Punching Swans Interview: “The theme was sparked by an urban legend about an owl man “

punching swans
Photo by Samantha Hayley.

New album Nesting is out now.

Oscar Wilde once said, “It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.” I couldn’t agree more. On top of that, I think that Kent based noise rock trio Punching Swans would be on board with the infamous Irish playwright/Jonathan Ross doppelganger. Their brand of dissonant fuzz on their latest album Nesting is drenched in a wry and abstract humour that explores lyrics about fighting birds and everything generally avian. You can’t go wrong with a little irreverence as a general rule, and Punching Swans prove that rule with aplomb.

We sat down to have a chat with the trio and ended up talking about Bobcat Goldthwait (of Police Academy fame), the importance of humour, and concepts for their next album (serial killers?).

Purchase Nesting via Bandcamp.

JW: Joe Wise, Bass / Vox
GW: Greg Webster, Guitar / Vox
PP: Pablo Paganotto, Drums / Vox

Overblown: I really love the your band name. In my imagination, there’s something really funny about punching a swan. I don’t know what that says about me. Where’d the name come from?

JW: We couldn’t decide on a name at first. We were called ‘Randy Marsh’ temporarily as PS was initially a side project anyway so when we decided to continue me and Greg spent a day texting stupid names to each other.

GW: Yeah after agonising for a while it just became a full on text war. Michaela Strachan Giraffe Death was a close second.

JW: Punching Swans was the one that made us laugh the most so we kept it. I also like the idea of trying to punch a swan, I think it would be like hitting a balloon. Plus you could also imagine a swan with boxing gloves on or something.

O: All the songs on your latest album Nesting are related to birds. How did that come about?

JW: Considering our band name I thought it was an obvious idea and wondered why we hadn’t thought of it sooner. The theme was sparked by an urban legend about an owl man that has been spotted in Cornwall over the years. There’s a film about it too, but none of us have seen it yet. We started to think about the character and what we could do with it and soon we’d spawned a load of ideas.

O: One of my favourite songs on the album is ‘Pecked To Death’ which seems to have quite a healthy sense of humour. Is humour something you actively aim to inject into your music or something that comes out organically?

Answer: It’s organic, we spend quite a lot of time at rehearsals just talking bollocks and ideas come up conversationally. Usually it’s something repellent, or that makes us go ‘bleurgh’, but I for one like that. I find it funny that we can say quite gross stuff at a gig but it won’t necessarily be heard. Humour is definitely part of our band, if we weren’t laughing it wouldn’t be as much fun.

O: In Overblown’s recent list of new noise rock bands we compared the Punching Swan vocals on ‘Pecked to Death’ to Bobcat Goldthwait. Remember him? I meant it as a compliment! How do you feel about the comparison?

JW: I remember being surprised that that’s actually how he talks, I always assumed it was something he put on for the Police Academy films! I’d never thought of the comparison until I’d read it on Overblown’s list, I can totally hear it and think it’s quite funny. But Greg does that part so I’m not sure how he feels…

GW: Ha! I didn’t know that was his real voice until just now. But yeah i can totally see that. Maybe I should make it even more so.

O: The artwork for the album is “Hand-numbered limited edition 16-page book featuring drawings and notes from the story behind the album”. What, for you, is the benefit of having unique artwork in the modern era of music streaming?

JW: I think we all agree that the object quality of owning music is still important, having sleeve notes or something to look at is nice. Maybe we’re showing our age here? The book was intentionally limited as we wanted to make something a bit special that would run out. They were a bastard to make so there won’t be any more once they’re all gone. Not sure there’s any benefit to it, it was just something we wanted to do that was different to a digipak etc.

GW: Yeah and streaming. It has its place for sure, but I think there’s something to be said for tangible, physical artwork that you have to stop and be a part of. Stuff like that helps you get into the world of an album. Also we liked the idea that the book could be a found item from the woods where this story exists. Pretty much all our song ideas seem to cross straight into the art world and what we could make for it.

O: The album was released over a year ago. Are you working on a follow up?

JW: We are, we’re recording new stuff in April and planning to release it on vinyl. Once again we’ve accidentally themed it but this time there’s an assortment of characters to play with. We have ideas for a longer term project too, I’m hoping we can get it off the ground as it’s a bit ambitious.

O: Is there any special theme or concept in mind for the next album?

JW: Without giving too much away, it’s seven characters/criminals/serial killers?

O: You have a show on the horizon with Hark in the Old Blue Last in London. It’s a savage line-up. Looking forward to it? Any other shows planned?

JW: Yeah, we were really surprised to be asked which is always flattering and the line up is quite eclectic but still works really well. It should be a great day and we’re really looking forward to it.

PP: I’m certainly looking forward to playing the Old Blue Last – it’s a bit legendary in these days of closing little gig venues and I’ve wanted to play there for ages!

GW: Yeah it’s one of those venues we’ve never got round to playing somehow.

JW: We have another gig in Chatham at Poco Loco with Theo and Cannonball on Good Friday, beyond that we’re focusing on the new stuff and hoping to do a few further afield once recording is out of the way.

Check out our list of 10 new noise rock bands we love.

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  • Michael Foreman

    Punching Swans “Nesting” album is amazing. More people need to know about bands like these. Great interview from Overblown.

    • Delighted you enjoyed the interview! I agree. There’s a really healthy noise rock scene going on at the moment and we aim to cover it as much as possible. If you’re interested, we’ve a list of 10 noise rock bands we love right here: http://overblown.co.uk/10-new-alternative-noise-rock-love/

      • Michael Foreman

        Cool will definitely check that list.