The East Bay band making pure pop for now people
Luke Baće and Dan Pirello, the duo behind Svvarms, have been playing music together since they met, right after Pirello joined Big Tree. They toured for years with that band, crisscrossing the country in a diesel van that ran on used vegetable oil, before finally landing in Berkeley. They remained friends after Big Tree dissolved, although they both began moving in different musical directions. Just before the COVID lockdown, they got together to write songs, and the creative spark ignited.
“I had the idea to have a band with Luke, outside of Big Tree, but we never got to realize it,” Pirello said. “This time, we were just writing songs together for fun. We’d come in with nothing and come out of the session with a song we could continue to work on and develop. The pandemic was challenging, but it allowed us time to write and record, both remotely and in socially distanced recording sessions. We were both vaxxed, but still took appropriate precautions.
“We came into the studio without anything prewritten, no melodies or lyrical ideas. We did everything spontaneously, in the moment, together. We both wrote lyrics, melodies and instrumental parts. We’d develop the meat of the songs without words. When it felt right, I’d jump into the isolation booth and start improvising the initial words, then they’d get worked on and refined. Luke has a knack for coming up with words and music for catchy choruses.
“Eventually, we decided to put a band name on the songs and release them. We chose Svvarms (pronounced swarms) because we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and there are a lot of bands with odd double letters in their titles.”
The Adaleena EP only has five tunes, but they cover a lot of ground. Keyboard triplets on a piano that hark back to a ’50s R&B ballad open “Oceans.” Ambient sounds and a steady backbeat compliment Pirello’s yearning vocal as he tries to find meaning in the memories of dysfunctional relationships.
Although they’re former bandmates, Baće and Pirello both took long journeys before joining up as Svvarms.
Baće picked up the bass after seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers on MTV. “I played in a psychedelic band in high school, then went to college and studied music. The musicians in Big Tree, including Kaila—who is now my wife—were in the jazz program at Sarah Lawrence. Kaila was the songwriter, but we arranged the songs together.
“When the band dissolved, a voice came to me saying, ‘You need to take control of the means of production.’ I thought, ‘What is Karl Marx doing in my head?’ I realized I could get the same level of stimulation as a producer as I did in a band. I got a job at Tiny Telephone Studios in Oakland and started my own small studio. In many ways, Kaila is influential on my songwriting, but mostly, songs come out of thin air. Dan and I are good at joining forces and tuning our antennas to the songs coming through.”
Pirello began playing guitar at 14 and took music in high school. A childhood friend, Tom Tierney, was the original guitarist in Big Tree. “I spent my senior year in college living in Cork, Ireland, studying Irish traditional music. When I returned, I moved to Brooklyn, eventually replacing Tom in Big Tree. I wanted to do a side project with Luke, but it never happened back then.
“I moved to Berkeley with the band, but left in 2014 to make an album with Tom. The band was called Suncruiser (the album is on Bandcamp and Spotify). When I got a job in San Francisco, I moved back here. Luke and I rekindled our musical bond and began writing the songs that became the Svvarms EP.
“The East Bay has always been a great place for us to make music. That remains the case after all these years. They recently cleared the trees away from the window of my studio, so I can look out the window and see San Francisco and write songs. That feels right.
“‘Oceans’ got placed in an episode of NCIS, which was exciting, but releasing songs in today’s world is complicated. You can put them online, but don’t know if anyone will listen. I enjoy connecting with new fans on social media and finding alternative avenues of promotion, but we’re really pursuing this project for the love of the game. If and when the right show presents itself, we will be excited to return to the stage. Until then, we will continue to write and record new material.”
The Svvarms ‘Adaleena’ EP is available at svvarms.bandcamp.com.