Multi-instrumentalist Yuuki Matthews remembers talking with his dear friend and fellow musician, Richard Swift, on iMessager years ago. Matthews had just ended a stint on the road with Sufjan Stevens. Feeling bummed and unsure of his next move, he explained his situation to his friend. But, as was usually the case with Swift, he had an answer. He had just run into James Mercer, front man for The Shins at a wedding, who said the band was in need of a keys player and bassist for the tour. All of a sudden, there was hope. Soon Matthews and Swift were on the road playing with Mercer and The Shins.
In the 10 years between, Matthews and Swift have played countless shows together. Sadly, though, in 2018, Swift died from complications due to alcohol. But the musician left behind a legacy of work with many notable names, including Nathaniel Rateliff, Damien Jurado, Dave Bazan and The Black Keys. In addition, Swift and Matthews had worked on a record together for five years under the name, Teardrops. The self-titled debut, which was released last year on Bandcamp, will be re-released on vinyl on March 16th, Swift’s birthday.
“Tears come in moments of sadness and moments of joy,” says Matthews, now a full-fledged member of The Shins. “It’s interesting, I impulsively put this album out on Bandcamp on the anniversary of his death last year. That would be the sad connotation for teardrops. But as time went on and people asked me about streaming and vinyl, I thought that we should re-release it on his birthday, to give a little piece back of what we lost.”
Matthews and Swift were great friends. From the moment they met, they hit it off. Swift was that way with many people, Matthews says. He was just one of those guys other people wanted to be around. Matthews played in Swift’s band for a time and that’s when the friendship really blossomed. It cemented with The Shins. And in 2013, they began collaborating on Teardrops.
The two didn’t talk influences or sounds much when it came to the frenetic, fuzzy record. Instead, they kept to a modest formula. In between tours, Matthews would visit Swift at his Cottage Grove studio and bring a rough loop of something he’d put together. Swift would add drum machine samples overtop. Then the two would listen to what they had on repeat, sometimes adding bits and pieces, sometimes forgetting the work and going outside for air, sunshine or groceries. In the end, the record’s 11 inventive tracks came together like a mosaic, small piece by small piece.
“We made a decision early on that we wouldn’t work on it apart from each other,” Matthews says. “Which is why it took a really long time to get it to the place where it is now. We never really second-guessed one another. Instead, we let each other flow. We liked it being this impulsive thing. We didn’t have an outlet for that at the time.”
Matthews, who started playing piano at six-years-old, moved to Seattle from California in his formative years. It was then his peers asked him if he liked bands like Alice in Chains or Pearl Jam. What, he remembers thinking, nobody listens to classical music up here? Soon, though, he let the piano go in favor of the guitar, which led to bass and, later, to meeting his “best friend in music.”
Losing Swift felt heavy. Not only was a kindred spirit gone, but the music community lost one of its most beloved and prolific members. The heft of the situation reminds Matthews, he says, of 2014 when the acting community lost acclaimed actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was not only decorated but a master at the craft.
“I would put Swift in exactly the same category of people as Philip Seymour Hoffman,” Matthews says. “Their talents were both really rare.”
Matthews hopes the Teardrops release will help carry on his friend’s long legacy of creativity and music. The two made the record for each other but it’s time now, Matthews says, for audiences to really hear and appreciate it. The situation, nevertheless, is delicate. Years removed from its inception, Matthews wants to turn the page but he also wants to make sure Swift is remembered as a world-class artist and friend.
“I want to help get the songs out there,” Matthews says. “To spread the word and let it be known that Swift worked on this music. Everyone loved him; he was very gregarious. Anybody who met him would say, ‘Man, that was the best guy ever.’ Like, ‘Who was that guy?’”