Dead Swells is a five-piece band, but with the exception of the drums, virtually everything you hear on their new, self-titled album was played by singer/songwriter/guitarist Paul Nederostek. Other than some time spent at Rialto Row to record with co-producer Wolfgang Zimmerman or Little Bird's Oleg Terentiev, Dead Swells was mostly made in Nederostek's home. And you can thank COVID-19 for that.
"There was nothing else you could do other than be isolated, so there was basically a month there when I would just record all day, every day," Nederostek said. "If it weren't for quarantine, I would've had the guys (guitarist Adam Haltiwanger, keyboardist Luke Reeves, bassist Ben Moody and drummer Joe Lansburg) on the album, but it didn't happen that way."
Dead Swells doesn't sound like a one-man-band project, though. Built on burbling keyboards, blurred guitars and pulsing rhythms, Dead Swells is a modern take on psychedelic space-rock, almost like pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd with a lot of 2020 technology at its disposal. Tracks like the lush, slow-rolling opener "SummerNakedHeat," the bouncy, shimmering "MLD" and the surprisingly funky "Differently" are fueled by rubbery synths. Everything sounds like it's shooting into the stratosphere thanks to massive guitars and vocals with reams of echo on them.
But unlike Floyd or other space rock-style bands, Nederostek keeps things concise. There's no jamming on Dead Swells, and every track is tightly arranged.
"I made everything concise on purpose, because I wanted people to listen to the whole album, front to back, and obviously a lot of people don't do that anymore," he said.
In fact, on the nine-track album, there are several songs that barely hit the two-minute mark, almost serving as connecting pieces between the main tracks. The segue songs began when Nederostek was working on other music as a breather from Dead Swells' material.
"But I thought it would be a good idea to include them as breaks," he said. "I was inspired by other albums with these short pieces where I ended up listening to the whole album all the way through, so I thought it was interesting."
As a writer, Nederostek tends to start his songs from beats or chords, building the tracks around those elements and then adding the lyrics later. Lines like "I want the sweet dream/ I want the feeling so bad," on "MLD" seem to match the hazy, atmospheric feel of the music.
"The lyrics are inspired by the music," he said, "so I'll have all of the music done and listen to it over and over again and put some words on top of it. It's something I've always done."
Nederostek's isolation during most of the recording gave him an opportunity to do a good bit of the production himself, which wasn't how it worked on the band's 2017 EP. As comfortable as he is writing, playing and recording music, Nederostek said the production and mixing processes were intimidating, which is why he turned to Zimmerman, one of the most experienced producers in the area.
"The whole time, I was basically freaking out," he said about producing on his own. "Wolfgang offered me guidance because he's been doing this for a long time. So if I had any problems, I would just call him, and he'd tell me to calm down or tell me what I needed to do."
The COVID-19 shutdown may have helped Nederostek make his new album and up his production game, but there's a flip side to that coin. Dead Swells released a strong new album Aug. 7, but how is it going to promote it without any live shows?
"That's a good question," Nederostek says. "I don't know. It pretty much all exists on social media, Spotify, and iTunes. Hopefully, people like it, but I'm not too sure what to do. It seems like everything's up in the air."