For more than half a century The Swingles have pushed the boundaries of vocal music. The seven young singers that make up today’s London-based group are driven by the same innovative spirit that has defined the five-time Grammy® winners since they first made waves in the 1960s. With their forthcoming album Deep End, The Swingles celebrate that legacy by starting a whole new chapter.
We got to chat with The Swingles about their love of music, what inspires the group musically and what they think of the Natural State.
1. Where did the name “Swingles” come from?
Believe it or not, it comes from the real name of Ward Swingle, the founder of the group. Ward led the group from 1962 to 1984 and was a valued musical advisor and mentor to us right up until he sadly passed away last year. Ward came from Mobile, Alabama originally but the name supposedly derives from the Swiss name Zwingli – any resemblance to the word “swing” is purely coincidental!
2. What music have you been listening to lately; is there anything you recommend?
Absolutely, we are always hunting out new music to inspire us. We are currently working on new material inspired by folk song traditions around the world, so as well as checking out obscure stuff from Corsica and Afghanistan I’ve been listening to modern singers who find creative new ways to interpret and arrange folk songs: the Unthanks and Sam Lee from the U.K., Anais Mitchell and Sam Amidon from the U.S. I’d recommend any of those guys.
3. What did you know – if anything – about Arkansas before arriving?
We’ve visited the state a few times before, and I remember in particular a show in Searcy where we had been up in Kansas and had a somewhat dramatic drive trying to outrun a prairie storm that was forecast to blow in. As a Brit, it was one of my first U.S. road trips and I loved the long drive, watching the landscape gradually go from flat to hilly and passing signs to all these evocative place names. When we arrived, we had insanely good barbecue and fried green tomatoes in a diner with a live bluegrass band. Beyond that though I don’t know much about the state and am looking forward to spending some proper time there!
4. How is the a cappella scene in Europe similar and/or different to the U.S.?
There are enormous riches in the European scene and we have a particular soft spot for Scandinavian groups, who do an amazing job of incorporating their own folk singing traditions into contemporary a cappella. But nowhere compares to the U.S. in terms of the sheer number of high school and college students in a cappella groups and vocal jazz programs, which brings a legitimacy to the idea of singing non-classical repertoire. For us in the U.K., the Anglican choral tradition is still the default setting for young people who want to sing, and it’s a tradition to be proud of, but we still come up against the idea that anything outside of that is just a “bit of fun.” We’re trying to change that perception through things like the London A Cappella Festival, which we co-host and that welcomes great groups from all over the world.
5. Pick 5 words—that start with the letter ‘s’—to describe your music.
6. Are there any pieces that you’d like the group to perform that you haven’t already?
So many! We have an ever-evolving repertoire wish list. Personally, I have this daydream that we could cover a piece by Snarky Puppy, who if you don’t already know them are an insanely funky fusion collective from Texas. Watch this space.
7. What has been one of your most exciting performances to date?
There are lots to choose from. A couple of years ago we played a New Year’s concert in Ankara, Turkey with an orchestra, to a stadium of 11,000 people – that was pretty exciting. And last year, we had the pleasure of collaborating with – and opening for – one of our vocal heroes Kurt Elling, and none of us will ever forget that.
8. What do you hope the audience takes away from your performance?
We want them to be moved and transported, and feel an emotional connection with us on stage. There are so many different sides to music, and technique and virtuosity are important, but they mean nothing without that connection.
9. What is the best advice that you have been given?
I remember when I first joined the group being given some great advice by the other singers, and it’s stuck with me: don’t rely on the audience for your energy. Invariably some audiences are more demonstrative and excited than others, but just because a crowd is more reserved doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying it. They might even be listening harder. So by all means perform, give the audience your best, but it has to come primarily from inside you and from the other people on stage. You can’t expect to ride on the audience’s energy as a touring performer, because it won’t be the same every show.
10. What’s next? Do you have your sights set on any new goals?
Fayetteville will be the second stop on our month-long tour around the U.S., so you can check out our website (www.theswingles.co.uk) or Facebook page for all the other dates. After that, we’re going to China for the first time in many years, which I’m really looking forward to. And then, we’re hoping to use the summer to start recording that international folk album I mentioned already. There are lots of new projects and goals on the horizon and we’re all excited to see what the rest of the year brings!