Producer, solo artist, player with The Black Keys, The Shins and The Arcs, Richard Swift died on July 3.
Richard Swift, Vince Martin, Dean Webb and more… we salute you.
DESPITE THE fact that he managed to build up a fine catalogue of his own albums, Richard Swift always seemed happier to operate as a producer and sideman. He confessed as much on record, with his declaration in The Songs Of National Freedom on 2007’s Dressed Up For The Letdown: “I made my way into the spotlight/ Just to realise it’s not what I want.” It was a typical everything-on-the-surface statement from this hugely talented and self-deprecating figure who in many ways seemed to be Harry Nilsson reborn in the indie age; his deft ways with a melody often recalling Paul McCartney, his pointed and knowing lyrics reminiscent of Randy Newman. Born March 16, 1977, in California into a Quaker family, Swift had an itinerant childhood moving between Utah, Oregon and Minnesota. Settling aged 24 in Huntington Beach, southeast of Los Angeles, he began operating out of Green Room Studios, starting up a cottage industry of independent releases that led to him being signed by Secretly Canadian. Enjoying the support of Jeff Tweedy, Swift made 2009’s The Atlantic Ocean at Wilco’s The Loft Studios in Chicago, co-producing with Mark Ronson and bringing in pals Sean Lennon and Ryan Adams for cameo roles. While the album didn’t hit the mark commercially, it showcased the full range of Swift’s talents, from the loping piano shapes of R.I.P. to the Sly Stone soul moves of Lady Luck. All the while, he pursued a parallel career of more esoteric releases, including the garage rocking Richard Swift As Onasis in 2008 and the same year’ sKraut rock inspired sonic voyaging of side project Instruments Of Science & Technology’s Music From The Films Of R/Swift. Lack of mainstream success forced Swift out onto the road as a sideman, as keyboardplayer for The Shins, bassist with The Black Keys and drummer with Dan Auerbach’s The Arcs. But it was as house producer for Secretly Canadian that Swift really shone – his studio style a hybrid of the best elements of the past along with possible sonic futures – helming albums by Foxygen, Kevin Morby and particularly Damien Jurado’s psychedelic soul/ folk trilogy that began with 2012’s Maraqopa. A longtime sufferer from anxiety and depression, Swift self-medicated with alcohol, leading to failing health. In June this year, he was admitted to hospital in Tacoma, Washington, with a then- undisclosed “life-threatening condition”. Six days after his death on July 3, aged 41, his family released a statement detailing that his demise had been due to “complications from hepatitis, as well as liver and kidney distress.” Forever wry and self-aware, in Artist & Repertoire from Dressed Up For The Letdown – a track imagining an A&R man poking fun at the singer’s uncommercial songs and even his size – Swift managed to write his own epitaph: “My name will go missing/But the songs’ll be here.”
“He seemed to be Harry Nilsson reborn in the indie age.”
“My name will go missing, but the songs’ll be here”: Richard Swift, 1977-2018.