Interview: Can’t Swim’s Chris LoPorto Talks Surprise Acoustic EP, Life in Quarantine

Posted: by The Editor

Photo by Nick Karp

Can’t Swim can’t tour. On May 28, the New Jersey five-piece were supposed to kick off an epic spring tour, supporting Bayside’s 20-year anniversary along with Senses Fail and Hawthorne Heights. But the continued spread of COVID-19 means the tour’s off, with rebooking it for sometime in 2021 the next best option. 

On tour, the band would have been supporting their most recent release, extra-heavy 2019 EP Foreign Language—and, of course, playing the set list staples from their last four years: “Stranger,” “sometimes you meet the right people at the wrong times,” “My Queen.”

But in a silver lining gleaned from a shitty situation, as of today fans have a new Can’t Swim EP to stream while they bide their time until tours start up again. 

When the Dust Settles, out today through Pure Noise Records, is a collection of reimagined versions of four fan favorites from Fail You Again and This Too Shall Pass: “sometimes you meet the right people at the wrong times,” “Death Deserves a Name,” “Stranger,” and “My Queen.” They’re stripped-down, quiet, haunting—perfect for the strange moment in time they’re occupying. 

“I named it When the Dust Settles as an homage to what is happening in the world. I just think it’s fitting of the tone of the songs. They’re relaxed with an at-home kind of vibe,” says vocalist Chris LoPorto, 31, by phone. “The album art I shot for it also meant to cater to what is going on,” he adds. It’s the first time Can’t Swim has ever used a current event as inspiration for an album cover; as longtime fans will know, most of the band’s album covers feature LoPorto’s ex-girlfriend, about whom many of the songs are written.

The EP came about because LoPorto “can’t really sit still.” In fact, that part of his personality is so well-established that it’s the butt of many jokes among the band. And yet, that’s exactly what LoPorto has to do right now in quarantine—not at home in New York, or even in Los Angeles, where he was earlier this spring working on some Can’t Swim songs, but in his parents’ apartment in Orlando, Florida. LoPorto’s birthday was on March 21, and he had flown to Orlando to celebrate with his parents in their new place. Now, he can’t leave. 

“I’ve been in Orlando for what feels like an eternity. I’m half-kidding,” LoPorto says, laughing. “I’m not very good at staying in one place, and just being in 95 degree weather for weeks…” Needless to say, LoPorto needed an outlet. “The creativity is coming for sure; the work ethic hasn’t dwindled,” he says. He had long contemplated recording some stripped-down versions of Can’t Swim songs, so, he figured, there’s no time like the present.  

The production quality of When the Dust Settles makes learning it was recorded in the closet of his parents’ apartment a delightful surprise. That’s not to say it was easy. Can’t Swim produces all their albums, and for this EP, LoPorto and guitarist Danny Rico mixed the songs. LoPorto has a little portable home studio that’s “not really elaborate,” he says (sure, since it can fit in a closet). He has a microphone and a guitar at his parents’ place, and everything else you hear on the album—piano, strings—is MIDI keyboard computer software. LoPorto is a big advocate of recording not having to be this elaborate, outsourced thing. “It takes a lot of work and it’s a real pain in the ass, but the technology is certainly there,” he says. “Somebody can make a great-sounding record on a laptop on an airplane.”

This was the first time, however, that LoPorto recorded a record’s final vocal takes by himself; normally, he has Rico in the same room helping produce them. While he acknowledges that the DIY nature of recording this EP had some advantages—you feel like a “bother” if you can’t get a part right when the entire band is in the studio, but when you’re sitting alone you can sing the same line for three hours and “no one wants to kill you”—it was hard not to be hard on himself. 

“Committing to a vocal take by yourself is like…’this sucks, you’re a horrible singer,’” LoPorto said. The lead vocalist still considers himself a novice; LoPorto somewhat famously only started singing and playing guitar when he started Can’t Swim. He had played drums for 15 years, but his ambition was pacing his playing. When he showed friends Mike Sanchez (guitar), Greg McDevitt (bass) and Rico his early demos, they were impressed enough to join him in starting Can’t Swim. (Michael Sichel has since joined on drums.) 

Though LoPorto initially fronted the band with guitar in-hand, he recently decided to stop playing onstage altogether. In many ways, it was crutch, though when you’re on lead vocals, anything can be a crutch—the mic stand, not speaking between songs, what you do with your body. In the beginning, the whole concept was “incredibly nerve wracking,” but LoPorto just tries not to get in his own head and to feed off the energy of the crowd—which, at Can’t Swim shows, is always in abundant supply. 

Of course, that environment is gone for the foreseeable future, and if ambition and work ethic pushed LoPorto toward fronting a band to begin with, they’re certainly still in abundant supply even as the music world holds its breath. Returning to these songs in a new way, then, was the obvious thing to do. 

“The songs are a lot quieter, a lot slower-paced,” LoPorto says. Take, specifically, “Stranger.” The original version probably had, he estimates, between 80 and 100 different tracks. That’s everything from loud acoustic drums, distortion on the bass and electric guitars, distortion on some of LoPorto’s vocals, snare, sixth guitar, ninth harmony—so many different layers. By contrast, the acoustic version has “maybe 12” distinct tracks. 

“A great song can be literally sung to you out loud in a room and it’s great,” LoPorto says. “The more you have to color it with all these different tricks is probably because it’s not a very good song. I would like to think ‘Stranger’ is simple, easy to get lyrically, easy to understand what the narrative is about. ‘Stranger’ was the one song I probably always wanted to do a stripped-down version of; it made this whole idea come about. I sent it to Pure Noise and our manager and they really liked it, so they said, ‘Why don’t we make this a release?’ I picked a couple more songs to make it an EP.” 

Indeed, one of the hallmarks of Can’t Swim’s sound has always been this contrast between stabbing riffs punctuating LoPorto’s growling vocals and melodies that might be described as singalong in quality. In the stripped-down versions, LoPorto’s vocals—and Rico’s, who also sings on the new version of “Death Deserves a Name”—are necessarily more front and center. On that song, LoPorto’s range spans almost a full octave. Though he has almost no ability to do  a falsetto, the pre-chorus of “Death Deserves a Name” is sung in LoPorto’s “head voice,” the notes at the very top of his range. Those range-spanning melodies are another Can’t Swim hallmark, by design. ”It’s just a tried-and-true trick,” LoPorto says. “It makes the verse seem a little more boring and then the chorus seems like this big, exciting, powerful thing.” 

The EP is a well-rounded addition to Can’t Swim’s catalog, which doesn’t feature a whole lot of quiet moments. And the new spotlight on LoPorto’s vocals is an exciting evolution for the singer, who insists he was “almost tone deaf when the band started.” “I’m not even really exaggerating,” he says, laughing. 

And if not for isolation, it never would have seen the light of day. “100 percent, I wouldn’t have put out a whole stripped-down EP,” LoPorto says. “It’s not gonna get the mosh pit going, but for something like this it makes a lot of sense. It’s more catered to listening to it sitting at home.”

The band likely won’t release When the Dust Settles in any physical formats. But if you’re an old school-type person who loves to buy music, LoPorto would humbly ask instead that you consider buying a face mask from the band’s merch store, and they will in turn donate (a plain) one to a local healthcare provider in New Jersey, the United States coronavirus epicenter. “That’s the point of this release,” LoPorto says. “It’s for what’s going on there.”

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Michelle Bruton | @MichelleBruton

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