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The Swoon

Alternative Rock
Minnesota, USA

The Story of the Swoon

By Stephen Knight

http://www.knightopia.com/KamikazeMag-v3-i28-TheSwoon.pdf

This is the story of The Swoon, a small alternative rock band that rose from a small town in Minnesota to a national recording contract with a Christian label, before returning to the shadows from which they came. Their story is not a perfect one, nor is this a complete rendering of it, but it is characteristic of any city's local music scene. Teenage friends in a small town decide to start a band. They each choose an instrument and start to play. At first, they are noisy and off-key, but they learn and they grow. What makes The Swoon's story a little more interesting, a little more important perhaps, is the fact that their musical progression and their spiritual progression are intimately entwined. As they took two steps forward, into music and into Christianity, they rose to some level of success and fame (they seem to be something of a icon in the Christian underground music scene). Still, as they stepped away from the faith of their youth, they faltered until disbanding.

Their story begins in Cottonwood, Minnesota, where Dan Lancaster, Jeana Gillespie, and Austin and Emmett Dacey grew up. In an interview with Ragtime, a fanzine run by Charles Clark (who would become the band's manager at one point) in June of 1988, Lancaster explained, “We decided to start a band in the summer of 1984 shortly after we had experienced a religious [born again] conversion. I had been a fringe believer growing up in a Christian home. There was no band [before that] but the four of us were friends. We were a D&D [Dungeons & Dragons] group and we had a fondness for music.” [ed: all quotes from Lancaster hereafter are taken from this 1988 interview.] Emmett was the only member who had actually taken lessons before the band began. He would play the drums while Lancaster played bass and sang, Jeana played the keyboards, and Austin played guitar. Lancaster's father was a minister in the small town and they began to play concerts in the church there. Lancaster was 16, Emmett was 15, Jeana was 12, and Austin was 11. They called themselves Restricted Access.

Their first recording was a 5 or 6 song demo done on a reel-to-reel, just one track and no overdubs. It had a pretty raw sound and the band called it Take One. As Lancaster explained, “Essentially that's what it was. It was just one take, one track, in December 1984.” The only original song that appeared on Take One that the band held on to for a while was “Dead Men Don't Smoke Cigarettes,” the other songs fell by the wayside. In the summer of 1985, they went back into the studio and recorded Retrograde Inversion. Clark called it “a boom box recording” and it was not much more than that. It was much like Take One, with just one take on just one track, but the band reproduced it more than their first. “We had a jacket and probably sold about 30 copies,” Lancaster recalled.

In 1986, the band played in the Battle of the Bands at the New Union, where Charles Clark initially hooked up with them. The band did not even place in the tournament that year. Clark's advice to them at that time was to take lessons because they were still unpolished. The band did go on and practice regularly. In the spring of 1987, they released Church of Wires, which was recorded in an 8-track studio but “without any serious engineering or production,” Lancaster said. They sold approximately 30 copies of that, as well. They also performed in the Battle of the Bands once again and placed in the top three, garnering them a spot at Sonshine Festival in Willmar, Minnesota. In July of 1987, the band released Jacob's Tears, which featured some live songs as well as a few cuts from Church of Wires, to sell at Sonshine.

In 1988, they played in the Band tournament again and took third place. The band had recorded a new album entitled Ben Son Ben Son Beatrice. Lancaster had derived the title from a passage in one of the books of Dante's Divine Comedy in which “the true love of God” is personified as a creature named Beatrice. The line is Latin meaning “I am, I am (indeed) Beatrice.” Clark recalled Lancaster's intense interest in classical literature and mysticism, and how it played a role in forming the imagery of his songwriting. The album was recorded at Johnny Audio, a studio in Minneapolis, then owned by the band Limited Warranty. Lancaster commented, “I was not pleased with how Ben Son turned out. It's not bad but we weren't allowed in on the production end of it, which is a bit silly in my opinion because we wrote the songs. It serves its purpose, I guess. It's essentially a demo tape. We've gotten mixed response. Mostly positive but some people complain that it doesn't represent the whole scope of our music and I know that's true. It represents more of the artistic side of the band. There's no real rock and roll on Ben Son and people who see us live are often disappointed with the tape, because of that. Almost everyone I've talked to prefers us live.” Clark recalled the band's raucous renditions of “16 Miles On The Erie Canal,” “Knockin' On Heaven's Door,” and “The One I Love” as being show stoppers. Lancaster also noted the band's song “Go No Stop” as being the song he would play “if I was given only one song to perform on stage.” He explained, “[It's] one of our oldest songs, maybe the greatest song we've ever written. Somehow that song, in its simplicity, is so alive and so full of what the band is about that it never gets old and it manages to capture the audience every time we play it.” Those who have lived to tell the tales all admit that The Swoon could mesmerize.

In 1988, the band, then known simply as Access, performed live at Cornerstone Festival, outside of Chicago. They were signed to Wonderland Records by Caesar Kalinowski shortly thereafter. Clark had stopped working with the band and Jim Shryer, who had produced Ben Son (under the moniker James) stepped in as their manager. Jeana had left the band to get married at age 18. At this point, Troy Baartman joined the band playing bass, which freed Lancaster up to sing and play the flute. Austin filled in with the keyboard parts, while still playing guitar. The band suddenly changed their name to The Swoon before traveling to California where they lived with Derri Daugherty's (The Choir) parents and recorded at Neverland Studios. The album was produced by Charlie Peacock though the stories about his actual involvement in the project have been varied. Emmett explained that Peacock did not want the album released with his production credits on it because he was not interested in being associated with the band. Charles Clark however has said that Peacock “slept” during most of the production. In either case, some important and professional people were involved in The Swoon's only release, under some confusing and mysterious circumstances.

