>> Swoll is a band based out of Washington D.C that has been described as minimal bass-centric electronic music with trap, rock, and pop elements. Swoll is comprised of three talented fellas: Matt Dowling, Benjamin Schurr, and Erik Sleight. Their self-titled album was just released on March 9th via Blight Records. We had the pleasure of talking with the wise Matt Dowling about the new age of communication. Check it out!
Do you see today’s over connectivity as a good or bad thing?
I don’t like to peg things in absolute terms, so I won’t say that over-connectivity is either monolithically “good” or monolithically “bad.” Now, however, conventional wisdom, at least how I see it, holds a fairly monolithic view about connectivity/communication. We hear all the time things like “better communication is the answer,” “you just aren’t communicating, that’s the problem!” and “I’d be happier if I didn’t feel so disconnected.” Communication is God in the current world. And today, we can communicate constantly…..I mean that literally; I, or anyone, could for the remainder of their entire waking life, a Facebook message (or whatever displaces Facebook eventually) with their friends. They COULD do nothing but that. That’s insane that it is a truly real possibility for a human being, but life’s insane.
What if connectivity was viewed in the exact opposite fashion? That is, if conventional wisdom said, “communication and connectivity are bad; avoid it like the plague.” People would isolate themselves in secluded cabins and probably revert to reading, writing, artwork, hobbies, meditation etc. to stay sane. Something would be missing of course, which is human-to-human interaction, but if you weigh only two choices, (1) extreme isolationism (cabin in the woods for all time alone) vs (2) extreme hyper-connectivity (constant FB messaging; nothing else) with respect to the human experience, which is likely to be more fulfilling? For me, hands down the answer is isolationism. But that’s just my opinion, man.
How do you personally handle and manage your social media use?
I didn’t have personal social media accounts until very recently. I think the way things have played out, it’s very difficult to be a musician and not have a personal social media presence in 2018. Relative to current social media platforms, I long for the days of MySpace because it didn’t require musicians to have individual accounts; you could just communicate through your band account…..with other bands, or other individuals. That was awesome, and if that still existed today somehow, I would only do MySpace as a band/artist vs. personal.
So, thinking about it in the MySpace framework, I would simply put up new shows as they were booked, maybe post something when new news came up. I’d contact other bands when working to set up shows in any given town. That resulted in pretty regular daily activity. That was great. Now you have to use your dumb personal FB page to do anything to your band’s page. And that forces you to link your personal shit with your band shit. That’s really annoying to me.
Anyway, to answer the question, I would imagine I handle my social media accounts like 99.9% of people. I did the work to make the accounts, and I accept friend requests if I know who the person is or at least have a few mutual contacts. Then, I’ll occasionally post about something that I feel my friends should know about. For example, if I released a record, or if I’m playing a big hometown show, I will post something about that. Aside from that, it’s basically just a glorified email account, which allows people to eavesdrop on their email contacts significantly more so than in an email only world. With respect to band accounts, that requires more regular posting as there is much more to let your network know about on a regular basis. So usually with my bands, we try to post at least a few times a week on all platforms. Is it worth anything for bands? Really hard to say frankly, but it feels like a rogue organic approach (i.e. no social media at all) wouldn’t result in some noble pat-on-the-back from the consumer, but rather would just result in the consumer never hearing or caring about the music.
Having played in a few bands, do you find you can tell when a band is at its end, or does it seem more surprising?
You know when it’s coming to an end. It’s very rare that a band just dies without any signs of death. There are two very key fundamentals to being in a band: (1) writing and (2) practicing. Usually, those two mind-bogglingly simple things stop happening, or become like pulling teeth, thus causing a lot less of it to occur, when a band reaches its end. There will always be drama, and that often gets pointed to as the break-up driver, but if you’re not writing and practicing regularly, the whole engine of the car is just yanked out. A band has to love writing and practicing together.
Another important note to all bands: there’s a somewhat obvious, yet easily overlooked element to being in a band. And that element is friendship. That’s really how it all starts; friends sharing a common love of music and getting in a room together and creating. As stuff grows with a band, you start spending more and more amounts of time together getting stuff done to keep the wheels on the cart, which is usually all writing, recording, shows, videos, etc. Things become very “biz” by necessity to some degree. This “biz” time becomes so much time, that the “friend time,” which you had copious amounts of at the beginning of the band, has now disappeared entirely, as there are so many hours in the day. Therefore, you have to continue prioritizing and even scheduling straight-up “friend time.” Go to a movie together, grab a coffee together, walk through the park together, and just be friends…..work on being friends……it really does take some effort, but it can be a fun effort and it’s essential to the health of a band.
What do you think we can be doing as consumers to improve our social media interactions? Is it a way of communication we can change? How do you think the ability to interact with people all over the world from your own couch can help or hurt musicians and artists?
That’s a tough one. And I feel uncomfortable being put into a didactic position on this question. It’s not my place to say how people should communicate on social media. I know that I feel that a lot of communication on social media that I observe is really annoying. It feels like farting, just constant farting. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with farting, it’s natural. But imagine if everyone was just farting constantly in public, and it was actually encouraged. For one, it would smell really bad, which I would imagine most people wouldn’t like. It would also be really distracting. It would be harder for people to have genuine interactions with one another. Imagine trying to have a group discussion about a significant piece of literature or listening to a great record while there’s just constant farting. I’m not saying it absolutely can’t be done, but it’s certainly not ideal in the quest towards discovering deeper meaning and uncovering the hidden truth.
What’s your process for composing music? Do you start on instruments and move to the computer, or is all your work done through programs?
Really just singing while playing my baritone guitar. Just trying to find melodies that do something for me and then build out the rest of the song from there. Once I’ve got the song structure and the key melodies, I lay down a simple beat with a drum machine and then start building.
What’s your favorite way to dial back into the world and disconnect from the virtual one?
Do you find it hard to do marketing and getting yourself out there and heard about in media?
I think it’s extremely hard for any musician getting out there and heard about in the media. It’s just statistically difficult. The top 5 to 10 music outlets are likely getting hit with hundreds of pitches each and every day from fairly trusted sources (labels, publicists, artists they’ve covered before); the numbers from non-trusted sources (new, random bands) is probably in the thousands per day. They probably have space for single-digit postings every day. So it is a “one out of a thousand” kind of odds game.
So what do you do? Really just focus on the art and making. Use social media as your free platform to get your art available to the world, and just keep making stuff. The visuals and all extra stuff should flow out from the music in terms of inspiration. And you just put it out there as consistently as you can.
If you could create a website that instantly had millions of users, regardless of what the content was - what would you make it? How would people interact with it?
Wow, good question and really hard to give a great answer as this isn’t a topic for which I like to do idea banking. But in relation to an answer to a previous question, if I had the time, I would re-make something that looked and worked almost exactly like MySpace, but had the sales functionality of Bandcamp. That would be perfect. You’d have to work really hard to disable spam accounts, which really were the key downfall of MySpace. For those who forget, MySpace simply had a streaming interface near the top of the page, so you could hear the band’s music, and it had shows listed in a nice, readable fashion below the streaming tool. Finally, it had user commenting below that. Also, each page was very customizable, so each band’s (or individual’s) MySpace could look hugely different, which made it exciting to be engaged with. The aesthetic monotony of Facebook profiles is really exhausting, to be honest. <<