This session marked my third (and southern-most) outing down to the great state of Oregon for a Take-Away shoot. Richard was having a birthday party at his studio in Cottage Grove, a few miles south of Eugene, and so it was suggested to me by a rep at Secretly Canadian to shoot there. It’s a long drive from Seattle, but the birthday party setting seemed interesting and I had a place to stay in Eugene for the night, so sure, I would make the trek.
For me, Richard Swift is an elusive figure. I was familiar with the name, but only slightly familiar with the music. One impressive bit of info I learned was that Wilco was so moved by his Jools Holland performance that they invited him on a 2007 U.S. tour. This definitely struck my curiosity. The songs I had heard I liked immediately. Tracks like “Kisses For The Misses”, “As I Go” and “Dressed Up For The Letdown” struck me with their timelessness and well-crafted arrangements as well as Richard’s warm, inviting voice. I became more familiar with his work as the five-hour drive provided quality listening time.
I arrived at the property in the leafy environs of Cottage Grove at about 9pm. I made my way past a neat, white house to Richard’s studio behind it. A small group of guests were scattered around, most of them outside around a bonfire. Richard greeted me as I gifted him a pint of tequila, then he showed me around the recording studio loaded with an array of analog gear (including a beautiful recording console given to him by Wilco).
It was an intimate party consisting of his close friends and family and then there was me– the stranger with a camera. I enjoyed a cup of strong homemade wine and took in the surroundings. About an hour later Richard and I retreated to the back room where we set-up and then I left him alone to prepare a few songs. He was nervous to perform in such a personal setting, but he wanted to start playing before the alcohol really took hold. Then Richard casually emerged strumming “Dressed Up For The Letdown” from the LP of the same name. Without missing a beat, he says goodbye to a friend while playing the song. As he walks toward the camera, I step aside while he circles past his smiling guests singing his tune. Then, a warm applause as he segues straight into “Sad Song Street” from his 2005 EP, The Novelist.
To bring this impromptu birthday performance to a close, he gleans from his back catalogue again with the appropriately titled, “Lovely Night”, ensuring his fortunate company of this; “…motherfuckers, love! Sweet love, oh love, sweet love…”
If you have a long drive ahead of you I highly suggest cranking Richard’s recent double-EP, Richard Swift As Onasis, to get really get you going. If you happen to be on the west coast of the U.S. in October, don’t miss him on his tour support for Stereolab.
And lastly, thank you, Richard, for the invite and I hope you’re enjoying your 31st year.
Text by Steve