Sitting down for coffee in the Ace Hotel lobby, Pete Swanson is quite a sight. He flew back to Portland the day before, returning home from New York, where the prolific experimental musician attends a graduate program in psychiatric nursing at Columbia University. Swanson looks like a bundle of barely restrained energy, leaning forward and back repeatedly, scrambling to have his thoughts catch up with his exhausted brain.
This kind of schedule has become almost normal for Swanson. "I've been so busy the last couple of months," he says. "I've been in finals at school, and also playing a bunch of shows, mostly overseas, on my weekends. I'll get out of class, head home, grab my gear, and then head off to the airport and go somewhere.â
True to form, Swanson still has one more test this semester, and after the requisite holiday festivities and a one-off show at Holocene, he'll hop on a plane and head to Europe for 2Â½ weeks of tour dates.
The 34-year-old musician, formerly of Portland noise band Yellow Swans, admits this flurry of activity has been a result of him playing catch-up. He released a few records during the past two years—including I Don't Rock at All, a limited-release exploration of guitar tones and textures, and his out-and-out masterpiece, Man With Potential, which he was unable to support with a tour because of his school commitments.
"My program is really, really, really intense for the first year," he says. "It was two years of clinical and academic work condensed into a year. And all these people wanted to book me, and I couldnât do anything.â
Now that his schedule has loosened up, Swanson has been able to accept the show offers, and in the process of preparing for those live dates, found the inspiration to create a new batch of material. Scheduled for release early this year, Punk Authority is a 30-minute EP that finds the musician continuing the beat-heavy expressions he played on Man With Potential and this year's Pro Style EP.
As Swanson has gone further into near-techno, though, his version has become dirtier and more desiccated. The clean, melodic lines and glittering intrusions of Man With Potential have been overmodulated and feel deteriorated, as if the tape it was recorded on were crumbling as it ran.
"It's also kind of a marathon listen," Swanson says of the upcoming EP. "There's a constant evolution in the pieces, but there's no volume dips or anything. It's asking a lot of listeners because there are these kick drums and melodic hooks that come in, but itâs all part of this really nasty morass.â
The way Swanson presents his music to the world is starting to evolve as well. His current live setup still includes his typical trio of noisemakers—a modular synthesizer, reel-to-reel tape machine and mixer—but will soon include a more modern addition.
"I'm actually starting to use a laptop, in theory," he says, patting his MacBook Pro with a hint of embarrassment. "I can do basic computer stuff, but I don't find the software itself fascinating. I don't find the possibilities that software offers to be more rewarding than the moronic ways that I use my gear."
That attitude could change quickly, though. His busy Portland schedule includes spending time in a studio with friends to learn how the use of a computer could augment his live performances.
Before he gets there, though, Swanson has more studying to do, more coffee to drink and many more people to see in his short return home. After I shut off my recorder, he wastes little time packing up and saying his goodbyes.
SEE IT: Pete Swanson plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with Concrete Floor, Dreamboat and Goodwin, on Wednesday, Jan. 2. 8:30 pm. $6. 21+.