May 1991 Feature Band: Swim Herschel Swim


About two years ago, I was playing in a band that was asked to play at a party in Provo. Now, I had never played at or been to a party in Provo, but I took them up on their offer. Our drummer wasn’t able to make it and we used another fellow to fill in for him. Regardless of that fact, we weren’t prepared to play. So, instead of stressing about our set, we went across the street to a parking lot and put down a case or two of beer while the opening bands were playing. When we got back to the party, Swim Herschel was playing. the crowd was crazy. There were at least 150 people jammed into one room that couldn’t have held more than 50 people. It wound up being a lot of fun until we got on stage, cleared the place and played a real lousy set. 

I didn’t hear about Swim Herschel Swim until the hate mail started flowing in from Provo about this “overrated, over-liked” band. About a month ago, I went and picked up a copy of their tape at Grunts and Postures and really liked it. I am not a big ska fan—in fact, I don’t know that much about it. However, I liked the tape, and I could tell that these guys had a lot to offer with their music. When they opened up for Cardiff Reefers and I was able to see them play live again, I was amazed at the incredible sound and the amount of energy they displayed when they performed live.

After talking with the band, I discovered that they really don’t consider themselves a ska band. They really don’t consider themselves any type of band other than just rock ‘n roll. The musicians in the band have come from all over the United States and all met while attending BYU. This sort of worked to their advantage in that they have an amazing background between the lot of them. They have developed the sound they have by just implementing things they like in their own personal musical tastes.

First of all, Swim Herschel Swim is not a cover band. They have played a few covers in their sets over the past two years they have been together, but the music they play now is quite original. After hearing the hype on these guys I figured they would be a bunch of egotistical ska fanatics who thought they invented ska music, however, after talking to them, I learned otherwise. They formed the band to have a good time and they chose this form of music through an evolution of mixing what they liked until they found their musical niche. When I first heard them play, they had more of a hillbilly-funk-type sound. Now they have spent two years refining their sound. They never expected to be as popular as they are. I think a lot of this popularity stems a supportive, energetic crowd in Provo. Secondly, the music is a lot of fun to listen to, and it’s good. Most of the hype around the “ska” conspiracy in Provo comes from overzealous fans who take things a little too seriously.

The band still has the same line-up as it had two years ago when they played their first gig at The Pleasure Palace-A-Go-GoRick Anderson on guitar, Richard Hillquist on drums, Jon Armstrong on keyboards, Jeff Hubbard on bass guitar and guitar, Sam Reisner on saxophone and Rod Middleton on vocals and trombone. Another part of the band’s success is manager/artist Dave Merkley who has worked as hard as the rest of the band promoting. He has also spent a considerable amount of time getting the band recognition outside of the state. After talking to the band, I discovered that there is more to their music than just a good time.  

Rod Middleton has been interested in ska music for quite some time and has been influential in keeping the ska scene together for the past two years. He helped to bring Fishbone to the Orem Recreation Center a few years back. He is the lyricist for the band. While the band creates music you can dance to, Rod has concentrated writing lyrics with a message you can listen to. This combination is Swim Herschel Swim’s greatest strength. Rod has a style all his own, he has certainly fell into the groove as a frontman for a band that requires this much energy to keep large crowds both moving and getting alone. Their message is one of tolerance and brotherhood in all walks of life—racially, socially, musically and religiously. Politics take a back seat to having a good time, that is the way it should be, if everyone were having a good time racial, social or any other kinds of differences shouldn’t matter.

They claim they play “stupid music for smart people,” and that pretty much hits it on the head. If you want politics, don’t look at Swim Herschel Swim—read a book, then go to one of their shows and have a good time. They have sold almost 500 tapes and their momentum is growing. Dave Merkley has “talked to people” from A&M records about SHS and it is not impossible that the band could eventually get signed to a record company. The music is good enough. The only setback I see in the bands future is the fact that a lot of them are married or are in school and are not in positions to pick up camp and hit the road with their show. Some bands have been able to make it big while staying in one place. However, the band would be willing to leave Utah if the offer was right and it could provide some type of security. Although, this would have to be worth giving up promising jobs and careers for. I would hope so, it would be nice to see an alternative band from Salt Lake make it to the big time.

If you haven’t seen them play, this month is the time to see them play. They will be playing May 10 with Midas and the Bridge, Friday night May 17 at Mayfest at 6:00 pm. They play regularly at Center Stage in Provo and at The Pompadour in Salt Lake. Check them out they can be a great time, and bring your dancin’ shoes.


For more from the SLUG Archives:
Figures On A Beach

Sub Pop Rock City