Joey and Matt Swindle, the brothers who perform as the alt-rock duo The Swindle Boys, were raised in a devout Southern Baptist family in Little Rock, Ark. Their dad was a preacher and a truck driver. But lead singer-drummer-keyboardist Joey, 32, insists that his parents were open-minded about most things. They didn’t even complain when he and guitarist-singer Matt, 27, started getting tattoos, though their father did have one request.
“He said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t get a tongue ring,’ ” Joey recalled with a laugh. “My dad majored in biology and went through med school, so he considered it unsanitary.”
That was one of the few prohibitions The Swindle Boys got while growing up in a house filled with contemporary Christian and modern country music. As little kids, they weren’t much interested in music, anyway; football and basketball filled their time. Then Joey started listening to Green Day, Silverchair, and especially Deftones, whose 1995 debut album, Adrenaline, really opened his ears to how powerful and inspiring loud secular music could be. Shortly out of high school, Joey joined a band that played regularly to packed clubs in Little Rock. Later on, Matt taught himself to play guitar, and the brothers started writing songs and performing together.
The Swindle Boys, who now live in Fort Worth, finally released their first album, One and Three, earlier this year. Recorded in Denton and Austin, it’s a deliberately bombastic, guitar-heavy affair filled with stick-in-your-brain melodies, much like the ’90s alt-rock bands that the Swindles loved as teenagers. The tunes, with lyrics by Joey, are also deeply personal and touch on issues that have affected his family, including divorce, marital strife, and spiritual struggles. Though Joey doesn’t describe what The Swindle Boys do as Christian music –– he heard a lot of awful pop-oriented praise music while growing up, thank you very much –– he also doesn’t shy away from themes that relate to his faith and how it affects his day-to-day life.
“I think everyone has tremendous internal struggles,” he said. “No matter what faith you were raised with, or no faith at all, everybody battles with something. I think as human beings we tend to put ourselves at the center of the universe, and that’s one thing I’ve always tried to rid myself of. I want to stop getting in my own way.”
With arena rock, country, gospel, and ’80s synth pop all influencing their music, The Swindle Boys didn’t have a conscious plan for what they wanted One and Three to sound like. Both wanted to make music with an audience in mind –– nothing too hipsterishly cryptic or poetically self-indulgent was allowed –– and both aimed for a sound that was epic, anthemic, and stirring. They achieved it. The album is full of songs you want to sing along to at full blast while speeding down the highway. As a singer, Joey has made quite an evolution from his early days fronting a teenage rock band in Little Rock. He started off mostly screaming his lyrics and has now moved to a more varied vocal approach, taking some inspiration from two of his musical idols.
“The spirit of Elvis Presley’s voice was amazing, all the time he spent in those black charismatic churches,” Joey said. “I’ve spent a lot of time there too. And Roy Orbison could just stand totally still, all meek and quiet, but you couldn’t stop listening to him.”
A while back, The Swindle Boys assembled a five-piece band that’s been backing them for recent shows at places like Lola’s Saloon and The Capital Bar. Now they’re on hiatus until 2013, writing songs for an upcoming EP that Joey thinks may have a more modern, polished, pop-inflected sound. But who knows? Everything about making music is organic to the brothers, so he can’t really say how their next batch of tunes is going to turn out.
Before recording the first album, Joey said, he and his brother were listening to raunchy redneck metal bands like Black Label Society. “If we’d been in the mood for it, we could’ve made a hardcore album,” he said. “I think it’s silly to make music just for marketability purposes. We let it flow, however it wants to happen.”