Richard Swift, an integral part of the Oregon music community, died on July 3 at age 41. With a career as robust as his personality, Swift influenced the music world on multiple levels. There was his solo work from 2003 beauty The Novelist to his final play-it-a-thousand-times-and-it’s-still-perfect Atlantic Ocean. He spent years touring as a member of the Shins, the Black Keys, and the Arcs. But he also founded his own recording studio, National Freedom, in Cottage Grove, Oregon, working as a producer with a long list of bands like Pure Bathing Culture, Foxygen, Damien Jurado, Mynabirds, and Sharon Van Etten.
It was a tough hit in our close-knit music community, with many members who've worked with Swift in multiple capacities over the years. Online, the tributes poured out.
From former Shins bandmate James Mercer:
Pure Bathing Culture:
Dave Depper of Menomena, Fruit Bats, and Death Cab for Cutie:
It’s not any sort of exaggeration to state that Richard Swift was the most talented person I’ve ever met, some impossible amalgamation of Harry Nilsson, Paul McCartney, and Levon Helm, beyond soulful on any instrument he picked up, and a writer of hilarious, heartbreaking, funky, psychedelic songs. He was the archetypal court jester with a maniacal glint in his eye that just said “I’m not sure where we’re going, but just trust me.” For so long, he was a cult artist, a unique Oregon treasure, but it’s no wonder that his secret finally got out, resulting in just about everybody on Earth wanting just a thimbleful of his magic on their records over the past few years. What he brought was unquantifiable, but unmistakably Swift. He’s responsible for my favorite 45 minutes of live music I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing, at Pickathon in 2011, a joyous explosion of soul that left an indelible mark on everybody who was in attendance. I think about it often. I’d give anything to experience it again. On a personal note, I owe Richard a huge debt of gratitude for recommending me for the Ray LaMontagne gig five years ago, an endorsement he certainly did not need to make, but one that profoundly changed the course of my professional life. My love to Richard’s friends, and sweet, sweet family. What a loss. I’ll be playing “Lady Luck” today, loudly.
Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie:
This @racheldemy photo of @swiftswift has been on my nightstand for the past 4 years. No photos of family or other friends, just Richard b-boying a human turd in a sketch-ass alleyway. I never thought too much about it; it was just a silly photo of a friend that made me laugh. But I now realize I kept it here as a daily reminder that the only way to survive the absurdity of life was to have a sense of humor about it. I love you, Richard. Bon voyage, my friend. #richardswift
Rachel Demy, tour manager and photographer:
I am forever grateful to have spent 13 years on this planet calling this person my friend. Most of those years we were two very irreverent peas-in-a-pod, my inappropriate sense of humor having met its match immediately. He was the first person to take a chance on me as a young tour manager and photographer and I might not be where I am now without him. I am also deeply mourning the year we just lost in disconnect though I got to say goodbye on Sunday. I know that I will never meet anyone who makes me laugh as much as Richard did at the airport at 5:00 AM. I know there will never be another like him. We’ll meet again someday, @swiftswift. I can’t wait. // Arendal, NO • 2012 #richardswift #film
Musician Laura Gibson:
A kind, hilarious, astoundingly talented man, I will never forget watching his daughters dance to his Pickathon set. We talked a few times about working together, and schedules never aligned, so I studied the records he made, and learned so much from them. The artists you adore remain in your work forever, and Richard’s tics and tendencies and sounds and spirit will continue for a long time: he and his music were deeply loved by so many. Sending love to his family and close friends. What a loss.
Jose Medeles of the Breeders, Modest Mouse, and Face to Face:
Eric Johnson of the Fruit Bats: