The Swirlies meet outside prior to their interview. Photo by Austin Dickey.
Hidden in an alleyway adjacent to Ottobar in downtown Baltimore, members of The Swirlies kick around a hackeysack, rarely keeping it airborne for more than three bounces. Nonetheless, it calms their nerves before a concert, so it became a part of their pre-show ritual.
Formed in 1990, the band has gone through a carousel of members, hundreds of shows and funny stories. Lead singer Damon Tutunjian, one of the original Swirlies, will never run out of stories. His most memorable one with the band was when they flew to Europe for an international tour only to find out their manager had not booked them any shows nor had any of their music. The group was forced to book shows as they went, traveling to places they had never been before, all with hardly any money in their pockets.
The band is famous for having over twenty different members in its 28-year tenure in rock music. However, the variety was not intentional—they were typically forced to replace musicians that left for other reasons. The band operates like a revolving door, with members constantly coming in and out of the group.
Acting as the major glue that held The Swirlies together, Tutunjian noted the ever-changing artist roster as a positive, saying, “I loved working with so many artists, no matter how similar you try to keep things, new musicians always change your music in some way, shape or form.”
The band’s current tour lineup consisted of Deborah Warfield accompanying Tutunjian on vocals, Adam Pierce on drums, Eliot Malvas on guitar and Andy Berwick on the bass. The group was patched together, with the only similarity seeming to be their shared interest in music. Significantly different clothing styles, personalities and ages led to the segregation of the group, making the show seem more like a recital than a rock concert.
The band stood evenly spread out at the top of the tiny stage, maintaining their distance from each other while they prepared to play for the no more than 25 people in the audience. It is unfortunate that, after all of these years of music, they are reduced to this. It shows how much the group makes music out of passion, for if they were trying to get rich or build a brand, they would have given up on the music industry a long time ago.
The band’s long instrumentals and complex music made lyrics obsolete—the voices became simply another instrument. Fans nodded their heads to the beat, taking in the music and letting it flow through the room. Each song was unique, but the lack of understandable lyrics created a seemingly collective disinterest for the younger fans in attendance.
Keeping the band going after all these years was not for the pursuit of fame, it was out of the undying passion that burned within them eternally. Despite the poor turnout, the band was not phased, for they know their next show is yet another chance to satisfy these passions.