When you think of Nashville, Tennessee, you probably think of country music – after all, it is home to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, as well as bands like Lady Antebellum and the Everly Brothers. But Nashville’s music scene is far more diverse than that: from the pop-punk group Paramore to the alternative-rock band Kings of Leon to the folk blues quartet Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, many talented musicians call Nashville home.
A few years ago, Swear and Shake, a three-person band from New York, joined the Nashville indie scene, bringing with them their own unique sound. Their style transcends musical genres, combining the Southern twang of a folk-style banjo with smooth, soulful vocals and three-part harmonies. Swear and Shake has spent a good deal of time touring the country, and they even performed live at Palmetto Bluff’s Music To Your Mouth last year as well as producing a song for Crescent Communities’ Holiday e-card, too.
At the front of Swear and Shake is Kari Spieler, whose constant smile is both charming and mischievous. When she speaks, her voice is lower than you’d expect, and fuller – you can tell at once that she can sing. Kari provides lead vocals as well as guitar and songwriting.
Her bandmates, Adam McHeffey and Shaun Savage, sport mid-length dark hair and matching, neatly trimmed beards. Adam co-writes most of the songs with Kari and plays guitar while Shaun plays bass guitar. The men provide backup vocals, harmonizing perfectly with Kari’s lilting voice. The three formed Swear and Shake in 2010 while attending the State University of New York at Purchase, fondly referred to as Purchase by many students. Purchase is known as a hub for talented artists, producing such powerhouse musicians like Regina Spektor and Moby. Currently on tour, Swear and Shake gave The Bluff a backstage pass to life on the road.
What prompted the formation of Swear and Shake?
Adam: Shaun and I grew up together, and I met Kari while attending Purchase. We recorded our first song, “Johnnie,” a week before graduation.
Did you always know you were going to be musicians?
Kari: I did. I’ve always wanted to be a singer since I was a little girl, and I studied music production at Purchase.
What’s the meaning behind the name of your band, Swear and Shake?
Shaun: The name Swear and Shake came from some lyrics in an older song of Adam’s [when he was a solo artist] back before the band began. The line went, ‘Swear and shake me endlessly,’ and when Kari and Adam were brainstorming on what to call their new project, they liked the way those words sounded together so they chose it as the band’s name. Since then, the name, taken out of the context of that song, has developed its own meaning. ‘Swear and Shake’ is a sort of testament to our shared commitment to the project — it’s like we’ve all sworn and shaken on the fact that we’re on this crazy journey of making music our career and lives together.
Some of our readers saw your performance at Music To Your Mouth 2015, but others are probably unfamiliar with your music. Where should they start?
Kari: I’d say start with our record “Maple Ridge.” We’ve got a new record coming out next season, but there’s something special about our first full-length album.
You’ve identified your style as “Big Hook Americana.” Can you give us an idea of what that means?
Adam: We’ve always written catchy choruses — sort of pop-inspired — that’s the “big hook” part. At our inception, we were heavily influenced by folk music, and we used that set of instrumentation. That’s the “Americana.”
The three of you come from different stylistic backgrounds. Does that lead to conflict? Or cooperation?
Shaun: I would say more cooperation. Those different backgrounds are really just more tools in the toolbox when we sit down to write or arrange. It’s really helpful to be able to call upon them to add color and depth to an otherwise one-dimensional arrangement.
Do you think your move to Nashville has had a major impact on your music? Have other bands inspired you?
Kari: Absolutely! There’s a very supportive community here that just wants to play music and hear music.
Musically, you’ve got a nice breadth of style both in lyrics and in melody. But which comes first? Do you set out with an idea for a theme — say, one of your particularly unique ones, like “Humming to a Sea Snail” — and write music to match, or does the tune inspire the lyrics?
Adam: We typically play around with a few chords and let a few words come out of our mouths, letting the song take shape on its own. When there’s a little story or something to work with, we start sculpting.
Are some songs easier to write than others? Who comes up with most of the ideas?
Shaun: It sure seems like it. Kari and Adam do the writing – the ground-level, foundation of the songs. We all arrange them, find the structure and the feel and mood of the song together. Sometimes the songs seem to write themselves, where the direction is so clear and easy and natural that they just sort fly out of Adam and/or Kari and through the arranging process like a breeze. Others will take months to get right and need a lot of work to get them to a place where we’re happy with them.
What’s the most exciting thing happening with Swear and Shake now?
Kari: We’re most excited about our second full-length record. It’s been successfully funded on PledgeMusic! We are all so proud of the songs and can’t wait to get into the studio.
How do you like touring?
Kari: You’d get a different answer depending on who you speak to in the band. Personally, touring is my absolute favorite part of being a musician. I just love to perform every night.
You’ve been pretty successful – making a full-time career in the local Nashville scene, releasing several records, and even touring the country. Do you have any advice for local musicians trying to make it?
Shaun: Well, I don’t know if I’m really qualified to give advice about “making it,” but I will say this: just get out there and play. Make yourself heard, because what you’re doing is important. And be nice, too.
Do your shows get crazy? Any fun stories you’d like to share?
Adam: Ahh, now that’s the sort of thing you have to see for yourself at a live show.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
Adam: To hear our latest releases and follow along with the new record, visit PledgeMusic.com/swearandshake. That’s our primary spot for keeping fans apprised of the Swear and Shake developments.
Written by Timothy White
Photography courtesy of Swear and Shake
AT FIRST SOUND
Written by Aldo Muccia
After first hearing Swear and Shake at an event in Nashville, Tennessee, I couldn’t get the band’s cool, rhythmic melody out of my head. Kari’s voice is absolutely amazing. She has a way with tone – alternating the highs and the lows – putting her own spin on a classic tune that keeps you wanting more. Swear and Shake’s sound is without a doubt like no other, thriving as a modern twist on traditional soul and folk music with unbelievable vocals. At the concert, I kept asking myself, ‘How does she sound so powerful yet angelic at the same time?’ The energy of the band as they perform is genuine and authentic, and you can tell they truly enjoy doing what they do. Check to see if Swear and Shake is performing in a town near you – you won’t regret it.