In 2016, Pittsburgh-raised vocalist and guitarist Brandon Lehman released an EP called Swiss Army, his first foray into songwriting. “I had things to get off my chest that had been an element of my life,” says Lehman. “The first EP was terrifying to put out, but it got a semi-good response, so I wanted to keep doing it.”
Not long after, collaborators started coming along to form the full Swiss Army band. Dave Yarkovsky joined on guitar, Chris Hawthorne on the drums and Jeff Morgan on bass.
“We didn’t have anything in mind yet because the band was still new, and we didn’t write together yet,” says Lehman. “We were like, ‘Let’s just write and see what happens,’ and it started happening quickly.”
All of the members knew each other for years through school and playing shows with each others’ bands, and it’s evident in the band’s chemistry. Morgan, Lehman and Yarkovsky gathered around at a table at a coffee shop trading jokes as they talked to City Paper about Paris Mountain, the project’s first full-length record, out on A-F Records.
“Each song is going through four filters, the four members, so the landscape and typography of each song shifts and changes with each guitar or bassline that comes in,” explains Lehman.
Between Yarkovsky, Lehman and Morgan’s riffs, each succinct song on Paris Mountain features harmonized solos and clever guitar licks in a wave of shredding instrumentation anchored by the smart drumming of Hawthorne. And Hawthorne’s roots are important to balancing out the big Boston-esque riffs that pop up on tracks like “1,000 Pardons.”
“He’s a self-professed big rock drummer,” explains Yarkovsky. “He doesn’t overplay, and he knows how to let us do our thing and not make it sound like a mess. We can be a little self-indulgent, but he reins us in.”
From a lyrical perspective, the album is full of relatable anxieties about everything from your life’s purpose, to the political climate, to facing personal challenges head on.
“It is strange because there are stories about people who have heard these songs and they know it’s about them, and you have to have those discussions with people and understand that [these songs] are written at moments when relationships and your mind are in a certain place, and that changes all the time, but it’s in a song now, so the moment is set in stone, or vinyl, I guess, at this point,” says Lehman.
“And while they are personal to me, I think they’re universal themes. Our personal experiences make up our listening experiences.”