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The Swimming Machine runs on combustion. Fill it with fuel – a blend of upright bass, sax, guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin, gator xylophone and plunger-muted trumpet. To ignite, whistle, shout, and sing. Oxygen is required. Stomp if it gives you any trouble. To get the pistons turning, stir in some tambourines, buckets, shakers, cymbals, spoons, a tin can and as many floor toms as you can get your hands on. When its belly is hot, shovel the music in.
As many as 10 performers take stage to form Justin Lacy and The Swimming Machine, a Wilmington, North Carolina band of moving parts, stark dynamics and unconventional timbre. The group formed in the summer of 2010 as a one-night collaboration of friends performing Lacy’s songs for an “Anything Goes Acoustic Showcase.” They decided to incorporate odd instrumentation to emphasize the “Anything Goes,” even subbing in a tap dancer for a snare drum.
The temporary just-for-fun band immediately became a more serious, long-term project, and Lacy (vocals, guitar), a graduate of UNCW’s music program, recruited fellow music students David Easton (guitar, lap steel, banjo, mandolin), Jacob Hurley (upright bass), Aaron Lane (trumpet, keys), AJ Reynolds (saxophone), and Sophie Amelkin (vocals). The Swimming Machine began playing regularly at local venues and charity functions.
In addition to those listed above, the band’s current lineup includes Keith Butler Jr. (drums) and Adam Powell (vocals, whistling). Their sound ranges in orchestration from minimal and folky to nearly symphonic.
“The ensemble offers quite the dynamic sound,” writes Bethany Turner of Encore Magazine. “Old-school horns mesh with bumpkin folk in upbeat grooves, or soothing strings meld for a ‘70s easy-listening-rock vibe in slower songs.”
It’s a mishmash of raucous gypsy jazz, piedmont blues and rhythm and blues, with Cajun, Western, and bluegrass overtones, or as John Staton of the Wilmington StarNews writes, a “compelling mix of exuberant whistling, dancing and cowboy rhythms.” One fan coined the term “gutter folk.” They have been likened to artists such as Tom Waits and Captain Beefhart.
In Nov. 2010, Justin Lacy and The Swimming Machine was featured in Issue 57 of Atlantis: the Creative Magazine of UNCW, and headlined the Atlantis Release Party at the Soapbox. The group has also been featured in The Beat Magazine and the StarNews’ Wilmington Arts and Entertainment blog.
On Dec. 2, 2011, the band launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a debut full-length album. They plan to record and release the album in the fall of 2012.