Tassie punks A. Swayze & The Ghosts are out to change the world with their debut album ‘Paid Salvation’. Full of fury, frustration and the optimism that it’s not too late for this hunk of rock, the record, which dropped last Friday, tackles everything from social media anxiety to gender inequality. Building on their reputation for debaucherous, energetic live shows that have taken the four-piece around the world, ‘Paid Salvation’ is fight music for a better tomorrow.
“Music is so influential. I want to talk about important things,” says frontman Andrew Swayze via Zoom. “If you look through history, you’ll see all these cultural changes that have been inspired by art. I know I’ve had my life drastically changed by songs or what an artist has said, so I know the great power that music holds.”
Across ‘Paid Salvation’, A. Swayze & The Ghosts use theirs with great responsibility. But the band haven’t always been this socially conscious and self-aware about using their rapidly growing platform. “We never intended on doing anything ultra important and we definitely had no intentions of touring the world,” says Swayze. The band started in their shared house a few years ago as a way for these wild party boys – Swayze, Hendrik Wipprecht (guitar), Zackary Blain (drums) and Ben Simms (bass) – to pass the time.
“We spent five grand on a shit-sounding record that we threw out a month later. That was the catalyst for taking things a bit more seriously”
“We’d get on the piss or do some blow and write some music. We’d jump in Zack’s bedroom ’cos he had his kit set up and bash songs out for a few hours. It was just a bit of fun.” Those early songs – three chords, played as possible with throwaway lyrics yapped over the top – only cared about energy and volume. That chaos spilled into their “raucous and alcohol-fuelled” live shows, as Swayze remembers them, with the band usually too fucked up to really play.
Of course, people loved it. With a taste of hometown success, the band went to a local studio three years ago to record an album. As you can guess, it wasn’t the most professional of undertakings. “We were messed up the entire time and we tracked it with my coke dealer, it was ridiculous,” Swayze recalls. “We spent five grand on a shit-sounding record that we threw out a month later. That was the catalyst for taking things a bit more seriously. If we wanted to keep going, we needed to clean ourselves up a bit.”
As soon as they made that decision, A. Swayze & The Ghosts picked up a manager, got booked for shows interstate and started playing in front of a shitload more people. It hasn’t stopped expanding since. Now, Andrew is sober and the shows “feel fucking different”. “But you know what,” he says, “I enjoy it more. It’s more honest. It’s more me, rather than just some drunken dickhead onstage”. Their gigs still inspire chaos but the band are better: “I’m able to play an instrument and stand up, which is definitely helpful.”
Rather than being the slapdash mess it almost was, their debut album is an intelligent, considered and passionate collection of art punk anthems with a smirking pop edge. No wonder ‘Connect To Consume’ is part of the updated Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 soundtrack alongside FIDLAR, Rage Against The Machine and Skepta. “It’s flattering to be considered for that video game ’cos we all grew up playing it,” says Swayze. “I remember discovering a lot of cool, aggressive music through it that I adored. It’s amazing to potentially be that band for another generation.”
“Why not write something significant and meaningful? More bands should because music has so much power to do good”
A. Swayze won’t let their music soundtrack any old rubbish, though. As more people start paying attention, there are more opportunities for the gang. “We get offered a lot of things and asked if we, for lack of a better phrase, want to sell out,” Swayze tells NME. It doesn’t take the band long to tell these suits exactly where they can fuck off to. “It seems a lot of people would rather take that quick sell than keep their integrity, but you owe it to your listeners to stay true. Your integrity is all you’ve got.”
Not out for fame or fortune, A. Swayze & The Ghosts want honesty. Early on, they were happy to throw a shitty song together so they could play a half-hour set and while there’s a degree of honesty in that, it’s not enough for them any longer. The band came round to embracing their ability to say something meaningful when Swayze’s wife Olivia told him he had a responsibility to the people listening to their music. “It affirmed something I had already suspected,” he says. “You can get away with anything when no one knows you but when people are paying $20 to see you, or there are 70,000 people listening to you every month, you owe it to them to give them something worthwhile.”
Because of this, ‘Paid Salvation’ takes on the most infuriating aspects of society. The post-punk anger of ‘Beaches’ tackles the ongoing environmental crisis and the “people in power that completely refuse to admit that there’s an issue that needs tending to”. ‘Connect To Consume’’s skate park rebellion deals with warped social media obsession, while the scrappy ‘Mess Of Me’ tries to avoid the sins of the previous generation.
“It’s about me making the same mistakes my father had made. It’s about inheriting negative traits and realising that you’re making decisions and doing the same things that you really despised in someone else growing up,” Swayze tells us. “All the songs carry their own weight and have their own theme, which is good. I like versatility.”
It’s the opening two tracks that are perhaps the most important. The snarling, slacker punk tune ‘It’s Not Alright’ was written about the difficulties women in Tasmania face in getting access to abortions, with many having to fly to Sydney for the procedure and getting harassed in the process. The urgent, thrashing ‘Suddenly’ was inspired by Olivia’s experiences with sexual harassment and gendered inequality. The lyrics are her own experiences and in her own words – Swayze just put them to melody.
“So many women tell me about this terrible shit they have to deal with. It’s got to be talked about more. A big intention of that track was to be able to speak to young men, make them question their own behaviour and how they view women. I could potentially influence someone and stop them from putting a woman through unnecessary shit.”
Swayze cares about not accidentally pissing off people who are marginalised, but there are some people “who absolutely need to be pissed off”. As such, ‘Paid Salvation’ choses its battles carefully and doesn’t waste a second apologising. “Every word that I choose is direct and has a purpose.” That’s because A. Swayze & The Ghosts believe that what they’re doing is important. Sure, there’s no right or wrong way to be in a band, “and if you want to write a song about getting your hair cut, great. Go nuts,” Swayze says. “But I think it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Why not write something significant and meaningful? More bands should because music has so much power to do good.”
“It’s not very punk to want success, but whatever. I really relish this platform and having a responsibility to our fans”
With COVID-19 taking away the live shows that earned this gang such a fearsome reputation, the band don’t quite know what to expect from the coming months. “This is our first debut album with any sort of mildly successful band so we didn’t really have any great expectations,” Swayze says, punk rock modesty fully showing. With ambitions like recording another album and eventually more touring, they’re humble in their aims – until you dig a little deeper.
A. Swayze & The Ghosts want success, of course they do, but only if it’s honest and doesn’t impact on their fight to make the world a better place. “It’s not very punk to want success, but whatever. I really relish this platform and having a responsibility to our fans. I want to use my voice wisely,” he tells us, which is just as well. It’s one of the most vital around.
A. Swayze & The Ghosts’ ‘Paid Salvation’ is out now