Q&A: Singer Brian Langan muses about The SW!MS before reunion at Spooky Summer at Circle Drive-In on June 12
In the early 2000s, The SW!MS created the kind of psychedelic indie pop rock that was undeniably quirky, catchy, and fun, crafting unique musical fantasy adventures that could only otherwise be captured in the colorful artwork of vocalist/guitarist Brian Langan.
Garnering a loyal following and national attention, the acclaimed Scranton band made a lasting impact on the Northeastern Pennsylvania music scene and influenced the next generation of local artists like The Menzingers, Tigers Jaw, and Petal, even sharing stages with them at several NEPA Holiday Shows years after they moved on to other cities and other projects.
Those memorable reunion concerts in 2014, 2015, and 2016 were the last times the band – Langan, Michael Nordberg, Hat Wallace, Phillip Reynolds Price, and Claire Connelly – performed together, and it’s always a possibility that their next show could be their last as a group, so there a lot of excitement was generated when the NEPA Horror Film Festival announced that the music portion of its special Spooky Summer event at the Circle Drive-In Theatre in Dickson City on Saturday, June 12 would be headlined by The SW!MS at 7 p.m.
Fat Chance, Video Massacre, World Breaker, Unstable Minds, and Wife Swamp are also set to play starting at 2 p.m., while the Scranton Punk Rock Flea Market and Zinefest hosts over 50 vendors on site from noon-8 p.m. Character actor Clint Howard will meet fans as the drive-in screens “Ice Cream Man,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” and several short films.
Langan has been living in Philadelphia for about a decade while making new music under monikers like Langor as well as with bands like Needle Points and Sweatheart. Most recently, he has been releasing songs under his own name and with a new project called Langan, Frost & Wane. NEPA Scene has been following his work from his hometown of Scranton for years, so we thought it was high time to catch up with him and reminisce about the legacy of The SW!MS before they “take it to the heap” one more time.
NEPA SCENE: What have you been up to over this past crazy year?
BRIAN LANGAN: Oh man! Such a bizarre and heavy time for everyone. I tried spending the time during quarantine the best I could to work on art, music, mental health, and playing video games (those last two go hand in hand for me!). Got to spend more time with my glorious girlfriend Jo, which was great because we always had opposite schedules. Our house had a few socially distant rooftop concerts, which were a blast. I think most will agree that this last year was a roller coaster of emotions and I’m pretty sure the roller coaster operator was 3/4 in the bag.
NS: How did this SW!MS reunion come about?
BL: Apparently [festival organizers] Jess and Bobby got matching SW!MS thigh tattoos, so we felt guilty saying no.
NS: For those who will be hearing you for the first time on Saturday, how would you describe The SW!MS?
BL: I think Knoebels said it best: “Fun, food, and fantasy.”
NS: You’ve done a few reunion shows in recent years for the NEPA Holiday Show. How do you feel those performances went?
BL: Maximum blast! We’ve known The Menzingers and Tigers Jaw since they were infants and love those folks. Having them ask us to be a part of a few of those shows was an honor and a real treat. One year of course I got laryngitis and asked my brother Connor and sister Kelly to sing with me because I figured they’d seen us more than enough times and probably knew a lot the words, plus they both have great voices. They showed up in incredible outfits and my voice sorta held up.
NS: What keeps bringing you and the other members of the band back together? What is it about this project that’s special to you?
BL: We all have incredible friendships (RIP the Great Scott in Allston, Massachusetts). Nordberg played with me in Wonderdog in high school. Hat, who we barley knew other than he was in a band called Popped Ball, joined The SW!MS early on and, soon after, became my roommate and one of my best friends. Claire and I have played together before SW!MS and still do in my other projects – she’s my go-to. Phil was a high school idol of mine when he played in Bedford. Having him in the band was so awesome, plus he rules. We’ve all stayed good friends. Unfortunately, Phil can’t make the show because he’s busy in Savannah inventing things. I think he invented a mechanical scorpion out of old phone parts recently.
NS: What are some of your favorite or most memorable shows you’ve done with The SW!MS, both locally and out of the area?
BL: Ah! I have so many. One that Hat brought up the other day is when we played somewhere in Pennsylvania and the bar had some guy’s knee brace in a museum case. There was also this time we played with our brother band An Albatross at a place in Altoona called Classic Attitudes. It had car parts and half cars coming out of the walls, two sliding boards, and a square dance room. There was a million bands on the bill and like 300 people. When we showed up, they said we weren’t on the bill! The whole thing was chaotic, so Phil just said, “OK, after this band, let’s just set up and if anyone asks, just say we talked to Kyle.” I said, “Who the hell is Kyle!?” And he said, “Exactly!” We were young and brazen! We ended up playing a really great show, and that one always sticks with me. That place also boasted their $3 Alabama slammers on their voicemail.
NS: A lot of local artists cite The SW!MS as an influence, and people here always get excited when you guys get back together. What do you feel is the legacy of the band?
