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One of the few Virginia screamo bands making a huge mark in both the local and national scene is SWAN OF TUONELA from Richmond. Formed by members of other local bands, SWAN OF TUONELA includes drummer Will Neer, vocalist Gus Caldwell, guitarist Christian Marchant, bassist Chris Suarez, and guitarist Brian Russo. Since they began playing together in 2012, the band has toured across the country and as far south as Miami. Despite their van breaking down in Oklahoma City on their most recent tour, the band has progressed and made it home safely more tight knit and more dedicated to their craft. We spoke with Neer, Caldwell, and Russo regarding the band’s extended stay in Oklahoma, the origins of their band name, as well as the progress they have made on their upcoming full-length record.

I read online, that “The Swan of Tuonela” is an 1895 tone poem by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and it is about a mystical swan swimming around Tuonela, which the island of the dead and the hero of the epic has been tasked with killing the sacred swan but he is killed and eventually restored to life. Why did you choose to name your band after this poem?

Brian: I heard the tone poem in high school, and it was something that kinda stuck with me. When we were in the process of trying to find a name that fit our style, we just went with it. Everyone was behind it. I showed the other bandmates the song, and they were about it and the story behind it.

Will: I initially hadn’t heard the tone poem and just had read the Finnish myth because it goes back way further than 1895. There is a lot of significance to it in Scandinavian culture. Tuonela is kinda like Hell for older religions there.

You guys just got back from tour. How did that go?

Gus: It went pretty well. We had some van trouble that ended up getting us stuck in Oklahoma City for a few days, but up ‘til then everything was really cool. We got all the way down to Miami, and then came up and over to Austin, played New Orleans, and then worked our way up to Oklahoma. Everyone was real receptive. Brian and I play in another band called KILGORE TROUT, and so, we’ve been to a few of those places before earlier this summer. But none of us had ever toured down to Florida before, so that was a good experience for everyone.

Do you have any memorable stories from the tour you can share?

Will: Definitely the van breaking down (everyone laughs). We’ve been on a few tours, and nothing that bad ever happened. We made the most of it though and ended up having five days in Oklahoma City, and met some really cool people and did cool things. And that was a significant chunk of our time out on the road, in the grand scheme of things. That was pretty memorable for me that we didn’t just waste those days away, and we were able to meet the right people at the right time.

What were some of the things that you guys did while you were stuck in Oklahoma City?

Gus: We ended up staying with this dude Leon, who was super welcoming to us. None of us had actually met him before. We just had a mutual friend who put me in touch with him, but he was really hospitable. We ended up at his mom’s, got some money. They had a real big pool at his mom’s house, and we all went up there and went swimming. And then another one of our friends works at this very awesome art gallery in Oklahoma City, so we spent a good couple hours there. Definitely got to see a lot more of Oklahoma than I thought I would. It’s actually a pretty cool place. I’ve said to some other folks in regards to getting stuck that I know bands who have broken down in west Texas or just out in the Midwest in the middle of nowhere and had nothing to do but sit in the hotel, and we just weren’t in that situation. That was nice (laughs).

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How were you able to make it home?

Gus: We tried to leave on Friday morning and ended up finding out that day that our transmission was shot, and so we ended up just having to pay for a new transmission to get shipped in over the weekend and then put in Monday. We left on Tuesday.

How much progress have you guys made on your upcoming full length?

Will: The four songs that we put out on the EP right before tour are definitely gonna be on the full length, and as for the rest of it, we are in the process of writing. We definitely haven’t all been in the same place in our writing setting for a while because of our other bands touring, but we’re about halfway through it.

So far, your band has recorded splits with a couple bands, such as WAR CRIMES. Do you have another split in the works as well?

Brian: I would say our main focus right now is putting out the full length and maybe touring, and as far as splits go…no.

What are your thoughts on the Virginia music scene?

Will: I love it, honestly. I’ve certainly tried to make the most of it whether in Northern Virginia, the DC area, or down here in Richmond. It can get kind of cliquey at times, but it’s a lot of fun and I think people are generally supportive regardless of your sound if you put yourself out there and make it happen.

Brian: Virginia is also super diverse. You have a lot of cool pockets of bands. It’s pretty cool to see bands that come up from Virginia Beach, and they don’t really sound like bands from Northern Virginia. It’s pretty diverse

Gus: I actually ­- just this summer — moved to Richmond, and before that, I lived in Harrisonburg for five years. Seeing the difference between there and here, not like I haven’t spent time in Richmond or played shows here, but it’s a very different experience. Harrisonburg is much more of a college town scene, but definitely I had a lot of love for it. There’s a couple really cool spaces there. I lived at a house that has been doing shows for like three decades. Not too many people [in Harrisonburg] have an idea of how frequently shows are happening and how many bands come and go in Harrisonburg. It’s a pretty thriving local community, when all is said and done.

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Who are some of your favorite bands or musicians currently from Virginia?

Will: We are definitely all about a band from Northern Virginia/Richmond called KAORU NAGISA. They are very cool. For sure some Richmond bands, like TRUMAN and PAGE OF CONCRETE, that are in the screamo bands scene. I’m automatically drawn to people who are doing that in Virginia because there aren’t many.

For more updates on SWAN OF TUONELA, be sure to “like” their Facebook page and check out their music on Bandcamp.

Joe Fitzpatrick

Joe Fitzpatrick

As editor-in-chief, Joe is very passionate about promoting music and culture in Virginia and DC. A resident of Falls Church, Joe enjoys going to shows, checking out local breweries, and trying new foods with friends.

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