- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Before you get to the catchy melody of "Circle" by Swan Dive, another catchy melody floats by briefly on fluegelhorn.

It's an instrumental introduction.

Introductions and fluegelhorns have been out of style in pop music since the '60s heyday of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

"I guess I'm sort of living in the past that way," says Bill DeMain, who writes sublime love songs for music partner Molly Felder's voice, which he describes as "not unlike Karen Carpenter."

"I love the idea of knowing from the first three notes what a song is," Mr. DeMain says. "A great example (of a memorable introduction) is 'Wouldn't it be Nice' by the Beach Boys."

When Compass Records unsuccessfully tried to get the song played by U.S. radio stations, the first request was to remove the introduction.

"I'm writing in the wrong decade, you know?" Mr. DeMain says, laughing.

Swan Dive is one of several acts to go against the stereotype of Nashville as a country music-only town. The most prominent was Jill Sobule, now based in New York, who scored a hit in 1995 with "I Kissed a Girl."

Miss Felder and Mr. DeMain, both 35, describe themselves as "slightly nerdy." Their music, which owes much to the Carpenters, Bacharach and other easy-listening icons of the '60s and '70s, has sometimes been called "retro."

But Swan Dive's music sweet but mature, catchy but sophisticated is appealing to just about any pair of ears it reaches.

In New York, the band is a favorite of influential WNEW disc jockey Vin Scelsa and draws well when Miss Felder and Mr. DeMain play at the Bottom Line nightclub. They are stars in Japan, with three popular albums to their credit. The U.S. release "Swan Dive" features the best material from all three.

"We go over there, and there's giant posters of us in Tower Records," Miss Felder says. "They recognize us on the street."

Mr. DeMain thinks the band is successful in Japan because radio formats aren't as distinct there.

"Where our music might be eclectic and not easily formatible in America, there, it doesn't seem to matter," Mr. DeMain says.

"They tend to like things that are very melodic and sort of pretty and they also love guy-girl duos," he says. "The Carpenters are the biggest-selling act of all time in Japan, bigger than the Beatles."

Easy listening is what brought Mr. DeMain and Miss Felder who are married to other people together. They met in 1991 at a Nashville record store.

"We struck up a conversation by the Sergio Mendes Brasil '66 rack," Mr. DeMain says. "We pretty quickly found out that we had similar tastes."

Mr. DeMain grew up in New Jersey and attended college in the District of Columbia. Miss Felder's family lived in Texas, North Carolina and California.

Miss Felder sang background vocals on records for Ricky Skaggs and Lacy J. Dalton. Mr. DeMain worked as a music journalist for Performing Songwriting magazine.

That's as close as either has come to a country-music career. Instead, they became part of the pop scene, forming the band Wild About Harry, which specialized in swing music and torch ballads long before the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

"We were labeled as a nostalgia, retro act," Miss Felder says. "We wanted to get away from that, and Swan Dive evolved."

Swan Dive, in turn, is sometimes labeled retro because of musical arrangements that wouldn't be out of place on a Dionne Warwick record. Other influences include Simon and Garfunkel, '70s soul music from Philadelphia, and the many hit records written and produced by Bacharach and David. (Mr. DeMain is such an expert that he wrote the liner notes for a Bacharach box set.)

"The retro label always kind of bothers me a little bit because I think all pop music really is retro," Mr. DeMain says. "I like to honor the great things of the past, but try to make music that's contemporary and emotionally resonate.

"And if a good melody and interesting chord changes and literate lyrics are going to date you, then I don't know what to do."

On the Internet: http://members.aol.com/swandive33

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