Interview: Can’t Swim on Their Changing Sound and Refusing To Be Pigeonholed
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Reviewers might term it an “experimental EP,” but for lead vocalist Chris LoPorto, Can’t Swim’s upcoming five-track release Someone Who Isn’t Me is just the latest—and not the last—evolution in the band’s sound.
Fans who heard lead single “Who’s Happy?” upon its release around Halloween wouldn’t necessarily know something is afoot. A demo LoPorto had been holding on to for a long time, “Who’s Happy” is a sonical sibling, or at least cousin, to the songs that comprise Can’t Swim’s two full-length albums, Fail You Again and This Too Won’t Pass. Its mellow, ethereal quality, with LoPorto singing in his head voice, recalls “Quitting” off the first LP. And that may have factored into why it was the first release from an EP on which it serves as a bridge between the Can’t Swim of then and the Can’t Swim of now.
“I think it was a cool idea to put out ‘Who’s Happy?’ first and let people get their bearings and maybe not completely trip them up on the first single,” LoPorto says by phone. When the single dropped, he says, people commented on the lyrics or the catchiness of the chorus, but “no one seemed to be particularly interested in how different it sounds.”
That may change upon the release of the second single, “Casey.” It is tethered to earlier Can’t Swim by its minor, slightly foreboding tonality and LoPorto’s vocals, both constants in Can’t Swim’s catalog. At first, the beats that anchor it don’t feel particularly surprising. Synths are a free-for-all, a genre-crossing dominant element of new music in 2020. As the song comes to a conclusion, however, listeners will realize how different this is than anything that came before. And that’s LoPorto’s hope. “I can’t imagine myself ever being like, ‘I can’t wait for my favorite band to put out their next album in hopes it sounds like their last one,’” LoPorto says. “Why wouldn’t you just listen to the last one again? Where is the excitement of the new material?”
When LoPorto was a teenager, it was New Wave bands The Cure and The Smiths, as well as The Postal Service, that were on constant rotation. “It wasn’t Nirvana drums and guitars,” LoPorto says, “but music that had a lot of electronic elements.” In many ways, Someone Who Isn’t Me started taking shape way back then. “It was just another wish list item: ‘It would be so cool to do Can’t Swim music like that,’” LoPorto says.
Just when fans have gotten their bearings after hearing “Casey,” the rest of the EP will continue to challenge them. “Floor 71” is even more of a dance track, with guitarist Danny Rico handling most of the vocals. Can’t Swim fans were able to enjoy Rico’s vocals on Can’t Swim’s stripped-down EP, When the Dust Settles, released earlier this year; Rico reimagined the bridge of “Death Deserves a Name.” (Speaking of synths, perhaps give “Death Deserves a Name – Revisited” another listen as a palette cleanser before diving into Someone Who Isn’t Me.)
“Listening to Danny’s performance on ‘Floor 71’ just blows me away every time,” LoPorto says. “Something I’ve always known is that he’s a fantastic singer, and it’s so cool to bring it to the forefront. I get to be a fan of Can’t Swim for that three minutes.” The band got “nothing but positive feedback” from Rico’s vocal part on When the Dust Settles, and they want to “elaborate on that in the future,” LoPorto says. Utilizing Rico’s vocal talent on Someone Who Isn’t Me only helps Can’t Swim pull off their ambitious goal of continually reinventing themselves.
On the new record, acoustic track and closer “Tiny Hands” shares a kinship with the sonal quality of When the Dust Settles, even though Someone Who Isn’t Me was actually recorded first. (In fact, LoPorto was in LA recording Someone Who Isn’t Me in March and had to fly home as Covid-19 worsened.) But after hearing the two singles, the best way to digest the EP is to start from the beginning, where “Someone Who Isn’t You” continues to recall previous Can’t Swim releases while staking out totally uncharted territory. The growly synths at the jump and LoPorto’s sing-song vocals are familiar; when the beat drops to the bottom of the ocean at the 1:04 mark to herald the arrival of straight-up dirty trap beats, fans will know they’re not in Kansas anymore.
LoPorto recorded Someone Who Isn’t Me in LA with a friend from high school who doesn’t have much rock production under his belt but has extensive hip-hop and EDM experience. “It was almost like a writing workshop, if you will,” LoPorto explains. “It started to resonate with the team. Pure Noise liked it, management liked it, the rest of the band liked it.” The burning question, of course, as this EP was written and recorded pre-Covid, is how these songs would fit into a live performance alongside hits like “Your Clothes” and “Stranger.”
“We don’t really necessarily know when live music is gonna come back, so now seems more fitting a time than ever to put out songs that are catered more toward streaming platforms than mosh pitting at a rock show,” LoPorto says. “I don’t know if this EP would have come out if we were heavily in a touring cycle.”
Each time LoPorto has tried on a different veil, from the “’80s Beastie Boys punk rock” ethos of Foreign Language to the acoustic minimalism of When the Dust Settles to Someone Who Isn’t Me, he has fully expected the band or the label to gently suggest he try a solo project. “To my surprise, each time Jake [Round of Pure Noise] has been like, ‘Dude, I love it; it shows a different side of you guys,’” LoPorto says. “And that’s slowly becoming the blueprint of the band. Why do a solo project or collaborate under a different artist when Can’t Swim can be this full embodiment of a workforce of making freaky music?” While he acknowledges fans who want 10 more “Strangers” may be disappointed, the fulfillment found in branching out outweighs that fear.
If you listen to synthpop on the reg, Can’t Swim’s new offering will be a welcome addition to your collection. However, if you don’t usually venture too far from guitar bands, you may find Someone Who Isn’t Me shakes up your routine just enough to be more rewarding than challenging. It’s the kind of EP that will take multiple listens to digest. On first listen, you’ll be busy trying to acclimate yourself to the change in sound. On second listen, you’ll pick up on elements you missed the first time, like LoPorto’s (always) introspective lyrics and the sheer layers of instrumentation. By third listen, you’ll realize just how much you kind of love it.
“I would love for people to pick up the record and listen to a song like ‘Casey’ or ‘Someone Who Isn’t You’ and think, Wow, this is so different, because that’s how I look at it as well,” LoPorto says. “I hope people take that as we’re trying new things and working hard,” LoPorto adds. “I’m not just looking at ‘Stranger’ and saying, ‘I could change that from a 1-4-5 to a minor.’ In five years of doing this band, we’re still like the kids in the candy store, excited for the new treat we get to play with. On this EP, the candy store was filled with electronic keyboards and synthesizers and freaky vocal effects. I hope they can tell this is going to be what we always continue to do.”
Someone Who Isn’t Me is out December 4th on Pure Noise Records. You can preorder it now on the band’s Bandcamp.
Michelle Bruton | @MichelleBruton
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