The introduction of streaming services combined with ephemeral consumer attention makes differentiating talent from trash a chore for the average person. That’s no concern for Philly raised producer and multi-instrumentalist, Swarvy, who’s found his sonic niche in Los Angeles. Swarvy is a natural taste maker – a brazen audiophile distorting traditional hip-hop beats with jazz licks and nostalgic bits of his youth dabbling with psychedelic rock. His more notable projects like Elderberry and twothousandnine (debut album with Pink Siifu) go against the grain of mainstream music, especially in a generation that increasingly popularizes and over-commercializes electronic and dance music.
The windows are shut in his make-shift studio, Badu bumpin in the back – we elevate to another dimension and venture into his world of jazz, hip-hop, and everything in between.
Have you always gone by as Swarvy?
No, I used to play music in different bands. I went for a bunch of different names when I started making beats and producing for other people and myself. Ever since I’ve been putting out records, I’ve been Swarvy. Swarvy
I’m interested in what you used to make back then.
I used to be in a band called McKenzie. I was on guitar, and another dude was on the drums. We would do kind of like psychedelic music. It was a mixture of psychedelic rock music, weird shit – a lot of improv stuff. I used to play in metal bands, rock bands, jazz; all kinds of stuff. I just started finding stuff that I really, really connected with when I started listening to jazz a lot.
What is the most challenging or satisfying part of making your own music? I know you make your own beats, but you also sample a lot of tracks.
What’s the most challenging? I don’t know. I don’t know what the most challenging is. Every project is a little different. I guess the most challenging part is to stay patient, and to try to stay fresh with the music. Some projects can take a week and some can take a year. I guess for me, putting it all together with visuals, videos, and just the business part is the most challenging part. Laughs
Are you making music every day?
More or less. It used to be a lot more compulsive, but I do something music related every day – either teaching or making music, mixing. I teach private lessons for music – piano, guitar, bass, drums. I’ve actually been teaching lessons in some form since I was 15. Now a lot of my students come for Ableton or production lessons, or just kind of like mentoring stuff. Some of my students still do just piano, and guitar.
“… to get a whole record done beginning to end just takes a certain amount of inspiration and energy.”
You’ve collaborated with a lot of artists. What’s a determining factor when choosing an artist to work with?
We have to get along. I can get along with a lot of people, but we have to vibe a certain way. It’s a function of the relationship. Versis, Colin, we’ve been working on a record for over two years now. He just came to me to help him out with his other album, and we just kind of started vibing that way. It’s a kinship sort of thing. It makes sense to do it like that. Swarvy
With Siifu, we did the whole twothousandnine record, and we did that pretty fast. The whole thing was made in a few days. Two of the tracks were made ahead of the time, but the rest of it was made in a few days. It’s just the way we bonded as friends. He also writes really fast, and the way our styles work just complement each other.
You can make a song with anyone, you know? But to get a whole record done beginning to end just takes a certain amount of inspiration and energy.
Considering your laid-back nature and your performance at the Hi-Hat, you seem really comfortable on stage. Have you ever been nervous to perform before, and is there a more chaotic side to you that most people don’t see?
Sure. I think I get hyper in my most natural state. It probably doesn’t look like I’m hyper at this point, but when I was younger you used to see it a lot. I just don’t show it as much anymore. At the Hi-Hat I was really comfortable, because I had a studio on the stage.
“I think failure is a process. These experiences give you more perspective on what failure and success is. You have to define it for yourself.”
I read on a previous interview that you got boo’d on stage back in the east coast.
Oh, yeah. That didn’t happen too many times, but I’ve played to some dead audiences and some really angry people before. That’s like receiving weird reception from people. I think failure is a process. These experiences give you more perspective on what failure and success is. You have to define it for yourself.
Would you have considered those moments failures?
I mean, it says something if they come up to me after a show and tell me it’s terrible. I don’t view that as a failure, because I think as long as you get hate or love, it’s okay – you did a good job. You want to have people feel something extreme. If they didn’t feel anything, then it was mediocre. If they hate or love it, then I made them feel something. It just might not have been the right thing for them. I view the whole spectrum of enjoying something as a circle instead of a line. Once you cross paths on how much you hate it, you start to love it, and all the mediocre shit is in the middle. Swarvy
How do you know when a track is done?
On the technical side, if I don’t hear anything I need to “fix” then it’s done. I’ll listen through it, and my mind just starts cataloging what needs to be changed, or if all those things are done, and it’s not technical, then it has to push you through from beginning to end smoothly.
So when you’re producing, do you make sure the tracts blend seamlessly like a story?
It’s like scenes of a movie or a comic book; it’s a sequential thing. The way it’s all sequenced, whether it’s an actual transition or not, is important. I actually spend a lot of time doing that. It’s a combination of those things.
“Even if nobody heard it or if I didn’t make money from it, I’d still be doing [music] to some degree. Doing this has given me a lot of freedom. That’s a huge reward alone.”
What inspires you to continue doing this?
Everything. That’s just how it is. But you know, affecting people’s lives positively is good motivation. You can feel energy from that for sure. Also, seeing returns from it in all types of ways, whether it’s financial or energetic return. Even if nobody heard it or if I didn’t make money from it, I’d still be doing [music] to some degree. Doing this has given me a lot of freedom. That’s a huge reward alone. Swarvy.
Out of all your projects to date, which one is your favorite?
I’d say twothousandnine with Pink Siifu is probably my favorite, because it’s the clearest that I’ve been able to communicate certain feelings that I attempted to express through my music for years. It’s a good landmark in my discography in that sense.
Would you say you’re comfortable with where you’re at in regards to your production skills? Is there anything in your music that you feel is uniquely you?
I think I have a lot of tools at my disposal that I’m comfortable with using, but I enjoy discovering new ways to expand on them, and also searching for endless ways to flip that. A few things that might sound uniquely like me are the way I warp audio, play drums, mix, and my sense of rhythm.
You’re affiliated with a bunch of record labels, like Paxico Records, that pride themselves in putting out artists of your caliber and taste primarily on cassette. However, in some ways I’d still consider you a SoundCloud/Bandcamp artist. How has the internet and streaming services played a roll in your development?
For sure. Same as a lot of other artists, the internet was the first platform where I was really able to be heard.
What’s the story behind Elderberry? Elderberries are used to cure chronic fatigue among other ailments. Are you implying that this album is a natural cure for music fatigue?
I like choosing titles for multiple reasons. There’s usually at least a handful of meanings that you could extract from the record titles that I choose and they’d all be applicable. I also like paying attention to how the juxtaposition of two or more words can feel like multiple ideas in harmony. In this case, “Elder” and “Berry”.
For Due Rent with lojii, you guys focused on financial desperation. This record is sincere equally in the lyrics and the production. Are you projects always this intentional?
Of course. Even if it’s not intentional at first, if I plan on sharing an honest presentation of something, there’s a lot of deliberation, intention, and care that goes into it.