Prolific singer- songwriter Swimmers Jackson (aka Niall Jackson) has been a key player in the Irish music scene for over a decade. His blistering pop-grunge band, Bouts, formed in 2011 making an immediate, quick-fire impression on the Irish indie-scene with their energetic, cathartic and hook-laden tracks, establishing them as one of Ireland’s most exciting new guitar bands. Together with his punk band, Sweat Threats, Niall’s bands have toured the UK, Europe, and North America, opening for the likes of Johnny Marr, Cloud Nothings, Yuck and Presidents of the United States of America and they still continue to release music with Niall saying, “Bouts is still an ongoing project on hiatus and we haven’t played since 2019.”
Formerly a three-piece in Dublin, Swimmers, the band released two EPs before Jackson moved to London in 2015, striking out solo. Jackson said that this new found confidence led to the recording of nine new songs between 2017-2019 which led to the release of his debut solo album Murmuration in 2020, which was crowned RTÉ Album of the Week in May 2020. Likened to Elliott Smith, Stephen Malkmus, Conor O’ Brien and Michael Stipe, his upcoming album, Now Is All, is due on 7th April 2023 and has already been championed by Steve Lemacq on BBC 6 Music who said that lead single, ‘Stripped Away,‘ was “deft of touch,” while Lillian Smith on RTÉ Radio 1 said that it is ‘gorgeous.’ Deb Grant described his up upcoming titular track Now is All as, “Springlike and Brilliant,” on BBC Radio 6 Music.
As ‘Murmuration’ was released at the start of the pandemic there was no opportunity to tour so Jackson took to writing as many songs as possible before heading back into a studio in Limerick. Armed with a handful of songs about loss of identity, an uncertain future, concerns with society’s direction, and getting older against your will, the resulting album, Now Is All, is both hard fought and hard won.
Now based in London, the Dublin multi-hyphenate, has been championing of fellow Irish artists, presenting his own radio show ‘The Irish Jam’, on Boogaloo Radio, Islington Radio and Riverside Radio with live sets from the likes of Silverbacks and Gemma Hayes, playing early tracks from Choice Music Prize winner CMAT in her early incarnation Bad Sea.
Niall said, “We promoted Independent Irish music in London on our radio show to whoever wanted to hear it and we’d have them play in the studio if they were over. We had some brilliant acts come and play.” After supporting other Irish artists, giving them early radio play in the UK for so long Niall is now focussing on his own music, releasing his next album and teaming up with Chris Anderson (Deptford via Roscommon) on drums and Jimmy Lyons (Cork) on bass with Niall steering the ship on guitar and vox on their tour around the UK & Ireland throughout April and May.
Swimmers Jackson sat down with GIITTV to discuss his upcoming album, Now is All, his craft influences and the driving force behind the fresh wave of Irish music
Niall said, “Murmuration came out the week the pandemic started in 2020 so I didn’t get a chance to do much with that but it’s there in the catalogue. During the pandemic I was on my own, but coming out the pandemic I was like “Right I need some bandmates.” I was playing solo acoustic before. It’s nice to get the drums and bass and electric guitar on board. We did our first gig as a three piece two weeks ago in Kings Cross…in the Tile Yard, there was an Irish music night put on there in the Irish language it was nice to get our first show in.“
It seems to be a golden age for Irish music at the Moment with Lankum, Sprints, CMAT, Fontaines DC, The Murder Capital, Just Mustard all doing so well internationally. It feels like a really exciting time.
“It’s good to hear that from you. In Ireland we always felt like it was really good, but the fact that’s its penetrating the UK audience makes it feel really exciting. I would say that it’s more interesting than what’s happening over here you know and I like Sleaford Mods and Dry Cleaning but I think that the Irish set are doing something different I don’t hear anyone else like Lankum and even arguably like Fontaines DC or Just Mustard. There is stuff coming across that is really the best that there is in that genre.“
“I saw an interview in the New York Times with a lot of the Irish bands since Brexit the sense of Irish identity has gotten stronger. Looking at UK thinking ‘They don’ t even want to be Europe never mind UK and Ireland’ so the Irish identity has got much stronger. We are not embarrassed about our regional accents any more we’re not embarrassed about any mixture of instruments. Obviously, I’m keeping it quite simple with guitar, drums, bass you couldn’t get much more indie/ straightforward but it’s nice to have the confidence and to have people know that if it’s Irish it’s a seal of approval now. ”
“The new Lankum album is insane. I don’t think that anyone who loves music can dislike them.The drone of Lankum does something to me. It feels like fans of metal, trad, world music and indie and doom and drone electronica it meets in the middle It can be a challenging listen when you you ask “What’s the pitch key or midpoint?” ‘Dig My Grave’ is a fairly straightforward ballad and then the last four mins are a wail and it’s fairly existential. I have my own little bouts of existentialism on the new stuff but it’s nothing in comparison to what Radie Peate and the boys in Lankum do…. but, sometimes you want to relax with a nice sunny indie pop song and that’s where I come in and get my space. You’re not going to compete with the insane talent that Lankum have but I think that I have a place in the Pantheon of music from Ireland too.”
