Transformation, Flow and Rhythm Are Key For Portland’s Swahili

Portland’s Swahili navigate the sonic and rhythmic with songs that are equally as fit for crowded dancefloors as they are for solo bedroom listening. Part of that is ode to the way the band’s music pulsates between genres for an alluring sound that is all their own. Their enigmatic songs fit together like pieces of a puzzle, but one that keeps building, rather than revealing an answer. Frontwoman Van Pham is a kinetic force onstage, commanding the audience’s attention with ease (often while artfully entangled in the cord of the microphone) and acting as shepherd into the world of Swahili. Now onto their sophomore effort, Swahili release their new album AMOVREVX via Translinguistic on March 24.

Hometown: Reno, Nevada

Homebase: Portland, Oregon

Swahili: Van Pham, vocalist. Troy Micheau, guitar. Xua, synthesizers. John Griffin, Bass. Ryan Schofield, drums.

How did you come together?

Xua: Ryan and I started working on our first home studio project together in 2003. Troy had moved to Reno recently (Ryan and Troy were in a hardcore band on high school together in Las Vegas), Ryan traveled to Spain for a year and right after he got back, there was the first of our Reno scene’s Halloween show, where musicians form cover bands for one night. Troy and Ryan performed in “Joy Division” and Van fronted “The Slits.” She was very entertaining. After a few line-ups, Jonny and Troy and Van got on board by 2007.

What’s the most important thing about your music and/or making it together?

Van: Transformation, flow, and rhythms are key—in many senses of the words: the groove of a song, the allowance for growth and development in skill and in personality, and the desire to keep moving (the mind and the body). We enjoy taking in a lot of influences and experiences (some shared and some diverse), and synthesizing them, taking a left turn, with the hopes of crafting something new or striking from that base.

The album’s title is a nod to tarot. Is that something you pay attention to? 

Xua: We enjoy and take part in the esoteric. The tarot is an interesting source of esoteric thought and knowledge. I’ve been constructing my own version of the deck for several years. Included in the vinyl version of the record are two of from that deck—one based on the lover’s tarot and another that Van’s lyrics are printed with.

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