"We play blues, but with more of an indie-rock sensibility," says Brian Peterson, guitarist/vocalist for the Indianapolis trio Swig, who are having their album release show Feb. 20 at the Melody Inn for their debut EP Like You Mean It.
The band -- rounded by bassist/vocalist Leigh Marino and drummer Jamie Jackson -- are indeed steeped in rock and roll's roots. Unlike many of today's blues practitioners, however, Swig is less concerned with showcasing any advanced dexterity than they are creating moods and mental scenery.
The track "Watch Out," with sing-speak narration by Marino, sounds as much like a spy thriller as it does bar-dwelling banshee. "I Still Believe" starts as a punchy, persistent acoustic number that flips on the electricity and turns into an introspective road rambler. "I'll Be Gone" isn't even blues but straight-up cabaret with brushed drums.
Opener "All Night Long" is more of what you'd expect -- a lumbering, danceable number that has that patented grit and groove. You do need the right equipment (in Peterson's case a Telecaster guitar and Johnson Amp), but he has another weapon.
"I had always been a bass player," Peterson says. "I never thought twice about guitar tone. I just like to put a little overdrive on (my guitar playing)."
His musical background is mostly indie rock, though he was in a blues group in the 2000s called Snake Drive. Peterson met Marino when she was supposed to replace him in another band a couple years ago. Now boyfriend and girlfriend, they've been living and jamming together since.
It was through Peterson that Marino truly discovered the blues -- legends like Big Mama Thornton and Fred McDowell. Previously she was weaned on punk, goth, industrial and electro.
"The further you could get from actual instruments the better," Marino says of her tastes. "But it's not like you can really just sit on your couch and listen to industrial. I started going backwards and realized how much I love the classics that I never gave attention to before."
That in turn rejuvenated Peterson's love of the blues. Together they unearthed some old Snake Drive material and began molding it into what would become Swig. They met Jackson, who's played locally for years in rock and metal bands, through his wife at an open-mic night. Jackson initially agreed to fill in on drums as Swig was playing in the Broad Ripple Music Fest the next month. He could tell there was something special after one practice though.
"We started pushing parts here, adding this and doing that, and it seemed like we could work together quite easily," Jackson says. "By the second rehearsal, we were talking like we were a band."
All three are happy to see blues making a popular comeback through acts like The Black Keys and Gary Clark Jr.
"It's real music," Jackson says. "It's not easy to play; you don't just learn it from a video game."
Adds Peterson, "It's cycling back to the roots of rock-and-roll. It is exciting to see it coming back to that. And we fit right in."
Swig CD release show with The Kickaways, Dell Zell and No Pit Cherries
9 p.m. Feb. 20
Melody Inn, 3826 N. Illinois St., $5, 21+, 923-4707 or MelodyIndy.com