with, the 2 Tone thing, and the The Specials  of course are absolute British institutions when it comes to iconic music. I remember meeting Terry, who was at the video shoot for ‘Tourniquet’ because his partner was directing the video. I remember being blown away him coming up to us and saying hello. I remember thinking “shit it’s Terry Hall” Of course, he’s a really down to earth and lovely man. He was just wanting to say hello to us, so that was a great memory. Like I mentioned before, the amount of tours we did was great fun but the best memories were being in a band of friends, where most of the time, we were just having a hilarious time in the back of a tour bus driving up and down motorways, occasionally even getting on an aeroplane. I mean, can you imagine?!  If we did tours of the States, for example, in great big tour buses, all this stuff seems like a parallel universe, and it’s a different life to me, but it all happened and I’ve got nothing but fond memories about it. Now today, you know, with the Facebook group, and meeting Joel Clayton, the owner of Trapped Animal records, we get that the band is getting a reflection from all that love we had back then and it’s quite moving. I feel like I owe them something now because of all this attention. I don’t want to disappoint anyone!

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