July 20 — “Follow Me Down” by Swallow

Swallow

Twenty years ago today, one of my favorite albums was released. To commemorate this, if you only listen to one song today, make it “Follow Me Down” by Swallow (1992, from the album Blow).

Swallow was a London dream-pop duo who was active between 1990 and 1994. They were signed to 4AD Records, but ended up releasing only one album. Shortly after the release of Blow, the band remixed the songs and 4AD released those as a “temporary release” called Blowback. Those “temporary releases” were sometimes bonus discs with UK pressings of albums. Sometimes they were special releases only available from the merch table while the band was on tour. Sometimes they were other forms of “promotional” releases. Either way, they were all single-pressing limited run releases. I’m pretty certain that all of the 4AD “temporary releases” were only available in the UK.

I first heard Swallow when I was doing a radio show at WQFS. I was in the early stages of my 4AD obsession. Perhaps at the height of it. It was back when Ivo Watts-Russell owned the label, and it had an identity. It’s been back in the hands of Beggars Banquet since about 1999, and it’s lost some of that identity. In those days, though, you knew precisely what you were getting simply because of the label affiliation. Anyway, I discovered them in the station, and it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the album. I tried to spread the word as much as I could. For whatever reason, people just weren’t buying. I’m still to this day puzzled as to why people don’t love this band. I mean, other than the fact that they only put out one record.

Swallow was made up of multi-instrumentalist Mike Mason and vocalist Louise Trehy. Mason was, and still is, a video artist. Trehy was, I think, his girlfriend at the time. They quickly and quietly got set up with 4AD after they sent in a demo of bedroom tapes. They took their cues, clearly, from Cocteau Twins and a bit from Pale Saints. With the way they sounded and the way they looked, 4AD was the obvious home for them.

I love the album, and one of my very favorites from the album is “Follow Me Down”. This is that song.

“Follow Me Down” by Swallow

1992 was also the height of Ivo Watts-Russell’s tempestuousness. He was notoriously difficult to work for. He was easy to impress, and he gave out a few record contracts in really unusual situations based on his impressibility. However, some bands complained that he was too authoritative, too demanding, and too much of a perfectionist. I once asked Tanya Donelly about how hard to get along with Ivo Watts-Russell was. Was it a myth? Was it an understatement? She sort of danced around the issue. All I could get out of her vis-a-vis that was that he was “brutally honest”, but fiercely supportive. As an aside, I’ll always remember that because of the way she enunciated “brutally honest”. She put on a Shakespearian actor voice for that bit. I’m bringing this up because everything I’ve read suggests that a rift formed between Watts-Russell and Swallow. This quickly escalated to a situation where the band left the label. It wasn’t just Swallow who left the label, though. Something strange happened between Ivo and Cocteau Twins right around this time. Although they were one of his pet projects, the relationship soured quickly in 1990 and the band and Ivo angrily stormed off in opposite directions after Heaven or Las Vegas. For the record, HOLV is one of my “desert island” records, and I wrote a bit about it (and the bizarre breakup with Ivo) here. He didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a tremendous mistake on his part to let Cocteau Twins slip through his fingers.

Just as Cocteau Twins had done, Swallow let the personal relationship between the major players spill over into the band. Okay. Maybe it was a little bit different. Liz Fraser and Cocteaus bandmate Robin Guthrie ended their longterm love affair, but kept things going professionally for a couple of years. When Mike Mason and Louise Trehy split, so did Swallow. After they left 4AD, they joined Rough Trade Records, and they released one EP for that label in 1994. Although I don’t know the details, I think that it was around this time that they ended their romantic relationship. Soon after, the band folded. For all intents and purposes, the only think they left behind was Blow. There was that EP in 1994, and in 2009, one or the other of them (presumably Mason) released some early bedroom tapes. That doesn’t count, though.

When they split, Trehy dropped out of the music scene altogether, and she hasn’t been heard from since. Mike Mason continued to direct music videos. One of his most notable works was the music video for “Alison” by Slowdive. He also directed the video for “Liar” by The Charlottes and a “lost” video for “Makes No Difference” by The Darling Buds.

Back to the task at hand, which is today’s song…

I love how airy and gauzy it is. That’s what 4AD was all about back then. Of course some bands didn’t follow the formula, but there was almost always some really dreamy guitar/loop thing going on, heavy delay, and some layered and multi-tracked vocals treated in such a way to match the lighter-than-air music. That’s exactly what’s going on here.

It’s also a song that’s fundamentally a song about hopeless devotion to a lover. I’m a sucker for songs that have these kinds of lyrics:

I can’t imagine the world without you
And all the shadows left behind
Would you lock me into you heart
Please say, say you will follow me down

And I would do anything
To keep you here
Inside of me
And I will lock you in skin deep

If the message there isn’t sexy enough, how about the way the vocals are nearly whispered?

There’s a break between 2:55 and 3:14 that lasts 16 beats too long if you ask me. The fade-in is too prolonged. Apart from that, I love the song. I can’t really point to any specific sonic moment that makes me leap out of my chair, but I really love it.

In fact, it’s hard to recommend a single song. It’s better to listen to the entire album from front to back. I still do that pretty frequently. You should too.

You can buy a hard copy of the album from amazon.co.uk. You can also get it digitally there.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

2 responses to “July 20 — “Follow Me Down” by Swallow

  • Falx

    Thank you for your very informative article. Just by chance, I decided to look up Swallow after listening to some tracks I digitised some time back and thought about re-looking them up today.

    I discovered Swallow in the early 90s as well whilst at University. They, along with the Cocteau Twins, were the alternative to what was considered ‘alternative music’ at the time.

    I miss both bands and, like yourself, tried to influence people into this wondrous musical fold, although I had only been marginally successful with Cocteau Twins.

    I have the albums Blow and Blowback, along with the Hush EP. Other than that, I do wish they released more music. Mensural and Follow Me Down are tracks I hold dear.

    • dlee

      Yeah, it sucks that they stopped making music, but seeing as how Louise and Mike had a big falling out, it’s understandable. I’m sure you already know about Louise’s new project Strata Florida. After 20 years out of the music biz, she jumped right back in and made a great record, which I called my ninth favorite album of 2014. She says shes working hard on new material for a second album.

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