The Heavy's Kelvin Swaby talks about the band's music, Jim Jarmusch and Marmite.

Categories: Profiles

Joshua Bradley
The Heavy appears tonight at the Bluebird with Wallpaper

The Noid isn't just that pesky pizza-chilling character from old Domino's commercials from the '80s. It's a region of England from which the neo-soul garage-rock band known as the Heavy hails. Fronted by the charismatic Kelvin Swaby, the band came together in its current form as a quartet when Swaby and his friend Dan Taylor finally lined up a rhythm section that didn't just adequately back up their energized music. A quick listen to the band will draw immediate comparisons to Curtis Mayfield, Al Green and James Brown, but with more of a rock-and-roll sound.

In a relatively short period of time, the Heavy has toured the United States and Europe, releasing two records, including the recent The House That Dirty Built. In 2010, the band's song "How You Like Me Now?" was featured in a Kia commercial played during the Super Bowl. For a completely underground band largely producing its own records, the exposure was noteworthy, and most likely resulted because someone at the marketing firm was a fan.

The Heavy also holds the distinction of being one of the few musical acts in the history of the Letterman show to be asked to play a second time. We caught up with Swaby and talked with him about the band's influences and songwriting, Jim Jarmusch and Marmite.

Westword: "Oh No! Not You Again!" has an interesting sample in the beginning. What's it from, and does it relate in any way to the rest of the song?

Kelvin Swaby: The sample is from an old B-movie called Don't Go in the House. It's more related to the album entirely rather than the song specifically. The song is about being haunted, so it relates.

You've been compared to all kinds of things from forty or more years ago, but I was wondering if maybe you took any inspiration from neo-soul rock bands like the Bell Rays and the Dirtbombs?

They're really cool. That song "Chains of Love" by the Dirtbombs is a great track. It's interesting to see how, around the world, there are people going back and revisiting garage punk like it was a forgotten piece of music. I remember finding a song of theirs fifteen or twenty years ago, and I've never looked back. I always wanted to make music as raw as that, and I think we're partway to achieving that.

We always seem to look back a little further. But the Bell Rays, they're really cool, and we played with them in France. Lisa Kekaula has just an insane voice. But even the likes of Jack White, you can hear how he revisited the Sonics and the Wailers -- just a little more fuzz on the shit.

For "That Kind of Man" and other songs with horns and so forth, do you use samples from other songs, or do you create them yourselves?

We tend to sample ourselves these days. We have a kind of hip-hop chemistry with what we do. Vintage ideology with contemporary resources. So we use tools that are available to us that weren't available to these guys way back, but we try not to be super anal about it. We still love early hip-hop, because there are only a handful of artists that are any good these days, I personally believe.

Do you mean early hip-hop artists like Gil Scott-Heron, Afrika Bambaataa and that sort of thing?

Yeah, like Melle Mel and all of that kind of shit. You know they would rip samples and just that whole loop idea. It's almost like we'll record a song as it should sound and then tend to make it sound like the era we want it to come from, and then we go in and chop it all up just like we would take apart record samples.

Public Enemy would do some stuff like that.

That's exactly the way we go about it. The Bomb Squad were pretty cool. We met Hank Shocklee last year. That's a funny story: We met him at a club called Katz in New York -- famous Polish joint. We were there, and he wanted to meet the band, and he said he wanted to produce us, which is quite funny. But we were so far down the line with recording. He was really cool to meet, and he's Hank Shocklee...I have a lot of records from him. I think he wanted "How Do You Like Me Now?" quite a bit, but we're quite happy with the way it turned out.

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