broken teeth

Schwervon! explores its identity in Kansas City

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
 
Though Matt Roth and Nan Turner had already been a musical duo for over 10 years, the word “Schwervon!” didn’t infiltrate Kansas City’s vocabulary until 2012. In fact, their appearance at Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest that year took place the weekend they moved to KC from New York.
 
Three years later, the pair has become one of Kansas City’s most beloved indie pop acts. Since building a foundation in KC, Schwervon! has released two full-length albums and has performed hundreds of dates around the world, including a two-week European run with The Vaselines last fall. In addition to its clever, captivating ‘90s-influenced brand of rock, the band has also become known for its live show, chock full of playful stage banter and wacky show antics.
 
“We've done a lot of US touring and a lot of growing as a band since we've moved,” says Roth. “I don't think we could have managed this while living in NY. KC has provided a soft landing for us to engage in, a vibrant local art scene, while at the same time motivating us to get out there and to grow.” For constant touring bands like Schwervon!, it makes sense to live in a central, less expensive locale with a smaller but thriving music scene. But being a band that is deeply rooted and established in a much larger city also presents its own set of challenges. “There’s great stuff to do in KC but we’re more isolated here, at least when it comes to the sort of DIY, arty, pro-feminist community that we love,” Roth mentions.
 
Regardless, Schwervon! has been able to carve out a distinct notch in local, regional, and national markets since moving to KC. In that time, Roth and Turner have had a chance to develop as artists, performers, and grow as a musical partnership. Their most recent LP Broken Teeth (released in 2014 on Haymaker Records; here’s our review on it) was their first acoustic album, which caused the two to examine the essentials of their songs. “As a two-piece band, you often hear the space in and around our songs. We're not afraid of space. And clarity, which I really like,” says Turner, who shares songwriting duties with Roth. “But to play softer and acoustically—it's even more eagle-eye focus on the song skeleton, and you notice quickly what works and doesn't.” Broken Teeth showcases Schwervon!’s music at its most basic level, and it succeeds in remarkable ways. Even in a studio recording, the band’s unmistakable charm shines through in catchy, sincere songwriting.
 
The two have also honed their performance craft over the past few years. “The shows are so much better when people engage with the music,” says Roth, who writes and recites a Beat-style poem at each show, while Turner performs an interpretive dance. They owe this move to their theatrical background, as well as their desire to keep the audience engaged in their art. Turner says, “I think the cool thing for the audience is that if you haven't seen us before—they're watching this theatrical thing in the middle of indie rock songs and whether they love or hate it, it's unexpected and just lives in that moment.”
 
If you haven’t had a chance to witness a Schwervon! show, you can catch them this Friday at Josey Records with The Cave Girls, Lauren Anderson, and The Sluts. They play at 6:15, and the show is free. Facebook event page.
 
 
--Michelle Bacon
 

Michelle is editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands. 

   

Album review: Schwervon! - Broken Teeth

(Photo by Erica Peterson)
 
Full disclosure time: Schwervon! is far and away my favorite Kansas-by-way-of-New-York-originally-from-Kansas duo. I first became aware of their music when they returned to the Midwest and reentered the local music community at the 2012 Middle of the Map Fest. With Nan Turner on drums, Matthew Roth on guitar, and each of them sharing vocal duties, their songs proudly carry the flag of the lo-fi, DIY approach to songwriting and performance. One of my favorite tunes from Courage—Schwervon!’s previous album—is “Truth Teller,” a song that does a fantastic job of capturing the feel of early ‘80s Athens, GA, which was the breeding ground for early college rock faves R.E.M. and the B-52s, among others. For their new release, Broken Teeth, Schwervon! once again does a bit of back-to-the-future time travel, but in a much more direct and personal way.
 
