by Laura Stanley
Jon Lawless works well with others. I’m not sure if this stock evaluation ever appeared on Lawless’ elementary school report cards but it certainly rings true in adulthood.
Lawless grew up in Owen Sound but now lives in close-by Wiarton with his wife. As a kid, he took piano lessons and had a particular interest in the grandiosity of Russian composers. Before playing with loops on his computer, Lawless, at eight years old, started to experiment with vocal layering on his dad’s 4-track recorder.
Back in the spring of 2013, Michael first wrote about Lawless’ music for the site – a duet with Mary Cassidy and another one with Anna Wiebe. These releases came in tandem with his involvement in the expansively poppy ensemble First Rate People. Lawless then began to release tracks under the name Swim Good which eventually changed to Swim Good Now after the former name was taken on social media by a UK band. Along the way, Lawless reached out to Halifax producer Ryan Hemsworth for some advice about a song. The pair struck up a collaborative friendship and Hemsworth eventually signed Lawless to his label Secret Songs.
Daylight, Lawless’ debut LP out tomorrow, is a co-operative album that feels like an assemblage of Lawless’ creativity and the power of teamwork. The album features an assortment of artists, usually two or more to a track, including Sean Carey (S. Carey), Nandi Rose Plunkett (Half Waif), Dan Mangan, Torquil Campbell (Stars), Anna Horvath (Merival) and lots more. The input of each artist varied, says Lawless, with some providing only vocals while others also collaborated on the lyrics.
“There’s nine songs on the album, I probably made upwards of 50 songs for this project and then whittled it down,” explains Lawless from his home in Wiarton. “It’s so sad to not use a song with someone you really love. A lot of the people not on the record, I’m a huge fan of so that saddens me but I wanted to make sense of the piece of art. I got a sequencing that I was happy with and had to bow to that.”
Lawless describes Daylight as a fictionalized version of his life. It begins pretty downcast, a break-up has occurred: “Going through a phase where I don’t see the sun,” Lawless sings on “Grand Beach,” the second track. But as you make your way through the recording, the mood shifts to more buoyant times and the sun comes up. Lawless explains that while it starts with “Friday Nite Lites,” the culminating track “Daylight” is like Sunday morning.
Swim Good Now falls somewhere in the cozy middle between electronic and folk music. Lawless makes soft music that whirrs and ticks and holds you until you are sedated and feeling joy. The thick, muted beats of “Previously” (with Anna Wiebe, Japanese Wallpaper, & CLLLAPS), the impossibly gentle melody of “It Was The Longest Day Ever” (with Half Waif & Georgian Bay) and the tiny twinkling keyboard of “Columns” (with Cosmo’s Midnight, Izzard & Scott Orr) are just some of the captivating moments Lawless and co. have built.
“I make pretty melodic, poppy music but something that really interests me is the way that ambient musicians have a landscape,” says Lawless. “I often used to write to percussion and now I write to a synth pad or a phone recording that I made. Something a little bit more calming and the beat is built from there. If I can get a landscape or even a drone that I’m happy with – a really deep, beautiful and evocative drone sound – that can inspire me to be in a certain headspace.”
“More so in my 20s I started going to more electronic shows but I come from a more folk/rock background. I’m interested in the middle ground between those two worlds. I don’t feel comfortable in a fully DJ set but I’m interested in adding things. I love singer-songwriters but I want to add something sort of weird little textures.”
At its centre, Daylight reflects on how to foster and restore relationships. Lawless, and everyone that surrounds him, clamour to be better communicators, to be able to healthily process feelings, and to be a comfortable shoulder to cry on. As the sun breaks the horizon, the people you are surrounded by feel more essential than ever.
“I tweeted this the other day but, relationships are the most important thing I think even about music,” Lawless says. “And I love music but it can’t be more important than how we treat people. I want to make an active decisions to be a better husband, to be a better friend, to be a better collaborator.”
Swim Good Now play the NXNE Club Land Curator Series: A.Side x Secret Songs showcase tomorrow night at the Garrison. Click here for more info.