No matter what Peacock's wishes may have been, the album was released by Narrowpath Records in association with Refuge Records. The album featured five new songs on side one under the title “Neverland,” with the five Ben Son songs on side two. After its release, The Swoon returned to Minneapolis where they “labored in obscurity,” as Charles Clark explained. The band played many shows at local clubs, where a series of events led to the breakup of the band and to an ultimate questioning of their Christian faith. “I don't believe any of the members would consider themselves Christians any more, except maybe Dan,” former drummer Emmett Dacey concluded.

Austin went on to record a 4-track instrumental work called What I Did On My Summer Vacation, which Charles Clark heralds as a piece of musical genius. Clark explained that Austin has since gone on to study at Evergreen College in Washington state, where Kurt Cobain “cut his teeth” when trying to get Nirvana off the ground. Austin's brother Emmett has since gone on to become the manager of a used record store in St. Paul, and continues to play drums locally with Nero's House Band. Dan Lancaster lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and two children. Only keyboardist Jeana Gilespie remains in rural Cottonwood.

In October of 1991, The Swoon posthumously recorded Spectacular Illusions live to 1/4 inch at Control Sound Studios in Minneapolis. Only about 100 copies of the album were made. Some were sold at the Renaissance Festival under the title Piss and Vinegar, though it has been known by many other titles, as well. The album features ten of the last songs the band had written together. “At one time they were a group of Christians,“ Clark explained, “They were never a Christian band.” Though many who have heard their music or remember seeing them perform may wish they were still together, Clark believes that their break-up was the best thing for them. “Had they continued, it probably would have killed them.

It's the excesses of rock and roll.”

Discography

1984 Restricted Access Take One
1985 Restricted Access Retrograde Inversion
1987 Restricted Access Church of Wires
1987 Restricted Access Jacob's Tears
1988 Access ben son ben son Beatrice
1989 The Swoon The Swoon Narrowpath Records
1991 The Swoon Spectacular Illusions

Take One

1984 Independent

Dan Lancaster - Lead Singer, Bass Guitar
Jeana Gillespie - Keyboards
Austin Warren Dacey - Guitar
Emmett Dacey - Drums

Songs include:

  • Dead Men Don't Smoke Cigarettes

Retrograde Inversion

1985 Independent

Dan Lancaster - Lead Singer, Bass Guitar
Jeana Gillespie - Keyboards
Austin Dacey - Guitar
Emmett Dacey - Drums


Church of Wires

1987 Independent

Dan Lancaster - Lead Singer, Bass Guitar
Jeana Gillespie - Keyboards
Austin Warren Dacey - Guitar
Emmett Dacey - Drums


Jacob's Tears

1987 Independent

Austin (sometimes called Sten) Dacey - Guitars, Vocals, Mirage
Emmett Dacey - Drums
Jeananette Gillespie - Synthesizer, Back-up Vocals
Daniel Thomas Lancaster - Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar

  1. Go-No-Stop (5:52)
  2. Down at the Church (2:57)
  3. Sweet, Sweet, Heaven (live) (5:30)
  4. preaching (live) (2:35)
  5. Drums in the Street (live) (3:19)
  6. Go-No-Stop (live) (5:59)

ben son ben son Beatrice

1988 Independent

Austin Warren Dacey - Guitars, Vocals, Keyboards
Emmett Dacey - Drums
Jeananette Gillespie - Synthesizer, Back-up Vocals
Daniel Thomas - Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar, Lyrics

  1. I Cried Out
  2. Let's Talk About Love
  3. I am, I am Indeed Beatrice
  4. Square Dance Candle Light
  5. Via Dolorosa

The Swoon

1989 Narrowpath Records

Neverland:

Troy Baartman - BGVs, Bass Guitar
Austin Warren Dacey - Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Emmett Dacey - Drums
Jeana Gillispie - BGVs, Keyboards
Daniel Thomas - Lead Vocals

ben son ben son Beatrice:

Troy Baartman - BGVs
Austin Warren Dacey - Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Emmett Dacey - Drums
Jeana Gillispie - BGVs, Keyboards
Daniel Thomas - Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar

Neverland:

  1. Whose Hands Are These? (4:17)
  2. Sweet Ally (4:38)
  3. Gypsy Street Legacy (4:09)
  4. One Day the Passion (3:45)
  5. Speak Soft (5:57)

ben son ben son Beatrice:

  1. I Cried Out (5:22)
  2. Let's Talk about Love (3:59)
  3. ben son, ben son Beatrice (5:13)
  4. Square Dance Candle Light (6:52)
  5. Via Dolorosa (2:35)

Spectacular Illusions

1991 Independent

  1. Be Here Tonight (6:06)
  2. Peasant Parade (4:41)
  3. Close Your Eyes (3:44)
  4. My Precious Star (4:26)
  5. I Bring the Rain (5:43)
  6. Seven is a Blessing (5:19)
  7. Human Work Machine (4:00)
  8. More Don't You Lady (6:07)
  9. No More Weeping There (4:57)
  10. Eastward the Sun, Westerward the Moon (5:19)