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By Greg Barbera

Swimming Upstream with Todd Watts of Emmet Swimming

Over the last two years, Fairfax, Virginia's emmet swimming have logged over 440 shows and covered 32 of our 50 states. They'll be back at The Brewery in Raleigh on Saturday, July 13.

While the band doesn't share the same sonic ID as South Carolina's mega-stars Hootie & The Blowfish, they have one thing in common: both got where they were by being well-versed in the art of self-promotion. emmet swimming released two albums - Dark When The Snow Falls (1993) and Wake (1995) - on their own label before being picked up by Epic Records. After being signed to Epic, Wake was re-released for wider public consumption.

On Wake, the bass-heavy rhythms were reminiscent of early New Wave bands like Joy Division and Gang of Four, while the guitar lines that jangled and loped about were indicative of mid-'80s New Wave like The Church and The Smiths.

Less than 10 minutes into a conversation with Todd Watts, the band's lead vocalist & guitarist, I had reached the bottom of the well regarding the band's primary influences: "I kinda like '80s progressive rock school of thought," he noted, "like The Smiths, The Cure and R.E.M. - that sort of stuff." And it's these decade-old musical outfits that drive the bulk of the tunes on their third Epic-released album, Big Night Without You. The album was recorded at Nashville's Ocean Way Studios, with producer Peter Collins at the helm. Collins has achieved hit records with a broad range of bands - from the Indigo Girls and Jewel to punk rock stalwarts Suicidal Tendencies.

"Peter was great. He has done so many different types of music that we really felt that he was the right guy for us," remarked Todd. The band's previous effort was produced by Raleigh's own rock legend, Don Dixon. "Dixon's a great producer too," exclaimed Todd, who holds the utmost respect for the former Arrogance frontman. Dixon, after all, produced early R.E.M., a band that sits at the top of Watts' all time favorite groups list. But Collins and Dixon have very different work ethics. "Peter's one of those guys who works about eight hours a day and thinks things out, whereas with Dixon it was like 16 hours a day. Our album with him was completely recorded and mixed within 16 days. He goes for the vibe of what is happening in a two-week span of time."

The patience and dedication of producer Peter Collins appears to be paying off for ES. From the opening track, "Guru," to the closing song (and first single off the album), "Sunblock," the band does its best to revive the classic New Wave artists that have inspired them. Apparently there are quite a few folks who are interested in this sort of musical revival, judging by the band's popularity on the East Coast (especially in their hometown of Fairfax and the neighboring D.C. metro area). The band has won the respect and support of local radio stations WHFS and DC 101, both of which are playing the new single, which hasn't hurt their cause at all. Couple that with some H.O.R.D.E. tour dates this summer and the band is poised for commercial success. The H.O.R.D.E tour dates may seem odd for a band that doesn't really fit into the hippie vibe that the festival is known for, but Watts claimed the tour has changed. "We're really not a H.O.R.D.E band, but I think that the tour is kinda different this year. I mean, The Smashing Pumpkins are going to be playing and they're definitely not a H.O.R.D.E. band," he said emphatically. He also added that the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were going to be on the tour as well.

In the six years since the band was born, they have exceeded all initial expectations. It was the first song they wrote that gave the band it's moniker. A song about a black kid named Emmet who was killed for whistling at a white woman while swimming. Despite the serious undertones of this first song, the band has stuck to one very simple strategy. According to Todd: "We're continually trying to build a fan base. I think that's what a band should do."

Drop by The Brewery in Raleigh on Saturday, June 13, for emmet swimming.



Copyright ©1998 Spectator Magazine, Inc. - | Published June 13, 1998