Updated Tue, Jul 2, 2013 3:02 pm
Ohio native Patrick Sweany spent his formative years listening to every kind of music imaginable, learning to finger-pick along with classic folk–blues albums and honing his craft as a singer and songwriter.
As a teen in 1990s, he started playing acoustic blues in the clubs and coffeehouses of Kent, Ohio, eventually mixing his blues and roots influences with soul and rock-n-roll in the Patrick Sweany Band.
Currently based in Nashville, Sweany will release his sixth album, Close To the Floor, on Nine Mile Records on July 16. However, Marietta audiences will get a sneak preview this Friday when he and his band roll in to town for a show at The Adelphia Music Hall.
WOUB’s Mark Hellenberg caught up with Patrick Sweany by phone while he was driving to a gig in Chicago.
MH: Your albums always have a bluesy feel to them. I really like the Paste magazine interview where you said, "Close to the Floor is your basic American blues-and-soul-influenced rust-belt bummer-rock record."
PS: (laughs) I wasn’t sure how that quote would go over, but, yeah, that’s about as accurately as I can describe it in one sentence. I definitely paint from a pretty wide palette of roots stuff. Obviously it’s very bluesy like you said, but there’s also a lot of soul and R&B sounds from the early '60s to the early '70s. That’s a huge influence on a lot of the writing I do: A lot of Muscle Shoals and Stax, the Motown kind of songs, always that sort of form. It’s something I don’t think you can explore enough. And there’s just some regular old rock-n-roll. That’s always a big part of what I do. I’d never refer to myself as a blues artist 'cause I have a lot of respect for the blues and I’ve taken a lot of time to study and appreciate real actual blues music, especially from the early part of the last century. A white kid from Ohio isn’t ever going to be a bluesman, but it doesn’t mean I can’t be reverent about the influences and try to be very, very true to those things. I’m a rock 'n roller through-and-through.
MH: There are some songs on the new album that are pretty darn bluesy, like "Every Night and Every Day."
PS: Oh yeah, I think that’s the bluesiest thing we’ve ever recorded. Guitar-wise, it’s really coming from stuff like Gatemouth Brown and Guitar Slim and maybe a little bit of Lightnin' Hopkins. It’s that sort of dark broody kind of thing.
MH: It seems like Lightnin' Hopkins is a big influence of yours.
PS: Oh, absolutely. He’s in everything I do--the big guitar sound. I put a DeArmond pickup in my guitar 'cause I just think his guitar sounds the best; that bridge between acoustic and electric music. Also his phrasing. I also use an unwound third string on my guitars.
MH: Your new song "The Terrible Years" is also kind of a gutbucket blues number.
PS: That song, to be honest, started as more of a Joe Tex kind of a 6/8 soul groove. The producer Joe McMahan and I thought, let’s try something a little bit different on it. So we put the band on a break and we worked it a little bit to give it a sort of Son House feel or something like Fred McDowell.
MH: You have a new producer on this album...
PS: Well, actually, this is the second album I’ve worked with Joe. He also produced That Old Southern Drag. He’s based in East Nashville. Tragically, though, about two weeks ago his home studio had an electrical fire and it completely wiped out the control room and the master tapes. We recorded on two-inch analog tape and those tapes are gone. So we’re really glad we got the album into production before that happened, but that was really just a horrible thing. Joe and I had worked so many hours in that space and really have a great relationship. I can’t say enough good things about Joe McMahan. He’s got pretty amazing ears and able to hear things in a larger scope. For me as an artist, it’s hard to think how the album is going to go song-by-song and make it cohesive. That’s definitely the producer’s job. It’s a very sort of nebulous skill. Whatever it is, Joe has it in spades. He’s not afraid to hurt my feelings, which is what you want in a producer. Your song may be your baby, but if your baby’s ugly, you gotta put some makeup on it. (laughs)
MH: The new album really has a live sound to it.
PS: Absolutely, that’s by choice. All the rhythm tracks and a great deal of the guitar tracks were cut at the same time, sort of live to a 16-track, all of us in the same room except the drummer who was in a back room, but we could see him. There were plenty of room mics, lots of bleed, plenty of tape hiss. I like the sound of tape hiss.
MH: I’m sure a lot of people who interview you ask you about your relationship with Dan Auerbach, who was in the Patrick Sweany Band. Now his star has ascended in the Black Keys. You used him as producer--how was that?
PS: You’re actually the first person to ever mention it!
MH: No way!
PS: (laughs) Just kidding. I definitely trusted Dan’s instincts. He made it very easy for me to communicate what we wanted to get across. But again, that was seven years ago. I’ve made two albums with Joe since then.
MH: Another song I wanted to mention was the opening cut, "Working for You." It’s a great song.
PS: Oh, well thank you very much. Yeah, that stems from a very low budget and strenuous tour. I believe we were in Philadelphia the day after the election, where the club owners decided they didn’t want to open up the club and just put us in a room with no P.A. They were about the rudest bunch of jerks that you’ve ever met in your life. But we made the show happen. It’s definitely my manifesto of adherence to "the show must go on" as much as humanly possible.
MH: There’s a nice quote on your website from Jorma Kaukonen: "If there was any justice in this old world, Patrick Sweany would already be a star! Since deserving doesn’t have much to do with anything, it’s up to us to treat ourselves to Pat’s new recordings. Quite simply, he’s just the best and I’ve been a fan for a long time."
PS: He's the best. A few years ago, in-between records, I actually got to go out for a summer as a roadie for Hot Tuna. My friend Myron Hart, their production manager, got me the gig. I play shows with Jorma, we’ve been friends, I’ve taught at the camp and at that time I just needed a gig. I was scrambling for cash. They were so nice to me. They gave me the gig and said, are you really sure you want to do this? And I said absolutely. I learned so much just hanging out and having coffee with Jorma. I’ve got so much respect for him as a person, let alone a guitar player or anything like that. He’s a guy that’s seen it all. He started making records at the time of the Beatles. And Jack Casady as well...they’re amazing human beings. I didn’t take that experience lightly.
MH: You’re going to be at the Adelphia in Marietta on July 5...
PS: ...and that's a late show because of the Red, White and Blues Festival. We hope to get some folks out for that. We always have a great time at the Adelphia; one of our favorite venues in southeastern Ohio. Top-notch and they treat us nice. We have a lot of fans there, so we hope to see everybody out!
Patrick Sweany will perform at 10 p.m. on Friday, July 5 at The Adelphia Music Hall. For tickets and information, visit www.thegalleymarietta.com.