Richard Swift, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer who worked with the Black Keys, the Shins and many others, died Tuesday in Tacoma, Washington, at the age of 41, according to a post on his Facebook page; a rep confirmed the news to Pitchfork and other outlets. The cause of death has not been announced; in June a GoFundMe effort was launched for him to help cover medical bills for an unspecified “life-threatening condition.”
“Today the world lost one of the most talented musicians I know,” Dan Auerbach, Swift’s bandmate in the Black Keys and the Arcs, wrote in an Instagram post. “I will miss you my friend.”
Swift was a remarkably prolific and multi-talented musician, releasing multiple solo albums and EPs as well as being a member of the Shins from 2011 to 2016; the touring bassist for the Black Keys in 2014; and drummer for the Arcs. He produced recordings by Sharon Van Etten, Damien Jurado, Foxygen, Guster, the Mynabirds and Pure Bathing Culture, among others.
He was a widely known figure in independent music circles: Ryan Adams, Sean Lennon and Mark Ronson all contributed to his solo recordings, Wilco founder Jeff Tweedy invited him to open for the band in 2007, and in 2016 he released a covers album with Jurado. He also owned a studio in Oregon called National Freedom.
Tributes to Swift poured in from around the music community. See some of the social media posts below.
There’s a lot I wanna say about Swift. About how I was a huge fan and then I met him at a jazz club in LA and so began our relationship of trading memes and how I was so grateful he made time to help me finish City Music and how recording with him was one of the craziest weeks of my life and how I got to see his spontaneous raw talent first hand and how he made me laugh and how he had demons and how addiction is a killer and if you or someone you know is suffering you should please seek help because you, like Richard and so many others, are – I’m more than sure – loved by so many and there’s a life out there for you and about how he’d call me often just to chat and congratulate me and tell me jokes and what horror movies to watch and how the last time we spoke he told me he wasn’t doing good “but will be soon”. I wanna talk about all that, but instead I made a list of some of my favorite things that he’s touched. Do yourself a favor and listen to them loud. Also pictured is a collage he made of me eating my own head like a hot dog right after I met him. Swift was a once in a lifetime producer, musician and personality and I am going to miss him. Will forever remember and cherish the moments I had alone with him especially while we recorded “Dry Your Eyes”- the only song on City Music that is just the two of us. It felt like I had won the lottery – being able to work with one of my heroes one on one like that. Back in the control room while we were mixing the song he panned the vocals hard right, saying “let’s do something that in twenty years we’ll look back on and say ‘why’d we do that?’”. Rest In Peace Swift and my love to his family during this time. I will truly miss the man. Knowing him was a literal wish come true. And again, if you or someone you know are suffering from addiction, please talk about it. Don’t be afraid of the subject and to reach out. There are many who will listen & a beautiful life on the other side, I promise. . 1-800-662-HELP SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorde
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.
The last time I saw Richard Swift was coincidentally the last time I saw Ralph Carney, backstage at a Black Keys concert in Oakland a few years ago. Two immensely talented musicians and characters, both gone too soon, both now and forever missed. This picture is from a benefit show I played in Portland back in 2011, a one-off performance with Eric D Johnson, Swift and myself along with members of Fruit Bats, Vetiver and Damian Jurado joining along. It seemed like something that could always happen again, yet never will. I reached out to Swift in 2009 to see if he wanted to do a West Coast tour with Vetiver. We hit it off right away. He seemed so effortlessly talented, unassuming and mischievous, devoted to his Sprinter van (which he let us borrow on occasion) and to his bandmates, friends and family. His sense of melody and arrangement, not to mention his voice and rhythm, were inspirational. Every time I drive up the 5 to Portland and pass the sign for Cottage Grove, I always think of Richard and his family. My love to them and to all those who loved him and his music. 📸Alissa Anderson