From the wilds of Canada, the remarkable George Swan discusses amps and influences
1- What attracted you to the kind of music you play?
The power of the music was the main thing for me. I listened to lots of prog rock in the 70’s. I was getting into Uriah Heep, Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Deep Purple, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, The Zombies and The Who etc. I really liked the heavy rock with the synthesizer and distorted organs going on. Then I saw guys like The Who in 1977 and became a big Who fan overnight. I also saw AC/DC around the same time with Bon Scott, and Bachman Turner Overdrive– among others. I became a real fan of power rock.
When I found out I had a voice that fit right in with that I was (eventually) very happy and got right into it. Luckily all the bands I was jamming with in Steveston were all rock bands, so I got to work on it a lot. These guys had an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and for the most part could play any song they wanted. I had taken just enough piano lessons and music theory when I was a kid to get me by. For example, I found if I played in the correct key, things like a harmonic minor scale would always sound great in spacey songs. So I got a synthesizer or two, and a Hammond organ with a Leslie speaker. After about 3 years of practice, I could see I was starting to fit right into the big leagues.
Then when I started playing live, I found the power would multiply when you were in front of an audience, as they sent it back to you. I was/am hooked!
2- What is your local music scene like? How do you think you fit in?
My local music scene is very limited these days. It’s too expensive here, everybody has left. The venues are closing down too, so it’s not good. Back in the day though, there were 12 or so live venues in Richmond alone where bands could play. We fit right in.
These days in Canada, if musicians want to get into a real music scene, they pretty much have to move to Toronto or Montreal (which they do, all the time.) I could see myself moving to and enjoying the music scene in Montreal. There are a lot of venues and fans there.
3- You’ve got a huge concert lined up – what would be your dream venue?
Woodstock back in the day! These days though how about the “Rock in Rio Festival”, if I was in the right band.
4- Tell us about how you go about creating your music, from initial idea to completion. What equipment do you use?
For song writing, usually while fooling around with a keyboard of some kind I’ll come up with a chord progression that sounds cool to me… I jam on it for a while with the band, if there is one, and see what I/we come up with. For the most part my vocals are sung over the progression and I just see what I come up with for words while jamming. I record everything and you know basically play something for 45 minutes or so and see how it sounds. I adjust the chord progression as I go but try to keep it really simple. 4 chords are about right kind of thing. I then listen to the tape, write down the words and work out the melody, trying to really nail that down.
Sometimes a song will come to me while I’m sleeping, like the piano riff in my song No Past. I woke up with it running through my mind. I went to the piano to see what the riff was, and then recorded it. It took a while to come up with the melody and the words.
Other times, I have some words that I’ve written that I want to get into a song, eg. World Peace and Free Love. I try all kind of sounds of my Korg Triton Extreme workstation and usually will find some thing there I can use. I also try it out with the distorted Hammond as well. It’s even better when I can put them both together like I did in both World Peace and The Connectors song.
I use a Mackie D8B – Digital 8 Bus mixing board as my main board (desk!) in my studio. I also use it to run my current PA. It was digital state of the art in recording studios in 2001, so is very tried and true. I record everything from the D8B into a 24 track Mackie HDR 24/96 Hard disk recorder unit. I clean up the tracks if necessary using the HDR, then master with the Mackie as well.
I’ve always liked how Mackie boards sound and used them as early as 1994 with The Rash. I think Peter Gabriel used a Mackie D8B and HDR 24/96 setup on his Sledge Hammer album days. They sound great.
I finish the production of all the songs with a custom built PC workstation that runs Adobe Audition. It is networked to the Mackie HDR. I use Adobe to create different file types like MP3s, or different size wavs and then to produce my CD masters.
Since 2007 I’ve used a Neumann U87i microphone for most of my vocals. I also used the Neumann to record the Leslies, the bass, the drums, guitars, pretty much everything except the kick drum. It’s a killer mic, a signature sound from everyone including Pink Floyd etc.
I use Sennheiser E-835’s microphones for singing live and recording. I also use Shure SM58’s and SM57’s to record anything else. I get a very good 60’s, 70’s and 80’s etc sounds. The Shures are signature mics from back in the day, and sound great instantly.
My current PA is partly powered by a Yorkville AP6040 3500 watts per side amp, setup as mono. It runs my two Yamaha SW218V Subwoofer Cabs and my two Kelly DeYong bass cabs loaded with 2 Electro-Voice EVX-155-15 Kevlar subs. This gives me mighty bass.
For the main stereo PA I have a QSC-PLX 3002 – 3000 watts a side stereo PA Amp running my four Peavey International 115 PA Speakers. The main signal comes from the board through an Ashley XR-2001 Crossover Unit. I also use a pair of Peavey 112HS Floor Monitors, which I run with my old Peavey XR 600C.
I have a Yamaha M2000 40 Channel mixing board as a spare to the Mackie. I also use a Mackie 1642 VLZ Pro as a small mixing board for mixing my keyboards on their way to the main board.
