Band of the Day

2012.12.23

Swan Dive

Indulge in a cozy night in with the jazzy, vintage sounds of a Nashville duo
She's a little volcano. Ukulele strums, the beat of the drums. Aloha! Here she comes.
lyrics from Honolulu Lulu

“Mayfair has a heart full of hope and a shoe full of rain,” says Bill DeMain, one half of the pop duo Swan Dive. “As with all of our records, there’s a feeling of uplift and optimism, tempered with an undertow of melancholy.”

“That’s just how we see the world,” adds Molly Felder.

The album’s rockabilly-flavored opener, “Down On Love,” certainly supports that outlook. Over fingersnaps, upright bass and rolling piano, Felder delivers a tongue-in-cheek, heart-on-sleeve look at the reversal that Spring can pull on even the most jaded lovers.

The sunny day-cloudy day feeling continues throughout the baker’s dozen of songs, from the kissing-close intimacy of “Topsy Turvy Love” and James Bond-ian sensuality of “Caprice” to the dreamy pop of “New Wave” and Hawaiian-flavored “Under The Palms.”

Twelve years and nine albums on from their debut, DeMain and Felder are constantly renewing their approach to music-making, adding fresh instrumental flavors such as ukulele (“We’ve both gone crazy over the uke,” says Felder), and inviting several first-time collaborators into the mix.

Most prominent is acclaimed popmeister David Mead.

“David is someone I’ve known and admired for a long time,” says DeMain. “To me, he’s like the 21st century answer to Paul Simon. A brilliant singer and songwriter. We co-wrote nine songs for his latest album, then six for the Swan Dive record.”

First of these is the soaring, theatrical ballad “Precious Bryant,” which takes its unusual title from the name of a female blues singer from Georgia. “It’s one of my favorite songs on the record,” says DeMain, “and maybe my all-time favorite vocal by Molly. She did it in one take, live. It’s really a tour de force.”

Also from the DeMain-Mead songbook comes the playful cabaret humor of “A Note From The Management” (“A nod to Blossom Dearie there,” says DeMain, “and another terrific vocal from Molly”), the Beatle-esque “Love Don’t Leave Me Now” and the rollicking, uke-powered tribute to a favorite dog, “Half Breed Stan.”

“I love Nilsson’s ‘Me And My Arrow’ and the Beatles’ ‘Martha My Dear’ and have always wanted to write a ‘dog song,’ says DeMain. “David has this Bassett-Beagle mix named Stan who has a wonderfully stoic personality, so we came up with this theme song for him.”

Another new collaborator is the Pearlfishers’ David Scott, who co-wrote and played on the wistful “Once I Lived In London.”

“I’m a big fan of the Pearlfishers,” says DeMain, “so it was a thrill to write with David. It turns out that we both had similar experiences when we were younger in moving to London in search of fame and fortune. I think the song captures that feeling of being on your own in a big city for the first time. There’s so much excitement, but trepidation too. And yes, I really did sing Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’ and Yaz in the Tube stations.”

While much of Mayfair was recorded at various home studios, three songs – “Caprice,” “Precious Bryant” and “Pencil Thin Mustache” – were cut at Nashville’s RCA Studio B, the legendary room where Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and many others made their best-known records.

Felder says, “To honor the history and vibe of the room, we recorded live to two-inch tape. We set up the band in a circle in the middle of the room, without much isolation and captured live performances. It really keeps you on your toes. The vintage mics, plate reverb and echo chamber above the studio’s ceiling gave the songs that big warm sound that you hear on classic records from the ’50s and ’60s. It was really a treat for us to record at Studio B.”

The tracks for the album were mixed by the duo’s longtime producer Brad Jones, lending the album an appealing blend of homemade charm and studio sparkle. With its springtime pop flavor and keen emotional undercurrents, Mayfair will be a treat for Swan Dive fans around the world, new and old.