BL: That blows my mind! It means the world to me. We were around right before social media went nuts, so I’m grateful that people experienced us and it stuck with them. I just hope everyone had fun at our shows and enjoy our music. A lot of my favorite memories are with that band. I hope we brought people some good ones to others too.
NS: You’ve made music under a few different monikers over the years, but recently you’ve used your own name to release some songs. What made you want to do that?
BL: I think Mike Quinn and I had a conversation about it and he inspired me to. Also, I’m doing a lot now as well as other things, so it just made sense to me for it to be cohesive and just have it all under one name.
NS: Tell us about Langan, Frost & Wane. How did that come about, and how is it different from other projects you’ve been a part of?
BL: Love that project! I’m so so proud of it. I had a bunch of beverages with my buddy RJ [Frost] around a fire at our house, and we talked about a certain type of music that we love and we don’t hear much of – castle-y, kinda spooky, catchy folk-inspired music like mid/late-’60s Donovan/Incredible String Band. So we got together and made music like that as best we could and are plum pleased with the results. RJ suggested we get his friend Nam [Wane] involved, and he has the smoothest ’70s “Sesame Street” voice. It fit great. It’s the most collaborative thing I’ve been a part of.
It’s very different for me because there’s no loud guitars or drums, really. I sing in a low register and attempt to finger pick. There’s all kinds of instruments I didn’t know existed on it!
NS: What inspires your current music, and how do you think you’ve developed as a singer and songwriter over the years?
BL: I don’t listen to music as much as I used to, but luckily my friends make amazing music, so I mostly listen to their new stuff. I’m still inspired by the same things I’ve always been – pop music, fantasy, video games, psychedelia, spooky crap, nonsensical items and words, etc.
NS: Are Needle Points or Sweatheart still active, and if so, what are they up to now?
BL: Love those bands, and we’re all still good friends. We’ve talked about getting together. Will probably happen with both bands at some point. We had too much fun, and there’s no rotten blood or anything, so why not?
NS: How would you compare the music scenes of Scranton and Philadelphia?
NS: Mostly there’s just more of everything because there are more venues and people. Obviously, it’s a lot harder to get any sort of buzz going in a bigger city, but I don’t think there’s any drastic difference that I’ve noticed really.
NS: Living with and around fellow musicians like Pat Finnerty, Justin Mazer, and Mike Quinn, does that consistently keep you inspired or challenged to do more?
BL: Absolutely. Everyone in this house works so hard at their creative outlets. I’d feel like a loser just dickin’ off all day while they make so much cool shit 20 feet away from me. It’s really awesome to have them keep me on my hobbity toes and inspiring me to do and be better.
NS: What new music are you working on currently? Do you have any albums or EPs we should be looking out for?
BL: More Langan, Frost & Wane, my own solo stuff. Working full time at Chibson USA. I did a spooky instrumental tape for Scott from Dr. Dog and his wife’s tape label recently (which I’ll have for sale at the film fest), and I plan on making more music like that because it’s so fun and I’ve been playing and learning synth.
NS: You also continue to produce some great artwork for posters, album covers, etc. Does that scratch a different creative itch for you than music or does that creativity come from a similar place?
BL: For a while, I didn’t draw much after college, but when SW!MS started, I began making our posters because we didn’t have a budget and I obviously knew the aesthetic we wanted to capture, so for years it was mostly just that. For the last decade, I’ve been drawing a lot more and really enjoying it; it’s become a source of income, and that’s something I didn’t see happening years ago. I still do a lot of band posters, albums, and shirt designs, etc., but drawing just to draw is great.
I recently started a Patreon page, which I’m pretty excited about. I plan on growing that more and making that a full-time thing. I think with my music and art, they have a lot in common, but I can’t relax and write a song while watching TV or listening to music. With art, I can do those things, and it’s a more laid back activity that doesn’t require all of the little attention span I have. Also, with songs, I usually write most of them in my head, so when I pick up the guitar, it’s mostly done. Not the same with art.
NS: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
BL: Yes! Jo and I will have a booth called Curls Night at the Punk Rock Flea Market at the NEPA Horror Film Fest. Come say hello. I’ll probably be sweating. I’ll definitely be sweating, actually.
We will have limited edition SW!MS shirts for sale.
Wendy’s Jalapeño Popper Chicken Sandwich is fantastic! Thanks, Kelly, for the heads up.
I’ve gained a pretty intense “Star Wars” LEGO habit. Thanks, Connor!
My parents rule.
Follow Chibson USA on Instagram and Facebook. Follow Langan, Frost & Wane on Instagram and Facebook.
I found out that cheese is the world’s most stolen food item.
This was nice.
Also, if you can link my Patreon, that would be great!
That we can do. Support Langan and his various musical projects in person at Spooky Summer on June 12. Gates at the Circle Drive-In (1911 Scranton/Carbondale Hwy., Dickson City) open at noon. Tickets are on sale now via Eventbrite. For more details, see the Facebook event page or visit nepahorrorfilmfest.com.
Photo by Jason Riedmiller Photography/NEPA Scene