Yes. Definitely. An essential place. Your ‘Stripped Away’ song has a hazy, sunny melody, but seems to juxtapose that with existential aspects to the lyrics like ‘The Future’s untold,’ ‘Weathering the storm’ and ‘This too soon shall pass.’ Is there a spiritual or existential aspect to the songs?
“Yes more of an existential aspect whether you like it or not most of the music that you will hear on this album was written in the last two years during the pandemic, which brought about their own existential moments when you can’t move out of rooms or cities or towns of villages and then there was the uncertainty ‘The future’s untold’. So lyrics like “This too shall pass” was almost like the little mantras that I was telling myself just to get myself though it and that is an reoccurring theme in the Now is All album. Live for the now and ‘Stripped Away’ is about loss of identity during those two years and maybe not being so sure of your place in the world as you were pre-pandemic and there is also the innate existentialism that we have of the climate crisis the move towards Fascism that we try and ignore, but we can’t and they all bare down on you even if you’ve got an indie pop song that might be summery and fun to listen to there are some themes that can get dark if you allow them“
There seems to be a depth and timelessness there. The metaphors can relate to all of us whenever we are. Are these messages more digestible because they are presented in a more melodic, radio-friendly way?
“You mentioned Elliot Smith earlier. People say he is sad indie. I get that he was a sad character, but he was also a very funny person and I’m a big fan of him; kind funny generous with the most beautiful melodies. That was his way of subverting the darkness of the spirit- to write this insanely beautiful music. I don’t get sad when I listen to Elliot Smith but I’m always at odds with people who say he is depressing. It’s a good vehicle, you can tackle dark issues and still have the beautiful melody that makes you feel wistful or nostalgic or melancholic, but there is also a happiness there.”
Are there any parallels between ‘Loose Myself’ from the Murmuration album and ‘Stripped Away’ from your upcoming Now is All album? Yea I guess so. I haven’t thought about it, because ‘Loose Myself’ is five years old at this stage whereas ‘Stripped Away’ is only last year. I guess there is that sense of being stripped and lost and I guess that’s an ongoing theme in my songs. There is a bit of imposter syndrome- trying to be authentic and loosing myself into scaring yourself and wanting to be loved and ‘Stripped Away’ is more about maybe loosing a lot of your identity and telling yourself that it’s going to get better I don’t know if that’s the same or two themes from the same root.“
“My whole identity has been based on playing music going to see music live and travelling and family and home and during those two years we had none of that my wedding was postponed couple of times as well as not being able to do any of the tour date for the first album and we all went through horrible things those two years, but it was a tough two years and I’m really glad to be out of it that’s why I’m excited to get this album out and to play with a band I will do some solo shows and I’ll gladly do support slots but for headline shows I want to be playing with a full band and bringing some joy into the room. “
Is that related to the album title Now is All?
“It’s a grown up way of saying live for the day or Carpe Diem- just realizing that we don’t know what tomorrow brings in general any more and whatever comfort we had before maybe we won’t have that again, but it’s a hopeful song, saying enjoy your life. Say yes….Go out for that night out. If you have it, spend stupid money on nice meal or a nice cinema or a nice gig because we all went through all those cancellations and it was crap and we would all have gladly spent the money to be out.
Now is what we have. Make the most of the moment…Now is All is the name of album and is also the name of next single and there’s a line in it that says, “It’s good to get to know your goodness now.” Be good to yourself, be kind to yourself and don’t delay and get too wrapped up in it. There’s a song on Murmuration called ‘Life’s short-embrace it ‘ Come on Enjoy Yourself! Get with the programme, I know life is tough, but like find the joy, extrapolate the joy.”
Was it important for you to record in Limerick?