My old keyboards are a couple of Rolands, a Juno 106 and a Juno 2. They have some great old analogue synth sounds that are instantly recognizable. I also used a Roland MKB-300 Midi Keyboard controller as my main keys back then. I ran a Roland P-330 Digital Piano module for my piano sounds. I used a rack mounted Yamaha FB-01 to get my, required for the eighties, Yamaha DX7 keyboard sounds. I also used a Peavey KB100 keyboard amp. My first PA was powered by a Peavey XR 600C PA amp.
My main keyboard these days is an 88 note Korg Triton Extreme keyboard workstation. I use it for a lot of the looping rhythm tracks stuff in songs like The Connector Song and Butterfly. I also use it for all piano, electric piano, accordion, synthesizer, sample voices sounds. I used it for some guitar sounds like in Spanish Song and No Past. It is a killer keyboard, the details on those sounds are amazing. You can hear the sampled rhythm shaker, it sounds like its right there beside you. I don’t use it for the Hammond stuff though.
For that I have two Hammonds and Leslies. The first Hammond is a 1958 C3 model with a stock Leslie 122 speaker. I use it for all recordings and when jamming. I also run it through a custom 1968 Traynor YBA-1 all tube 50 watt Bass amp that came with a special built in electric guitar circuit. I rebuilt the amp and modified it so it overdrives like crazy, and has that Dëth Marshall crunch sound. It’s a very unique sounding amp. I run that into a Moog – MoogerFooger Ring Modulator, and then into my second Leslie 147 road speaker. This setup sounds great. Anytime you hear crunchy Hammond on my recordings it is coming through that amp and Leslie combo.
These days though, I run the ring modulator on bypass and use it only to boost the signal going into the amp. Like Jon Lord says the Leslies sound so great alone like that, the ring modulator is not really necessary!! *Blasphemy!!* I know but there you go. He said “It’s like gilding a lily.” The modulator part is basically a Leslie simulator so I prefer the real deal. Having said that, if I was trying to really get experimental with some synth/Hammond sounds it would be great, and I’d use it then for sure.
My second Hammond is a 1960 M3 model that I use for the road. I used it on all recordings live at places like Valhalla and the Queens hotel. It’s a smaller version of the C3 but is about 200 lbs lighter so a lot more portable. Even though the keyboards on a M3 are only three and a half octaves compared to five on a C3, it’s still a great little organ for using live. The tone generators on those old Hammonds is what makes them sound like that. They are technically old analogue synthesizers. They’re fat, warm and slightly synthy. They also have all tube pre-amps, whose signals when fed into tube amps in the old Leslies, sound great.
For my bass playing I have two basses that I use for recording. The first is a 5 string Ibanez SDGR blonde maple USA bass guitar. Ian used this bass on all his songs, so Remember That Night, Come On Let’s Go etc. I believe he ran it into a Peavey Standard 260 Series bass amp head, running a Model 215 Peavey speaker cab.
My second bass is a 7 string custom Bruce Wei art bass that I further customized by putting some BMG Electronics into it. I run it into a Mesa Engineering Walkabout 300 watt bass combo amp. This thing sounds unbelievable. I recorded it using the Neumann U87i mic on songs like Sunset on Double Time, Deep in the Mountain and No Past. Basically(!) I used it on all my songs. This bass/amp combo is my daily player as they say. It is a mighty beast for sure.
I use Rotosound Jazz strings on all my basses. I use my fingers only and don’t use a pick, so when played normally those strings sound nice and warm. When I start to push them they sound meaner and meaner. I’m pretty sure John Entwistle from The Who used them, I know Geddy Lee from Rush does and others.
5- After so many years playing in bands, how have you found the move into being, essentially, a solo artist?
Now I win more arguments! *kidding*… No it’s definitely not as much fun, you really enjoy having all that input. Plus there’s a lot more spontaneity in a band where you can just go somewhere musically on a whim and see what comes out.
Having said that though going solo has really let me get everything out there, and see how it all does. I don’t know if I would have the time to get all 13 albums out if I was playing in a band all the time. So it’s nice I got the chance to do that and see how everything does. Hopefully I’ll be in a band again soon, doing it all over again.
6- What would be your ultimate aim in the industry?
Be able to keep going. Playing with good people, and be successful enough to stay at it for years.
7- Is there anything you would like people to know about your current releases?
I’m very happy to get those albums out. They were a battle from the word go in a way, with lot’s of people saying why bother? I knew the songs were all good and well recorded and basically from the heart. It was just a question of putting them together. I know if people love music they will love those songs, it’s as simple as that. I hope everyone enjoys them, and gets something from them, identifying with whatever they enjoy most.
In case people didn’t pick up on it, those songs aren’t formula songs. They’re a crazy collection of fun times on a Saturday night with George Swan and the gang songs. I’m trying to give ‘em all a glimpse of that and the possibilities of how much fun music can/should be. It’s all about getting together and having a laugh, and singing along if necessary! So please do that, have fun, lighten up, and stay tuned as they say. There’s lot’s more to come.