Swirlies in their practice space, 1992
|Origin||Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.|
|Genres||Indie rock, lo-fi, chimp rock, shoegaze, noise pop|
|Labels||Taang, Slumberland, Sneaky Flute Empire|
1990–1991: Formation and early releases
Guitarists Seana Carmody and Damon Tutunjian met each other in Spring 1990 through mutual friend named Rusty Nails, a punk fanzine publisher who wanted to start a Go-Go's cover band. Formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Tutunjian, Carmody, Nails, and drummer Jason Fitzpatrick learned two songs before abandoning their original objective in favor of writing originals. Under the name Raspberry Bang, the group released one song on a 7-inch record compilation to benefit animal rights.
In November 1990, Tutunjian's high school friend Andy Bernick was enlisted to play bass and Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Ben Drucker was recruited to play drums. The band began writing and recording songs characterized by shifting tempos, loud vibrato guitars played through numerous effects pedals, Tutunjian and Carmody's melodic vocal interplay, and occasional bursts of screaming and other noise. They completed their first 4-track demo in December 1990, and played their first show on January 25, 1991. Because of the band's practice of alternate guitar tunings, Bernick took to playing tapes or static from an old AM radio to fill time while Carmody and Tutunjian adjusted their guitars.
In 1991 Swirlies made some 8-track home recordings, which saw issue as the band's debut single "Didn't Understand," first self-released as a cassette and then on 7-inch vinyl by Slumberland Records. A split double-single with Boston noise rock band Kudgel followed, and the group entered the studio to record another single and compilation tracks for Boston's Pop Narcotic label.
1992–1993: What To Do About Them and Blonder Tongue Audio Baton
In 1992 the band signed to Taang! Records and released the eight-song mini-album What To Do About Them culled from a mix of previously available and unreleased home and studio recordings. Musician/cartoonist Ron Regé, Jr. contributed artwork to the album's cover as well as lo-fi recordings that were woven into the record's sequence. The band also set to work recording their first LP, around which time shifts in Swirlies' personnel began to occur. Ben Drucker only drummed on a third of the new album's studio tracks, and for the remaining songs his parts were handed over to a pair of session drummers. Andy Bernick departed to pursue ornithology for the academic year and Damon's former roommate Morgan Andrews filled in on bass guitar and other noises. It was this line-up that toured to support the new album, Blonder Tongue Audio Baton, and appeared in the video for its lead track, "Bell". Named for an obscure piece of vintage musical equipment, Blonder Tongue Audio Baton made use of Mellotron, Moog, and other analogue artifacts that the group had unearthed in the studio. During sequencing the band threw in numerous lo-fi compositions, soundbites, and rants, and collaged together an album jacket from arrays of found images and objects that matched the album's eclectic aesthetics. Hailed for melding "the high waters of shoegaze creativity and the mounting currents of indie rock", Blonder Tongue Audio Baton quickly rose to prominence in the American noise pop canon.
After a year of birding, Bernick returned and Swirlies enjoyed a brief period of performing as a quintet made up of two guitars, two bass guitars and a drum kit until Andrews left in 1993 to become a radio DJ. Later that year Swirlies released the Brokedick Car EP that had remixes of songs from Blonder Tongue alongside a couple of outtakes. Ben Drucker was soon replaced by Anthony DeLuca on drums, and the band made their first trip to Europe in January, 1994 where they recorded for John Peel. After the tour, Seana Carmody left Swirlies to lead the pop group Syrup USA.
1994–1999: Sneaky Flutes and Salons
Christina Files joined Swirlies on guitar, synths, and vocals in early 1994, and that summer the band began work on their next album. After being branded both "shoegaze"' and "chimp rock" early in their career, the band was exploring new musical directions and invented a name for their ethos, emblazoning it in the title of their 1995 EP, Sneaky Flutes and Sneaky Flute Music. The seven-song mini-album was a forerunner to their full-length masterwork, 1996's They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons. The album added more synth-driven electronica and a few dance beats to their foundations in angular noise pop, drawing some reasonable comparisons to Stereolab and their Krautrock forbearers.
