Formed in the West Country in 2007 with four incredibly successful albums released via the hip British indie label Ninja Tune, The Heavy has not-so-quietly become one of the most sync-worthy bands in the world. Their plethora of tracks have appeared in film (Dallas Buyers Club, The Hateful Eight, The Big Short, and many others), television (Entourage, True Blood, Suits, Grey’s Anatomy, and more), movie trailers, advertisements, video games, and even the US presidential elections (Obama). Their most ubiquitous hits being, “How You Like Me Now?” and “What Makes A Good Man?” which were both heard on a multitude of platforms across the world. With the help of this notoriety, the band has built an enviable worldwide fanbase.
In the Spring of 2019, The Heavy have delivered the next exciting entry into to their impressive musical catalog with the release of their latest album “Sons.” The band comprised of Kelvin Swaby (vocals), Dan Taylor (guitar), Spencer Page (bass guitar), and Chris Ellul (drums) build upon their unique sound that has garnered them fans around the globe. Blending rock, funk and soul in their music, The Heavy creates memorable songs with infectious hooks and thought-provoking lyrics, as evidenced in the first single “Better As One.” “Written with the horrific events of Charlottesville in mind, the idea that people with an ever-changing world are still championing division and racism, is something that could never exist in my bones. And is still wholly unbelievable. We look to our heads of state to nullify, breakdown and discredit these actions if it’s detrimental to a peaceful everyday. If and when they choose not to, then we the people must come together and show that strength, happiness and a beautiful life are more effective and achievable when we work as one,” explains vocalist Kelvin Swaby.
From the opening riff of “Heavy for You” to choral finale of album closer “Burn Bright,” it is clear The Heavy have built upon the sound that launched the band to fame in 2009. “Fire,” “Put The Hurt On Me” and “A Whole Lot of Love” demonstrate the throwback sound while sounding fresh and energized for 2019. The Heavy will be making their way across the ocean in June to bring the music of “Sons” to North America. A two week promo tour will have the band playing shows in Brooklyn, NY (June 11th); Vancouver, BC (June 13th); Seattle, WA (June 14th); San Francisco, CA (June 16th); and Los Angeles, CA (June 18th).
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with The Heavy’s charismatic frontman Kelvin Swaby for an inside look at creative evolution, the making of “Sons” and what the future may hold for this band on the rise.
There’s no doubt that music has played a huge role in your life. How did the journey begin for you?
It was pretty difficult not to have music as part of my life, in my particular household. I’m one of 11 children, so there was music being played in my house from the time I woke up until the time I would go to bed. Every room would be different, so I was affected from a very, very, early age. As far as when I knew I was going to sing, I never knew. I knew I wanted to be part of music and I have always loved collecting music, so maybe it was just destined to be that way!
What went into finding your creative voice?
I think I found my voice when I met Daniel [Taylor]. I had been in a band, as had he, at the time of us meeting. We became really, really good friends, independently of anything else. You see, I remember, when I got to about 16 or 17 years old, finding samples. I would always take these little slips or ideas to people’s studios and say, “Well, I heard this and if you could just loop this then I could put a beat on it from here.” You see, the way I would sample at home was by having a record and then taking the record and play button to record and then pause it at the end of the sample. You’d have to spin it in again and take it off of pause. It was a very, very time-consuming procedure. I used to write guide vocals, melodies, lyrics and side vocals for girls to sing. When I met Daniel he was like, “Dude, you need to sing!” [laughs] I was like, “YOU need to sing!” He has this really wicked John Lennon style vocal, ya know. He encouraged me to sing and that’s how I found my creative voice. That was truly the beginning of The Heavy with my best friend telling me, “You should be singing.” He said, “You should be singing, you write great lyrics and melody.” He writes great riffs, so the two of us coming together was a match made!
When do you feel you came into your own as a frontman?
