Say My Name 2, the second album from the Lawrence producer/musician/audio collagist Steve Swyers, opens with a one-minute track called "The Squeakquel." It's a sort of cheeky, faux-grand announcement of Say My Name's return. Through a swirling haze of piano and percussion, imposing voices emerge. "It happened once before ... It's about to happen again ... And this time ... there's no limit ... to the lunacy ... No limit ... to the chaos." Another voice intones: "This time ... he's bitten off more than he can chew. This time ... he's gotten too big for his britches." Ghostface would be proud.
"I got most of those from old movie trailers for sequels," Swyers says. "Like Death Wish 3, Airplane 2, those types of movies. I wanted the intro to be kind of funny and cheesy."
It is both of those things. The idea of Swyers manufacturing excessive fanfare around his own album, on the album, is amusing — humble, even, in a twisted way. And yet for some of us, the prospect of a new Say My Name track popping up on SoundCloud actually is cause for anticipation and excitement. On both his 2010 self-titled debut and Say My Name 2, Swyers evokes a dynamically blurry head space: electronic landscapes dotted with blaxploitation film dialogue and spaghetti-Western signposts. It's terrific music for spacing out.
"With the first record, I was kind of rigid about how I wanted it to sound. I wanted to have these short bursts of songs, lots of soul samples, very influenced by Madlib and RZA," Swyers says. "I was watching a lot of '70s B-movies at the time. All those movies are kind of terrible, but they have these awesome soundtracks, with guys like Isaac Hayes and Willie Hutch. So all the samples on that one were from the mid-'70s."
Say My Name 2 opens up a little to include world music, country music and Middle Eastern sounds. "Badlands," a standout track, is like an Ennio Morricone score all glitched out and faded. "I was going for a more druggy atmosphere on the new one, and I wanted kind of a Western feel, too," he says. "I just wanted it all to be very floaty."
Swyers, a soft-spoken 25-year-old who grew up in Overland Park, lives with two other Lawrence musicians in a teal house off Missouri Street. Conditions are spartan. Unless amplifiers count as seating, the living room is unfurnished; it currently serves as a makeshift practice space for Fourth of July, a band that Swyers used to play guitar in but quit about a year ago. ("Their shows are very energetic, very animated. I felt kind of out of place standing there with a guitar, trying to focus on how to play my part.") To the right of the front doorway is Swyers' bedroom, where he has been recording since moving in three months ago. On his desk is an iBook G4 (discontinued 2006), on which he stitches together his songs using Pro Tools. In the corner, a vintage Rhodes is stacked atop a Hammond organ.
By virtue of the fact that Swyers is now surrounded by instruments and by musicians who play them — he lived alone while recording the two Say My Name records — his approach to making music is changing. "It used to be, I'd go to a thrift store or something and look for records that seemed like they'd have interesting sounds on them. Then I'd take them home and hope I could find something good I could loop for a song. Then I'd record the loop and add instrumentation that matched the sample," he says. "Lately I've been sitting down at the keyboard more and writing chord progressions and stuff."
His cut-and-paste approach has presented problems in the past in terms of releasing his music. Getting the first Say My Name record (roughly 14 minutes of music) pressed on vinyl was an arduous process. Swyers favors old, obscure samples, but the record caught some copyright heat. "One company ran it through some computer system, and three samples popped up, and they were like, 'We can't press this,' " he says. "It was like a sample of Biggie talking. Actually, the stuff I really ran into trouble with was movie-dialogue stuff."
The result is no vinyl release for Say My Name 2; Swyers will be distributing handmade CDs instead. He's also talking about re-forming one of his old bands, Save the Whales, to perform some of the original music that he has been recording lately.
These new tracks are spacey and triumphant-sounding, with use of minor keys and tremolos. Say My Name songs have often resembled movie soundtracks all chopped up and spliced back together, but Swyers' new material doesn't bother with the deconstruction and reassembly. It just sounds like an imaginatively arranged movie soundtrack. "Hopefully it's evocative of something, like a memory or images," he says.