Swervedriver Tour poster by Darren Grealish© 2015
Instead of debuting with a full-length album, Swervedriver released a series of four-track EPs over the span of a year, subscribing to the popular trend in the early ’90s. “If you had 4 songs ready-ish, you would record them there and then and put them all out ASAP. No such thing as ‘saving songs for the album’ back then,” explained Hartridge. Recording was performed at The Greenhouse & Falconer Studios in London and all tracks were produced by the band. Swervedriver’s debut offering, Son of Mustang Ford, was released on 16 July 1990 and included the song “Kill the Superheroes”, one of Franklin’s first attempts at writing in an alternate tuning. Franklin stated in NME, “Son of Mustang Ford was based on the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas idea – driving around, out of your box, over America’s landscapes.” The EP was characterized as “a chromium-plated piece of automobile romanticism.” The group launched the release with an appearance on the John Peel BBC Radio 1 show on 31 July 1990, performing a select B-side from each of their three debut EPs along with the song “Over” (which would not see an official release for 15 years). The release of Rave Down, the second EP in the series, followed in November. Mary Anne Hobbs called its title track “a cyclone of wild, swollen riff machinery that sounds like it’s been played with dislocated shoulder joints.” Both EPs received favorable reviews and their title singles made their way into the UK indie and metal charts. However, mainstream British music press soon shifted their focus to bands who fit easier into the shoegazer mould. The group began gaining popularity in the United States, and in early 1991 Swervedriver signed with American label A&M Records and went on their first US tour, a brief run of shows in support of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin that kicked off at the Marquee in New York City. On 22 July 1991, their third EP, Sandblasted, was released with the title single reaching number 67 on the UK chart and being described as “a head-on collision between guitars raging for chaos.”
Swervedriver released their debut album, Raise, on 30 September 1991. It was recorded at The Greenhouse & Falconer Studios and produced by the band, like their prior EPs, and included the title tracks from all three. Regarding the group’s overriding fascination with everything automotive, Franklin had said, “the car thing came from twisting around rock ‘n’ roll imagery. Chuck Berry used to sing about cars. T. Rex used to sing about cars, and being in the car is just a good place to hear music.” The album was praised as “incurably romantic, [getting] its rocks off” as one of the “truly great albums made this year” and charted 44th in the UK. Swervedriver toured the UK extensively in support of the album and was invited to a second BBC Radio 1 session on 23 November 1991. Producer Alan Moulder, who had worked with fellow Creation acts The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, introduced himself to Franklin at a bar at the University of North London’s ULU music venue with the interest of working together. Moulder met the band at Greenhouse studios and there they recorded Never Lose That Feeling, Swervedriver’s fourth EP, which featured the Raise outtake “The Watchmakers Hands” and the track “Scrawl and Scream”, a slowed-down reworking of “Afterglow”.
Swervedriver then embarked on a proper headlining tour of North America with American indie rock act Poster Children opening. On 6 February 1992, while waiting to cross the Canada–US border for a show in Toronto, Bonnar left the tour bus to “go get a sandwich” and did not come back. After he finally agreed to speak to Hartridge, Bonnar told him he wanted out of the band. Dan Davis from Run Westy Run filled in for the next five dates, and then tour manager Phil Ames called on Danny Ingram from Washington, D.C. band Strange Boutique to finish the tour. The group, with Ingram in tow, returned to the US in April 1992 to support A&M label mates Monster Magnet and Soundgarden and then performed a short stint in Japan. Before departing on their second leg, they had mixed Never Lose That Feeling which was released on 18 May 1992; the Moulder production would be Swervedriver’s final release with the original lineup. Hartridge viewed the title track’s riff as “a bit of a bridge between Raise and Mezcal Head in some ways” and the song would reach number 62 on the UK charts. Using footage from their first leg of touring, A&M representatives Jeff Suhy and Scott Carter produced the video On the Road with Swervedriver: A Rockumentary, which also featured interviews and the music videos for “Son of Mustang Ford” and “Sandblasted”, and released it on 14 May 1992. Just as they started to experience a rise in success, Swervedriver would hit another roadblock—in addition to them losing their manager, following a performance at the Hultsfred Festival in Sweden on 8 August 1992, Vines left to form heavy metal-oriented Skyscraper. With Bonnar already gone, the loss of Vines, whom some considered the face of the band, led music press to believe it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the band to sustain their momentum.