More member changes occurred during this time: In 1995 DeLuca left and Gavin McCarthy manned the drum kit for two U.S. tours before moving on to work in his own group Karate. Swirlies briefly played as a trio before Adam Pierce stepped in to play drums. Files left Swirlies to play with Victory at Sea and was replaced in 1997 by guitarist Rob Laakso. In 1998 the group remixed songs from the Salons sessions for the album Strictly East Coast Sneaky Flute Music featuring collaborations with producer Rich Costey, DJ Spooky, Soul Slinger, Mice Parade, various friends of the band, plus an abundance of field recordings as had been tradition on other Swirlies releases.
2000–2003: The Yes Girls and Cats of the Wild
Swirles continued as a four piece under the Damon-Rob-Andy-Adam arrangement into the new millennium. Swirlies offshoot The Yes Girls (the core lineup but with Lavender Diamond's Ron Regé on drums) toured the U.S. with Timonium, and in Denmark as an opener for Mew on their Half the World is Watching Me tour. The endeavor culminated in the release of the home-made album Damon Andy Rob Ron: The Yes Girls in 2000 on Sneaky Flute Empire/Pehr and a limited edition live album on Sneaky Flute Empire.
The band began to settle into being an outfit with a cast of guest musicians who revolved in and out of the group to accommodate other members' academic, career, and family commitments: Seana Carmody, Vanessa Downing, and Damon's sister Kara Tutunjian often joined onstage for live vocals, Mike Walker and Tarquin Katis occasionally sat in for Bernick on bass, as well as Ken Bernard and Kevin Shea for Adam Pierce on drums. Deborah Warfield joined the band as vocalist circa 2000, also playing guitar and keyboards live.
Swirlies eventually released Cats of the Wild, Vol. 2 on Bubblecore Records in 2003, collecting new material alongside revamped studio versions of Yes Girls songs, plus outtakes from Swirlies' early 90s recordings.
The group, though sometimes sparse in regards to output, has never disbanded. They played a few shows in the northeastern U.S. in 2009 and 2011, toured the Eastern Seaboard and Midwest in 2013 with Kurt Vile, with Elliott Malvas on bass in lieu of Andy, and in 2015 Swirlies co-founder Seana Carmody rejoined the group for a two-week tour of the eastern U.S. and Canada to commemorate the band's 25th year of existence. In 2016, Joyful Noise Recordings released a new Swirlies song (Fantastic Trumpets Forever) on flexi disc, and Taang! Records reissued the Blonder Tongue Audio Baton LP on vinyl. In 2017 they toured the west coast in the U.S. and in 2018 the south and east coast of the U.S. in support of the Philadelphia-based rock band Nothing.
Other releases and projects
Since their earliest demo tape, each Swirlies appearance has been marked with "This is Swirlies number __" in order of its release. In addition to their "official" releases, Swirlies have produced a number of cassingles, CDs, and free downloadable albums on their own Sneaky Flute Empire label. Beginning in 2005 the band began to curate recordings of live performances and radio sessions in limited runs under the name "Swirlies' Magic Strop." The first three of these of these were issued via their website as MP3-only albums, including a mock rock opera about Meg Zamula, a former writer for Pitchfork. In 2015, the band's 1994 Peel Sessions were issued on a 7" called Orce vs. Dragon, and in 2018 the band put out a 12" EP called Magic Strop Tonight compiling tracks from the Los Angeles radio show Part Time Punks and new studio songs from their "Fantastic Trumpets Forever" single.
Bassist Andy Bernick maintains a label and website called Richmond County Archives that publishes material from the band's periphery. The site also serves as Swirlies' official web presence.
A Swirlies tribute album, Sneaky Flute Moods: A Tribute to the Swirlies, was released online by Reverse Engine in April 2012.
Singer/guitarist Damon Tutunjian produced Mew's debut album and has performed in some capacity on their first five albums. He also produced a number of tracks for The Wicked Farleys debut 7" and first LP. He played guitar in the original incarnation of Lansing-Dreiden in the late 1990s and in the Danish band Ghost Society in 2010. In 2013, he joined Swedish band I Am Super Ape on bass guitar and synths and produced their single "Monki", featuring Mark Lanegan on vocals. He recently produced the debut album for the Swedish multi-instrumentalist Majken.
Original lineup (1990-1993)
Other erstwhile members
Tutunjian is the sole Swirlie to play with the group for its entire duration while other members have come and gone, sometimes coming back again.
