Straight out of Hobart, Tasmania, this band crafts their sound on the precipice of the Pacific. What The Sound chatted with Ben Simms, the frontman of the stretched-out pop-influenced psychedelic rock group, Violet Swells. Triple j, an Australian radio station, recently featured Simms’ band at first place on their “If you like Tame Impala…” playlist. The group has major aspirations for the near future with new material in the works. Read our conversation with Simms below and zone out to their electrifying melodies.
What The Sound: "Gravity Wins Again", congrats on that new single. Do you have any plans to include it on a future album?
Ben Simms: Hopefully. I'm not too sure what it will be on. I'm recording a bit more at the moment. So I'll see how many songs I get and then release what I have. At least an EP, but hopefully a full-length.
WTS: When I hear your music I think of The Beatles or Pink Floyd, or Tame Impala. You may get those a lot. Are there any influences of yours that stand out that people may not necessarily hear right away?
I really like the '60's bubblegum pop. All the Phil Spector kind of music. It doesn't really have a similar sound to the Violet Swells stuff but just that use of upbeat and happy harmonies, and stuff like that, that people wouldn't guess right away.
WTS: Who's in your band? Who are the other members and what are their roles, and how did you meet them?
It changes quite frequently, but at the moment we've got two guys, Tristan Barnes and Luke Middleton, both who used to be in another Tasmania band who are actually headed over to the States soon with their new lineup. I was living with Luke and I've known Luke for a while and I recorded "Jupiter's Garden" which was our first song a little over a year ago. I just did that for fun in my home studio and didn't think of doing anything with it and Luke kind of made me put it out and it went alright. So we realized we needed to get a band together. He suggested that the drummer in his other band (Tristan) join, so he came in for a little while. Then we got a keys player who was a friend of a friend (x3), who studied at the conservatory of music, I didn't know him. Then we got a few other members like that. It's a bit hard finding musicians in Tasmania because it's such a small group. You often end up with people that you've never met before. Now Tristan has moved on from drums to being the keys player. We've got a new bass player, and we just got a new drummer which is working out well.
WTS: Had you made music on your own prior to the formation of Violet Swells?
I hadn't made music on my own, I played in a few bands, writing with people, but VS started when I wrote a couple songs for fun, mainly to test out some microphone and equipment that I bought. Then, obviously I got talked into making it a band. It's not a full solo-project, I do write and record everything still. At this point, there's a lot more integration from the band and especially live, we do switch it up and their personal playing styles definitely have a hand in it.
WTS: Where did you come up with the name "Violet Swells".
It was the day before we put "Jupiter's Garden" online for the first time, so it was really spare of the moment. We had Bandcamp and SoundCloud all set up with a different name, and the day of the release we did a Google search, and found there was another band that had been around for ten years or so that had that name, so we had to ditch that which sucked. We were just watching the night before, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Willy Wonka movie and that scene with Violet swelling up is pretty much where it came from. Seemed to fit the whole psych, sixties kind of thing.
WTS: You've toured in the past?
Yeah, around Australia a few times. Just the Eastern side.
WTS: Have you ever seen Tame Impala or Pond live?
Unfortunately I haven't seen any of them live. There's another big psychedelic band called King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. I hear they're really good, I'm going to be seeing them at a festival in a couple of months so I'm really excited for that. Tasmania itself doesn't get a huge amount of bands. It's starting to grow, but I'm kind of out of the loop. I think the best thing that they've done, especially Tame Impala, is that they've made people who probably wouldn't give psych music a try, a try. Now they are a bit more open to it. That definitely has helped bands like us break through a little bit more.
WTS: If your fan base grows and if there is a demand to go on tour, do you have any interest in playing internationally in the future?
Definitely, hopefully sometimes next year we'll make it to the States or Europe. Money is the big thing at the moment, once we overcome that we will definitely be headed overseas.
WTS: Have you opened for anyone notable as of recent?
Yeah, actually, a few months ago we supported Stephen Malkumus and his new band, and that was really cool. That was in Hobart. It's a bit tricky because Hobart doesn't get too many bands so we don't get the biggest supports, because they don't come down. Even to make it to Melbourne, which is the closest point on the mainland from Tasmania, it's still a really expensive venture. Juggling that between everyone who has work and school, it's tough. Once we can establish a big enough fan base to warrant taking the financial risk, we'll definitely be doing it.
WTS: As for the future, is there any band in particular that you would like to support or have co-headline?
It would be great to support Tame Impala. I haven't really thought about it much, there's a bunch of really cool psych bands that aren't really on the Pond / Tame Impala level. We've played with a few of those. Stuff like Moses Gunn Collective, really good. They just released an album. The Frowning Clouds are another good one to check out, they're from Melbourne. It's always fun playing with those kind of bands because everyone's really friendly and everyone enjoys or, at least, gives your music a chance. So, anyone like that I'm more than happy to be with.
WTS: Who have you been listening to recently? Anyone who you've really been into? You mentioned King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, any others?
I listened to an album by a band called Sexwitch, that they just released. Have you heard of Toy? Same kind of scene as Temples. They paired up with the girl from Bat for Lashes, I hadn't heard of her music. I think she's kind of an electronic pop. They just did a bunch of obscure Indonesian psych covers, and that's been really cool. Apart from that, I'm listening to a lot of jazz for a class at Uni. I've never really heard it before so it's been a really cool experience. Listening to lots of Miles Davis and John Coltrane and stuff like that.
WTS: What's your songwriting process like? You say you're studying English at University, where do these ideas come from?
Whatever instrument is laying around. How my studio is set up, is that I've got organs and synths lying at one side of me then guitars on the other side then a computer with a few other synths in front of me. So, I've kind of come up with an idea whether it's a riff or a melody and then just record a loop of that and put some drums or percussion on that. Then play it on lots of instruments and whatever sounds best, I'll go with. All songs are generally written around one kind of idea which means that I can explore and really find out what's best.
WTS: Where do you hope to see yourself a couple years down the road?
Still recording a writing, at the very least. It's kind of hard to know with the whole internet - use of spreading music. To just begin with, a little over a year ago I had no intention of putting out "Jupiter's Garden" and now I'm doing an interview. It's hard to know what's going to happen, but looking to play overseas, or on the mainland a little more. I probably want to start my own label at some stage, so that will be my next big sort of thing.