Album review: Can’t Swim – Thanks, But No Thanks
Fourth album by New Jersey’s Can’t Swim can’t quite live up to its own promise…
From Jimmy Eat World to Radiohead, band life to gun violence, guitarist and producer Danny Rico unpacks the sounds, topics and stories behind every song on Can’t Swim’s fourth album Thanks But No Thanks.
Get stuck in…
“Well, I never thought I'd be writing about this, but a lifetime ago I recorded a solo album for my long-lost indie rock project, for which Chris was always a total supporter. Last summer, he calls me up moments before hitting the studio to start the new Can’t Swim record saying something like, ‘I know this sounds crazy, but I feel like one of your old songs could be a great pop-punk song.’ Chris is a person with no short supply of songs to bring into the studio, so I was totally intrigued at his angle. We gave it a shot by starting with the opening drums and top line melody, and it honestly just worked. Our drummer Blake threw in more awesome ideas for us to work off of, and the song kinda wrote itself. I didn’t expect this to quickly be one of the favourites, nor did I realise it would become a springboard for shaping the tone of the entire album.”
“My favourite thing about this song is that the lyrics for each chorus are different – a format we jokingly call ‘story time’. I love story time songs. It allows you to paint the complete picture, taking the listener along for the ride bit by bit, while the music supports the whole story like a little three-minute film score. When establishing the characters, the rhythm is steady. When uncertainty is looming, things get quiet. A conflicted payoff and all instruments come in loud and at once, etc. I try to do these things musically with all our songs to some degree really, but I think a ‘story time’ song shines here. We hear it a lot that Chris’ lyrics are relatable, even though they’re all written from his (sometimes very) personal experiences. He has a way of making you connect to what he’s gone through. We see it after our shows when kids come up to us at merch and share with us how our band got them through a tough time. It always feels crazy to hear that from a stranger, because at the end of the day we’re just four normal-ass dudes, but it makes me so incredibly happy to know we’ve been supportive to somebody by making music. That’s what it’s all about, right? So I guess while every song is ‘story time’ in a way, I’m really excited that this one most definitely is.”
“Speaking of resonating with the lyrics, I feel this one… a lot. It’s been nearly eight damn years since I produced Can’t Swim’s first EP. After seven more releases, so many tours, all the amazing experiences this band has afforded us, the places it’s taken us, the shows, the friends we’ve made along the way, all of the greatest things I would never trade for anything else – it still sure is a pretty peculiar way to live your life. You just don’t realise what you’ve missed back home until it’s gone. I mean, the concept of ‘home’ has certainly lost meaning at many points throughout our career as a growing band. That really starts to sink in when you see friends and family building lives around you instead of with you. For me, this song is kind of a bittersweet anthem celebrating the choices we’ve made, the rewards, and the sacrifices. At the end of the day we all feel so lucky to be where we are, so why not have fun with it. That was definitely at the core of this song, especially when we shot the music video. We directed it ourselves, which was both hilarious and exhausting, but in the end it just felt like we were hanging out while making each other laugh in our stupid costumes. It feels like good way to celebrate what we have right in front of us despite the not so glamorous parts of being in a band.”
“This is a song that has truly been in the Can’t Swim vault for many, many years and I feel like it’s finally in its best form. I think we held on to it for so long because it never quite fit with our other releases. Something that became surprisingly clear pretty early in the writing process for this record was a return to our pop-punk and emo roots. Initially, we went into pre-production not really knowing what the new album would sound like. That’s usually our method: get the four of us in a room and let’s see what music happens. There was definitely a pattern forming as each song we’d write became more of a departure from our previous darker and/or heavier albums. Once we already had a batch of new tunes, we resurrected met u the day the world ended, made a few tweaks, Chris threw in an homage to The Tragically Hip, and at last the song found its home.”
“Man, I loved tracking this one. It feels like constant energy from the very start. The bridge is one of my favourites we’ve ever written, and our bassist Greg absolutely killed it with his vocal part. I’m so stoked to finally feature him like this on one of our songs because he’s totally a seasoned aggressive vocalist and screamer, and sometimes that’s exactly what a Can’t Swim song needs. Also, another first for us: a guitar solo! You know, I find it easier to only wear the producer hat when making a record for your own band, often forgetting that I’m the guitarist, too. This was one of those moments that I actively tried to focus on the latter, so I wrote a solo almost purely as a creative exercise. During the mixing phase when the guys asked me to crank that solo up, I knew it was a keeper.”