As Roth shares on the band’s website, in early 2014 they were trying to create new music but having trouble getting around the obstacle of writer’s block, so they tried to kickstart the creative process by bringing out music from an album recorded eight years earlier (I Dream of Teeth) and playing some of those songs in a deconstructed manner. The results were so appealing and invigorating that the twosome decided to set aside the new music they were writing and rework six of the older tracks (along with cover versions of two others). At this point it would be fairly standard if I made comparisons between the two albums, but to make references to IDoT would not be giving Broken Teeth its full due. Both albums are available on the Schwervon! Bandcamp page, where you are free to contrast and compare at your leisure.
 
The one thing I will say about the difference between then and now is that the new album is an all-acoustic effort, and for a band that is known for music that is sometimes quirky and punchy and free-form, reducing it to a six-string and drums could be restricting part of their essence. But the years have been very good to the twosome in that their skills with their instruments, both musical and vocal, have grown and matured and seasoned with time. What you hear on this album is the product of two artists who not only refine their songs to their essential states, they also seem completely comfortable in doing so.
 
“Flaming Dragonfly” kicks off the record with a basic call-and-response series of “oh oh oh ohs” before settling in to a nice, tidy bit of pop sweetness. You instantly get the impression that powering down is not going to present any challenges in setting the tone that Schwervon! is so good at, which is a modern sound that still offers a tip of the cap to some of their early alt-rock predecessors. “Fuzzy Math” finds Turner laying into the kick drum with steady authority and solid groove, letting Roth’s guitar follow along to create some feel-good summery sound. “Blue Light” offers a nice little bluesy touch which serves as foundation for Turner’s torch song delivery – and am I the only one that thinks that this song would be a pretty ideal vehicle for a “special guest star” appearance from my favorite KC rock star, Amy Farrand? It’s a natural collaboration in the making.
 
“Natural” could also be used to describe the vocal harmonies between Turner and Roth, and while each takes turns with lead duties and handles them nicely, hearing them working together takes whatever song they happen to be singing into a different realm. There are instances when their interplay is reminiscent of early X; both have distinctive sounds that seemingly wouldn’t mesh with anyone else but their partner. This becomes more true with increased listening to the music of Schwervon!—they could sing with different musicians, and as time goes on I fully expect them to combine forces with a roster of talented co-conspirators, but their voices are much stronger and truer when paired with each other. Simple as that.
 
I’ve been saving what I consider the best for last: “Sidesaddle” was the first song from IDoT that they started fiddling with in order to find their creativity, and on Broken Teeth it serves as the centerpiece and magnum opus (six minutes isn’t that long for a magnum opus, but with none of the seven other tracks exceeding 3:15 in length it’s opus-sized, comparatively speaking). Both musicians show a deft touch throughout, with Roth’s mid-point song-whisper reminiscent of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt”—without all the dying things contained in the video, of course. The plaintive-yet-hopeful vocalization on top of gentle, reassuring music is a combination that makes “Sidesaddle” a knockout.
 
It’s always great to find a band that makes an impression; it’s better still to watch that band grow and evolve. Broken Teeth shows Schwervon! taking a major step forward with their craft. They have their own style, they have complete faith in one another, and their live performances are excellent—gigs that can now call upon a growing and substantial catalog of quality work. At these shows, it’s not uncommon for Roth to offer a poetry reading, Turner to present an improvisational dance… or, more likely, both to happen at the same time. I’m not going to subject you to my mad sick flow, and you do not want to see me busting any sort of move, so I’ll just offer a concise bit of advice to anyone wanting to hear the potential of two people:
 
Get your Schwervon!
 
--Michael Byars
 
Michael is sometimes known for busting a move. He also currently has a pink goatee for the month of October for breast cancer awareness!
 
 
Broken Teeth was released on Haymaker Records.
 
Schwervon! will be throwing a release party for Broken Teeth tomorrow, October 3 at FOKL. The Cave Girls and Wick & the Tricks will also be playing, and DJ Memo will spin before and after the bands play. Facebook event page. This will also kick off their two-month Fantastico tour across Europe and the States.
 
 

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