Glenn Milchem has long been recognized as one of Canada’s premier drummers, but now with Awkward Situation, the third release by his band The Swallows, he will also be recognized as a formidable singer/songwriter. The self-produced album was recorded in 2004 at The Woodshed in Toronto but the release was delayed until now. Milchem has become used to unpredictable scheduling thanks to Blue Rodeo’s non-stop tour schedule, and recently his involvement with acclaimed electro-rockers Holy Fuck. The first Swallows album, Turning Blue came out in 1999, followed by The Beauty Of Our Surroundings in 2002.
These interim periods have given Milchem time to develop his songwriting, and Awkward Situation finds him at his versatile best. On the album he leads a group of old friends, bassist John Borra (Change Of Heart, A Neon Rome), drummer Randy Curnew (C’Mon), and guitarist Jonny James. "I really just write for the sake of writing now," Milchem says. "Completing a song is one of the most satisfying things I can think of, and I try to do that as often as I can. In the past, a lot of the material didn’t seem to fit what I originally wanted The Swallows to be, which was a rock band.”
While the songs, "Out Of The Way" and "Human Shield" present Milchem in an unexpectedly vulnerable state, the bulk of Awkward Situation lives up to the solid pedigree that Milchem has been known for since the ‘80s, when he began playing with an endless variety of post-punk, metal and roots artists.
After joining Blue Rodeo in 1992, Milchem had to curtail some of his extra-curricular activities. His wide-ranging talents had an immediate effect on the group and pushed them in daring new sonic directions. "I was never a fan of roots music until I started playing it," he says. “Even when I joined Blue Rodeo, I thought country music was just for right-wing Republicans. But obviously I’ve learned a lot since then, and after you hang out with musicians like those guys long enough you start to think that maybe just playing G, C and D isn’t so bad."
Milchem still has a long way to go before his music becomes that simplified, although he says that working within one specific style is never a consideration. "My songs are really just what comes out of me. I never think, okay, I want to write a bunch of art-punk songs. Sometimes I wish I could do that, but I tend to just go with whatever mood I’m in. I still mainly listen to experimental music, but for whatever reason I don’t seem to write that way." Lyrically, Milchem trusts his instincts. Songs like "Privileged Tears" and "Pointafinger" pull no punches in making pronouncements on the state of society.
"I’d say that most of the songs on this record are about hitting some kind of impasse in life. Sometimes the subject is me, and sometimes it’s someone I know. The opening track, ‘Glorious’ is actually about world events, and trying to find some light in the darkness. If there’s any constant theme to this record, it’s probably that; no matter how dark a song might be, hopefully it has some light in it as well."
Milchem says that The Swallows will always be his personal creative outlet, no matter who else is involved. "I’m going to keep making records and I know that five years from now I’ll still be doing it.”
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