“This is one of those moments where the demo of this song was pretty much the finished version. It’s super personal and sensitive so I didn’t want to adulterate it by adding or changing too much. The vibe was already there, it was just a matter of finding the right sonic bed for the story to lie on. This sounds random to bring up right now, but I genuinely think Radiohead is my favourite band of all time. For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with their sonic textures and the tools they’d use to create them. It’s no surprise that when I got my very first paycheck delivering pizza in my hometown I immediately bought a funny little device called an EBow. I’ve been carrying it around for almost 20 years now, and it’s the same one I used on this song to make the verses sound sombre and ethereal.”
“Musically this song is a bit of an ode to our past releases. Everyone in Can’t Swim came from playing in heavy bands. We’re definitely a product of the 2000s punk / hardcore / metal / grind scene, and it shows up in our music all the time. It’s fitting that with a more aggressive sounding song Chris chose an aggressive topic: gun violence in America. I won’t use this space to get too political, but will quickly say that the situation is unmistakably fucked up and we need serious reform.”
“This is a song that got reworked from the demo phase hundreds and hundreds of times. I feel like when you’re making any kind of art the initial burst of creativity is 10 per cent of the finished product, the other 90 per cent is finessing. I’m not sure if it was intentional on Chris’ part, but the lyrics kind of suit that whole process of making continued attempts to better something… like your own life. Can’t Swim is definitely the thing that got us out of NJ. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves as a band and individually, chasing our dreams of playing music on the road for weeks and sometimes months. And like anything, when you’re doing it all the time you start to wonder what else is out there, what’s going on back home, has this whole pursuit just been a distraction for something else missing in your life? These are the things that keep me up at night. Anyway, I was pretty happy to incorporate some midwest emo inspired guitar riffs on this one, a first for the swim.”
“This is one of my favourites! I love a big anthemic chorus and crunchy guitars. We had this song figured out for quite a while, and at the last minute Blake made some drum changes that breathed new life into the song and made it feel way more fun. We tried to make the music more light-hearted for this record while keeping our usual (sometimes dark) style of lyrics. That was definitely a theme we noticed during writing. Also, I took some obvious inspiration from Smashing Pumpkins by using a vintage Big Muff pedal for the lead guitar at the end. I simply had to.”
“The last track came out of nowhere and I’m so happy it did. In true Chris fashion, he sent a demo for a new song to the group chat nearly a month after we’d already finished tracking the other songs. At that point, we settled on a nine-song album, but after hearing this demo I immediately knew we had to close the record with it. I grew up listening to whole albums, I still do, and while making an LP there’s an undeniable part of me that’s always thinking about the album sequence from the very beginning of the recording process. thx but no thx turned out to be the bookend I didn’t know we needed. I really wanted the lyrics to stand out almost uncomfortably front and centre, so I opted to keep the production minimal. I remembered seeing a video maybe 15 years ago of Butch Vig talking about tracking Nirvana’s Something In The Way where he recorded Kurt Cobain playing an acoustic guitar painfully quiet, and that was ‘the sound’. Haunting. Sombre. Completely inspired by that I did a similar thing by tracking layers of different string instruments, all very down-tuned, super quietly – I even think I used a mandolin at some point – and took it a step further by slowing down each take with a technique called vari-speed to make it sound even darker. Threw in some Jimmy Eat World inspired guitar leads and that was it. We tracked it over one afternoon and added it to the album at the very last minute.”
Thanks But No Thanks is released on March 3 via Pure Noise.
Read this next:
Fourth album by New Jersey’s Can’t Swim can’t quite live up to its own promise…
Watch the video for Can’t Swim’s new single me vs me vs all of y’all, taken from their upcoming album Thanks But No Thanks.
Despite coming from a place of enormous sadness, Can’t Swim say they hope their new song “can provide some sort of comfort to others who have gone through this similar circumstance”.
Turnstile will be joining Thrice, IDLES and Jimmy Eat World at the top of the bill for next year's 2000trees.
After their wing-spreading EP series, Can't Swim return to more familiar territory on third full-length, Change Of Plans.
From opener Standing In The Dark through to closing track Everyone That I Know I Hate, Chris LoPorto lifts the lid on every song on Can’t Swim's new album Change Of Plans…
From Bring Me The Horizon to Pig Destroyer, we run down the best short, sharp shocks bands threw up in 2020…