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Originally a Go-Go's cover band called Raspberry Bang, the Swirlies formed in Boston in 1990. Along with Kudgel and Fat Day, the band — guitarist/singer Damon Tuntunjian, singer/guitarist Seana Carmody, bassist Andy Bernick, and drummer Ben Drucker — was a part of the city's chimp rock scene, which pitted dreamy, guitar-based pop against noisy, experimental tendencies.
The Swirlies made their recorded debut with the six-song EP Swirlies Number One, and then proceeded to release a slew of singles, including Red Fishdreams with fellow chimp rockers Kudgel. The band signed to the Boston-based Taang! label and released a mini-album, What to Do About Them, in 1992. A collection of the group's singles along with new material, it hinted at the band's departure from typical dream pop.
1993's Blonder Tongue Audio Baton continued the band's foray into sonic experimentation. The addition of tape loops, found sounds, Moogs, Mellotrons, and white noise made the Swirlies' sound an interesting cross between lo-fi concrete music and shoegazing dream pop.
After the release of the Brokedick Car EP, the band experienced almost constant personnel shake-ups. This included an auxiliary bassist and the departures of Ben Drucker and Seana Carmody; Carmody formed her own band, Syrup USA. By 1995, only Tuntunjian and Bernick remained from the original lineup, joined by singer/guitarist Christina Files and drummer Anthony DeLuca. This lineup of the Swirlies recorded They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons, the band's second full-length album, which included more keyboards and drum machines in their sound but maintained a lo-fi aesthetic.
By spring 1996, DeLuca left the band and was temporarily replaced by Karate drummer Gavin McCarthy; however, by this time the Swirlies included a trigger drum kit in their equipment and also toured as an electronic trio. Later that year, the group found a permanent drummer in Adam Pierce, but Files left the Swirlies in 1997. The group continued as a guitar/electronic hybrid and released a remix album, Strictly East Coast Sneaky Flute Music, in 1998. That year also saw the band add another guitarist, Rob Laxo from the Wicked Farleys; the group lost distribution through a label that year, but started releasing cassettes as part of their Sneaky Flute Empire project. By 2000 the band was releasing CDs through this label/project, and issued The Yes Girls that year. The Swirlies continued to record and release singles for the next few years, collecting some of them, as well as new material, in 2003's mini-album Cats of the Wild, Vol. 2. The band also embarked on their first major US tour that summer, gigging with the Lilys.