Switches frontman Matt Bishop readily admits that he's a little obsessive about music. Growing up in Essex, England, Bishop received his first guitar at age 3 and had written more than 100 songs (recording demos for most) by his late teens.
But it wasn't long after he enrolled at the University of Surrey that Bishop realized he needed to ditch his reputation as the “lonely demo maker” and bring his music out into the open. He had vocals, guitar and songwriting duties covered, but he needed like-minded players to round out the project. So he sent out a mass e-mail to the entire Surrey student body looking for recruits.
Bishop was flooded with responses and eventually settled on a lineup that was primarily chosen, he says, “based upon personality and musical taste.” But naming the newly formed band was another matter. The group initially played gigs under so many different names that not even their staunchest fans could keep up with the multiple monikers.
“We even called ourselves ‘The Kestrel Supers' once,” Bishop laughs. “That's a brand of very strong beer in Britain and a favorite of hobos and such. We still have a chuckle about that.”
Finally, someone suggested they call the band Switches after their propensity to switch names. It stuck. But not only did Bishop like the name's honesty and simplicity, he also loved the fact that it could stand for something more.
“I liked the idea that it had multiple meanings,” he says. “I love that it also meant that we could change styles per album, or within albums, or even within songs. We just thought it was a cool name for what we're trying to do.”
Permanent name in place, Switches began gigging heavily around the U.K. while working on demos in advance of their 2006 debut EP, Message From Yuz. Audiences began to take notice as the band hit the road, opening for fellow Brits like The Rakes before eventually garnering attention at music festivals like South by Southwest. But in order to capitalize on the exposure, Bishop knew it was time to make a full-length album.
The band found its perfect match in Los Angeles producer Rob Schnapf (Elliot Smith, The Vines), whom Bishop, a Vines fan, cajoled into telling stories of Vines debauchery during downtime in the studio.
In April 2007, Switches released Heart Tuned to D.E.A.D. (a nod to Super Furry Animals) in the U.K. and Japan. The album was renamed Lay Down the Law for its U.S. release in March amid fears that Americans wouldn't get the subtleties.
“We were scared that people in the United States wouldn't understand the reference, so we gave it a different title,” Bishop says. “We're not about confusing people.”
What they are about, Bishop says, is making sure the band's escalating success—thanks to the Billboard Top 10 single “Drama Queen”—doesn't make them lazy. He wants every Switches release to be a progression from its predecessor.“Artists like David Bowie have such diversity from album to album,” Bishop says. “His music took on so many different forms, from soul to glam to avant-garde to emo and beyond. That stuff is really inspirational.”
But, lest Bishop get ahead of himself, there's a lot of touring to be done before he makes another Switches record, including at least two more months on the current Nylon magazine tour alongside She Wants Revenge, Be Your Own Pet and The Virgins.
“There are ups and downs, but I think, on the whole, we like it,” Bishop says of touring. “It's great when audiences appreciate us and, in America, it's been a nearly universal thing. As long as we get enough sleep and don't fight with one another too much, we find touring very rewarding and very good fun.”
Even though Bishop will have to wait until the tour is over to record the album, it isn't stopping him from playing his ever-expanding cache of new material now.
“We want to give people a taste of where we're going in the future,” he says. “We'll be playing loads of the current record every night—we'll just be playing some new songs, too, so everyone will know what direction we're headed.”Once the tour is over, Switches will head back to the studio. It's something Bishop—still the prolific, though no longer quite so lonesome, demo maker—eagerly looks forward to.
“I can't wait to record the new album,” he says. “Bands often wither away if they continue to make the same album over and over again. It's always better to attempt new things and that's exactly what we plan to do.”
Switches perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 10, with She Wants Revenge, Be Your Own Pet and The Virgins at House of Blues. 619-299-BLUE. www.myspace.com/weareswitches