A Swirlies record flows like a lucid dream. Various familiar voices and sounds seep into the mix, populating each song with unconnected noises, attempting to create a narrative of chaos. Swirlies caught the shoegaze train in the early 90s, creating a batch of excellent records along the way including Blonder Tongue Audio Baton and They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons.
Andy Bernick and Damon Tutunjian are the band’s anchors, the two original members that have seen the entire arch of the Swirlies. We got hold of them right before they embarked on a mini tour up and down the West Coast.
SF Sonic: What is the origin of the name Swirlies?
Andy Bernick: I think it was our first drummer, Ben [Drucker], it was on his list of names. I can’t remember what the other names were…
Damon Tutunjian: I remember one but it was quite crude.
SF Sonic: Oh yeah? What was it?
Tutunjian: It was “Hot” and the other was “Nose Pick.”
Bernick: I remember there was no deliberation. We said, “Oh, all right!”
SF Sonic: So you were fine with the name once you heard it?
Tutunjian: At the time we thought it sounded “shoegaze-y” and it was also, kind of, toilet humor.
SF Sonic: So, I was reading around that you two were in this Go-Gos cover band.
Tutunjian: Yeah! That was me and Seana [Carmody]. Just me and Seana.
SF Sonic: Oh yeah?
Tutunjian: There was a local punk guy who wanted to start a Go-Gos cover band and he knew me and Seana. We actually recorded with him and put out a seven inch. Not as the Go-Gos cover band. Then Seana and I parted ways with him and started Swirlies. That’s where Andy came in. The Go-Gos thing – it was over as soon as it began. Then we became Raspberry Bang, which was mostly the punk guy’s songs. Seana and I wanted to do our own songs and just did that. Once Andy was in then it was Swirlies.
SF Sonic: So how long did Raspberry Bang last?
Tutunjian: Maybe, like, six months.
SF Sonic: So, you played live shows for Raspberry Bang? Did you have a following or did you have to start from scratch?
Bernick: We actually never played live as Raspberry Bang. We did one session at WMBR and recorded our seven inch.
SF Sonic: Obviously there was no social media back then to advertise your band. What methods did you use to get the word out?
Bernick: The way it used to work was flyers. People actually looked at flyers. You had to really pay attention and get in with the radio stations. The radio station people were your best friends. If they were playing your tapes, people would listen.
SF Sonic: Did you send over tapes to radio stations?
Tutunjian: Yeah we did. We were sending over our demo tapes and Andy was working at, well, you tell them Andy.
Bernick: I was at school in Rhode Island at the time. I did a show at a University of Rhode Island radio station.
Tutunjian: You [Andy] got us in with the record stores. It was really word of mouth.
SF Sonic: Andy, you were in Rhode Island?
SF Sonic: How did the band get started in Boston?
Bernick: Damon and I are from that area. Damon and I went to highschool together and that’s how we met. Damon had stayed in Boston for school. But I went to Rhode Island which is very close. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I was going back to Boston and playing music with him and Seana.
Tutunjian: Our big years in the Swirlies were while we were in school. Everything was fit in around the school schedules. Andy had to do a lot of moving!
Bernick: Which is fine, I like driving.
Tutunjian: And that’s why we had to use other people to play. Like Morgan [Andrews] and Andy. It was all switcharoo with the personnel at the beginning.
SF Sonic: I was going to ask you about that. I read that you had an original lineup and now current members and even other members that included Kurt Vile. Did he actually play in Swirlies?
Tutunjian: He makes some noises on Cats of The Wild. Well, Rob [Laakso], our guitarist went to Emerson and he went with Kurt Vile’s wife. So back in the late 90s, early 2000s they were all buddies. So Kurt just…
SF Sonic: He stumbled his way into Swirlies.
Tutunjian: Yeah, he wasn’t in the band, he just played on the record. He makes noise! He makes noise in the beginning of the record.
SF Sonic: That’s actually a big part of your music – you guys use tape loops, white noise, and sampled music especially on the Blonder Tongue Audio Baton record. What was the origin of using these tape loops and including them in your music?
Tutunjian: Just something we always did. Just tape things. Rob and I were taking sound design classes and we were all into lo-fi and taping. You had to remember, all kids in the 80s had tape recorders. So you’d make little remixes yourself. You’d make mixtapes.
SF Sonic: It was a novelty to do that back then.
Tutunjian: Yeah. It was what a lot of people did back then. I remember making my own remixes of Cure songs.
SF Sonic: Was it an afterthought? Did you go into each record with a set of sounds you wanted to use or was it off the cuff?
Bernick: Well Blonder Tongue was separated songs.
Tutunjian: They were more set. With [They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the] Salons, a lot of that was done in the studio. A lot of the core sounds were there. We did a lot of experimenting.
Bernick: With Salons it was finding ways to fit the sounds all together.
SF Sonic: Are you guys recording anything at the moment? Any new material?
Bernick: We’re doing a live session with Part Time Punks. It’s this fellow Michael Stock. He’s part of why we’re doing this little tour. He’s been talking to Damon for a long time about doing it.
Tutunjian: So this guy Michael he does a weekly show there on Sundays for the radio show on KXLU, I think, he does these John Peele style radio sessions.
SF Sonic: Swirlies are bound for a West Coast tour starting on August 3rd to the 12th. For those who have not heard of you, why should they go out and see the band?
Tutunjian: Well, you know, any time could be the last time! Because we’re the greatest band in the world!
Swirlies play The Chapel on August 8, 2017. Buy tickets.
Listen to “In Harmony New Found Freedom” by The Swirlies: