Bas Jan’s new album ‘Back To The Swamp’ is out now and you can expect a polished and poignant collection of perfectly-crafted pop songs that retains their authentic indie edginess. It’s also an album filled with intriguing stories.
After the glorious anarchic headrush of ‘Baby U Know’ in all its “messy majesty”, ‘Back To The Swamp’ is a coming-of-age record; a heady tussle between their incorrigible DIY ethics and new responsibilities. The swamp is an analogy for smudged beginnings and simpler times.
These new studio recordings feature more accomplished pop production; they’re more direct and filled with cerebral one-liners that pluck at the senses. And, there’s a nod to an eclectic mix of influences; The Pet Shop Boys, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Kate Bush, Heaven 17 and Jon Hassell by way of Brian Eno; it’s an eclectic dinner party.
Kristian Craig Robinson and Leo Abrahams bring their unique and complementary sonic richness as co-producers allowing Serafina Steer, Charlotte Stock, Emma Smith and Rachel Horwood to create something of a shape-shifter as opening track ‘At The Counter’ identifies; it’s filled with hope for the “best life” lived, from the bedroom to the pet shop. It’s a quizzical narrative, raising a question about self-belief; while journeying towards a four-to-the-floor triumph over self-doubt.
‘No More Swamp’ unearths the “messy egoist uncertainty and freedom of my old life vs whatever it is now” says Steer, “I feel so different to how I was when Bas Jan started. I was trying to explore that in the lyrics”.
That’s a struggle that’s repeated on ‘Credit Card’ – a universally recognised sign of growing up. “It’s obviously tongue in cheek, it’s more about me being a kind of idiot protagonist than the actual joys of credit or big business. I was telling some friends that I had indeed been allowed a credit card and someone said that sounds like a Bas Jan song.”
‘Back To The Swamp’ is filled with thought-provoking stories, it’s a reflective worldview, as evidenced on ‘Singing Bar’ which is set in a karaoke-style piano bar in Kowloon before the Hong Kong protests in 2019, with a song list of heavy-hitters that includes Cher, Belinda Carlisle et al.
“I went to that bar once, it was a really special place. The market traders worked all night and could come in there and do a song, as could anyone” recalls Steer, “After all the protests against Hong Kong and the Chinese government, I wondered if it was still there. And why people want or need to sing anyway”.
Back home, there’s a song for a grand dame of graphic design, ‘Margaret Calvert Drives Out’ who is perhaps most famous for road signs.
“I approached Sally O’Reilly for some words. We made a track with her words on ‘Baby U Know’ (‘Shopping In A New City’). We had a phone recording of a jam and I recorded myself mumbling the lyrics late at night when my son had gone to sleep and it just fitted perfectly”.
From one surreal sojourn, to another, as the dreamlike weirdness of The Wizard Of Oz gains new meaning: “’Ding Dong’ was originally a song that started ‘ding dong the witch is dead’. But I didn’t really want to have a song about killing witches. We had a gig in Kilkenny and when I was looking up about the history of the place it mentioned Petronilla De Meath who was the first person to be burned alive at the stake for witchcraft. I guess I was thinking: I hope she was a witch – not because it would have been justified – but some spell would have been cast to render the burning into a cosmic painless transcending. She also has a place setting at ‘The Dinner Party’ by Judy Chicago I later found out.”
The Dinner Party is an installation artwork by feminist artist Judy Chicago. Widely regarded as the first epic feminist artwork, it functions as a symbolic history of women in civilization. There are 39 elaborate place settings on a triangular table for 39 mythical and historical famous women.
Witches, Tarot readings, road signs, Salt-N-Pepa namechecks and a river all cried out, welcome to the swamp…
10 Nov: Fulford Arms, York
11 Nov: Soup Kitchen, Manchester, UK*
29 Nov: Two Palms, London, UK
*w/ Pictish Trail