Not to get all sentimental (or cliched), but it seems like just yesterday that Melissa Swingle and her cohorts in the initial Trailer Bride lineup were making their debut at The Cave, Local 506, The Brewery, and other local, new-artist-friendly establishments. It's actually been more like 2,700 yesterdays--not to mention four albums, with a fifth on the way--since those early performances. Time flies when you're making enchantingly off-center, roots-based music and having fun.
Swingle has been Trailer Bride's driving force over the years, writing and delivering songs about snakes and suicide, insects and dancing outlaws, sounding a bit like a Southern Barbara Manning in the process. And it's the Southern part of that description that reviewers seem to like to latch onto, repeatedly using nifty phrases like "swampy, backwoods mojo," and "Flannery O'Connor-esque."
With the approach of Hope Is a Thing with Feathers, Trailer Bride's fourth release for Chicago-based Bloodshot Records, I had the opportunity to talk with Melissa Swingle about the new record, the old South, and Trailer Bride's rock-hungry international audience.
The Independent: For anyone who hasn't yet discovered Trailer Bride, can you take a little time to say how you got started writing songs and making music, and how the band came together?
Melissa Swingle: I got started about six or seven years ago. I just decided to learn how to play guitar, so I taught myself how to play. And I was no good at playing covers. That bored me, because I could never play them as well as the originals. But I would play along with bass lines and stuff like that. Eventually, it hit me that I had a lot to say my own self. It was a lot more fun singing my own songs, so I started writing songs. I'm fortunate enough to live around here where there's lots of good musicians, and I got together with Daryl White and the Goolsby brothers, and we made it happen. The Goolsby brothers aren't in the band now, but I have a really good lineup with Daryl White on bass, Tim Barnes on lead guitar, and John Bowman on drums.
I think writers struggle to come up with comparisons for Trailer Bride, yet they feel compelled to do so. I've compiled a list of some of the artists you've been compared to, from Dock Boggs and Polly Harvey to the Cramps and even Stereolab. What's your favorite comparison, and what's the most off-the-wall comparison you've seen?
I don't have Internet, so I don't know. I do know that we got a review when we played in Holland. We were playing this small town in Holland, and the newspaper wrote a preview article about us saying that we sounded just like the Cramps. And that was not good, for that album anyway, because we had a lot of slow songs, a lot of ballads. The crowd was expecting the Cramps, and, in Europe anyway, people don't clap if they don't want to. There's no polite clapping. So I started getting mad, and finally, by the end of the set, I was like "let's just rock." We turned it up and rocked out at the end. Then they started clapping. And then they wanted an encore. But I was too pissed off to go back for an encore. (Laughs)
I haven't heard the new album. I guess not many people have because it's not due until September. When I do, what am I going to hear on the new one?
Hmmmm. It's a little more rockin', more hard-edged songs. There's gonna be some sweet ones mixed in though. It's pretty eclectic. I think it's probably one of the best Trailer Bride CDs just because the guys I have playing with me now are such professionals. Tim Barnes is just smoking on lead guitar, and they all play great. As far as steady rhythm and everything, I think it's one of the most solid albums we've done.
I'm going to quote from the Bloodshot press release, describing the band:
Oh, geez (bracing herself and chuckling).
"(They are) Southern, and we mean Southern, to the core." I'm wondering what, other than geography, makes Trailer Bride a Southern band?
Well, we are Southern. I guess everybody in the band was born south of the Mason-Dixon line. And, you know, Bloodshot--all those folks there are from Chicago, Wisconsin, Detroit. So when I call up to the Bloodshot office, they're blown away by my Southern accent, and they try to mimic me. To them, I guess we are real Southern. But to folks at Cole Park Plaza, I don't sound that Southern. You know what I mean? It's all relative.