The Short And Strange History Of Swoop’s One Hit Wonder, ‘Apple Eyes’

Swoop's 'Apple Eyes' was everywhere in 1995 - and then the band sank without a trace.

swoop apple eyes photo

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A guitarist stands on a giant checkerboard. He starts thrashing out a chunky riff. Suddenly he and six other musicians are in an apple orchard…in Antarctica. Oh yeah, they’re also flying.

As the keyboard kicks in, another man and a woman start singing about a lemon bass playing in apricot time while drinking strawberry wine under a blueberry sky.

This is the fever dream of a music video for ‘Apple Eyes’ by Australian band Swoop. It’s a track you’ve definitely heard — and it just turned 25 years old.

Released on October 30, 1995 (the same day as Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’), ‘Apple Eyes’ is perhaps one of the most endearing but often overlooked Australian one-hit wonders. The cutesy nonsense lyrics and the cheesy soaring keyboard helped it reach number 9 on the Australian ARIA Singles Chart and a number 32 place in triple j’s Hottest 100 countdown that year.

But what are ‘Apple Eyes’ and who were Swoop? Armed with quarantine caused free time and a lasting infatuation with the song (due to many childhood mornings spent watching Rage) I had to answer the question that admittedly maybe only I was asking.

Seven Is A Bad Number

After several Googles I managed to reach the man who was standing on that checkerboard, lead guitarist and keyboard player Joshua Beagley. He describes a tale of childhood friendships, hung-over recording sessions, international stardom, band members sleeping with other band members and the resulting breakup.

“It’s nice to have a song that’s lasted longer than the average track,” Beagley laughs, picking up my call from his studio in Sydney.

Born in Adelaide, Beagley started Swoop with childhood friend Roland Kapferer in the early ’90s after moving to Sydney. “We were a 14-piece band to start with, trying to be a big ’70s funk thing with percussionists and backup singers; it was all a bit ambitious,” he says. “We settled on a seven piece, which is why we never made any money out of it, seven is a bad number if you want to make money.”

“Seven is a bad number if you want to make money.”

In Swoop’s most stable incarnation the pair were joined by Chris Brien on drums, Armando Gomez on percussion, Alex ‘Gob’ Hewettson on bass, Bredman St Ledger III on keyboards and Fiona Ta’akimoeaka on vocals. They pulled together their first album, 1993’s Thriller, independently — and it landed them on shows like Hey Hey It’s Saturday and scored them gigs all over the country.

Their growing profile saw them signed by Mushroom Records, an Aussie label with Kylie Minogue and Jimmy Barnes in their stable. With a record deal in hand the band got to work on their sophomore album The WOXO Principle. At least, that was the plan.

‘Apple Eyes’

As Beagley tells it, to make an album back in those days you would hire a big studio for a while and everyone would get together and knock it out. But for Swoop, he says, it was more of a case of waiting for band members to turn up after a rowdy night before, and you could be left waiting around for a while.

On one such morning a bored Beagley dug up an old demo he, Hewettson and Kapferer had put together and forgotten. He remembers it as a “jaunty” track nominally called ‘Love Train’.

“It went ‘get on board, ride the love train’. I remember going ‘yeah it is kind of catchy’ but I wasn’t into it, the lyrics were very generic,” he remembers. “But we were sitting around waiting one day so I went ‘let’s have a look at that song and see if we can do something with it’.”

With band members still sauntering in, Beagley tasked Kapferer with improving the wordplay. He dutifully took the prompts from Beagley and knuckled down, eventually emerging with lyrics that were heavily inspired by Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’. The train motif survives in the first line (“Get on the A train/Get on the right track”) but the rest of the song had become a whimsical call and response between two lovers, sung by Kapferer and Ta’akimoaeaka.

“Then we started playing around with the heavy guitar riff and the solo and we rerecorded it. For the big phasey flanger outro we got two tape machines and ran them at the same time with one slightly delayed to get that big “WHOOOSH” sound, now they would do it with a pedal or a computer.”

Beagley says the band never had a moment where they thought ‘Apple Eyes’ was “the song”, but Mushroom did.

“Our management got the submitted album and they said ‘oh that song is going to be huge’, but we took it with a grain of salt.”

Convinced they had a hit on their hands the label spent $20,000 on the surreal music video, Beagley describes the finished clip as “high ’90s”. “The video was really important to how big it got, at the time it was high-end spend. It was one of the first ones that used green screen and effects but I don’t think any of us liked it, it is very daggy to me now,” he laughs.

Audiences disagreed.

Big In Japan

With high rotation on Saturday morning music TV show Rage, the song became triple J’s most played song of 1996 and received ARIA nominations for the Song and Video of the Year awards. It even featured heavily in TV soap Home & Away (an old locked Aussie TV forum describes a character having to learn the song), earning a spot on the Sounds of Summer Bay compilation CD. But the song would travel much further than the fictional coastal town.

“It was a top five hit in Japan which was amazing for an Australian band, we were literally big in Japan,” Beagley laughs. Evidence of the international appeal is a YouTube Video of a very bemused Beagley performing a very stripped back version of the song on Japanese TV.

“We had a fantastic tour there in the summer of ’96, played to packed houses and did TV shows and did interviews,” he says. “As I recall it’s (the YouTube clip) not a good version; it’s not a song that lends itself to an acoustic song. We said ‘oh if we have to’, and of course that’s something that pops up on YouTube, oh well.”

But not all was well within Swoop after ‘Apple Eyes’ as the relationship between the song’s two singers turned sour. “Roland and Fiona were having an on and off relationship, which became a little tempestuous,” Beagley explains. “Never a great idea to have relationships in a band, in all honesty it got messy with affairs with other band members.”

The band’s line-up chopped and changed as a result and with their label also undergoing upheaval, Swoop reached the end of the road.

“In the interim Mushroom Records was sold, so a lot of the acts were caught in the crossfire,” Beagley laments. “It was very frustrating, we did a clip for the first single on our third album and it didn’t take. Sadly same thing happened in Japan and the people who were looking out for us were on the outer so basically we got frustrated and just said ‘let’s call it’.”

The band remain on good terms — they even reunited for a one-off show in 2015. Beagley now runs his own record label, Kapferer is an anthropology teacher and Ta’akimoaeaka is a lawyer.

“It was a fun ride, we slightly missed the curve I think, festivals weren’t the lifeblood of the Australian music industry that they are now. We were really well received when we did play big crowds and that is where the money is now. I think if we played for five more years or just started later we might have caught that,” Beagley says.

Talk of festival shows might be academic in 2020 but with many older niche bands copping invites to the circuit pre-lockdown, Swoop’s guitarist is hopeful they might get a call up. “We would love to do festivals again; I often look at line-ups and go ‘if that band is playing they could roll out Swoop again,” he says.

It mightn’t have had the staying power of ‘Wonderwall’, but Beagley can’t help but smile every time he hears his song in a supermarket, coffee shop or pub, 25 years later. “Very fond memories, it was really fun to have a big hit record,” he says. “I think ‘Apple Eyes’ stands up as a song, it’s flattering that it gets a run on radio twenty five years later. We have had offers for people to rerelease it or remix it over the years so maybe with the twenty fifth anniversary we might look at that again.

“Roland and I are recording at the moment and we put a track down the other day that sounded a lot like Swoop. So that could be a bonus of the corona lockdown, a Swoop return.”

Josh Bristow is a journalist with an interest in sports and the arts. He tweets at @JoshTBristow.