CLEVO HEROES Rainy Day Saints

From
the Reactions and Death of Samantha to Cobra Verde and Guided by Voices,
musical savant Dave Swanson has rarely been idle. His current ensemble’s a
labor of love, too.

 

BY GREG BEETS

 

You don’t have to listen to the Rainy Day Saints for long to
surmise that their heady amalgam of psychedelia, garage punk, pure pop and
prog-rock is the product of astute music fandom. Multi-instrumentalist
bandleader Dave Swanson is quick to confirm it.

 

“I love many different styles,” Swanson says. “It’s like…
ABBA, Motörhead and Kraftwerk walk into a bar… that’s not a joke… that’s a great bar. There is something to be
learned from all genres.”

 

The Cleveland-based confederation’s fourth album, All
These Strange Ghosts
(Get Hip), is a rabbit hole of far-reaching influences
and strong songwriting. Though grounded in the garage, Swanson and company are
quick to bust out of the subgenre’s straightjacket. Lead track “Where Are You?”
opens on a fuzzed-out space rock pulse that wouldn’t be out of place on a Can
album. Then Marianne Friend’s saxophone blasts forth from out of nowhere. It’s
the last thing you’re expecting to hear, which makes it all the more powerful.

 

“I think sax can be misused for sure, when it’s made all
glossy and smarmy sounding, but Marianne has a real attack to her style, which
suits us perfectly,” Swanson says. “It’s all about Hawkwind or Roxy Music as a
reference point, as opposed to, say, Springsteen or Steely Dan.”

 

 


Rainy Day Saints – Memories by Radio Hannibal

 

 

 

From there, it’s onward to the flowery, folk-tinged lilt of
“Underneath the Dreamer’s Moon,” the straight-up garage growl of “Memories” and
the ghoulish, Bo Diddley beat of the title track. Menagerie is the operative term here.

 

“I think the whole ‘garage’ thing got lame sometime in the
‘90s when it adopted this generic,
moronic bonehead vibe, what I call the ‘Crypt’
mentality,” Swanson asserts. “That whole idea that the only good music was made
between 1956 and 1966 and then again in 1977. Boring!”

 

If Swanson sounds eager to tweak with expectations, perhaps
it’s because he’s been doing this awhile. Growing up in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, Ohio
during the ‘60s and ‘70s, he first connected with rock music by watching the
Monkees on TV. For further confirmation of his continued fealty to the Pre-Fab
Four, consider the lyrical reference to “Shades of Gray” on “Where I Stand” and
the fact that Swanson’s calls his home recording lair Circle Sky Studio.

 

“I have been a Monkees fan since I was four years old and
yes, still very much am,” Swanson says. “I bought all the records when they
were new, watched all the TV shows and allowed them to warp my existence. As
far as a favorite album, Headquarters was always my favorite, even as a
kid. There were no hits on it, but there was just something about it. As a kid,
I was always fascinated by the pictures of them in the studio on the back
cover.”  

 

Swanson’s first crack at Midwestern rock prominence came in
the early ‘80s as drummer for the Reactions. He describes the punk-infused
power pop trio as a cross between the Jam and Agent Orange. In 1985, the
Reactions released two singles on St. Valentine, a label Swanson co-founded
with Death of Samantha vocalist John Petkovic. One of these singles made it to Pittsburgh, where it came to the attention of Cynics
guitarist and Get Hip Recordings owner Gregg Kostelich. Kostelich raved about
the Reactions, Swanson got the Cynics a gig in Cleveland,
and a lifelong friendship was born. Get Hip has since released all four Rainy
Day Saints albums.

 

“I occasionally fill in as the Cynics drummer when I get the
call for rock and roll duty!” Swanson says. “I love that band.”  

 

The Reactions disbanded not long after Homestead released their 1986 EP, Cracked Marbles,
but bassist Brian P. McCafferty would ultimately rejoin Swanson in the Rainy
Day Saints. Swanson then started drumming for the New Salem Witch Hunters, who
became Cleveland’s foremost
purveyors of psychotronic garage noise.

