swan dive’s ‘june’ 20th anniversary … and how i learned to love the songwriter

Bill Demain and Molly Felder, members of Swan Dive, sit in a diner. The photo is black and white.
An outtake photo for Swan Dive’s album “June”. (https://www.facebook.com/Swan-Dive-220422927975366/photos/5860959883921614)

In 2017, I was a Sophomore in college, spurred by the euphoria of spring to drop out of school and live elsewhere for a bit. It ended up being a rough year, but that spring remains one of the loveliest times of my life. I skinned my knee trying to skateboard, listened to Deee-lite in a sweaty dormroom, and ate Cocoa Pebbles every single morning.

But where would I be without March Records’ 2006 compilation “Moshi Moshi (Pop International Style)”? The companion piece to “Pop American Style” had two hours of new sounds and fell into my lap at the perfect time, introducing me to 800 Cherries, The Cherry Orchard, Club 8, Girlfrendo, The Shermans and more. I was specifically captivated, however, by Swan Dive‘s “Breezeway”. It seemed to perfectly summarize the summery mood I was in. And I was falling in love to boot, so everything about it felt perfect to me.

That year ended up wiping the smile off my face, regrettably. And it wasn’t until I fell in love again last year that Swan Dive popped back up on the radar. Now thoroughly versed in bossa pop, their U.S. compilation (of the releases Circle, Wintergreen, etc.) hit me like a wave, and I knew I had to listen to everything else from the group.

Bill DeMain is a powerhouse of a songwriter, and “June” is the perfect showcase for his talents, celebrating its 20th anniversary today, June 3rd. In the live performance accompanying the anniversary (which I will link below), Bill talks about the album and the people who worked on it with him. I ended up learning a lot here, finding out I already knew some of those talented songwriters and performers!

Starting from the second track is “Truly, Madly, Deeply”, a song that came out of an invitation from the incredible Marshall Crenshaw to fill out a melody that Crenshaw had written. This perfect end-of-summer song feels like a gentle sigh on its verses, despite its cheery and bittersweet chorus. Hate to say it, but it beats out Savage Garden for the name. Next comes two Jill Sobule co-written songs, “One-Sided” and “Go With Love”. These songs enter into the more melancholy, which you can easily guess from the titles. Jill is an artist I’m only now exploring, but both songs speak so much to her talent. Her work with Bill is incredible. The lounge pop sound on “One-Sided” puts it as one of my favorites on the album. Catch that Wanderley organ sound?

Now come some surprises. I had no idea Bill worked with both Boo Hewerdine and Gary Clark of The Bible and Danny Wilson, respectively! Boo co-penned “Mountains”, “Have You Ever Been in Love” and “My Mistake”, while Gary’s sole credit on this album is “Katydids”. The album truly shines in these songs, the childish nostalgia embodied in “Katydids” is also apparent in “Have You Ever Been in Love”. On the other hand, “Mountains” and “My Mistake” enter truly gutwrenching territory. I’m thankful it didn’t, but if this album followed one of my messier break-ups, these songs would be all-too-perfect.

Bill DeMain and Molly Felder sit at a grand piano, smiling towards the camera.
Bill DeMain and Molly Felder in the studio during the making of June. (https://www.facebook.com/Swan-Dive-220422927975366/photos/845560285461624)

Still a surprise to be had: Pat Sansone of Wilco and Jenifer Jackson worked on that stellar tune “Safe and Sound” with Bill. The versions on “Words You Whisper” show just how beloved this song is, a light bossa tune with chanson influence creeping in on vocalist Molly Felder‘s French chorus. Both musicians are new to me (surprisingly), and I’m excited to see Jenifer had a release on both Bar None Records and Parasol Records (some of the greatest indie music from Illinois comes from that wonderful college town of Champaign-Urbana).

That’s not all, however. Kelley Ryan, who I’m unfamiliar with, starts the record spectacularly with “Girl on a Wire”, something I wish I heard on MTV as a kid (it easily would have changed my life as it had done now). Brad Jones forms the backbone of this album’s songwriting with Bill, heard in “Automatically Sunshine”, “Kaleidoscope”, “Augustine” and “Puzzle Ring” on the Japanese release. Love songs and songs about spring will always shoot me past the moon, but Bill and Brad’s work on “Augustine” is perfectly brooding, much like a cool summer night.

The moral of the story is that in my journey to write songs, having idols and friends is more than a great thing, it’s almost necessary. Bill meeting his idols Boo and Gary are heaven-sent, and listening to “June” is absolute proof of it. How he writes for both himself and Molly is fantastic, and Molly herself is one of the most talented vocalists I’ve heard sing pop music, strong here and breathy there.

A friend of mine mentioned that the indie pop of Nashville deserves a name, and I agree with her. She recommended “heartland chamber pop” or “Nashville chamber pop”, to describe that pocket of singer-songwriters that includes Jill Sobule, Paula Kelley and more. Maybe I’ll revisit that in another blog post.

Swan Dive in the 20th anniversary "June" livestream from left to right: Bill Demain, Jim Hoke, Brad Jones, Molly Felder.
Swan Dive in the 20th anniversary “June” livestream from left to right: Bill DeMain, Jim Hoke, Brad Jones, Molly Felder.

In Swan Dive I’ve found a love for love, a music that transcends the headphones with which I hear it and fills the world around me. It accompanies me through the cold winter into the thaw that spring brings. I’m more than happy to share Swan Dive’s performance of “June” below as well as encourage you to listen on Spotify or Apple Music. Bill’s also got this cool greeting card company with the cutest handmade bird collage art, and if you’re interested in that, you can contact him at oddbirdsco@gmail.com. Below is the performance, which is sweet and fun from start to finish (Molly tears up on some of the sadder songs and I can’t blame her, because I was, too). I’m so thankful for this group, and so happy to share my thoughts about them with you. See you all soon!