Features, Print July 1, 2019

Swerve: From The Classroom To The Stage – Cover Story July 2019

by Valerie Vampola
July 2019 Cover Story: Swerve

Sometimes the Locrian sharp-two scale and “backdoor two-five” chord progressions were a little too much at 9 in the morning – or ever, for those who didn’t attend Jazz school. At least Lauren Johnston​ ​had the Funk Lab to look forward to in the afternoon.

The Funk Lab was also a part of the University of Northern Colorado Jazz program, which Johnston attended, but it’s where the students learned how to “get down” (in an academic way, of course) with a repertoire of tunes from Earth, Wind & Fire, Steely Dan and Tower of Power.

So when Johnston and keyboardist / fellow jazz-schooler Spencer Zweifel​ ​sat down for a cup of coffee, they decided it was time to bring that same Funk Lab fun outside the classroom and into the Northern Colorado music scene. 

The members of the Funk Lab gathered for a non-collegiate rehearsal and began to play something different. It was still fun – way fun – but different. Suddenly, this band was not the Funk Lab. They were a burgeoning quirky dance-pop band with a new, separate identity. They called themselves Swerve.

Swerve from left: Lauren Johnston, Julian Cary, Spencer Zweifel, Matt Brown,
Adam Wissman. Photos by Juan Gonzalez

“We wanted to fill this void in the local music scene with weird pop. So we decided ’you know what? Let’s just go for it,’” Johnston said.

And ‘go for it’ they have. Johnston, who also instructs Zumba classes, gets crowds moving in coordinated dances at Swerve shows. While that may make total sense, the contents of the weird songs the band jams out to on stage might not. Case in point, the track “Peach Beach,” an ode to Mario Kart.

Odd though they are, the band is an impressive team. Adam Wissman shreds super technical guitar solos and Matt Brown lays down beats tighter than your high school jeans. And much like they do in jazz class, they allow for occasional moments of free form, knowing it will all work out in the end.

“We can trust each other in concert, or write difficult [musical] parts, knowing the other person is going to pull it off,” Zweifel said. The Greeley Stampede audience will have a chance to witness this trust (and fun) tomorrow night, July 2 at the Extraction (Park) Stage.

Photo by Juan Gonzalez

Swerve’s​ ​sound is a melting pot of influences. Sure, they all love KNOWER and Thundercat, but each individual member brings their own flavor to the group. That’s why on their debut album, ​Swerve​, out July 1, you can hear keys that flash-back to 1999 à la Prince and guitar solos that cut into you like Van Halen, accompanied by funky vocal melodies sung like Hiatus Kaiyote’s Naomi Saalfield.

They are colorful, quirky, exciting and eccentric, like Mario Kart, but they all wanted to be in a band playing music that was not only fun, but their own.

“You don’t need permission to do anything musically, which is great. If people like it, then great! They like it. If not, well that’s going to happen anyways,” said bassist and back-up singer Julian Cary.

While clearly on their own path, the 5 members of Swerve strove to follow in the footsteps of bands before them: Quentin, The Burroughs and Silver & Gold, all UNC School of Music affiliates who ventured out to invent their own creative projects.

Their ingenuity and unapologetic attitude brought them victory at BandWagon Magazine’s 2019 Battle of the Bands and into the studio to record the album. With the help of recording engineer Alcario Artuso and their own Wissman as producer, they kept full production control of the album amongst themselves. They are well aware of how goofy and over the top their music is (like making it rain with Monopoly money in their music video “Green,” which premiered via BandWagMag.com) and they want to keep it that way, leaving all the seriousness for Jazz school. “It was cool keeping it among friends because we knew we could be ourselves,” said Wissman.

Only a year old, there is a cloud of mystery surrounding their future as a band, and honestly, they’re okay with that. With individuals pursuing other projects or relocating, sometimes you have to find yourself a Sammy Hagar or a Robert Trujillo to keep the legacy of the band alive. But sometimes you have to acknowledge when something has truly come to an end, and let it be a fun and rewarding chapter in their musical lives. For now, Northern Colorado audiences are Swerving smack dab in the middle of that fun, rewarding chapter.

Catch Swerve tomorrow night, July 2 at The Greeley Stampede Extraction Stage at 9pm with Ben Pu and Crew. The show is FREE with park admission Click here for more.