Comics fans love music, music fans often love comics. It's an easy going
match that fits like strawberries and cream. It's always nice to hear about a
musician who can take his comic history back to ten years old and has not
forgotten what comics meant to them. Bill DeMain, guitarist, singer and
songwriter for the Nashville-based duo Swan Dive, got his start in comics and
music at just about ten years old.
Now in his mid-thirties and a
successful musician and author, DeMain was kind enough to give Scoop
few minutes of his time. Calling from his Nashville office, he said ""I started
collecting when I was ten years old. Mostly Marvel; Spiderman, Daredevil and
Iron Man. These were my three favorites."
There was a reason he loved
those particular heroes. He also sees his early love of comics as the beginning
of his music and writing career. "I think comics, for me at least, being a shy
introverted kid, were actually a stepping stone to music. I definitely
identified with Daredevil and Spiderman. I wasn't socially adept and these two
heroes gave me something to look up to."
While music and his writing
career take up most of his time, he will occasionally return to the medium he
found when he was ten. "When Swan Dive goes on the road I read everything from
magazines such as Mojo to Paul Auster novels. In recent comics, I love Black
Hole by Charles Burns."
You may not know who Swan Dive is, but you have
heard their music. Right now one of their songs, Amateur Hour, is playing behind
a national advertising campaign for Hyundai. This is not the first time that
their mix of harmonies, sunshine, bossa nova and Burt Bacharach have hit the TV
Several years ago, an episode of the show Felicity used Swan
Dive's song Girl on Wire during an episode and national interest in the
Nashville-based duo briefly took off.
With radio exposure for many new acts
extremely limited, musicians are looking into every means possible to find an
audience. That has come to mean strategic placement on a TV show or a TV ad
campaign. Musicians such as Sting and Paul McCartney are trying to find an
audience using the same methods as Swan Dive.
Even with all this
exposure, DeMain and his partner in Swan Dive, Molly Felder, are having a hard
time cracking the American Market. While they've appeared on Late Night With
Conan O'Brien, and opened shows for Norah Jones, Pernice Brothers, Jill Sobule,
Jane Siberry and Sixpence None The Richer, it is still a bit of a haul. However,
in Japan, they are stars. Over there, they have toured to sold out halls and
"We have gone there six times." Says DeMain. "The Far
East has been great to us. There is something about Swan Dive that they really
respond to. The last four or five CDs we released have been made directly for
the Japanese market. Every time we make a record for that market we shop it
around to American Independents to see what we can do." Even with their strong
track record, distribution is tough.
While there are no immediate plans
for a current American release, they are always hopeful. "We just don't have
enough of a presence to get into the American Market. Still, we do have deals so
that all of our back catalog is now available on ITunes and through other
How does a band that has a hard time finding exposure
in America become so famous in Japan? "We made a record and the guy who produced
it was on tour with Marshal Crenshaw in Japan. He passed out a few copies and
one fell into the hands of a journalist who than who fell in love with what he
heard. As a result we suddenly got calls from four major labels in
Continuing on Japan's love for Swan Dive, he says "We signed with
Sony and they really marketed us very well. The first time we went to Japan
ourselves, it was a little taste of Beatlemania for us. We were immediately
playing the bigger clubs in Japan and the fans were actually screaming. They
were enthusiastic at the shows and very gracious when you meet them. Posing for
pictures is a priority in Japan. They want to see themselves with the musicians
In addition to being a Pop star in the Orient, DeMain has
written for Mojo, Entertainment Weekly, Readers Digest and is a Senior Writer
for Performing Songwriter. "It is very affirming to interview people who write
music and find they have a lot of the same insecurities and concerns you do. It
really helps." Among those he has interviewed are Billy Joel, Burt Bacharach,
Brian Wilson, John Mellencamp, Roger McGuinn, Sheryl Crow and Smokey Robinson.
The sound of Swan Dive harkens to a different era in radio history. It
was a time when the Hollies, the Byrds, Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield were
played after Tom Jones and the Beatles were played every hour. DeMain believes
his love for Pop as an art form comes from his early surroundings. "My father
was a DJ. He had a huge vinyl collection. My love of Bacharach can be traced
directly to my mother, she loved his work. Both my parents also loved Bossa
Nova, so I fell in love with this music. It was around me all the time from the
minute I was first aware."
Just like he understands his initial response
to comics back when he was ten, DeMain also understands the appeal of a musical
style that may not exactly be in fashion. "When you are young you are responding
to music on the most basic emotional level. You are free of worrying if
something is cool or trendy. You are responding to the music you hear on the
most basic, emotional level. "
That actually sums up Swan Dive. They are
neither cool nor trendy, but they are creating music on the most basic,
emotional level. It is a beautiful mixture of the best that American pop can be,
harmonies and melody anchored by an occasionally ragged beat that makes what
they do unique to themselves.
You can find out more about Swan Dive at
you can remember when radio offered sunshine coming through it's transistor-
driven speaker, there is a chance you will like what Swan Dive is creating.
There are sound clips available from every one of their albums.
interviews have been collected into the book Behind the Muse: Pop and Rock's
Greatest Songwriters Talk About Their Work and Inspiration. There are over forty
interviews reprinted. You can find it in stores and occasionaly on
Comic fan at ten, a pop star in Japan twenty years later , Bill
DeMain is having a wonderful time doing what he loves every day he is alive.