It is where my dad is from it is a nice tie in with identity but also the Limerick Music scene has been on drugs the last few years. It’s where you go for the best hip hop, indie pop Denise Chaila you’ve probably heard and then there is all these young independent artists called L.A.S.A they put on these amazing independent nights in a bar called Pharmacia in Limerick. Bouts, my other band ,played one and there was this amazing community that seemed to spring up from nowhere in Limerick and it went from playing to 20-30 people to all of a sudden playing to 100 people. It was really confusing for me so Limerick was really inspiring. Dundalk is another place in Ireland that’s really inspiring that’s where the Mary Wallopers and Just Mustard are from, what clinched it for me was that an album came out by an independent artist called Hey Rusty very independent and similar to mine and the producer was Mícheál Keating from a band called Bleeding Heart Pigeons who I absolutely loved -almost like 80s New Romantic Stuff, but from Limerick so I got in touch and said that I loved his work and he asked me to send the demos. He let me stay with him in his farm house in the studio then he got the drummer of Bleeding Heart Pigeons involved too ,Brendan McInerney, who also plays in the Mary Wallopers so I had this extreme situation where I was bringing these little demos to Limerick. I had a producer who I really respected and one of the best drummers in the country who was willing to drum on the tracks and then Mícheál is a multi-instrumentalist as well and he was willing to jump in on violin on one track he’s on synth and on an E-BO guitar on another track he added lovely textures to the record as well as mixing and producing it. so I lucked out there to be honest. It was the first person that I asked and there was an excitement about playing with people again.“
“When Murmuration came out I was ready to move on. I spent four years writing and recording that one this one has been slightly shorter and now once this is out I will be ready to move onto the next one. I’ll enjoy playing it live, but I’m not going to hang about and wallow. ” Now is All”- that’s the theme. Maybe I’ll write some music with Chris the drummer and Jimmy the bass player. Lets keep this going.
Thinking of the diaspora, does looking home from a distance like Joyce, Yeats, Edna O’Brien Fontaines DC, The Murder Capital etc influence your creative process at all?
“I’ve always looked more towards America for inspiration. I grew up in the 90s in front of MTV and would stay up in front of the TV until 4 or 5 in the morning watching MTV .I was never a Brit Pop kid. I was more into Grunge and alternative scene that came after that and I was really into Whipping Boy and I found Brit Pop bland, dull and uninteresting and PR heavy. There are exceptions. I have a lot of time for Tim Burgess and Ash but 90% of that can go in the bin for me and things have gotten better I wasn’t really on the Arctic Monkey‘s train, but things started to get better once we turned that corner and got back to the Myspace thing. I do love the UK Music I spent loads of money going to bands in the UK and I love the record labels here. Some of the best record labels in the world are from England, its just that Brit Pop did nothing for me. I was a teenager so I was really impressionable and I became a weirdo overnight because all my school friends just wanted to talk about Oasis or Blur – always being forced to make a decision, like that Father Ted line, ‘Blur or Oasis?’ I always kind of sided with Blur because at least Graham Coxon had interesting guitar parts. I was delighted to watch MTV all night.“
“To answer your question about home I only got into traditional music very late Christy Moore and Planxty. My parents always listened to Christy Moore but I didn’t get into him until I was thirty and was close to coming to London, so I guess the sense of home is strong in identity, but in terms of influencing music I’m not too sure. I mean I love Irish music. I did an Irish Music Show the Irish Jam for Years on Boogaloo and Islington Radio and Riverside Radio too. There’s a big Irish Identity because the manager of Boogaloo manages Shane Mc Gowen and there’s a lot of Irish DJs on the station. I probably pushed the Irish thing too much. If it doesn’t sound Irish in the music its certainly there in the identity and the make up.“
“It definitely feels like Irish musicians are being listened to on a world stage now. When the New York Times are popping over to Ireland to write articles about the Irish music scene you know you are cutting through.” What’s Driving a Fresh Wave of Irish Music? Tradition. – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
Yes. Great article. Do you think that this new found confidence is related to the recent referendums? The ‘Make Grá The Law’ Marriage Equality Act 2015 and the 2018 Health Act?
“I think the move away from the Catholic Church has been really important for identity and those referendums were people power. The Government will try to take credit when it tries to bring happiness to people, but the Government can take no credit in the case of the abortion referendum. That was women pretty much all the way through you know from the 80s onwards they got that through and they finally got men and other communities on board and the gay community. With the marriage equality referendum I just think it was time – it was well over due. I was in Ireland for the Gay Marriage referendum I went back to Ireland to vote in the other one but I wasn’t involved. Those things were an enormous source of pride even for ladies in their 70s and 80s that had been campaigning for that and they were in tears and older gay men so a lot of credit has to go to older people and we can’t forget that but I think we get the benefit as the younger generation to revel in that to produce music and art that reflects the new Ireland – to create music and art that reflects a bravery. Irish people don’t give a shit what people think about them any more they have their own sense of identity and I would sense a little bit stronger than the current UK sense of identity which seems to be in a spiralling crisis.“
You mentioned that you knew CMAT, who won the RTE Choice album Music award in 2022 year, while Lankum won it the year before.
