Today, I woke up remembering just how good it feels the morning after a Swan Dive show. This feeling used to occur on many a Sunday morning in the early 00’s when the Nashville duo of Molly Felder and Bill DeMain often played Saturday nights at the pre-Grimey Basement. Through this day, Swan Dive remains precious to me, and I’ve continually boasted proudly about my hometown musical treasure.
After vocalist Felder moved away from Nashville, first to Indiana and the to the Northwest, Swan Dive shows became much less frequent, and about three years ago, sadly ceased. However, in this era where nostalgic musical reunions and classic album shows are all the rage, Molly and Bill were once again together last night for a one-off show celebrating the 20th anniversary of their Circle LP.
Circle, their third record, was a 1998 Japanese release on the V2 label that made Swan Dive bonafide superstars in that country. It featured a true pop masterpiece and hit Japanese single in its title track, and two years later was slightly reconfigured in an eponymous release on Nashville’s Compass Records. While the band never received the acclaim at home in the USA that they so deserved, over the years, Swan Dive remained popular and toured in both Japan and Korea and released a total of ten records.
Throughout, Swan Dive maintained a strong Music City following. Unsurprisingly, the announcement of this reunion show through Facebook caused such a stir that the event morphed from a small house concert to one requiring larger confines. To accommodate the expressed interest, the show was held at Club Roar, a studio owned by Robin Eaton that just happens to be adjacent to the Robin Eaton/Brad Jones recording studio, Alex the Great, where Swan Dive did all its recording under the tutelage of Jones as producer.
The dimly-lit open space and elegantly chandeliered stage of the Club Roar room was a perfect sophisticated setting for the exquisite sound of Swan Dive. Bill DeMain’s message of “BYOC” was not meant as a joke, and before the 7pm designated show time, the Roar floor was soon full of a potpourri of lawn and folding chairs as the crowd of friends, both old and new, filled the room.
At 7:20 pm, Eaton gave a short intro and Bill followed noting that they would be breaking from the trend of LP shows by playing most of Circle and not entirely in sequence. It would then follow that they performed half of the record’s dozen songs, interspersed with a somewhat chronological insertion of other fan-favorite songs from their catalog.
Opening with the bouncy “Breezeway” from Circle, it was no more than just Bill on acoustic guitar behind Molly’s beautifully charming voice. It also was the start of an emotional roller coaster for both them and us. The bond of their long friendship and musical partnership felt as strong as the one we fans had for them. It just has been way too long for them to have been apart, and this celebration was the perfect setting for us all to reminisce, share some love and get teary-eyed.
The duo was soon joined by two musicians who were very important in creating Swan Dive’s music. Their producer Brad Jones played standup bass like he had done many times before with them, and multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke colored the musical pallet of the songs, many of which he had help arrange in the studio.
Swan Dive’s shows are usually as memorable for Bill DeMain’s between-song banter as they are for his great songwriting and Molly’s lovely singing. However, while Bill’s banter in the past usually has been cleverly comic, tonight he was instead interestingly historic about the band and their recordings. For those unfamiliar with Bill’s songwriting, tonight we heard songs he wrote with collaborators such as Brits Gary Clark and Boo Hewerdine, Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher, Jill Sobule and Marshall Crenshaw.
The band remained on stage after a sixteen-song set and after a brief pause and applause, encored with one of their oldest songs. “Benny’s Grave” on which Molly played both drums and clarinet. The night closed with the much-loved “Truly Madly Deeply” from June, in my opinion, the high point of the band’s recording career.
At the expense of being cliché, Swan Dive sounded like they never had stopped. Their playing and singing were near-flawless, and it’s hard to believe Molly when she says that these days she rarely sings. She is certainly remains one of the best singers to whom this city can lay claim.
Among the old friends in the crowd were two local musicians that you may be surprised to learn were once members of Swan Dive: current Wilco guitarist Pat Sansone and local hero and bassist Mike “Grimey” Grimes.
It’s hard to avoid superlatives, but for many of us who were there, this will be one of those Nashville musical moments we will never forget. Let’s just hope that it’s not the last time that Molly Felder and Bill DeMain get together to create the musical magic known as Swan Dive.
And, if you were not lucky enough to be there last night and are a fan, there’s a link to some video in the setlist below. On the other hand, if you are unfamiliar with their work, there is a bountiful of great Swan Dive music for you to discover.
- Breezeway (from Circle)
- Better to Fly (from Circle)
- Have You Ever Been in Love
- Goodbye September (from Circle)
- Circle (from Circle)
- That Hat
- Ordinary Day (from Circle)
- Quiet Song
- You Deserve a Song
- Down on Love
- Love Don’t Leave Me Now
- Luckiest Girl in the World (from Circle)
- Soundtrack to Me and You
- Benny’s Grave
- Truly Madly Deeply
Molly Felder—vocals, clarinet and drum
Bill DeMain—vocals and acoustic guitar
Jim Hoke— pedal steel guitar, harmonica, flute and saxophone
Brad Jones—standup bass