I sat down with Jared Swanson of Abbot Kinney before his show at Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco to chat about new music, touring plans in 2017 and his newest obsession with sea otters.
Kastania: How did you come up with the name ‘Abbot Kinney’? How did you meet the other members in the band?
Jared: When I was living in Los Angeles, I was just starting out writing the first album with this guy Jeremiah and we met and we were kinda working on stuff and we were having such a hard time deciding on a name. It’s like super hard to find a name and you have these sessions where you’re like, ‘Okay we have good music! How do we effectively encompass it?’ We were throwing out things like ‘Black Crayon’, which is awful and we would just go back and forth, back and forth. I remembered in high school I was in Culver City near LA by this music academy called Hamilton and I was driving through Venice and Abbot Kinney by that street and just thinking to myself that there’s something about the way it looked and the way that you said it, it just sounded good. I didn’t even know about the guy yet, I was just in high school but I just saw it and I was like that should be a band name before I even thought about being in a band but it was in my train of thought. I was in choirs and music schools but I didn’t know I was going to be in a rock band. In a session when we were going back and forth, finally I was like, ‘oh wait Abbot Kinney!’ And my partner at the time was like, YUP! So we went with it. We sessioned out and played all over LA near Silver Lakes scene. We spent two years making the first album with a group of musicians that I worked with for awhile in Los Angeles and with this last album, “The Night”. Aaron Axelsen, from LIVE 105 has been nice enough to play it (on Soundcheck Radio). It was like a breakup album with Los Angeles. My needing to leave Los Angeles, it was was not my scene and so I put that album together and was playing with some different members in Los Angeles but I’ve never really had… I’ve always been something of the front man. The creator and maker and visionary as far as creating stuff. I don’t even say that to be selfish or anything I’ve always wanted more people to be like, yeah I’ll jump in there and we’ll work on this. I’ve had a little bit of that but I’ve always had to lead the torch and build it. So on the second album, I was kind of bringing in different musicians and trying different things and then I moved here and we got together for SXSW show and that kind of kicked off the way we met the band. Then I met all these members through this musicians meet up called Balanced Breakfast and fell into that on day 3 and that’s how I met Carmen, Dakota and Tony. They were like, yeah we’ll learn these tunes and go to SXSW and we’ll put something together and within the last year we started developing the last 2 songs together. So now there’s this group that feels like we’re all together in this.
K: What’s your music making process?
J: I think what happens is; it’s like when you have no way of expressing a feeling. There’s no possible way to talk about it. That’s usually when I pick up my guitar and go to the piano and just try it and work something out. For me, that’s what artistic expression is and no other way of expressing it and I just have to figure out what needs to be said and then it becomes very subconscious the way it comes out because it’s something I’m not even aware of. For whatever reason it’s something that has calmed me and gotten me through some sort of experience or feeling.
K: What is your first memory of music?
J: So my Dad’s a drummer. One of my earliest memories is when he was practicing the drums, but probably not good for a baby but who cares, he was a drummer. I’d be in his kick drum just inside and playing, really tiny. It was like a little playpen. Musicians have just always be in my life. At first, I wanted an electric guitar and there would be different musicians coming in and out of the house and I’d be like, “hey you’re here, you’re eating, can you teach me a riff or something. Can you teach me Led Zeppelin?” They would sit down and teach me.
K: The age old question, how would you describe your sound?
J: HA! That is hard. Colorful, triumphant, sad. Well the way I think of it is the sound that tries to triumph over anxiety and fear. The sound is always trying to evoke a sense of truth, admitting that anxiety and fear is real and hard. And let’s overcome it and go on a journey together to beat it. I’m not saying my music is curing cancer, I’m just saying I have a lot of anxiety and fears and helps me reach out and touch people and feel like I’m using my time and I’m alive. It’s a sense of, ‘okay we’re all people, we’re all anxious we all have these things, life can be crazy and difficult and messy and weird but it can also be these awesome and fulfilling moments’. When the music builds and grows. It’s affirming and rising above. Without being like, ‘yeah let’s all drink and like ‘F’ it, let’s everyone dance’.
K: What song would you say is a fan favorite live?
J: ‘It’s the Middle of the Night’, for sure. We tried to put a new song as the last song and our manager Victor was like nope!
K: What’s your spirit animal(s)?
J: Maybe a sea otter. I only say that because I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and I watched the feeding and started to get really into it. There’s a picture on my Instagram of me standing next to a picture of one of them and I literally look like one of the sea otters.
K: Hidden talents? GO!
J: I do a decent Scottish accent? I can time step, tap. I’ll show you right now! Preamble, I’m not a gun fan but we went to Vegas for my buddy’s bachelor party and we went to a gun range and I was oddly good at shooting a hand pistol.
K: So in another life were you like a cowboy?
J: A seal? HAHAA! That went in 2 different directions.
K: What’s on your playlist?
J: Lucious! I saw them at the Fillmore, they’re really good, super artsy. These 2 women, beautiful voices like 90’s R&B throwback but as indie pop rock so it’s like super intricate and awesome harmonies. They’re both singing and it gets to a point where you don’t know who is singing what part. It’s seamless, beautiful voices, insanely good! It’s one of those things where I don’t have their whole album on repeat but there are like 4 or 5 songs that are just like money! I like their stuff right now and Fantastic Negrito is really great, local blues guy. I dig The Session too! I like listening to local stuff to see what’s coming out. Carmen from the band has some sick stuff coming out too! It’s like really nerd out recording style, like tape.
K: Biggest accomplishment as a band so far?
J: I think getting played on the radio was a really big deal. We got played by KXP a while when we first did our first album and that was really a big deal. I just think in your mind as a kid in the 90’s, KROQ was such a big deal and so I would hear stuff on that and that’s when CD’s were still happening and I would record the tape from the tape player on the boombox and I would wait for the song and have it ready and queued up on the mixtape and then I’d hit it. It was a big deal for me growing up. It’s not like night and day, like suddenly you hear someone on the radio and suddenly you’re a thing. It’s just the fact that someone heard us and said this is good, means a lot.
K: What can we expect to see from you guys in 2017? (New music, new shows?)
J: We’re trying to record these 2 singles and currently deciding how and where we’re doing that and then we want to go with that ASAP. We want to play bigger and better shows. I would like to tour and go to Portland and Seattle and back down to LA and San Diego. I don’t know if we’re quite ready to be going to the East Coast but I might go over there and try to play some solo gigs or stuff like that. It’s just far! I don’t know if we’re big in the south like Austin but I feel like New York is good for us, Chicago maybe, Boston. Eventually I’d like to be on the road more and put out bigger and better singles.