“Yes. CMAT is an incredible pop talent. She was in a band called Bad Sea and the very first song they sent in when I did that radio show over here had an exceptional pop hook and her voice is incredible. It was a little bit different to CMAT. CMAT is bona fide pop star. She’s Dolly Partonesque and seems to have that confidence in her. She says. If you like me you like me, and if you don’t f*ck off. She doesn’t mind saying this music is not for men. This music is for women and for gays and that feeds into the confidence that you were saying comes from the referendum and she says if you’re offended by this as a man then you’re an idiot”
Yes it seems the same with M(h)aol, band from Dublin. They have that similar vibe.
“Yea..I know Connie from M(h)aol and its like she says. We are not making this music to impress fat white men in suits. It’s a brave new world for bands like M(h)aol and CMAT- openly sticking their fingers up at begrudging beard stroking men saying listen you’re either on board or you’re not. Music should be the most important thing and if it’s not then F*ck off.
We had CMAT and Ódú (another Irish artist that lives in London) open for Bouts about three years ago and about 50 people showed up she was acoustic and I thought this was like Emmylou Harris and I just thought man she won’t be playing in front of 50 people for long. She’s loud and proud and an incredible pop song writer.”
In a way, after these referendums, Ireland is ahead of a lot of countries in terms of equality and civil rights at the moment, even ahead of parts of America.
Yes. Working in the news you see Uganda is trying to ban homosexuality and I never thought that little old Ireland would be a leader in Civil Rights bearing in mind the horrible history that we have with mother and baby homes, the Catholic church abuse, banning contraception in the 80s – horrible retrograde laws. We can’t say that Ireland is some shining light. We’ve got a horrible housing crisis, horrible government, absentee landlords, derelict properties, cost of living and rental crisis horrible things happening in Ireland that would keep me a way from moving back and my heart goes out to anybody trying to just keep a roof over their head. This government is making it ridiculously hard and making it even harder by lifting this evictions ban we are living in this Neo- Liberal hell where everything is for sale and there is no value place on the human condition, so to offset all the good stuff that we spoke about, Ireland has its problems too.
You work in the BBC and also write, record, produce, tour and distribute your music. How do you do it all?
“It’s mostly enjoyable work but it is tough. I’m tired all the time. We don’t have kids. It’s not easy but sure who has it easy? I get to be creative for the most part . The BBC is is more studio management so it’s taking care of the talent that comes through organising the studio and guests and script and microphones and then the music part is because in a studio environment I can’t talk I can’t sing I can’t really express my opinions being the BBC, so when I get out of the studio I can listen to music and shout and sing so it’s a necessity- it’s needs must and my poor wife has to suffer, because she has to deal with the timings”
You supported Johnny Marr and Presidents of the USA in your previous bands. How was that?
“Yes.That was great I love a big band – Johnny Marr was amazing. In a serendipitous moment this album was recorded on a Johnny Marr Jaguar that I got a gift of from a friend in London and opening for him was great as he identifies as Irish himself- Manchester Irish and he stood around watching our soundcheck and he came up afterwards and told us that we sounded a bit like The Cribs. He was really normal and was like, ‘Lets get a photo’, so that was such a positive experience opening for Johnny Marr, seeing how he does it and how normal he’s remained and then the Presidents of the United States of America was a mad one on St Patricks day, Last minute they asked us to support them. We got wild drunk with them there as cartoonish as they look there ….they were very different experiences and both very fun. Johnny Marr was the Academy in Dublin and the Presidents were in Vicar Street in Dublin.”
What’s the best way for music fans to support artists like you?
‘Now is All’ is out on vinyl and CD on our own label, Wonky Carousel records on 7th April. I’ve made a really Limited edition so it’s really special. The packaging is lovely the vinyl is orange the CD is all vinyl grooved it’s all Eco friendly so buy the CD or album and if you don’t want a physical copy then buy the digital version and then come to one of the live shows. I’m doing a bunch of shows in Ireland, I’m doing an album launch in London at the Betsy Trotwood on April 14th, I’m doing an album Launch in Dublin in the Workman’s cellar on May 28th and I’m doing a really small Cork show on May 24th and a bunch of supports with David Kitt in Ireland, and slots with, Nina Nastasia, Jinx Lennon & Caoilian Sherlock in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dundalk and Kila in London so have bunch of shows coming up…come to the shows buy the albums and support independent music.
Now is All comes out via Wonky Karousel Records on April 7th, 2023 on limited edition vinyl & CD. Available for pre-order from www.swimmersjackson.bandcamp.com and Swimmers Jackson’s tour kicks off with the Legendary Kíla in London at Islington Assembly Hall on 6th April.
Follow Swimmers here and see tour dates below: