By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Shant Kiraz.
Don’t try to categorize Luke Sweeney of San Francisco, California, because your efforts will be fruitless. Yes, technically he is the leader of a band named after him but deeming him a “singer-songwriter” seems so reductionist. The same with calling his music “bedroom pop” or any variation of “indie” because although the sounds are subtle and sweet, they tend to change from song to song on his most recent album, Adventure: Us.
Though right now may best exemplify Sweeney’s mercurial nature as he is between releases. It’s been over a year and a half since he released Ether Ore but he’s much closer to the release date for Adventure: Us which will be dropping Oct 14 of this year. For the time being, Sweeney professes to stand closer artistically with the latter, which he promises to be more of a “romantic” album.
Just listen to the two singles “Miss Me?” and “Doin’ It to You” then watch their respective hilarious videos and you’ll pick up on Sweeney’s soft side. BTR was able to catch up with Luke Sweeney one morning when he woke up early to feed his pet pig. Oh, and did we mention that yet? He has a pet pig.
Luke Sweeney’s take on “the weird” may be considered normal in San Francisco but would likely be dismissed as “freaky” just about anywhere else. For instance, what’s interesting about how Sweeney describes caring for a pet is that it sounds like he’s speaking about a dog in that the pig “wakes up about 7:30 every morning, gets up off the couch, and starts barking at me that he’s ready to eat his breakfast.”
Not to mention that he takes his pig for a walk, but what makes the whole experience uniquely “Luke Sweeney” is that he answers my genuinely befuddled query over this matter with a plaintive, “Oh, yeah.” Every question about this pet is answered in a completely matter-of-fact way, including its name, Atticus. It all seems to be par for the course with Luke Sweeney; he’s got a pig and that pig needs walkin’.
One way that Luke Sweeney has managed to remain balanced within his own psyche is that his band hasn’t really played much outside of California yet. They’ve grown accustomed to being “in their own habitat” in that they seem normal amongst their own, but the rest of the country has yet to judge. However, starting today, they’ll be on a two-week tour going through some decidedly “non-freaky” places such as Norman, Oklahoma, and Salt Lake City, Utah. Breaking out into non-coastal America should put their live show to the test.
Speaking of “breaking out” though, the band is known to have audiences break into a “love train on the dance floor” while the musicians were “playing probably the slowest, least danceable songs” in Sweeny’s “entire lifetime catalogue.” So really, what motivates them is anyone’s guess. To be fair, that show took place in Big Sur, California, so the whole incident might adhere to the “normal in California” theory–but sometimes love trains happen wherever you go.
“We haven’t really gotten to witness too much of what we take for granted as just our character—offending people or weirding them out or just being strange anywhere else. There’s no sense in toning it down. I’ve been playing and touring in bands for a long time and I think once you’re up performing, people get excited and if it’s weird and strange and makes them feel uncomfortable, I think that’s a good thing,” says Sweeney.
Dealing with discomfort is pretty much how Sweeney got his start in music, so it’s no surprise really that he embraces making other people feel that discomfort. When he was 13 he was in a bicycle accident, in which he broke his jaw after flying headfirst into the pavement. He had his jaw wired shut for six weeks.
A couple of days later, he recalls, “my dad brought me an acoustic guitar… I didn’t have much to do over that span of six weeks.”
Somehow the most painful detail of this incident was that he ate his “Thanksgiving dinner through a straw.” With all of that time, Sweeney was able to competently “pick up” the instrument and really learn. In a strange way, he’s thankful for the injury and the time it allotted him to learn the instrument he plays now.
“It’s one of those strange experiences that nobody would ask for but it ended up giving me this motivation to do something different. I feel like it came really easy to me for some reason; not to say that I didn’t work really hard at it at the same time, too. It was something that I enjoyed a lot and my learning approach–everybody’s is different–in the beginning I started reading tabs and stuff like that but I never really read music music. Then I just learned everything kind of picking it up by ear,” says Sweeney.
Luke Sweeney’s 2013 effort Ether Ore is comprised of a “back catalogue” of songs that Sweeney had before starting this project, none of the songs coming from “necessarily one genre.” When compared to what he is about to release, Adventure: Us, he says that the tracks on Ether Ore are from a “different sound, tone, and maybe genre.” A few of the older songs on the album were played and recorded in an alternate tuning on an acoustic guitar, with Sweeney playing all instruments but the “percussion tracks.”
According to their creator, the difference in mood between the two is that “Ether Ore is kind of like dreamy treatises on a love that might or might not be there, Adventure: Us grabs you by the hand and is basically songs to stir you up.”
On the whole, Adventure: Us is more romantic and sexual, with the singles “Miss Me?” and “Doin’ It to You” largely contributing to that feel. Though these two have a summer fling appeal to them, the rest of the album “spans the whole spectrum of emotions and tones that one might experience when engaging a relationship.”
The video for “Miss Me?” depicts outright infatuated hijinks where his character meets a striking woman at a beach bonfire and, to make sure he impresses her, he auditions for a number of Bay Area bands. In the end, things don’t quite pan out for him.
“I think it’s funny, the whole scene of trying to fit in to a band, trying to get in where you can. When I first moved to the city from Berkeley, I recall auditioning for one band and how awkward and weird that was. I just wanted to capture some of that awkwardness,” says Sweeney.
When asked which band he thinks he could make it into for real, his response was Warm Soda.
“I think I could cut it in most of those bands, not on the instruments necessarily that I brought to those auditions.”
Maybe Luke Sweeney is better off playing his own instruments though, auditioning for no one but himself. And that’s a compliment.
See if you can memorize the songs and make it into Luke Sweeney’s band by clicking here.
Check out Luke Sweeney’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.