I’ve always been a fan of blues artists, as much as our band lends itself more to chip-up, old rhythm and blues, and old dirty soul. I’m a big fan of documentaries and I remember watching documentaries on James Brown since I was so young. Specifically, I remember watching this documentary on Howlin’ Wolf when I was about 18. I got to see it late because this was before YouTube and the likes! [laughs] I think I was given the DVD for my birthday or something. I remember watching it and thinking, “This dude is ridiculous! He’s ridiculous!” It didn’t matter what he was singing. As much as he is one of my favorite artists of all-time, the way that he owns the stage is unbelievable. It was just him, sitting down, licking his guitar and provoking the audience. I was blown away. I realized when I’d been given this duty by Daniel to front this project, that if I was going to go out there, we would have to sell these songs. That is essentially what Howlin’ Wolf was doing. Regardless of how slow the song was, how fast it was, or how much energy it had, he always brought so much to it. I live by that! If I’m going to go tread the boards and get out there, then I want people to remember what we’ve just done!
You and your bandmates have poured your heart and soul into this band and are anything but an overnight success. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a band?
I think the biggest challenges we’ve faced is the extensive amount of touring you have to do. The touring is really, really hard. I remember we did a few years where we were on tour for 9 to 10 months out of the year, between the U.S. and Europe. We’d have a week or two off and then head to The States to do one side, then the other, and then across the middle before heading back. That was really, really difficult. We were doing that when Daniel just had Tallula and it was really, really difficult for him. It puts the pressure on you but that’s when you discover that the people who are around you are your family because everyone is there for you at whatever stage you might be. When it becomes too hard, your emotions are incredibly fraught and you feel like you can’t go on, there is always someone there on that bus that is there for you. I think that used to be such a challenge, but I think, knowing what I just said to you is true, makes it so much easier. It’s also a representation of why we called this new record “Sons,” because we are the sons of this beast! We know what we want to do, we are fortunate to do what we do, and we’ve become family through it!
How did the ball get rolling for “Sons”? Did you have a particular vision in mind for this album?
Ya know, I’m always writing. While we were touring “Hurt and The Merciless,” I’d be at the back of the tour bus on my computer scouring my hard drive to find forgotten bits and pieces. It’s kind of like when you find change in the sofa, if you know what I mean! [laughs] It was a little bit like that. Occasionally, I’d find something, and it’d be like, “Damn! That’s just ridiculous!” I remember finding the idea for “Heavy For You.” It didn’t have a chorus or a verse, just this groove. I took it apart on the tour bus and I remember playing it on the back of the tour bus where I got it to a point where it was just like clapping that bass and drums. Thomas came in at one point, who plays lead guitar on that song, and he was just like, “DAMN, DUDE!!!” I said, “Alright, okay. That works. I think we’ve got something here.” Then Toby came in another time and said, “Swaybes, that sounds like Funkadelic. That sound is ridiculous!” I kept getting all of these reactions to what I was working on as I was digging into these little bits and pieces. Then the tour ended! I got back home, and I rested for a month or something before I started getting back into it. The tour had ended in mid-November, so just after Christmas I started getting back into it. I phoned Daniel and said, “Dan, I’m going to come back to England because I’ve got some shit that I need you to hear!” [laughs] It was a collection of eight songs. He said, “I need you to hear some shit as well!” So, we got together. I played my eight and he played his six. At that point, we were like, “We cannot tour this yet. We have to get these done!” Immediately, we realized we had fire in our hands, and we had to get it out! So, was there a purpose or a vision? We just knew we had a great collection of songs that we really, really had to get down. Inevitably, when you are writing, a few more songs come! “Better As One” and “The Thief” came during that time as well. The whole process of getting all of these tracks down was incredible!
You mentioned scouring you hard drive for bits and pieces from your creative past. What goes into documenting your ideas these days?
