When Amps and Green Screens was in its infancy I walked into Trees Dallas and saw SON OF SWAN for the first time, opening for KING’S X. After I picked my jaw up off the ground I quickly made friends with the guys, and we have done several pieces on them since. Bandleader and guitarist/vocalist Neil Swanson is a very busy man, so to finally get a few minutes with him to sit and chat was a minor miracle. The man is always on the go, and there are a LOT of things happening for him. Check it:
Amps: I’m floored that you’re singing now. It’s great, it’s gritty, it’s Rock and Roll!! How did that come about?
Neil: You know, singing is something I always did a little bit in other bands and when I started SON OF SWAN it was initially an instrumental thing. And I thought that maybe we’d work a little bit of singing back into it. But I’m no Celine Dion or anything (laughs). I try to stick with where I can pull it off. I don’t try to go too crazy with the vocals. We just worked a little bit in there and there’s plenty of shred.
Amps: You re-recorded “Dog Days” for the latest EP (New Texas). How come?
Neil: It was one of those songs where people kept coming up to us and saying how they really love it. So we just decided to really do it justice and do a better version of it. Because, the first CD, while it had some good material on it, it was put together on a pretty low budget and we had better resources this time and the ability to make it sound better. So we said, “Let’s just do it.” And even with this new one I think a lot of it is just that we learned a lot and ended up recording all the guitars at my house. Nowadays if you have a decent recording interface and some microphones you can do some great stuff on your own.
Amps: Is Cody Gatlin the permanent fixture on bass?
Neil: You know, Steven (Jay Wilson) and Anthony (Morel) are longtime friends of mine, and we’ve had ins and outs with bass players but it was never because of people not getting along. It was just about realizing schedules and everybody’s got different things going on. Cody has been our regular guy lately, but that’s not to say we won’t have Steven or Anthony onstage with us again. We’re all juggling projects. Cody’s been great; he stepped in, learned the material real fast and he has a great attitude. What more can you ask for?
Amps: Are you still spending a ton of time in L.A.? You’re a DFW boy, but L.A. seems to be taking up a lot of your time.
Neil: I am, yeah. And Texas loves music, it’s a great music state, but it’s just not where the business happens. You gotta go to L.A. or Nashville or NY. I have more connections in L.A. than anywhere else so I’ve been trying to grow that. And it’s working to a degree. It’s gettin’ there. I don’t know how many years I’ll have to do of grinding in and out before I hit it big-time, but hopefully soon, you know (laughs)?
Amps: Do you ever see yourself moving out there permanently?
Neil: Yeah, I can see it happening if I get enough work out there to really need me there full time. I love Texas, I’m a Texas boy, I got family and roots here. But that’s where the work is, and the more things that happen, the more reason I could see myself living out there. Plus I don’t hate it. You know, L.A. is a city, and it’s rough. When I’m there I actually live an hour south of L.A. I have family out there that I stay with and they’re very cool with me staying there.
Amps: You’ll notice that A&GS staff writer Mark Ehrlich said what I’ve been saying since I first saw you live. You’re a blend between fellow Texan guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson. Will you finally accept that compliment, sir?
Neil: I will take it, because Eric is amazing and that’s such a funny thing for me. I’ve told you before, as much as I think he’s awesome he’s never one of those guys I set out to try and imitate. I was always aware of his playing and the main thing I took from it is that he’s real articulate and he makes all the notes real clean, and I try to do that. While I try to have that bluesy element of Stevie Ray Vaughan where it’s all about feel over technique, I think those two comparisons go together and I like it.
Amps: You have some shows coming up with the amazing ORIANTHI again in L.A., right?
Neil: I’m playing with her on October 15, 17, and 18 and it’s awesome. She was the first person I played with out there and she was really cool. I can’t wait to get back in the mix and play some Rock and Roll with her.
Amps: Any other collaborations coming up that we should know about?
Neil: That’s all that’s going on right now. I’m always trying different things and you never know when something will catch fire and become more noteworthy.
