Why The Red Button Is the Perfect Audio Time Machine
Seth Swirsky grew up pining to write music like his favorite band, The Beatles.
Years later, he’s the co-creator of some of the best Beatles-esque songs around. Swirsky’s The Red Button delivers the kind of shimmery pop you’d swear was written during the Flower Power era.
- Irresistible melodies
- Catchy guitar riffs
- Hooks that sink in and won’t let go
The sound is pure ‘60s yet the music never feels derivative or stale. Swirsky and band mate Mike Ruekberg evoked the era in two dynamic Red Button releases, “She’s About to Cross My Mind” (2007) and “As Far as Yesterday Goes” (2011).
Now, they’ve remastered the pair and packaged them with a sparkly new EP. “Now It’s All This!” features six new tracks plus four unplugged takes on Button classics like “Picture” and “It’s No Secret.”
Writing melodic pop comes naturally for Swirsky.
“I grew up listening to that kind of music,” Swirsky says. “Two and a half minute pop songs. The hook came around three times. That’s what I deeply loved.”
Think not just The Beatles but The Monkees, The Byrds and Mott the Hoople.
Start of Something Good
So when he graduated from college and started writing songs for Chappell Music he did what he knew, and loved, best: wrote finger-snapping melodies for stars like Al Green, Celine Dion, Smokey Robinson and Air Supply.
“It was thrilling to write for artists who I grew up with … but it took me away from what I naturally wanted to do,” says Swirsky, who wrote the ‘80s smash “Tell It to My Heart” by Taylor Dayne among other hits.
Swirsky eventually did just that, starting with his 2004 solo debut “instant pleasure.”
More gems followed, including “Watercolor Day” and last year’s “Circles and Squares.” Yet his Red Button work found him digging deeper into that unique ‘60s sound.
It helps that Ruekberg is the Lennon to his McCartney. Yes, Swirsky knows it’s dicey to invoke that hallowed duo.
He just can’t help it.
“The music I make is very melodic. There’s a certain optimism to it,” he says. That’s where Ruekberg comes in. “It’s almost like he took my perfectly coiffed hair and messed it up.”
FAST FACT: Seth Swirsky interviewed Ben Kingsley, Henry Winkler, Davy Jones, Art Garfunkel and Brian Wilson about their personal Beatle encounters for his documentary “Beatles Stories.”
Swirsky recorded his most recent solo effort, “Circles and Squares,” alone in his studio. With The Red Button Ruekberg serves as the producer. He cheekily describes their pairing as a musical marriage. And every good marriage demands a level of trust. That makes their collaborations click.
Take an older Red Button track like “Gonna Make You Mine.” Swirsky initially saw it as a Tom Petty-style tune. Ruekberg had a different take on the material. Together, they crafted a rave up rocker for the band’s first album.
Beauty and Brains
The best pop offers more than just addictive hooks. The Red Button’s music echoes that spirit, delivering clever winks and thoughtful phrasing.
And some tracks are just plain fun.
Take this line from “I Can’t Forget,” about a lad scrambling to find his lost love.
“At a coffee shop in Amsterdam I lost control, started asking perfect strangers if they’d seen her with Van Gogh…”
The new EP’s title track offers a witty rumination on love, the kind most ballads ignore. It’s an older couple looking back at their courtship and how much their lives have changed since those heady days.
Swirsky doesn’t mind if you miss the meaning on the first or fifth listen. He’s still finding new wrinkles in Beatles lyrics himself. That’s part of The Red Button’s mission.
“We’re trying to write interesting emotions that we really have. If you get to that as the third thing behind the music and melodies [that’s OK],” he says. “Melody is the train that gets you from point A to point B.”
It’s why he thinks Bob Dylan fans who rave about the legend’s lyrics have it partly right.
“I’m not denigrating the lyrics at all,” he says. “You need a transportation system. I believe it’s the melody,” he says.
Swirsky isn’t just a singer/songwriter. He directed the 2011 documentary “Beatles Stories,” is the author of three books on baseball and recently penned a wildly creative self-help book, “21 Ways to a Happier Depression: A Creative Guide to Getting Unstuck from Anxiety, Setbacks, and Stress.”
So what’s next? Even Swirsky doesn’t know for sure.
It could be a collection of unreleased outtakes and fully produced tracks from his solo sessions. Or, it might be something utterly unexpected.
“I have a book idea and a documentary idea and a music idea, but I wait to see what flirts back with me, which one keeps getting into my brain more than anything else,” he says.