The Swell Fellas are Maryland-born/Tennessee three-piece whose swirling blendy of heavy psych rock and alternative caught this interviewer’s ears with their stunning Novaturia, one of the best releases of 2022. I reached out to the guys to talk about creating music during lockdown, gear choices and of course… desert island albums, because you never know when you might wind up on an island with only a volleyball and essential albums to keep you company.
First off, thank you so much for attending this interview. Who are The Swell Fellas and when did you get together?
Hell yeah of course, thanks for reaching out Rob. The Swell Fellas are Conner Poole (guitar/vox), Mark Rohrer (bass/vox), and Chris Poole (drums/vox). We started playing together in the summer of 2017.
You were originally formed in Ocean City, Maryland. What prompted the move to Nashville, Tennessee?
Well, we knew we wanted to get out of our hometown for a little while to get ourselves out there. We never would have thought of Nashville until we got connected with some killer human beings that lived there and inspired us. We were lucky enough to check it out a bit in 2019 just before covid hit and record some music in town. I think we realized quickly the opportunities and advantages that living in a city like Nashville can offer and decided to let it rip. It’s been cool, we’re surrounded by lots of sick gear, great bands and people.
we realized quickly the opportunities and advantages that living in a city like Nashville can offer…
Who are your main influences? What artists made you think ‘I want to do that!’?
Oh man, so many. We grew up pretty heavily spinning classics and grunge (Zep, Sabbath, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Tool etc.) but honestly, it’s probably the bands we see locally and the crew we’re surrounded by that are influencing us a ton these days. Makes us push a little harder towards finding the edge of what we’re capable of when our friends are out there playing with conviction. Check out Oginalii, Soot, and Sapna to name a few!
How does Novaturia compare to your prior releases?
Novaturia really was the peak of our introspection so far, we left ourselves pretty vulnerable. A lot of change was happening in our lives, and in the world. We moved in 2020 to continue to forge our future, and a lot of sacrifice comes with that, it was emotionally heavy. Everything was shut down and it felt really strange to move on, but we trusted it, and we feel like these songs fully reflect that state we were in. With Novaturia, we sought out to emphasize riffs, our live feel, and leave more space sonically to give some of its personal heaviness a place to rest in. We also got the opportunity to record with Mikey Allred and he destroyed the sound we were looking for. Shitchyeah
Is there a particular songwriting formula for you guys? Does it start with a riff or is it something more integral between the three of you?
Most of our songs start by hitting record on a jam session and picking our favorite parts to dial in. It’s always super collaborative. The process can take longer sometimes because we have a bunch of ideas backlogged and we might try and sneak old jams into the new ones we’re working on and vice versa. It can take some hair pulling to figure out how to make it work. It’s worth it though, when we all have a say in where something goes, it ends up being mutually agreed upon and we can all dig the outcome.
Most of our songs start by hitting record on a jam session and picking our favorite parts to dial in…
Was the pandemic lockdown of 2020 a hindrance for you or did it prompt creative endeavors?
I don’t think we were hindered much, other than having to halt the start of a more serious tour routine. We released The Big Grand Entrance in January of 2020, The Great Play Of Extension in April of 2020, and Death Race in August of 2020. We were working on writing Novaturia almost immediately after releasing Death Race and a lot of the songs are reflections of our experience during the time. So, I’d say it helped us create Novaturia. Absolutely psyched to be able to get on the road again though, holy hell.
What’s the live scene like in Nashville?
Impressive. There’s so much shit going on all of the time. So many good bands.
What gear do you guys use? Do you have a go to guitar, bass, amps, pedals, drums?
Bass: I bought a used Ferro bass in 2018 on a whim while the bass I normally used was in the shop for repair, and I haven’t looked back since. The first bass amp and cabinet I bought around 2015 is still my main rig. On our last tour I doubled up and added another amp and 6×10 cab. Sometimes I like to get away with just the one head and cab, but it all depends on the context. Conner and I both have pretty comically large pedalboards with ever-rotating cast members. I can get pretty obsessive over changing out certain effects/pedals, but overall, I’ve gotten really lucky to have mainstay pieces of gear that I rarely think twice about.
Drums: I picked up a Pearl Crystal Beat kit in 2018 while on the road and fell in love with playing an acrylic kit, the attack from the kit feels like a power up and sounds massive live. Recently I moved the 14” floor tom up to my rack position and have been playing one 16” down on the floor, the bombastic simplicity is nice. As far as cymbals go, the Zildjian K Custom Dark’s have been a go to for me and I’ve paired those crashes/hi hats with a 24” Paiste Giant Beat as a crash ride.
As Mark said we both have a lot of pedals and tend to tap dance pretty nonstop on stage…
Guitar: Right now, amp wise, I’m running two twin reverbs, one’s an old 1975 Silverface, and the other is a standard ‘68 Silverface reissue. I just started running them in stereo earlier this year, so it’s been insane messing with delays/modulation effects to widen up the stereo spectrum live. Though I mess around with other amps in the studio, live I’ve always loved starting clean and loud then shaping things from there.
As Mark said we both have a lot of pedals and tend to tap dance pretty nonstop on stage – haha. Although things do come on and off the board, a few honorable mentions lately have been the Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh, the Mr. Black Tapex 2, and an old analog Washburn Flanger that Mark let me borrow way back that just hasn’t left my board. Guitars these days are a PureSalem Classic Creep (humbucker version), a 2017 PRS CE 24, and an Epiphone Sheraton II. Our music crosses the terrain of multiple tunings, so it’s been killer having all three on the road with me to cover all that territory.
What are your ‘desert island’ albums?
Blonde Redhead ‘Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons‘
Queens Of The Stone Age ‘Self-Titled’
OM ‘God Is Good’
Dead Meadow ‘Self-Titled’
These are just a few off the ol’ dome.
What do you hope to expect going forward in the years to come?
Endless touring in the US and finally making our way to Europe, Canada, and Mexico. We’ve begun writing again as well, so more full lengths are in the works. Full speed, full commitment.
Thanks so much guys! And please use this space for any final words…
Thank you! We appreciate you getting in touch. If you’re reading this, thanks for checking us out. Hug your friends.
Interviewed by: Rob Walsh