Amps: New Texas was released in March. How long will you do shows behind that before you hunker down to record another EP or full-length?
Neil: The EP was sort of a concept thing for us where I started singing a little bit. We said let’s make half the songs instrumental and half with vocals to test the waters. So we played a bunch of shows behind it and I definitely learned what it is that people like about what we do. I think throwing in vocals has helped us connect with people who might not necessarily be guitar people. To answer your question I’m always writing and coming up with new ideas.
Neil: I don’t think I’m gonna try and do too much of it because people look at me as a guitar guy, and that’s what I do. But it will definitely be something I do for sure.
Amps: Tell me about the role your wife Whitney plays in all of this. She is the most supportive person I’ve ever seen when it comes to a job like yours.
Neil: All I can really say about that is it takes a special person to deal with musicians (laughs). And particularly when there’s travel, expenses, and things that aren’t paid for, because you have to pay your own way to rub elbows with the right people, and we’ve had our ups and downs. Money is going out faster than it comes in sometimes, and it takes a special person to be able to deal with it. And I’m not always the best at making the Big Picture plans. I kinda live like, day-to-day, saying, “Oh, let’s do this!” so sometimes it takes someone like her to look at the big picture.
Amps: What are you listening to right now?
Neil: You know, I always ride the fence between my classic metal/classic rock and trying to stay current with pop music. I guess on the metal side I’ve been listening to a lot of W.A.S.P. and always IRON MAIDEN. It’s crazy that sixteen studio records in that they still kick so much ass. Bruce has still got it, you know? Out of all the metal bands from across the pond they are the best. The thing I love about them is that their longevity knows no bounds. They will always be awesome. On the more modern side I’ve really been into AWOL NATION.
Amps: What is your current set-up?
Neil: It’s actually a lot more simplified than it used to be. Maybe not so much simplified, but a lot more organic. I used to have a bunch of digital effects, but now I have one box that does a bunch of things. I use a Marshall and a Tube Screamer basically, which has been working since the 70’s. And of course I have my sponsors with Dunlop, and MXR and they’ve been helping me. It’s not too complicated, just a couple of pedals and a little overdrive, some reverb delay and a wah pedal. It’s real simple and the rest of it’s in the hands. Pigtronix has been super supportive as well. They were the first to ever get behind me and they make really cool stuff. As far as guitars I’ve got my Paul Reed Smith and I still love my Strats. Those are my two go-to’s. I’ve been a PRS artist for the last year and a half now. They’re a good company. They do like a hybrid between Fender and Gibson; it’s a Fender feel, but a Gibson tone. It’s cool for a fat, warm tone, and then the Strats get that bright, snappy tone. It’s hard to find ONE guitar that does it all so it’s nice to have a couple options.
Neil: I think SON OF SWAN will continue to play shows behind the New Texas EP, but past that my focus is to play with other established artists that helped influence me in different ways. This is about still learning for me. And I’ve thought of doing stuff outside of all of that, just calling it Neil Swanson and seeing what happens. Maybe give you all a barrage of all the shit I’m into (laughs)!
Amps: Hey, don’t forget when we’re ready to do another Classic Albums featuring IRON MAIDEN you said you’d be the guest writer for Somewhere In Time. I’m gonna hold you to that!
Neil: Hey, I’m all about the MAIDEN. Let me know! I know I’m in the minority when I say that Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son are two of my favorites. At the time I was growing up those two records spoke to me most.
Amps: What would you like to say to all your fans out there?
Neil: I guess the main thing I could say is that it’s real important to look for music out there that’s not the mainstream and isn’t cookie cutter. We’re definitely not that and I really appreciate people looking for the alternative. If that’s how I feel and that’s what I’m into there have got to be other people out there who feel the same way. If they ever come up to me and say that they love my playing and love my band that’s total affirmation for me.
Neil Swanson is a Guitar God…it’s that simple. His heart, feel, soul, and tone is in a class by itself, and SON OF SWAN is one of the best bands you will ever see live…period. Pick up the latest EP New Texas (right HERE) and you’ll see what I’m on about.