The Swales came into being in 1990 when singer/guitarist Bob Carr, who’d been writing songs, decided to record some of them at home (Bloomingdale, New Jersey) with his roommate Larry Bonforte on bass. While a friend made the resulting tapes available through his DIY cassette mail-order service, the duo also sent their honest and rootsy pop to various labels. Bar/None released a single (“On Your Side” b/w “Dude Rocker”) in ’91; Carr and Bonforte formed a full band with drummer Eric Harris (later of Chocolate USA and Olivia Tremor Control) and guitarist Rich Weiner. The quartet went into a proper studio with producer Gene Holder and recorded noisy new versions of songs from the tape (including “On Your Side”) to create Pleasureland, a harsh-edged album that alternately sounds like Joy Division, Robyn Hitchcock and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Carr cut What’s His Name with a completely new lineup, making unpretentious country-rock the rule; Holder’s smoother production serves the crisp, restrained performances. Still, the overriding character of Carr’s proud and simple songs depicting the small corners of American life (“Tanqueray Tango,” “Teach You to Drive”) remains unchanged. There’s a strong thread that runs through both albums (down to the choice of photographs), making them chapters of a continuing story; the songs generally depict humble working people hoping things will get better while they go about living. “On Your Side” even makes its third appearance; like an annual school picture, it reveals the growth that happens while you’re hardly even noticing the days go by.
The Swales broke up in 1997.