To dig a band or the song it's laying down, you don't necessarily need to understand the words. And in some cases, the lack of lyrical comprehension can better serve the song. The melody is more streamlined and unfettered by narrative.
We're not talking "na na hey hey" here, but rather a different language all together. Take for instance, Swamp Trotter, a local five-piece, harmony-laden, indie rock and folk outfit that sometimes sings in French. And since a good number of its audience doesn't "parlez vous the Francais," the vocals get elevated to that of an instrument.
Swamp Trotter came together two years ago after multi-instrumentalist John Vadas' band, The Sleep Soundlies, broke up.
"I was itching to start another folk-rooted band," Vadas says. So he started off writing with a drummer, and kept his ear to the ground for interested, like-minded musicians. Forgoing the minutia of auditions and shifts in lineup, Swamp Trotter today includes bassist Dan Albert; Peter Goebel with vocals and electric guitar; Cam Hebda on vocals and drums; Kevin Le Blevec with vocals, electric guitar, harmonica, and accordion; and Vadas, vocals and acoustic guitar. Everyone fit in nicely.
"We all just connected," Vadas says. The mission was no mission. Swamp Trotter traipsed unaware.
"We really didn't define anything originally," Le Blevec says. "We wanted to get together and see how it would evolve. I think it was a big question mark regarding how the lineup was going to work with four vocalists and three guitars."
"We didn't plan that far ahead in advance," Vadas adds. "We just wanted to play something that was cool to us, and we had no goal in mind as to what that should be."
The bulk of the compositions were coming from Vadas at first, so his focus and influences were the most prevalent.
"When we got started, I was writing all the songs," Vadas says. "I came from a weird, folk aspect. I had played with Seth Faergolzia so he was a big influence. Kevin had a bluesier back ground — really, borderline rap. But I think folk-rock is the broadest sense of what you could call what we fell into."
Today they each contribute in the Swamp Trotter stride with a particular voice or accent, according to Vadas.
"We still each have our own distinct style," he says. "There's one thing I would say identifies the Swamp Trotter sound: Song-wise, we really hate the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus. I guess I wouldn't say 'hate,' but we really try to format our songs without that formula."
Le Blevec is from Rennes, Rochester's sister city in France. His tunes appear in a more apparent aspect of the music; some are sung in French
This begs the question, when and how does he decide to write in French? English?
"A lot has to do with the melody," Le Blevec says. "French tends to be more rhythmic. If I have something with a vocal harmony, I tend to do it in English."
The interesting thing about Swamp Trotter's songs in French is that for non-French speakers, they are on a more ethereal or musical plane. If you can't understand the words, the voice singing those words becomes more of a de-facto instrument.
"When I hear his songs," Vadas says. "I hear them more as instrumentals."
Consequently, according to Le Blevac, his songs have several layers of understanding.
What strikes first when spinning the bands eponymous EP is the harmonious cooperation between all instruments, not just the voices. The songs are like epic prayers from the church of Brian Wilson. The band burns with a dynamic reserve that builds around the energy it winds around its audience. The songs are beguiling in their folky roots and are completely beautiful to the touch.
Swamp Trotter is about a third of the way through recording its next EP. The band's attention to detail doesn't make for a quick process. It's hard to label a song "done" especially when so many ideas keep rearing their head. Vadas wonders aloud if they're ever really done. Le Blevac jumps in.
"The goal here is to get a general consensus," he says.
Swamp Trotter makes it — the harmonies, the dynamics, the language — sound easy. That is until you ask them.
"It's hard," Vadas says. "None of us is classically trained. It doesn't come easy to us."
The band is the pistol-packin' ruler of Western swing and all the genres that lead up to it.