Interview: UK Country Artist Swamp Doctor Hand Picks Tracks From His 30 Years In The Making Back Catalogue To Create Debut Self-Titled Album

London based Country artist ‘Swamp Doctor is due to release his self-titled debut album on Friday 21st August. Ahead of the release GIGSoup caught up with Swamp Doctor to discuss the album in more detail.

Hi Swamp Doctor. How have you been?

Good thanks, sitting in the garden, sun shining, writing and maintaining a virtual existence as well as getting out and about for business and pleasure. I’ve been well after quarantine and lockdown. It’s been strange to see the city of London at a fraction of its pre-pandemic activity as I wonder if the response has been sufficient and timely. Signs of life have been reappearing slowly. Faced masked citizens reminding me of Tokyo’s commuter hours of the past, fewer people, same anonymity.

Tell us your story so far.

My dad was a great influence on my love of country music. His National Service in the 50s was with the Royal Engineers in Egypt and they all listened to American Forces Radio which played Hank Williams. Louvin Bros, Ernest Tubb, the Carter Family, and early Johnny Cash. I have played and written country music since I was young (13). There is a comfort to be found in pain and heartache. For me it is a gateway drug to all music, one of my favourite artists, Tony Joe White, who considered himself a bluesman, influenced me as the Swamp Doctor to embrace not only country, but blues, funk, and swamp. I have been writing and performing ever since with work published by artists from Jeb Loy Nichols to Groove Armada and now my debut album ‘The Swamp Doctor’ is here for all.

You are releasing your debut album soon. How was the recording and writing process?

The album is self-titled, ‘The Swamp Doctor’, a debut with an eclectic mix of funk, country, rock, and swamp. From the streets of London to the Louisiana bayou and back. I like to think there’s something for everyone. It’s taken a while, but worth it, I hope.

Silver Fox Records offered the chance to publish the album, executive producer James D. Ingram selected the best tracks for recording and guided the production closely for quality control and post-production. The ten selected songs all made it to the album with an extra bonus track on the vinyl release an after-thought, but a welcome classic country food song, ‘Smokin’ Chicken Joe’s’. Some came easy, others, ‘Eva Maria’, not so much. At times you have to admit defeat and start again, and with Eva, it took the third attempt before James was happy. 

The one cover was of James’ song, ‘Oh Jesus’ which fits perfectly with the mood, an ominous, threatening Leonard Cohen vibe. I love it. We chose the other tracks according to popular demand with common themes of loss, heartache, and food. Which sums up London for the past few months and my songwriting for the past couple of years.

What do you find inspiring when you are writing your songs?

I have been writing and performing since I was young and have accumulated a catalogue of unpublished, but popular live songs. The audience reaction is a great guide to which songs would translate well to record and others that need more work. 

My lyrical inspiration often starts with a passing comment, an overheard complaint, a local news item, or family nonsense. Drawing on my writing heroes, the Louvin Brothers, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Tony Joe White, Tina Turner, and Paul Simon among many to set a mood, capturing a sound which evokes an old-time feeling with a modern twist. For example track 01 of the album ‘Hustle Going On’ is a funky 70’s style song with lyrics still relevant today, we added Chris Hedges monologue at the end, which sums up the contemporary thinking on where we are and where we’re going.

Really liked your music video ‘Goodbye To Nashville’. What’s the story behind the video?

 ‘Goodbye to Nashville’ was co-written with Jeb Loy Nichols who came up with the Goodbye bit, while references to beer etc are mostly mine with the trash talk mostly Jeb. It’s a  fun dig at musicians struggling to make it in Country Music’s heartland.  

My manager and record company came up with the Nashville trip in late February 2020 so we flew via Chicago on United Airlines with 25 passengers on a plane for 250. Something was clearly wrong as news of the pandemic in China spreading grew more alarming. However Nashville was swinging, full tilt, so we were able to film on the streets and clubs without restriction. With a search on google maps, I found nearby Shelby Nature Reserve which had a genuine swamp with an iron bridge railway crossing the Cumberland River at the entrance. Rusty and worn I was convinced it was unused until we heard the whistle blow and an endless freight train appeared. Wondrous! 

The week sped by as we were able to film on the streets of downtown, checking out local music, and of course, I had to taste BB King’s famous BBQ rack of ribs, mmm. mmm. mmm, all while a great house soul band kicked up a storm. In the heart of Country Music, it was the best gig in town that night, plus BBQ ribs! Like most US cities Nashville is a car city, you get to see a very different urban sprawl and development everywhere you travel. All the cab drivers seemed to have multiple jobs, at the local Military base, Nissan Car factory, service industry, and of course, struggling musicians on the cusp of success and much like myself in need of a day job to keep body and soul together. Although since returning from the US the day job has ended and I’m now a full-time musician, recording artiste and wandering commentator. So I take the positives from the pandemic and hope the video captures part of that recent journey and compliments the music from the London Swamp.

Who are your favourite artists and bands? How do you incorporate their work in your sound?

 As mentioned the Louvin Brothers, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Tony Joe White, Tina Turner, Paul Simon and my favourite vocalist Elvis have all influenced my writing and performing, although I would have to employ a troupe of professional dancers to get anywhere close to Tina’s live energy, movement, and enthusiasm, when budget allows. Cash’s lyrical composition, the shopping list style of observation and complaints, resonates in ‘Laura Mae’ as her failed achievements and daily routine are detailed. I like the contrast of my deep baritone with the high, almost squeaky vocals of Alex Maclaine, referencing Johnny and June Carter, that Southern Mississippi feeling.

‘Deep Blue Winter Sunshine’  is my attempt at a Paul Simon style ballad. His use of a grand piano and strings to highlight a reflective story inspired the arrangement, with a very London Winter escape theme where we get deep blue skies under a cold Sun. It’s then you know that ‘it’s time to find ‘a little peace of mind.’ before the rains. 

What’s next? Any plans for a new single or a live gig?

I am currently busy writing the next album, half new material, half oldies but goldies. I have 7 songs mostly finished and pressuring James for more dark songs to compliment them. There is currently an abundance of material and social upheaval to document, with little sign of letting up. Organising rehearsals for online performance and hopefully live shows when able. Checking out new music on the radio and the internet. I would like to thank Lonely Oak Radio and all the independent stations for the airplay’s and mentions, keeping the Swamp alive with the sounds of the Doctor’s musical tonic for troubled souls. 

Do you have a special message for your fans?

Keep it together, read between the lines and be prepared to fight back against  the silence and fear by helping a struggling writer survive and Silver Fox Records, especially by purchasing my album if willing and able, love and many thanks to all readers and listeners from the Swamp Doctor xx

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