Allspice Rock

This UK band doesn't like rules-in the kitchen or in the studio.

Even in these post-everything times, few rock bands dare to entertain as many competing genres as England's The Heavy. Over two albums now, singer Kelvin Swaby, guitarist Dan Taylor, bassist Spencer Page, and drummer Chris Ellul have exuded a steamy mix of raw and smooth, old and new, fragile and strong. There are shades of funk, soul, hip-hop, blues, garage, and straight-up rock in their songs, with an underlying influence of kung fu films, spaghetti Westerns, and other cinematic output."That's the idea," says Swaby, speaking over a crackling connection from a tour stop in Hollywood. "Music doesn't have any rules, does it? You can throw whatever with whatever. We've just become good in the kitchen, putting in the right seasoning for whatever the track needs."That anything-goes attitude explains the presence of vintage strings and horns alongside looped beats and other modern touches. "Willie Mitchell probably would have loved to do that years ago, but I'm so glad he didn't have Logic and Pro Tools, because he made some of the best music ever for Hi Records," Swaby says of the famed Memphis soul producer. "We still record with that vintage aesthetic in mind, but use the tools we have nowadays to make it a little easier and more contemporary."Formed in the tiny hamlet of Noid, England, The Heavy signed to Ninja Tune imprint Counter Records to release a spirited 2007 debut, Great Vengeance and Furious Fire. They recently answered that overnight breakout with The House That Dirt Built, a sophomore album that oozes with confidence and chops. The band's instant success can be partly attributed to coming from such a small town, where any act is isolated from the national music scene. "You can either walk with the rest of the living dead," notes Swaby, "or you can lock yourself away and be creative. We chose the latter. It means you can really, really hone your craft."That craft propelled Great Vengeance and Furious Fire to recognition around the world, including Japan and Australia—no mean feat considering the album was written and recorded largely in a bedroom. It was intended simply as a collection of the best songs The Heavy had yet written, but a week after it was finished Counter Records came knocking, and the album was soon released just as it was originally recorded. The band found it encouraging that Counter didn't want to change a single lick of the raw, DIY product. In fact, the band took the same homespun approach for The House That Dirt Built, despite a co-producer credit for UK guru Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele, Editors)."We recorded a lot of it at home," explains Swaby. "Then we used a studio in Bristol to do overdubs. When it was actually presented to Jim, it was probably 75% finished. But Jim's got the ears. He didn't want to change it; he just wanted to embellish it and bring out the strength of the songs. That was what he came on to do."The Heavy have talked to Abbiss about overseeing their next album as well. He certainly did a bang-up job on Dirt, bringing a smooth bounce to songs that had been recorded in one take. For example, the single "Oh No! Not You Again!" was captured in a single go in a small shack in southwest England, with backing vocals from the Noisettes' Shingai Shoniwa. The bluesy "Long Way From Home" had a similar origin. Regardless of the sound of each song, what holds The Heavy's hungrily diverse work together is the musicians' old-school versatility and the wide range of Swaby's singing, which can move in seconds from a hungry growl to a snappy bark to a funky falsetto worthy of Curtis Mayfield."I do love Curtis," he admits, "and Prince and Al Green. When Al Green goes falsetto, he's absolutely insanely good. Al Green was an artist that I used to listen to so much. Frankie Lymon as well, [and] Frankie Valli." He adds that falsetto is just a natural occurrence. "If it manifests itself, you have to do it."Following a phase in which a flood of Heavy songs have been licensed for various purposes (two were recently featured on Entourage), The Heavy will bring its swaggering sound through the States once more."It's crazy," says Swaby of their live show. "It's a throwback to the bands we grew up listening to. It has as much as energy. I get tired of bands that just stand behind the microphone and sing."feedback@seattleweekly.com

 
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