PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Scott, Literary Paparazzo
Dog on a Swing
ED Ritchie is the man behind the dog; on top of the swing…
inside the music – or something less convoluted. He is, in essence, an Edinburgh-based musician whose wonderful songs are often ably assisted by some impressive contributors – which he discusses in the interview. I ask him about his forthcoming album, Autonomy, and what is explored within.
He talks about mental health and tackling its ‘stigma’ through music. At a time where we are embracing music more than ever; I wonder what the scene is like in Edinburgh and any new artists he would recommend.
Ritchie talks about forthcoming tour plans; some of the moments and memories from Autonomy and the artists he grew up listening to – and the secret behind that moniker (‘Dog on a Swing’).
Hi, Ed. How are you? How has your week been?
I’m just back from Portugal for a wee holiday with my girlfriend and now spending a solid month getting ready for the album launch!
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
I play music under the name of Dog on a Swing.
It’s kind of a cross between a solo project and a collective band.
‘Dog on a Swing’ is your moniker. Where does that stem from?
Years ago, I was mesmerised by a G.I.F. of a dog on a swing.
It was only a few seconds long, but I would stare at it for ages if I was feeling upset.
I named my Tumblr after it, then, after wracking my brain to think of a good band-name, this one jumped out at me.
Of course, Dog on a Swing features a host of musicians you have met along the way. How did you meet the members of the band and what does each member bring to the music?
I started out playing solo at open mics then gradually became friends with a whole bunch of talented musicians who I’d meet there.
D.o.a.S. works on a flexible basis so, once I have a gig booked, I consult my private Facebook group of members and see who’s available. There have been about twenty musicians who’ve played more than a couple of gigs since 2013 – and I’m very fortunate that people like Faith Eliott (now on Song, by Toad Records), The Jellyman’s Daughter – and even a whole mixed voice choir (the fantastic Castle Chorus) have been able to gig and record with me.
What is the music scene like in Edinburgh like at the moment? Is it a city you’d recommend other musicians/bands to come to?
I’ve played in a number of cities across the U.K. and Edinburgh’s open mic. scene still surprises and amazes me.
Nights like The Listening Room and Out of the Bedroom – alongside venues like Henry’s Cellar Bar and the Banshee Labyrinth – are full of underground talent.
I love the idea that anyone can walk up onstage (or in front of the fireplace in the case of The Listening Room) and play a few tunes to a supportive audience. Edinburgh is particularly accommodating towards people writing and performing their own songs.
Autonomy is the forthcoming album. What can we expect to hear from the album in terms of themes and sounds?
Thematically, Autonomy is a loose narrative about me getting help for my depression and anxiety – and the subsequent autonomy and general life improvement once I did.
I tend to structure releases by theme rather than genre, so, whilst there are drums, bass and guitars; the songs also feature harmonica, a string-trio plus trumpet and trombone.
There’s one that’s a theme song for a Tory dystopia – and we put lots of ‘80s synth. on it for authenticity – but the song right after it is an acoustic ballad.
The album looks at healing and recovering from depression. Was it quite tough writing about something so personal to you?
Yes and no.
When I started writing the songs, it wasn’t my intention to make this album.
However, the more songs I finished, the bigger the buzz I got from improving my ability to articulate what I was feeling and struggling with at the time.
It seems a lot of musicians are starting to open up about mental health. Do you think more artists should tackle the stigma and discuss these types of subjects?
I think that it’s important to write honestly.
People should feel able to write about those subjects if they’re inclined to do so. As far as a stigma goes, the onus should be on listeners to empathise with something they might not have experienced themselves.
Is there a song on the album that is especially personal and relevant or a track that you were especially proud of?
I’m proud of the album as a whole.
There is a song called Clearing that we split into three parts. Part one is the album introduction; part two is like an intermission and part three is the finale.
I’d first planned to split it in half but I’m really chuffed with the flow of the album.
The album launch happens on 23rd July (a day before the album is released). Are you looking forward to that date and are you excited about seeing how Autonomy is received by the public?
For the launch, we’re putting together a nine-piece band to play the album in order. It’s in a beautiful venue called The Caves and we have awesome support from poet Katherine McMahon and London-based loop artist, The Woods.
It’s been a long process from first writing the songs to delivering an album – so I’m just happy to find out what listeners think of it!
Can you talk to me about the artists you grew up listening to? Any band/singer that inspired you beyond the rest?
I got into music via Green Day, in my early-teens, then that evolved into a deep connection with The Bends/OK Computer-era Radiohead.
Around about the time I was at uni., my tastes hugely diversified but Jeff Buckley was the main game-changer for me. Not so much for his amazing voice but the way he transformed cover material – and how songs from his live sets were never exactly the same.
What does the rest of the year have in store? Any more tour dates emerging?
After the launch, we’re planning to put out a single with our first ever promo video. It was filmed at Henry’s Cellar Bar by Rare Bird Media.
We are also looking to play all around Scotland and further afield from August – if you’d like to put us on or see us live, get in touch.
The touring line-up will be relatively stripped-back (sometimes solo) but, whatever our setup, the focus will be to get the heart of the songs across to audiences
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Besides our fantastic support acts, I’d also like to shout out Graeme Mearns, our producer. He gigs constantly and his SoundCloud page is a good place to keep track of his music.
If you had to select the three albums that have meant the most to you; which would they be and why?
There are too many meaningful albums to pick from but three especially relevant to Autonomy:
1) Aereogramme– Sleep and Release
Aereogramme’s masterpiece: intense from start to finish with perfect sequencing.
It shifts from beautiful soft melodies to furious noise with Classical dynamics. I sank my angst into it and it gave me back much more.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alan Thomas
2) Anais Mitchell – Hadestown
A fairly recent discovery: a ‘Folk-Opera’ about Orpheus and Eurydice.
A classic story; expert arrangement and, to my mind, one of the best living songwriters in Anais Mitchell.
I listened to it a lot whilst recording the album.
3) The Weakerthans– Reconstruction Site
Autonomy is an album of thirds and probably the biggest structural influence on it is this album. It also has three pieces that begin, interrupt and conclude the song cycle.
Another masterful songwriter in John K. Samson: the king of subtly heartbreaking lyrics.
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
Try lots of stuff out and listen to lots of different kinds of music – because it’s imperative to follow what you enjoy doing – both in terms of the music you play and how you support yourself.
Remember that very few people are full-time musicians and the ones that I know tend to juggle four or five small jobs on a freelance basis – so don’t feel uncool for using an office/retail job to fund your music.
Also, record yourself frequently and play it back to get a listener’s perspective.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
I’m gonna go with a Dismemberment Plan song called You Are Invited (to the launch party on July 23rd).
Follow Dog on a Swing
PHOTO CREDIT: Alan Thomas