Andrew Swift

Caravanning is fast becoming a routine incident of the Australian country circuit: to wit, Country Update favourites Luke O’Shea and Fanny Lumsden have each been enthusiastic proponents of caravan touring in recent years – Lumsden and husband Dan Stanley Freeman crisscrossing the landscape in their own soon-to-be-iconic Millard caravan with the Fans and Dan Van Plans tour. So, being that his ‘other’ job was caravan sales and repairs, it was pretty inevitable that Melbourne’s own hard-touring troubadour Andrew Swift should join the ‘caravan’. When Country Update caught up with Swift during this year’s Tamworth Festival, the singer-songwriter had just completed a staggering 22 shows in 22 days with great mate Gretta Ziller, across the length of their second annual Great Australian Caravan Park Country Music Showcase tour of the east coast.

“It’s great to be able to tour with your best friend and sing songs with her every night,” Swift says of touring with established creative partner Ziller.

As he explains, Swift made the trip in style and comfort, thanks to his prized vintage timber teardrop caravan, Hazel. “I’ve added the gas bottle on the front, put a fan in there and a USB socket for my phone,” Andrew says of Hazel’s mod cons. “It all charges up on solar. It’s definitely a talking point, and it makes for a great little backdrop, as well. Because people get curious, they’ll always come up and have a look. I know, because I had a nap in it one day and woke to find people looking in through the window!”

While only in its second year, Swift and Ziller’s travelling showcase seems set to become an annual fixture.

“Last year was a real experiment: it was just meant to be a cheap, fun way to get up to Tamworth, rather than going straight up the guts from Melbourne,” Swift explains. “It ended up being way more fun and worthwhile for us, so we thought, let’s do it again. It just shows that people are responsive to us telling our stories and singing our songs. But the kids are hilarious. We try to take requests at some point during the show, and we’re terrible at it. We get asked for Ed Sheeran and stuff like that – we don’t know how to play Ed Sheeran!

But last year, this little boy came up to us and he said, ‘Do you know how to play ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’?’

And I said, ‘Sorry, mate, I don’t know it.’

And he said, ‘Oh, I’ll teach you.’

And he got on the microphone and started singing.

Then we saw him again this year, and we said, ‘G’day Jack, good to see you – you going to jump up and sing a song for us?’

And he said, ‘Oh, I don’t know – I’m in a band now and my band’s not here.’

But then he duly did get up… and did one of his own originals!

We don’t get to work with kids in the pubs and clubs. You’re playing to such a diverse crowd: from 3-year-olds to 70-year-olds in the caravan gigs.”

Established fans of Melbourne’s thriving alt. country scene will be familiar with Swift’s stellar work with band the Rattlesnake Choir, as well as consummate 2014 solo album Sound the Alarm. With new record Call Out for the Cavalry, Swift sounds his arrival as an Australian songwriting heavyweight – with a powerfully evocative voice to match. But the singer-songwriter’s path to a career in country music has been a circuitous one – as he explains.

“If we go way back, I was in a pop-punk band straight out of school. I was playing with those guys for 5 years, and then I went and did solo stuff. I got the idea from Jim Ward, over in El Paso, Texas, who recorded my first solo album.”

Perhaps best known for his work with post-punk heavyweights At The Drive In, Ward opened Swift’s eyes to new sonic vistas.

“I guess I was ignorant as to what country music was,” Swift says of his early days as a solo artist. “I didn’t realise there was Americana and alt. country and those storytellers. The whole reason I recorded in El Paso was to work with Jim Ward, as I was a big fan of his band Sparta at the time, which is a heavier band. But he was doing this Americana band at the time, and to have him and his guitarist and musicians play on the record as well, those West Texas sounds started to creep in. People would say, your stuff sounds a bit country. And I’d say, Hey! Don’t use that “c” word with me! I had that kind of attitude. But I think it was just always in there, and I tried to fight it because I just didn’t know any better. I think that, now that I’ve embraced it, I’ve never felt more at home than I have in the country music scene.”

…read the rest of the story in Issue 88.