The name Mute Swan can be wildly interpretative, which is seen as a perk for the Tucson psych rock quartet who chose the moniker, but their fondest reference to the common, white water fowl (Cygnus olor, family Anatidae) is how the bird was tamed, its voice purposely and slowly silenced over the years.
"A mute swan refers to a swan that's been domesticated so it will be more friendly with people and all of that," says Mike Barnett, Mute Swan's guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter. "It's kind of like something wild that's being held back."
Barnett, originally from Massachusetts, didn't move to Tucson for school, like many folks his age—he actually moved to the Southwest to play music. He says the climate has been good to him and he prefers it here.
A little more than a year ago, Barnett teamed up with Prabjit Virdee (bass, vocals), Thomas Sloane (guitar), and Roger Reed (drums). Barnett played in Mombasa and Peaks, but when both bands dissolved, they decided to start something new and, like some sort of psychedelic phoenix, Mute Swan was born.
Now Mute Swan is preparing to release their first album, a five-track EP known as "Feel How It Sees." It was recorded over the summer at Barnett's house, but the band went to Tucson's Waterworks to capture the drums.
"It's sort of a good starting point for us," Barnett says. "We played with each other for just about a year before we started putting those songs together and recording so it's kind of a culmination of a lot of time and creative process."
"Feel How It Sees" does contain a lot of "feeling" and "seeing" by using textures that evoke certain visuals, especially soft focus blurs of color. In terms of psychedelic music, it's more on the side of light, sunny daylight tripping, all the edges sanded down. The closer, the nearly eight minute "Here We Go," falls somewhere between Tame Impala and Beach House.
It's a welcome addition to an already burgeoning neo-psychedelic movement in Tucson. It makes perfect sense that Mute Swan gel well with other local psych rockers and are good friends with The Myrrors, veterans of the trippy musical territory (and they're also playing Mute Swan's album release show).
Virdee came up with the song that became the album's title, a play on the common phrase "see how it feels." But it's more than just a pun or a gimmick – the inverted slogan demonstrates Mute Swan's free-wheeling, improvisational approach to writing music.
"It just boils down to the way we worked with our music, at least just in this first year, was just to say 'OK, we'll feel out the music', Virdee says. "We were just feeling it out, how the music takes us."
Barnett explains what "BIM" stands for: "That title was just an abbreviation of one of the lyrics, which says "Believe in me." I didn't want to call the song 'Believe In Me,' because I felt like it sounded too much like it was Celine Dion song title. So I shortened it which obscures the meaning of it a little bit more."
Virdee recently made the drive to see Flying Lotus at Marquee Theater in Tempe. He says he was blown away by the "reconceptualization of space" that Steven Ellison implements in his performance—and it inspired Virdee to do the same.
"So I've definitely been thinking of how to make this show much more engaging than just using a projector," Virdee says. "We're not there yet, but that would definitely be an interesting thing, an artistic element. What we will have on stage is CCTV, closed circuit TV. We'll be deciding which of the monitors get which signal and they're going to be set up all over our amps and all over the stage. At the same time, the bass signal and Tom's guitar signal, are going to be going through a device to help visualize our playing."
The album is self-released, for now, as Mute Swan decides who they want their online distribution through. The band mentions one common way is to go through CDBaby and they'll distribute through Spotify, iTunes, etc.
"For now we've got the CD's on Bandcamp," Barnett says. "Guess we're keeping our focus there. Hopefully we can get interest from folks interested in teaming up with us one way or another."
For the first 36 folks that buy the album on Bandcamp, they'll get a film negative from the photography done for the album. The band says it's something that's a little more tangible than a sticker or a poster.
"We decided to do film photography for all our band photos," Virdee says. "We want for the next set of art, we're going to choose another technique. In this case, the photographer, Sathya Honey, she did a Holga double exposure."
What's next for Mute Swan? The band says they're in the market for a van, but they're in no rush to get on the road.
"We'd really like to start branching out. Probably slower at first," Barnett explains. "We're not going to go on a lot of crazy tours like a lot of Tucson bands end up trying to do the whole country after their album has just come out. We'll probably hold off. We might do Phoenix, Flagstaff, San Diego and LA. maybe and take it from there. I'd like to record a whole 'nother album before we do an extensive tour."