Rob Smith’s eclectic dance offering The Swedish Railway Orchestra face the challenging task of being a distinctly club focused act in a country where clubbing struggles.
Not that it’s held Smith back: with his latest album Dance to the Drum Machine on the horizon, he told us about some of the experiences music has already brought to him, including performing in Buenos Aires and Berlin, although this particular outfit simply doesn’t step into the live arena. His 2020 single ‘The Freaks Come Out At Night’ combines immediacy and vibrant beats, and was his greatest hit to date.
I caught up with Rob ahead of his latest release…
Dance To The Drum Machine is out in about a month. What can we expect?
It’s the Swedish Railway Orchestra record I had the most fun making. I felt on the previous album, the self-titled 3rd one, I put myself under pressure that I had to make a great album. This time around I felt more loose about it and the result feels like more of an album ideal to play at parties.
What’s your production process, and how do you experiment with your sound?
It really depends. I can be messing around with a synth and get a good sound and let that be the basis for a song. Or even just playing bass guitar and if I come up with a good little riff. Same goes if I’m messing with some vintage drum machines, I think to myself “oh, that sounds good. I wonder if I could build something around that?”. Sometimes it works, sometimes it really doesn’t.
What about converting that sound into a live setting – how does that work for you?
The Swedish Railway Orchestra was always a project and not a live band. I set that out from the very start. I wanted it to be a project of music that was fun to make and fun to listen to. I didn’t want the pressures of travelling and playing, I had done that for years previously. This does make it a harder sell. It’s very hard to shift vinyl and CD’s if people can’t see this thing live. I’ve received some incredible offers to do it live over the years. Promoters looking to stick it on at some prestigious festivals, for example. So far I’ve managed to resist all temptation, but I’ve also said “never say never”.
What do you think of the Dublin nightclub scene – is it fair to say there’s room for a lot of development?
Absolutely. So many places have closed down, even before the pandemic. The dance scene has slightly dwindled but revellers still want to party. I think the licensing laws are something that needs to be looked at. People aren’t getting into the business of opening clubs too quickly because there’s too much hassle involved and risk of closure or not turning a profit can be too great. I’d like to see this changed.
‘The Freaks Come Out At Night’ got you quite a substantial amount of attention. Has it made a lot of difference to how the act is perceived?
I have had a lot of people tell me they love that track. I’m not sure if it’s made a difference how the act is perceived. Some people might think that all the songs I make are similar to that song, but in truth it’s more diverse.
You’ve done a lot of work internationally off the back of your music so far. How have you found the reception differs in different places?
It depends. For example, a few years ago in Barcelona, I DJ’d in a great venue called Sala Apolo to a full house, and Rowetta from the Happy Mondays appeared to sing live over two or three tracks with me. It was quite a monumental moment for me being a huge Mondays fan. The place went nuts. It was huge. I recall DJing in Nice a few days after that to 3 people who didn’t really care all that much. I even wrapped it up early when two of them went home. You can’t win every time. C’est la vie.
How did you end up connecting with Blowtorch Records?
I liked some of the bands on their label. So I had ‘Dance To The Drum Machine’ recorded, mastered and good to go, and thought “why not reach out to them?”. So I did. And Richard, who’s the head of the label, knew and liked my previous stuff and was keen. So we made a deal and here we are in business together and I am very proud to be on that label.
You do a few remixes in your work – is there anyone you’d really love to work with at the moment?
Loads of people. It would be a dream to work with the likes of Annie Clarke (St Vincent), James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) or the living legend Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), but I would love to remix stuff by The Brian Jonestown Massacre if given the opportunity. They have consistently been one of the great bands of the past couple of decades and Anton Newcombe is not afraid of experimentation.
I love the intensity of ‘Go’. Which of your tracks stand out to you?
Of all my previous tracks, there’s a song called The Subjection. I’ve always thought that was one of my best songs. It was based on a quote by Emmeline Pankhurst, behind a psychedelic electronic groove. I was on a radio station around the time it came out, in 2018, and the presenter said it was like a cross of, to mention two bands name checked before, LCD Soundsystem and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. I thought that praise rarely goes any higher than that.
What are your hopes for the future?
Keep making music and making myself happy with it. If other people get happy from it, then that’s the biggest bonus of all.