Kurt Swinghammer’s Another Another bio

By Michael Barclay

If you’re lucky as a teenager, you will hear a record that changes your life. That record doesn’t have to be merely a soundtrack to key moments both pivotal and banal. A truly great work of art becomes part of your DNA. It can challenge your preconceptions even decades after you first heard it. If you’re an artist, it can shape your artistic path—or do something much deeper, in which case there will come a time to reckon with its legacy. In Kurt Swinghammer’s case, doing just that resulted in Another Another, a new album about strange bedfellows: Brian Eno, Jack Layton, his mother, and a Canadian museum stuffed with old synths.

Growing up in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Swinghammer bought Brian Eno’s Another Green World on import when it first came out in 1975. The young guitarist started seeking out any gear Eno employed, using it in both his solo material and as a sideman for Ron Sexsmith and other Toronto musicians. In the early ’80s, he bought one of the last of the original Mini-Moogs; years later, on tour with Ani DiFranco, he met Robert Moog in North Carolina and became endorsed by the company, where his 2000 album Vostok 6 had a fervent fan base.

Through all his musical travels, Swinghammer always went back to Another Green World for inspiration. He now hears the album in coffee shops and on soundtracks. “But at the time it was relatively obscure, which made it more beautiful,” he says. None of his friends knew it and no one understood what he liked about it, least of all his mother. But in 1978, he was playing Eno’s Music for Airports at home when his mother’s ears perked up. For the first time ever, Swinghammer heard her say, “Oh, what is that?” “Every other piece of music she ever heard me play was noise, confrontational. Here’s this placid, beautiful thing with a lack of structure. I said, ‘You… like this?’ We were so different. She was very conservative about everything.” That would even include Swinghammer’s visual work, as he became an acclaimed painter and illustrator in the 1980s; his aesthetic was highly visible on Toronto’s Queen Street West scene, everywhere from album covers to political posters to the set design for Maestro Fresh Wes’s groundbreaking Canadian hip-hop video “Let Your Backbone Slide.” Yet Swinghammer’s mother preferred the straight-up portraits he used to paint in order to save up for that first Mini-Moog back in 1981.

In 2011, Swinghammer was invited by the nascent National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta, to be its first artist-in-residence. (Others since invited: Daniel Lanois, Kid Koala, Timber Timbre, Money Mark.) This meant access to the wealth of early synthesizers in the museum’s collection—some of which, of course, would have been employed in Eno’s early work. Shortly after the invite, however, his mother passed away (incidentally, on the same day as Swinghammer’s political hero and acquaintance, Jack Layton). Sitting in her hospital room, he played her Eno’s Music for Airports again, just as he had played it in the chapel after his father’s funeral 10 years before that, a time when his mother had said to him, “That was really interesting music.” Brian Eno was, improbably, the only cultural connection he had to his mother. Now she was gone, and he was about to go to Calgary to play with some of the tools used in the music that had once turned his life upside down.

He wrote a song cycle about his mother, and used Another Green World as a reference point—studying the sounds and the song structures but not at all wanting to emulate it directly. “The narrative gave it an emotional access point,” says Swinghammer, “so that it’s not just an egghead project.” Another Another is an act of engagement and interpretation not unlike the way Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville inverts the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street: an homage filtered through a personal lens, a reflection and a reinterpretation of a work that still resonates today—and sometimes in ways we might never expect.