Get To Know: Mountain Swallower
One of the greatest things about Daytrotter Downs Festival was the amount of local and regional acts on the line up. While most of the 47 bands on the line up are based somewhere in the Midwest, so many talented bands from the heart of the Quad Cities took part in the two day event in Davenport. One of those bands, Mountain Swallower, even had a headlining slot on Day 1...or as they put it, they were just playing last. Hours before their midnight set (which had the craziest crowd response of the night), the guys sat down with me to talk about their start as musicians, their goals, and the local music scene. Get to know Mountain Swallower now...
Community College and Craigslist brought them together
Talking about their start as a band, Garrin Jost says, "Steve and I used to play together in a band like 8 years ago. At that point, I wasn’t really writing songs much at all. We were in a band and neither of us really wrote for that band. I kinda got the bug from there and then started writing and did like open mic stuff for a long time with loop pedals. Then finally just started the band. We craigslisted up Kirby."
Kirby Calamari first start playing guitar in 6th grade back in Danville, IL, where he's originally from. While Mark Leveling is originally from Aurora, IL, Garrin and drummer Steve Maule are native to the Quad Cities. "That was the best part of community college. I found Garrin," Steve said. Garrin credits the years after community college as one of his most creative periods, saying, "I worked, but didn’t really work that hard. So I had a bunch of time to write. Lots of times I just try to consume a bunch of bands that I like and map out songs and just kind of regurgitate that form. It’s a lot of just ripping off bands that I like and listening to weird things and finding a middle ground."
They structure their songs on influences like Nirvana, but say they've topped Nirvana in one aspect...
When I asked who their influences are, Garrin says, "A bunch of bands that are way better than us. Like Jeff Buckley and Nirvana." When he talks about his song writing process, Garrin credits those bands for inspiring the structure of his songs, saying, "I’m not a super educated guitar player. I used to play trombone a lot so that’s like my background. But as far as guitar is concerned and writing, I’ll just like think 'How can I touch this guitar in a way I’m not used to doing' and then I’ll find something that’s like oh that’s cool and pull on that thread until something comes out of it. Then form-wise, just ripping off Nirvana and Bob Dylan. Like a bunch of people I really like."
Garrin also sees another similarity between his band and one of their influences, Nirvana. "We’re like a shitty meta-Nirvana," he says. "Their big thing was like total nihilism, like whatever, nevermind... we don’t care, but we’re really good actually. Whereas like we don’t care and we’re actually not good. We got one more step on your, Nirvana!" Despite what they say about not being good, the crowd at Daytrotter Downs definitely didn't agree with that, so they're even more similar to Nirvana than they think.
They're fans of Australian bands and bands that promote unity
While the band were discussing their influences, Steve says their tastes are varied, but there's a common theme. "We’ve got a wide range. We like bands that are always changing. They might have a weird edge or something unique about them, but at the end of the day I feel like the common thread for the bands we like...they’re bands that bring people together. They’re bands that make you feel better after you see them, hopefully. They have a message that promotes togetherness and unity."
Garrin says they'd love to play in Australia one day because they "have a crush on all these Australian bands." Kirby says his favorite bands include The Dune Rats and Stick Fingers, while Garrin mentions Tame Impala and Pond. Steve also mentions Wolf Alice, saying, "They’re not Australian, but that’s a shared band that we all really like." Steve also credits their location for bringing them lots of great new music, saying, "That’s a good part of the Midwest. You get stuff from both coasts."
They're short-sighted, but they've come a long way
"We’re really short sighted as a band in a lot of ways. We’re just like when’s our next show, how do we get ready for it?" Garrin says while talking about their plans for playing live this year. Although they don't have any plans to tour across the country any time soon, Mark says, "The good thing is the phone calls keep coming [to play local shows], so we’ve never really gotten to a point where it’s like OK we’re not playing for the next couple of months."
The band do notice that the reception of their audiences have been growing though. Steve talks more on this subject, saying, "We’ve all had bands where no one would come. There were many years where the reception wasn’t as good, but we had a blast still. So no matter what, we still do it. Now considering the response has been better, it put fire under our butts. We’re really thinking of the goals to improve and get better." Garrin adds, "It’s cool. We’ve played in bands before and we’re finally reaching this point where we’re like equally authentic and relatable. So we’re not having to give up anything and people still seem to like it so it’s like as long as we can do that, we’re good to go."
Throughout their years of playing music, they've also learned some important lessons. "You have to be vocal," Garrin says. "I feel like we’re fairly democratic. Even though the songwriting stuff is dictatorial, I feel like we’re all vocal about how we feel. We don’t ever leave the stage ticked off. Definitely in other bands there were times when I was like 'I did not enjoy this.' There’s nothing worse when you’re halfway through a set and you’re like 'I am not digging this,'" he continued. Steve elaborates on the process of being vocal with Garrin's songwriting, saying, "I feel like we shape the songs as a unit and add our own stank to them." Steve also says that they've learned to be more aware of what they're getting into, after having a weird experience playing at a benefit show. The most important lesson that Steve has learned, though, is that friendship comes first. "At the end of the day, I feel like we’re friends. We might not be the best band in terms of playing or we might not have some strengths that some bands have, but that stuff doesn’t really matter considering our goal is to learn and grow," he says.
They're proud of the QC music scene
Since Daytrotter Downs was actually my first time taking a trip to Quad Cities, I asked Mountain Swallower for the inside scoop on the best bands and venues. "We gotta rep Condor &Jaybird. They’re the band closest to us as far as bands we’ve played with the most," Garrin says, while Kirby shouts out local venue Rozz Tox as being the best place to play.
"I’ve heard it called a renaissance for Quad Cities lately," Steve says. Continuing on that subject, he says, "There really is a big upswing of creative people coming together. Years back when Garrin and I played and before that there were peaks and valleys for a while... it didn’t seem as cohesive or connected as now. But with Daytrotter and Rozz Tox, there’s so many bands that have snowballed into a community now. There’s a band called Closet Witch, they’re playing tomorrow. There’s so many...Archeress. All of these bands are worlds apart as far as how they sound, but it doesn’t matter because we’re all a community. We all do what we love to do."
Get to know the band even better by listening to their two releases, both self-titled. (I asked if there was a story behind having two self-titled albums, but they say a lack of a story got them there).