 

Concurrently, he played bass alongside Petkovic in Death of
Samantha from 1986 through 1990. Releasing three albums on Homestead, the band amassed underground acclaim and
college airplay with their jagged, Pere Ubu-inspired post-punk. They even
placed a song (“Coca-Cola & Licorice”) on 2000’s unlikely K-Tel
retrospective compilation, Gimme Indie Rock.

 

Not long after Death of Samantha split in 1990, Swanson,
Petkovic and guitarist Doug Gillard regrouped in Cobra Verde. Swanson moved
back to drums and future Rainy Day Saints co-producer/utility man Don Depew
took over on bass.

 

Cobra Verde’s artful mix of avant noise and punk venom fit
nicely alongside contemporary fellow Ohioans like Brainiac and Guided by
Voices. Swanson left the band in the late ‘90s, but not before Cobra Verde was
drafted en masse into GBV to back Robert Pollard from 1996 through 1997.
That’s them on Mag Earwig!                

 

“Doing the whole GBV thing was great fun all in all,”
Swanson says.

 

After leaving Cobra Verde, Swanson was ready to do his own
thing. He doesn’t remember the exact origin of “Rainy Day Saints” as a moniker,
but it came about on the eve of his ostensible 2003 “solo” debut, Saturday’s
Haze
.

 

“At the time, I thought I just didn’t want to put out a
record under my name. I thought it would be better to give it a band name of
sorts, even though for the most part, it’s just me on that album.”

 

The psych-pop overtones of Saturday’s Haze were
augmented by West Coast jangle on 2006’s Diamond
Star Highway
, which also features a slowed-down but
highly effective hometown hero cover of “Sonic Reducer” by the Dead Boys. All
These Strange Ghosts
picks up the tasteful covers motif with a revved-up
version of the Teardrop Explodes’ “Reward.”

 

“I replaced the use of horns with more guitars and made it a
more straight ahead, harder rock kind of thing,” Swanson says. “I think it
works that way. I don’t see the point of doing a cover if you are just doing it
by numbers. You’ve got to make it your own.”

 

Swanson’s penchant for late ‘60s/early ‘70s prog-rock became
more pronounced on 2009’s Reflected. Despite coming of age in the
post-punk era, he never had much use for the reactionary rejection of anything
over three minutes.

 

“Even during the punk era, I hung onto my Genesis, Yes and
King Crimson records, which I still love,” he explains. “I think it (prog-rock)
got a bad rap over the years, somewhat deservedly so when you bring up the more
overblown nonsense, but a lot of it had a real magic to it. Bands were testing
the limits of what they could do. Genesis wrote great songs, some of them
happened to be 22 minutes long, but I don’t see that as pretentious, I see it
as adventurous. Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator were as aggressive as you
can get and made some of the most incredible music ever.”

 

Although Swanson still writes the songs and does the bulk of
recording on his own, the Rainy Day Saints are very much a band now. Friend,
McCafferty, lead guitarist Keith Pickering and drummer Scott Pickering have
been playing alongside Swanson since Diamond Star Highway. With
potential Next Big Thingdom now a thing of the past, the focus is squarely on
enjoying the ride. 

 

“We are all coming from the, shall we say,
music-from-the-elders role of things,” Swanson says. “We’ve all been around the
block…or two…and still love doing music. That’s what keeps it going. Boring
perhaps, but it’s true. If we were still doing this thinking fame and fortune
was around the next corner, we should have our heads examined. There is no
fame, and there certainly is no fortune!”

 

 

[Photo
Credit: Joe Friend. Below, listen to a radio special featuring Dave Swanson,
from the WQ4D internet station, the “Outsight Radio Hours” hosted by DJ Tom
Schulte]

 

 


Outsight Radio Hours: Rainy Day Saints by WQ4DRadio

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