THE HEAVY with the ELASTOCITIZENS at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (May 10). $10. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
If your bandmates are weedy tossers from Bath, you don’t go around calling yourselves the Heavy unless you can deliver the wall-shaking goods.
Confrontationally charismatic frontman Kelvin Swaby and his crack crew do just that on their ruthlessly raunchy Great Vengeance And Furious Fire (Counter/Ninja Tune) disc. It’s gotten them lumped in with the nu-funk crowd – the Dap-Kings, New Mastersounds, Lefties Soul Connection, Speedometer or the Bamboos – but they don’t have much in common with them. The Heavy come off more like a hard-riffing 70s rock band fronted by a deep soul belter blessed with a stinging falsetto that registers in the Green range, somewhere between Al’s sacred and Cee-Lo’s profane.
“There’s a much stronger connection with what we’re doing to blues and soul than to funk,” explains Swaby from the group’s rehearsal space. “We certainly don’t want anything to do with fret-wanking and wah-wah pedals. I think Amy Winehouse has done a good job developing her own sound, and what the Dap-Kings are doing is genius, so I don’t mind us being mentioned in the same paragraph as them. But I’m quite happy being on the fringes of what’s going on here.
“Our whole aesthetic is about combining vintage ideology with contemporary resources. We’ll take some element from an amazing soul record – just the smallest part – and then we’ll replay it, chop it up and add our own lyrics from the darker end of the soul spectrum. For us it has to sound raw so it’s hard to determine when it might’ve been made.”
Any concerns that the Heavy might simply be a studio fabrication concocted by Swaby and his guitarist pal Daniel Taylor with help from drummer Corin Tucker (whom Swaby met while singing with Bristol trip-hop threat Alpha) vanished by the end of their first explosive number at their packed Red Eyed Fly showcase at South By Southwest.
In a matter of sweaty seconds, discussion of the group went from “The Heavy who?” to “Let’s talk licensing over lunch.” The in-person interview I’d set up had to be rescheduled when the group suddenly found themselves busy with more pressing matters. Evidently, there was loads to discuss with Playboy reps about the Heavy’s involvement with the Rock The Rabbit concert series.
“We spent quite a bit of time with the Playboy people,” cackles Swaby. “The Playboy party was very cool, and we tore up our end of it. Then we got to have breakfast with the Playmates, which was fun.”
So all of the Heavy’s hard work and capital investment is finally beginning to pay off. It turns out that they made a shrewd move in paying for their recording out of pocket rather than dealing with major-label losers who really just wanted to sign a malleable nu-funk act of their own to capitalize on Winehouse’s unanticipated platinum-plus success.
“We went through so much shit to get this record out, it’s unbelievable. That’s why we called it Great Vengeance And Furious Fire – just because of our dealings with the record industry. On the way up, you meet so many people from different labels who each tell you how they can do this and that for you, but they all really want to change what you do to suit their needs.”
Well, everyone except Peter Quicke at Ninja Tune, who signed the Heavy to the label’s Counter Records subsidiary, currently home to Pop Levi and the Death Set.
“Peter was at our Big Chill House show in London, where 400 people who had never seen us before were going absolutely berserk, so he asked us to send him a demo. We gave him what we’d recorded and that was it. They called us right back saying they wanted to sign us and release what we’d done exactly as it was. They didn’t want to change a thing.”
Despite recording and performing with Alpha, Kelvin Swaby clarifies that he was never actually a member of the Bristol triphop crew:
Alpha's sonic craftsman Corin Dingley, who bashed the drums on the Heavy's Great Vengeance and Furious Fire album will not be recording the follow-up with the group according to Swaby: