MEB Staff Member Heather Allen had an insightful chat with Swiggy of New Mayans on being influenced my films,something, and his debut single “Universe.”
MEB: So I wanted to start off with talking about your debut single “Universe.” I got to listen to it and it’s really awesome! On a scale of 1 to 10 how stoked are you that you got to release your debut single?
Swiggy: Considering I’ve been recording songs for about five years now I’m pretty excited to finally release something. *laughs*
Oh wow! Why did you choose “Universe” to be your debut single?
It was one of those things where you record a lot of material and you look back at what you have and you try to find something because it’s your first song. It’s going to introduce to people who you are so you try to find a song that’s not only going to be a single that people will like, but also represents the other sounds that you incorporate. “Universe” is definitely a good thesis statement to release first out of the gate. Most people seem to like it so far.
I definitely think it was a good choice for a first single.
I also wanted to ask you a little about what “Universe” is about. To me it seems like it’s a narrative about being separated from the love of your life and wanting to reunite with them. Is this song based on a personal experience for you?
Yeah, pretty much every song that I write is based on a personal experience. That song is actually about 8 or 9 years old. I wrote that a long time ago.
Yeah, it’s gone through a lot of different iterations. In the last band I was in it was nixed because it didn’t really fit with our sound. We played it live once or twice but it was just a little different. I mean, eventually I kept playing it and I’ve played it acoustically mainly. I’ve been sitting on it for the longest time and when I tried to do a full on band version of it that’s kind of what happened to it. But it’s been around for awhile.
And now it’s your debut single! Must’ve been something special about it.
Yeah! As far as the experience of the song itself, I like to take the Carly Simmon approach. When you ask her who “You’re So Vain” is about she still hasn’t told us who it’s about exactly. I like a little ambiguity first. I’m sure everybody has been there. I mean, that’s the whole point in writing right?
If you could pick 3 words to describe “Universe” what would they be?
I always try to think if what I’m thinking in my head is the right thing to say, but I came up with ‘Best. Single. Eva’ *laughs* That was my gut response.
*laughs* Well I was asking you describe your single and that’s your definition of it.
*laughs* Yeah. Oh and that’s ‘eva’ as in ‘E’ ‘V’ ‘A’ *laughs*
Got a little bit more personality to it. *laughs*
*laughs* Yeah. I mean, it’s a track. It’s one of those songs that has a, with no pun intended, to be more universally relatable. I didn’t want it to be something super subversive or anything. It’s suppose to have a bit of a raw feel.
Yeah for sure. Have you thought of a concept for the music video yet? Are you even going to do a music video for this song?
I mean, I have a concept in mind but I don’t think we’ll actually be able to do it. It’s one of those things where if everyone is just like ‘Hey, you should do a music video!’ and people are asking for a video then yes we’ll do one. I don’t know. I just always pictured with that song, like, if you could think of the Under The Sea band from Back to the Future that’s probably the best way to describe what I would do for a music video concept. *laughs*
*laughs* Well all of us who are Back to the Future fans would really dig that so you should totally stick to that!
How can you not be! *laughs* We have hover boards now because of it!
But they’re really real yet.
Oh they’re real! They’re not very practical yet but they’re real now. you just have to have a liquid nitrogen base for it to be a super conductor or something like that. But yeah, that’s pretty much the semantics for the video.
Well, I think it’s a great concept!
It’s like a self-fulfilling prophesy. Art imitates life and life imitates art – it’s kind of cyclical. It happens all the time.
Hopefully we’ll be able to be to see a music video soon. Or maybe not. I guess we’ll see what the future holds.
I always have concepts and a lot of the songs that I write kind of have a visual representation or a visual element. I’m actually more influenced by movies than other artists. I mean, the sounds are there at first but I always have to think up a visual concept for every song. It’s whole other element.
You don’t hear that very often from artists saying that movies have a strong influence on them. What other kinds of movies influence your music?
I think if you were to look at that I’ve been influenced by David Lynch, [David] Cronenburg, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick – kind of that sci-fi meets body horror. The soundtracks are what really captures me so I guess I would say that I’m more influenced by the movies and the composers that go along with them. Like, when I first saw A Clockwork Orange that opening scene was just insane! It’s like you know you’re in for a very interesting movie and itt’s very stunning. I like things that kind of jump out at you and it’s easier to do that visually and if the music complements the scene in a movie it’s awesome!
What are some of your favorite soundtracks? Not like a compilation of different songs but the actual scores.
I think, like, the soundtrack to my life is a mixture of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and then sometimes it’s stuff from the movie Drive *laughs* and then sometimes it’s like A Clockwork Orange. It just depends. Sometimes it’s very ’80s or it’s a theatrical kind of Pink Floyd thing and there’s always Radiohead. There’s certain kinds of music that grabs me and there’s so much mediocrity that’s out there that you have to appreciate the stuff that really is stunning. A lot of people write stuff so you have to try to write something that’s not just another song. I mean, just recently they were just talking about how Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one of the most iconic songs. The other 4 or 5 songs that came after it all follow different formulas but they’re all stunning and they’re all right. I think “Billie Jean” was on that same list and so was “Bohemian Rhapsody.” They’re all strikingly good songs for different reasons.
I read that article as well. I definitely wasn’t surprised by the songs on there and I was just like ‘Yup, I know all these songs.’ *laughs*
*laughs* Yeah, it’s a great mixture of songs that everybody knows to gain readership right?
*laughs* Of course. I also wanted to ask you about your stage experience. I know that you’ve shared the stage with bands like The Ataris, The Von Bondies and Nico Vega and all of those bands are relatively different from each other. How were those experiences?
They were all actually really great. With Nico Vega we hung out mostly with the other two guys in the band. The chick actually had to save her voice because she was losing it on that tour so she pretty much sang and went back to the bus. I think she also had her kid on the tour as well. The Ataris were a little rough. We’ve played with them twice, once when I was in Florida and once when I was in Saint Louis, and I actually didn’t get to meet anybody in the band because I had the flu during that Saint Louis show.
My background is in theater so I have ‘show must go on’ mentality. You play a show whether you’re sick or not. *laughs* Who was it? Charli XCX cancelled her show or something because she was sick, probably because of low ticket sales. But anyways. It was our last day and The Ataris actually went down to Florida with my old band but I had to stay to pick up the rest of our gear from our storage space to load up in our car before with drove back out to Saint Louis. I had to drive back the next day so I didn’t even get to meet anyone in The Ataris. *laughs* So The Von Bondies! We played a show with them and Jason [Stollsteimer] told me about how him and Jack [White] got into that fight all those years ago…He had the option to press charges but I guess he just didn’t want the bad press. Unfortunately, everybody sided with Jack White and no one has heard of The Von Bondies ever since. I get why he didn’t do it, but it still sucks hearing stuff like that.
Always a tough battle whether you should do the wrong or right thing.
Yeah, I mean, that’s what Jason told me and I wasn’t actually there. It’s just funny that history tends to repeat itself. The Von Bondies have that similar sound to The White Stripes and now The Black Keys but it’s all just garage rock. Their dispute was over production credits though.
I guess we’ll see what happens in the future with Jack White.
*laughs* Yeah. I just love to hear people’s stories on the road and I think some of the craziest stories come from being on the road. There’s just so many bands that you talk to that have had some pretty weird stuff happen to them on the road and that’s kind of just the attraction.
Well of course! Has anything weird happened to you on the road?
*laughs* I think that’s why I keep wanting to be in band so I can experience something weird happen.
*laughs* It’s definitely a needed experience for an artist.
I mean, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling. I’ve been out of the country to Europe and Asia. So I’ve traveled, but the weird stuff doesn’t become ‘weird’ anymore – it just becomes a part of your everyday life. You’re not shocked by it anymore. I mean, it may be weird at first but then you kind of get used to it because it’s your life all the time…A big trend nowadays is where a band gets their gear stolen.
Yeah, that’s like a thing now.
Like, you know how you can write about show reviews and upcoming shows or releases? I think that trend is actually it’s own subset of journalism. Like a ‘Band Gear Stolen’ section. I just always seems to happen and it happens to everybody, which is crazy.
Yeah, not necessarily a smart trend so I don’t know who thought that would be a good idea to start all that.
Yeah. There’s definitely been a lot of articles written about it. I’m from Saint Louis and we’ve gotten a lot of articles written about band break-ins and stuff.
Looks like you’re just going to have to lock yourself up then. *laughs*
*laughs* I mean, I’ve heard that the people going around doing these things is like The Italian Job where they actually take the time to bore out the locks. It’s not just a guy being like ‘Oh, look! A van!’ and just runs towards it it’s actually pre-meditated. It’s crazy!
That’s just so insane.
Well if you think about it, if I know that a large band will be at a certain location and they have have security but after the show they go to, like, a Denny’s somewhere I would just follow them and jack their van while they’re inside getting food after a show probably score a lot of gear. It sucks, but I get it. It’s the sign of the times right?
Yeah. Hopefully that doesn’t happen to you though!
*laughs* Fingers crossed.
Knock on wood! So we were talking about touring and we ended up talking about tour buses but it’s still part of touring. *laughs* If you could choose three artists to go on tour with who would they be and what would you call your tour?
Do they still have to be alive?
Nope! You can build a time machine and bring anybody back! That’s the fun part!
Okay great! I would say, man, what would I say? So three artists not including myself right?
Not including yourself. You’re the headliner!
Let’s see. I would do The Beatles anytime before they stopped touring in the ’60s, Pink Floyd of ’75, and Joy Division of early ’79 before they started having issues. Hmm, who else? I would love to tour with David Bowie during his Station to Station Tour.
It’s a very retro tour you’ve got going on!
I guess what’s funny is that I actually have a connection to that so that’s a pretty serious tour. Wait, what year did I give for Pink Floyd?
You said ’75.
Ooooh. That’s too early. Let’s make that ’77.
And what would you name your tour?
The ‘Why Aren’t You Here Already?’ Tour. *laughs*
You can even make a documentary with the same title. That would be fun.
If you could create your own tour bus what would it look like and what would you put inside it? Besides lasers to keep away the van robbers.
Oh yeah the van robbers. The funny thing is that you don’t a lot about tour buses getting robbed do you? Nobody wants to mess with a bus because they know that there’s like a shark tank that you’ll get caught in if you try. *laughs*
Yeah, sharks with freakin’ laser beams attached to their heads!
Or some, like, weird portal that transports you to a different dimension.
That too. Well, the first design would be, let me see. It should definitely be running on grounded up pop-punk musicians, like, emo kids. *laughs* Then it will have have at least 10 bunk beds. Everybody likes to feel at camp right? But these will be massive bunk beds, like, king-sized bunk beds not those lame twin sized bunk beds.
So you’re going to have a hotel on wheels that runs on ground up pop-punk kids.
I mean, you didn’t say that it had to be practical. It’s just all in my dreams.
I guess I didn’t did I?
Oh, and it’s going to have angels wings on it and it wouldn’t fly, but it would hover. It would still be drive-able, like, it would still have the wheels, but it would be able to float a couple inches off the ground. Just enough to fly over that LA traffic when you need to.
Yeah, that would definitely be more convenient.
You’ll just be able to fly over that LA traffic and be like ‘later suckas!’ and just keep going. Oh, and bathrooms! At least 4 bathrooms!
Yeah, that’s definitely a necessity for touring. At least that one is very practical.
But they also need to be large enough so you can change into clothes because that’s a problem when you can’t go in the bathrooms and do that. Like I don’t want one of those airplane bathrooms.
Yeah, those aren’t the ideal for costuming, makeup, hair, all that fun stuff.
I guess that’s what a green room is for right?
So bathrooms, and then you can’t forget your albino leopards. What is this? The ’83 Tour? Yeah, come on!
Instead of security guards you’ll just have your albino leopards.I think everybody would be more afraid of those than actual people.
Hell yeah they would! It would be great!
So I have to ask, what is the meaning behind your band name New Mayans?
So everybody like new stuff right? Why not a new civilization? The Mayan civilization was considered one of the best and most technologically advanced civilizations of all time. You think of band names like Vampire Weekend and you start looking for contrasts or things that don’t really belong. The think I like about art is the contrast and music is a lot about contrast and it’s one of the reasons why it worked for The Pixies and Nirvana. There was a contrast in dynamics. Playing with those, in my opinion, is a more mature form of artistry,but you also need to have a name where people are like ‘Oh, that’s the type of music they play.’ I bet a small percentage of people in psychiatric wards were just trying to come up with the perfect band name. *laughs* Band names today are just so bad so trying to come up with the perfect band name is like the holy grail of things. There’s just bands that worked it though. Like, if you would’ve told me ‘Hey, check out this band Pink Floyd’ or ‘Check out The Healing League‘ or The Smiths or T.Rex, they all have very distinct sounds and they all aligned with the band name.
We talked about how movies kind of inspire you when writing your music, but what initially inspired you to become an artist? Like, when was that ‘ah-ha’ moment?
It’s kind of one of those things where there’s something creates that ‘ah-ha’ moment. When I was in high school I was in this joke band called Wolfman and the Pasties and we would play shows with just our joke songs. I wrote like 5 of them, we had our first show on a Friday and our first practice was on a Tuesday. *laughs* It was like Fat Albert for white suburban kids where you got a bunch of kids together and then all of a sudden ‘Hey, this guy ha something that’s interesting! Let’s all hang out together!’ It was kind of a ragtag team of kids playing music. Given we didn’t play very well because some were better than others and then got to play at our assembly of, like, 2000 people. I think when I did that I couldn’t help but think ‘Hey, if I can do this with a band that I just put together in an afternoon then why I can’t I do this with some serious music?’ I guess that was just the encouragement I needed to take it further and in every band I’ve been in has been an iteration to where I am now. Even now with New Mayans, it’s probably an iteration of something better I just don’t know what it is. I’m going to keep trying to outdo myself until somebody says ‘Hey, stop. Go away.’ And even then I probably won’t stop! I’ll be like ‘Ok’ and then I’ll go into a corner and do my own thing. As far as creating my own material, at first it started off as just something to do as a kid. Then it evolved into something for me to cope with life. The frustrations that you have, you just hope that people will be able to relate to it and so you start to create messages in your music. Or maybe it’s abstract enough that you don’t want people to really hear it. You can do what ever you want, there’s no rules. It’s whatever I want to do and even though it’s selfish, artistry is one of the most selfish things reflecting you. It’s taking what you have inside and materializing it into something tangible. You listen to the most critically acclaimed albums of all time and at that moment in history and they were just as quintessential to that time period as it is to cut down a tree to see its rings. It represents a day in age and we’re all part of a cannon that we may not realize at the time. So I think that with artistry you just try to do things that make sense to you. I don’t think that there’s that same regard today as it did 30 or 40 years ago. Not saying that things were better back then, it’s just that priorities change and values change and music is like sports now where everything is a competition. It’s not meant to be that way. People write songs to win a songwriting competition or a plaque. I don’t want or car about a plaque, I want to create what’s in my head and that’s why it took so long. It took 5 years to do a whole album’s worth of material just to get it out and to get it right. I just don’t think people do that anymore and that’s a tragedy really.
Yeah you should definitely not try to rush greatness.
It’s funny because you can’t and shouldn’t because the journey is the story. The piece of work that you put out is the story and the story is the piece of work – the two coincide. No great piece of art didn’t have at least one interesting anecdote behind it right? Mediocre art gets popular really fast, great art takes time for people to appreciate it. And I’m not saying that there’s not any room for things that are very pedestrian, but we have to recognize that everything is all opinion-based when it comes to quantifying it. There’s a reason that we can say that certain movies are quintessentially the best movie. There are elements that are present and even in songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the thing that’s so genius about that song is the appearance of the elements that were missing in other songs. The same can be said about “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I think art can be misunderstood and under appreciated, but it takes time and now there’s so much out there that even if you fade away you might come back. Maybe we’ll hit a dry spell. I don’t know. You just don’t know. I feel sometimes like a self-important asshole talking about myself for an hour and a half with you but then there’s other times it’s just what I have to do. It’s just all about understanding.
Yeah, you never know who that artist is going to be that changes the game. Hopefully it comes soon, but you just never know how long it’ll take. What do you hope your audience takes away from your music?
Pretty much anything. It just has to be something. I mean, they could hate it or they could love it, they could laugh or they could cry, they could say some messed up stuff. I just want to get a reaction. The worst thing that an artist can hear from someone is ‘What else do you got?’ or ‘What else is there?’ To not even acknowledge someone’s art is the worst, but if I stop and say ‘Hey, this one’s important! Remember it!’ you’re more likely to remember it. That’s why I think that art is subjective because unless you’re one of those people there’s certain things that we take away. It’s all individual. As far as art is concerned, I think it’s something for us to do. It’s another form of communication. Whether it be audio or visual, it’s some sort of sensory. That’s what art is to me. I think the worst thing would be is to hear something an to instantly forget it.
I feel like that’s a musician’s nightmare.
Yeah, I would say that. I feel the music of other bands. Like, I’m not super big artist, hell, I’m barely an artist that’s being talked about right now. That’s ok, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who don’t even get to this point. To even getting an actual interview or even get an EP out the door. So to even get to this point on an album, or in case on a single, that’s really good. You have to celebrate the little victories because it’s a part of the journey and the journey is a part of your art.
It’s definitely rare for artists to have it easy.
Yeah, but a lot of people like to play into the cliché of it all. I’m a bio-medical engineer. I do consulting. I don’t just wait tables or play on the street. I’m not trying to make ends meet with my craft. I think that’s noble but I also thing in this day in age it’s a little wholehearted. I’m trying to be realistic about what I want to accomplish. I went to school to get a really good education and to get a good job so I can make enough money to pay for this. I hate to say it, but it takes money to do all of this stuff. You can’t be working as a starving artist and expect it to go well because the success rate is very low. I doubt Brandon Flowers was a poor kid asking for money on the street when he put together The Killers or Interpol was, like, begging for bread. No, they all went to NYU and met there and they were probably like ‘Hey, do you wanna join a band?’ and then they did a band. But they had the contacts already and made it happen.
Yeah, that’s definitely a smarter tactic when trying to make a career from music.
I know that there are people that think that there’s a certain way of doing things and here I am and I’m like ‘No, there’s not.’ You’re breaking the first rule of music, which is that there are no rules. *laughs* That’s the whole point of being in this industry. You can see how people have messed up along the way with drugs or fighting or not having good legal council or getting their van broken into or death. There’s a hundred different reasons why bands break up, but at the end of the day you look at the bands that got successful and you realize that they knew someone that could say ‘Hey, this is worth listening to.’ It just took that one person of importance to say ‘Hey, this is a big deal’ and after that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It takes more than that, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Yeah of course. And I guess my last question for you what should we be looking forward to from New Mayans in the near future. I know you’re supposed to be releasing your full length album Odyssey early next year? Are you going on tour or anything or just focusing on promoting the single?
Aw man. I think this year you can expect another single and potentially an EP or have that released early next year. As far as touring goes. I don’t know. We actually just got our first show in Chicago and it’s going to be a big one. I definitely think that whatever happens with that could be something. I’m just getting the live element of this project up an running because I needed to find the other musicians. It’s switching from practically living in the studio for 3 or 4 years to now I’m living on a stage for as many years as it takes. Hopefully I can switch from the guy who just lives in the the studio to the guy that lives on the road. I just love everything about it. I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t know what else there is.
Well, whatever comes out for you in the future we’ll all be excited for it!
*laughs* I guess. You tell me!