They’re only two-years-old, but unlike other beings of the same age, the Luke Austin Band is a force to be reckoned with (check out their latest song, “Long Road Home”). Guitarist and frontman Luke Austin and bassist Bryan Swartz were at the Gibson Guitar Lounge during Canadian Music Week to talk about their background, music and future. It was their last night in Toronto before heading out on a Jim Beam-sponsored tour, making sitting down with them a bit of a rare chance.
Although the band’s official start date is 2013, the music began long before then. Austin, with longtime friend Kennedy Pollard, were jamming around but found themselves with an incomplete sound — they needed a third. And when they heard bassist Bryan Swartz had recently become available, they turned on the charm in pursuing him. “I poached him,” joked Austin, explaining that the union was a lot more naturally progressive than that.
One of the downsides of playing together, at first, was merging different styles of playing and levels of familiarity. “Me and Kennedy, our lead guitar player, have been playing together for just more than 10 years now,” said Austin, “so I think in the beginning, it was more about just like hanging out. And we each had our instruments; we were all just hacking away and playing Blink 182 covers and stuff, and you just suck for the longest time until eventually, you practice so much and you suck for so long, that you’re actually okay. And it happens very gradually.”
Both Austin and Swartz say that the one thing that was never in question was their love of music, with each having grown up in a very music-heavy environment. “My dad played in a band in Toronto in the ’70s, and I grew up on Texas blues and Motown,” said Austin. “…My mom was the biggest U2 and Phil Collins fan, like kind of ‘mom music’, you know?” And for his part, Swartz sought inspiration from his father, who himself was also a bassist. “I think that was probably the happiest day of my dad’s life. I was like, I don’t know, 12 or 13; I was like, ‘Hey dad, can I borrow your bass? I wanna learn to play it’, so it literally just happened because he had a bass,” he described.
His father okayed it, but with one caveat. “The first time I ever wanted to, like, be a musician, my dad’s like, ‘All right, if you want to, like, learn, I can teach you to play bass, but first you gotta watch ‘The Blues Brothers’,” Swartz said, “and that’s still one of my favourite movies and that will always be, like, my go-to sound. Soul — there’s something just magical about it, and just timeless.”
The longer they played together and the more they meshed their personalities, the more they also realized the band would succeed if they still retained a focus on individuality. Austin, with his blues, Motown and pop background, and Swartz, who had grown up on soul, found a way to produce a neat sound by also taking cues from the third member of their group. “A band, like any band, comes from, you know, each individual member, and that’s what sort of makes it original, is the fact that everybody has their different influences,” said Swartz. “Like, our guitar player, Kennedy, is really big into electronic music; he’s really big into drum and bass stuff and everything, and when he plays the guitar, a lot of the stuff comes through.”
Another breakthrough came when they hooked up with Nashville producer Vance Powell, someone who both Austin and Swartz describe as pushing them to levels they never thought they could achieve. They were all impressed with Powell’s ability to hear things in the music that seemed so subtle, it didn’t exist, but it was working on these little things that, they believed, were what started to set them apart.
So while Nashville holds a special place in their hearts, so, too, does a small list of musicians who have inspired them over the years. It’s a list you wouldn’t expect these rockers to put together, with two names especially standing out. “I’m a huge Prince fan,” confessed Swartz. Austin chimed in, saying, “You know what? I’m going to go ahead and say Meat Loaf. Seriously — Bat Out of Hell is one of my favourite records.”