Though Matt Roth and Nan Turner had already been a musical duo for over 10 years, the word “Schwervon!” didn’t infiltrate Kansas City’s vocabulary until 2012. In fact, their appearance at Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest that year took place the weekend they moved to KC from New York.
Three years later, the pair has become one of Kansas City’s most beloved indie pop acts. Since building a foundation in KC, Schwervon! has released two full-length albums and has performed hundreds of dates around the world, including a two-week European run with The Vaselines last fall. In addition to its clever, captivating ‘90s-influenced brand of rock, the band has also become known for its live show, chock full of playful stage banter and wacky show antics.
“We've done a lot of US touring and a lot of growing as a band since we've moved,” says Roth. “I don't think we could have managed this while living in NY. KC has provided a soft landing for us to engage in, a vibrant local art scene, while at the same time motivating us to get out there and to grow.” For constant touring bands like Schwervon!, it makes sense to live in a central, less expensive locale with a smaller but thriving music scene. But being a band that is deeply rooted and established in a much larger city also presents its own set of challenges. “There’s great stuff to do in KC but we’re more isolated here, at least when it comes to the sort of DIY, arty, pro-feminist community that we love,” Roth mentions.
Regardless, Schwervon! has been able to carve out a distinct notch in local, regional, and national markets since moving to KC. In that time, Roth and Turner have had a chance to develop as artists, performers, and grow as a musical partnership. Their most recent LP Broken Teeth (released in 2014 on Haymaker Records; here’s our review on it) was their first acoustic album, which caused the two to examine the essentials of their songs. “As a two-piece band, you often hear the space in and around our songs. We're not afraid of space. And clarity, which I really like,” says Turner, who shares songwriting duties with Roth. “But to play softer and acoustically—it's even more eagle-eye focus on the song skeleton, and you notice quickly what works and doesn't.” Broken Teeth showcases Schwervon!’s music at its most basic level, and it succeeds in remarkable ways. Even in a studio recording, the band’s unmistakable charm shines through in catchy, sincere songwriting.
The two have also honed their performance craft over the past few years. “The shows are so much better when people engage with the music,” says Roth, who writes and recites a Beat-style poem at each show, while Turner performs an interpretive dance. They owe this move to their theatrical background, as well as their desire to keep the audience engaged in their art. Turner says, “I think the cool thing for the audience is that if you haven't seen us before—they're watching this theatrical thing in the middle of indie rock songs and whether they love or hate it, it's unexpected and just lives in that moment.”
Michelle is editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands.
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