- Blonder Tongue Audio Baton LP/CD/cassette (Taang! 1993)
- They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons (Taang! 1996)
- Strictly East Coast Sneaky Flute Music CD (Taang! 1998)
- Damon, Andy, Rob, Ron: The Yes Girls (Pehr/Sneaky Flute Empire 2000)
- Cats of The Wild Volume 2 CD/MP3 (Bubblecore Records 2003)
- What To Do About Them mini-LP/CD/cassette (Taang! 1992)
- Brokedick Car 12" EP/CD/cassette (Taang! 1994)
- Sneaky Flutes and Sneaky Flute Music mini-LP/CD (Taang! 1996)
- Buffay: Damon Sez I’m Durdy (Sneaky Flute Empire, 2013)
- Magic Strop Tonight 12” (Sneaky Flute Empire, 2018)
- "Didn't Understand" 7" release (Slumberland Records, 1992)
- Error 7" (Pop Narcotic, 1992)
- Brokedick Car 7" version (Taang! 1993)
- Swirlies' Magic Strop: Orca vs. Dragon" 7" (Richmond County Archives/Sneaky Flute Empire, 2015)
- "Fantastic Trumpets Forever” flexi disc (Joyful Noise Recordings, 2016)
- A Kinder Gentler Genocide (Swirlies appeared under the name Raspberry Bang) 7" compilation (Wasted Effort, 1990)
- Free Tape (cassette with Dropdead, Fast Forward, 1991)
- Red Fish Dreams 2×7" split with Kudgel (Cinderblock/Villa Villa Kula, 1992)
- Working Holiday Series: November split 7" with Pitchblende (Simple Machines, 1993)
- Vents of the Ocean Floor split 7" with Iris (Bubblecore Records, 1996)
- Swirlies' Magic Strop: At the Salon of WBCN 12×MP3 (Sneaky Flute Empire, 2005)
- Swirlies' Magic Strop: Winsome Zamula's Hammer of Contumely 8×MP3 (Sneaky Flute Empire, 2005)
- Swirlies' Magic Strop: Gavin's March To The Sea 16×MP3 (Sneaky Flute Empire, 2009)
- Strictly East Coast Sneaky Flute Music/They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons 2×LP (Taang! 1998)
- Swirlies Magic Drive: Välkommen Till Ponyklubben mixed format flash drive (Sneaky Flute Empire, 2013)
- “Bell” (1992)
Appearances in other media
- Fat Day, authors of Cats of the Wild [Vol 1]
- Chimp rock, term that predated "sneakyflute music"
- Syrup USA, Seana Carmody's post-Swirlies band
- Beck, Richard. "The Return of Swirlies". The Boston Phoenix. Retrieved 3 December 2011.
- Foege, Alec (May 1993). "Swirlies". Spin Magazine. p. 10.
- Reynoso, Jonathan (4 August 2017). "Interview – The Swirlies". SF Sonic. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
- Wolk, Douglas. "Swirlies". Trouser Press. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
- Roegsen, Jeff. "1993: The Swirlies - Blonder Tongue Audio Baton". Tiny Mix Tapes. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
- Wolk, Douglas (Oct 1997). "Syrup USA". College Music Journal. CMJ.
- Jarman, David (Aug 1996). "Swirlies: They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons". College Music Journal. CMJ.
- Phares, Heather. "The Swirlies: Strictly East Coast Sneaky Flute Music". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
- Tangari, Joe (14 April 2003). "Swirlies Cats of the Wild, Vol. 2". Pitchfork. Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
- "Swirlies expand tour, playing 'Blonder Tongue Audio Baton' in full at Silent Barn on 4th of July". Brooklyn Vegan. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
- Sacher, Andrew (June 5, 2018). "Nothing announce new album & tour with Swirlies, share "Zero Day"". BrooklynVegan. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- Tutunjian, Damon. "This is Swirlies Number... An exhaustive list of Swirlies recordings". Richmond County Archives. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
- "Swirlies – Winsome Zamula's Hammer Of Contumely". DisCogs. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
- Pearls, Bill (September 21, 2018). "Swirlies releasing new EP (stream a track); tour w/ Nothing starts this weekend". BrooklynVegan. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- Bernick, Andrew. "About". Richmond County Archives. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
- Sneaky Flute Moods release announcement at Free Music Archive, posted by curator Dave Merson Hess on April 8, 2012.
- "My Interview with Damon Tutunjian of the SWIRLIES". Velocitylab. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
- Gomez, Jeff (2016). Our Noise: A Novel. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 323.
- Biography on VH1