ELECTRONIC PRESS KIT
Sunburnt celtic rock sealed by punk energy and desert heat
Anywhere in Boston or on the South Side of Chicago, Celtic tradition makes its presence known rather loudly. In Arizona, it might be a little harder to find, but it remains just as rowdy—if not rowdier. Born a stone’s throw from the desert, Swainn (formerly known as “Cockswain”) pour up a pint of rock, punk, and folk with a Celtic kick. After countless packed gigs and a series of fan favorite independent releases, the quartet—Neil Ward [vocals, acoustic guitar], Mandy Lubking [fiddle, background vocals], Brian Daily [drums], Wake Lubking [banjo, mandolin, and backing vocals], and newest member Rob MacIntosh — perfect this intoxicating hybrid on their third full-length album, “Under The Willow Tree”, in 2021.
“Anytime we’re on the road, everybody expects us to be from Boston or Chicago,” says Neil. “They’re always surprised when they find out we’re from Arizona. It’s a big part of our identity though.”
“When you think about the desert, you think of cowboys and lawlessness,” adds Mandy. “In the same way, we’re sort of lawlessly not following any external influences. It’s Celtic, but it’s not totally traditional. We’re a little melting pot of where we’re from and everything we love.”
They began to stir up this melting pot on 2015’s debut album “Seamus”. Building an audience, they unleashed “For the Whiskey” in 2017. Over the years, they performed countless gigs, tearing up clubs and festival stages at Vista Viking Festival, Tucson Celtic Festival & Scottish Highland Games, Southern Nevada Sons & Daughters of Erin St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Woodland Celtic Games & Festival, and Seaside Highland Games and opening for acts like The Rumjacks, Skinny Lister, Young Dubliners, Steve ‘n’ Seagulls, and Sham69 among others. Firing on all cylinders by the end of 2019, they hunkered down and wrote and recorded what would become “Under A Willow Tree”. Marking a career first, the group worked with producer Jeff Tamelier [Tower of Power], recording throughout the Fall of 2020 at Track Shack Studios in Sacramento and Premier Studios out of their home base in Phoenix.
“Jeff was able to give us an outside perspective, which we’ve never had before,” says Brian. “He brought honesty to the table, and we really benefited from it. It was like adding another member.”
The music also evolved. Rather than turn up to eleven, the aggression shines through in the lyrics, nodding to the verbal rebelliousness of Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg and embracing their “folk side.” At the same time, the fiddle and banjo entwine as a lead voice in the mix, which Neil describes as “like our Slash.”
The first single “Bag o’ Bones” illuminates their palpable chemistry. Powered by nimble fiddling and a galloping beat, it builds towards a chantable refrain rooted in a deeper message.
“When I wrote the lyrics, I was reading a bunch of Ram Dass,” recalls Neil. “He was a psychedelic Buddhist teacher who moved on to another plane. ‘Bag o’ Bones’ is basically your body in a sense. Your spirit is anchored down until you pass on. That’s what the song references.”
Deftly plucked banjo heralds “In the Morning” as the groove collides with another barroom-ready refrain. “The original idea of ‘In the Morning’ was to make it a drinking song, but Neil took the song in a much better and relatable direction and the song became more about mental health.” “After days of depression and fighting thoughts in your head, you eventually become clear,” adds Neil. “You wake up out of a fog of sadness in the light.”
Then, there’s the uplifting “Fairwinds.” The punchy brawler unfurls its sails as a “ruckus fight song meant to kick everybody’s ass,” according to Neil.
The title “Under a Willow Tree” represents a confluence of symbolism, myth, and history—much like the band’s music.
“The Willow itself has Celtic symbolic origins,” Mandy continues. “The tree really represents a lot of synchronicity for us, because Neil regular references nature in the lyrics.” Wake adds, “When we were settling on the title, I was studying mandolin techniques online one night, and the video was set to none other than ‘Bury Me Beneath Willow’ by Woody Guthrie. It was meant to be.”
In the end, Swainn ride out of Arizona ready to launch their own tradition.
“We started out as a scruffy sea shanty Irish band who wrote drinking songs, and we’ve come so far,” Wake leaves off. “The songs are more relatable and relevant on the album. We’re committed to this because it’s a way to connect with people and understand each other and we’re excited for what the future holds.”