If you were to listen to the dictaphone on my phone, it’s just ridiculous! I have tons and tons and tons of little snippets from here and there. It’s not just words, sometimes it’s melodies that don’t make any kind of sense, but the melody is good or there might be horn lines that I might be thinking of. When I start writing, I might start with just a beat and then add a line of horns. Then I will live with that for a few days and ride around with it for a little bit. Then the melody will come, and I might get the melody down and then the concept of the song might come. Alternatively, myself and Daniel, Chris [Ellul] and Spencer [Page] will be in the room, someone will start jamming something and the song is written within the hour. It comes in a number of ways, if you know what I mean. Dan really likes to take his time writing a song. I remember when we did “Same Ol'” and that dude was playing that riff for like 2 years! [laughs] He was playing that riff at soundcheck and I was like, “That’s going to be ridiculous but maybe we should simplify it. We should play the beat kind like “We Will Rock You” from Queen or something.” And by that, I mean leaving space for the riff, basically. We fucked around with it for years! Then we were stranded in Seattle for 2 days and the song just poured out of us! It was like, “Well, alright. That’s it. All we need is strings and horns and blah, blah, blah.” That took over two years from the time he started playing that riff. Then with “Better As One,” I was jamming around the kitchen with my daughter Violetta, you know, with another beat I had found on the sofa. I was just playing around with “Come on now, Violetta. Come on … Dah dahh dahh dahh dah. Come on Violetta, yeah!” [laughs] We were just jamming in the kitchen and then it was like, “Wow! This could really be something!” Then that business happened at Charlottesville and it really felt as if, “Okay, Violetta. I’m going to take your name and we’re going to turn it into something!” That’s how that song came about in an afternoon!
What was the biggest challenge you faced with the making of “Sons” and the biggest lesson learned?
The biggest challenge, which is something we always encounter with our records, it’s us saying, “Okay, let’s take it all the way to the end and over the line ourselves.” However, we’ve always ended up saying, “Nope. We need somebody to help us to do it.” The person who helped us do it this time was a very, very good friend of ours. He’s the same guy who helped us finish and produce “The Glorious Dead” as well. His name is Paul Corkett. He’s a fantastic dude who has been my friend for over 20 years. He agreed to help us get “Sons” together and produce it with us. I love Paul, I love him to death, and I think we’ve turned out a great record because of it. I think, going forward, we’ve realized the strength of what we have as a crew. Between myself, Daniel, Chris, Spencer and Toby, who plays keys, our core is so knowledgeable. I think what we learned on this record is “Wow! I think the next record we could actually do ourselves.” I think we’ve kind of set ourselves that challenge. We’re going to believe in ourselves on the next record, ya know? Paul taught us a ton on this record but that was definitely a large lesson that came out of this, that we’re ready. We’ve always known what we wanted to do and how we wanted to address it. Individually we are very, very good but collectively we are super strong. So, let’s see what happens beyond this!
How do you think you’ve most evolved over the course of your career?
I used to enjoy livin’ in the fire! I absolutely used to love it because when you’re in the fire everything is so exciting. You are living on the edge and you’re finding yourself in dreadful situations that are exciting! [laughs] You can only live like that for so long, ya know? I think my evolution has been that I appreciate everything that I have, how I want to grow and what I want to show my children. As soon as you bring little ones involved, hopefully we’re trying to craft a world that’s a little better for them to come into. My evolution is that I just want to be better every day and not burn everything down as I go through life! [laughs]
What’s the best lesson we can take away from The Heavy and the journey you have taken together?
The best thing to do is to never follow anybody. Do what you do and do what pours out of you. Never compromise! Even in your darkest, darkest times. If you believe in what you do, there will be a light there, absolutely. There will be a light to be shown on your art. It’s such a difficult industry now. I know that we’ve been pretty fortunate to fall into the worlds of film, TV, ads, and people use what we do. That’s great but not everybody has that, so that’s why I encourage them to be as honest as they possibly can with their music. If you don’t follow anybody it will stand out and it will become known. You just have to keep your head down and believe in yourself. Good shit will happen If you believe in yourself! Believe me!
That’s an awesome outlook to have. You’re about to embark on a quick tour of the United States in support of the album. Tell us about that!
Yeah! I’m really, really looking forward to it. We just did a few dates in Europe and the set feels really good. It feels really, really good with the way the new songs have integrated with the older songs and the vibe. I’m just looking forward to kicking ass all over The States! I’m looking forward to tearing down some venues. You know when I said I don’t want to burn everything down? Well, maybe just some venues. Let’s do that! [laughs]
Thanks so much for your time today! I really appreciate it and I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the years to come!
Thank you so much for a great interview. That was really, really cool! I’ll talk to you again soon!
For the latest news and dates for The Heavy, visit their official website at www.theheavy.co.uk. Connect with the band on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. ‘Sons’ is available now and is an album not to be missed!