Making music can sometimes feel like you’re drifting on the ocean, waiting for inspiration to appear like shore on the horizon. For Australian singer-songwriter Andrew Swift, the sea was the Melbourne music scene. Following the release of his acclaimed 2015 debut, Sound the Alarm, he was adrift in the sprawling waves. But coastline appeared in the form of country and Americana music. These timeless genres reinvigorated his songwriting and new music flowed around him.
Those familiar with Swift’s impressive first record will notice the left turn taken on follow-up Call Out For the Cavalry. The classic sound of American roots country fits him like a glove. One would think from listening to assured tracks like ‘Reckless Desires’ and ‘Ball & Chain’ that Swift has been plying his trade in the Australian alt-country scene since he picked up a guitar. But this is new territory for Swift and he’s quickly acclimatised.
“So much has changed for me musically between the first album and this one,” says Swift. “In hindsight I think I was floundering around the Melbourne music scene, not too sure of where I belonged. After the first album I released an EP with a band and then a solo single after that. I pretty much stopped writing for about 18 months after Sound The Alarm. But then I was nudged into the country music world, and introduced to Americana and alt-country. I felt at home and writing again came with it.”
Swift made a big first impression on the country music world when he became a Toyota Star Maker grand finalist. He also teamed up with respected Americana songwriter Gretta Ziller and the pair took an intimate show of songs and storytelling on tour to caravan parks along the East Coast of New South Wales and Victoria, en route to Tamworth Country Music Festival. Ever the dogged performer, Swift has supported the likes of Shane Nicholson, Catherine Britt, Amber Lawrence, Adam Eckersley, and Lachlan Bryan.
So when the time came to record his second record, there was no shortage of country music cavalry that flocked to Swift’s side. Under the guidance of sought-after producer Matt Fell at Sydney’s Love HZ studio was a band that included guitarist Glen Hannah, drummer Josh Schuberth, Fell himself on bass, guitars, keys and percussion, Hammond organist and Adam Eckersley Band member Dan Biederman and Sam Hawksley on lap steel. Amongst Swift’s guest vocalists are Britt, Ziller and Katie Brianna. The record was mastered in Los Angeles by Pete Lyman, whose credits include Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell.
With Swift at its core, Call Out For the Cavalary is a remarkable songbook that shifts in mood and subject matter, blurring the songwriter’s own experiences with deft flourishes of fiction. Swift’s songs often counter his inherent wistfulness, melancholy or self-deprecation, with robust, jubilant melodies. ‘Reckless Desires’, a stand-out amongst a record of stand-outs, tells the story of a bloke whose ship has sailed, left only to recall how good things used to be. Upbeat opener ‘Runaway Train’ examines Swift’s commitment issues, delivered with wry humour and infectious instrumentation.
“There's a couple of songs on the record that are very personal to me, those ones in particular I felt needed to stay true, and didn't need embellishing,” Swift explains. “Each one is a story that happened some time ago but have affected me greatly over the years. In every song there are truths about me but I like to take creative licensing and twist or exaggerate the truth to make the story a little more interesting for both the listener and myself. So I guess it's a matter of deciding which songs need those twists and which ones have a strong enough story to leave as they are.”
While Call Out For the Cavalry weaves Swift’s own life with layers of imagination, there’s no hiding the starkly personal ‘King of the Sky’, the record’s poignant finale. “I was very close to my uncle when I was a kid, he filled the role of my Dad once my folks split,” Swift says. “He was a pilot and passed away in a crash when I was nine. This song is written around the memory of finding out the news, my reaction and the haze or fog that comes over you during something like that.”
Across these 10 impressive songs is a recurring theme, an observation of our need for sage advice or a shoulder to cry on. Call Out for the Cavalry acknowledges that a rallying cry is so often warranted, but often unvoiced. “There are songs that describe situations where help could be used,” explains Swift, “from bad decisions in ‘Runaway Train’, ‘Reckless Desires’, ‘Blood Moon High’ and ‘Ball & Chain’, to uncontrollable circumstances like ‘King Of The Sky’ and even where help was sought out and ignored in the ‘Devil & His Sin’.”
It seems Swift’s days of drifting may be over. Buoyed by the passionate and supportive country music scene, shore won’t ever be so far away.