For the past ten-plus years, Swatkins has made a name for himself as an elite sideman, supporting some of the most soulful and funky acts on the scene including Lettuce, Scary Pockets, and Allen Stone. Part instrumentalist, part vocalist, part human, part robot, he has used his synthesizer and talkbox to wow audiences and fellow musicians not only with his mind-blowing musicianship but with his refreshingly genuine positivity and wisdom. Though he has released collaborative singles with Allen Stone and Eric Krasno, Scary Pockets, and others, plus an EP with his old solo band, The Positive Agenda, which developed a loyal following in the Pacific Northwest before he moved south to Los Angeles during the pandemic, his debut LP, Friends and Other Necessities, is the world’s first taste of what this prophet of musical joy is truly capable of.

Featuring contributions from Allen Stone, Eric Krasno, and Antwaun Stanley (Vulfpeck), plus members of Lettuce, Ghost-Note, Fruition, The Motet, Dumpstaphunk, and many more, the album is true to its title, showcasing some of the many bonds Swatkins has forged in his years as a hard-working musician’s musician. This record is for everybody, though, from the seasoned funk fanatic to the most casual listener. With irresistibly danceable grooves, simple soulful melodies, and meaningful lyrics, its ten tracks are deep but lighthearted, polished but comfortable, and funky through and through. Read on for a track-by-track breakdown of the album.

1. “100 Percent”

The album starts out strong with “100 Percent”, a funky protest song that shows Swatkins at his best. In a veritable “talkbox tour de force,” he speaks to the moment’s political disharmony, calling for those who feel like their voices have been snatched away to “speak your truth to power!” The song has a driving rhythm, with simple programmed drums and claps to compliment Swatkins’s funky synth bass and percussive guitar. It also features a synth solo from Joey Porter of The Motet. Right off the bat, “100 Percent” sets the tone of the record as joyful, but serious—as concerned with the state of society as the state of the dance floor—comparable perhaps to Stevie Wonder‘s conscious brand of R&B. The song establishes the talkbox as a powerful tool of musical expression and Swatkins’s robot synth vocals as a voice to be reckoned with, rather than a gimmick.

Swatkins – “100 Percent”

2. “Lost & Alive” ft. Moorea Masa

The album takes a turn from stripped-down funk to expansive R&B while retaining the driving four-on-the-floor drum beat with “Lost & Alive”. Featuring Moorea Masa on vocals along with a full band—no talkbox required—the song is a spiritual contemplation of grief and the healing power of music and dance. Masa’s dynamic vocal performance takes center stage—the first of many contributions from incredible vocalists to do so—though the rhythm tracks, particularly Nick Campbell‘s bass and Swatkins’s assortment of keyboards, are strong enough to stand on their own. Written and recorded in New Orleans, the song reflects the local tradition of remembering the dead by celebrating their life instead of just mourning their loss.

3. “More To Learn” ft. Allen Stone, Eric Krasno

The third track, “More To Learn”, again expands the sound of the album with the addition of new voices, showing that Friends & Other Necessities is more of a description than just a clever title. Originally released as a standalone single with an accompanying music video, the song was cowritten by Allen Stone and Eric Krasno. It also features a band of Portland ringers including Ghost-Note’s Peter Knudsen (guitar), Tyrone Hendrix (drums), André Zapata (bass), and Michael Elson (organ), plus background vocals from Raquel Rodriguez. With an uplifting, soulful vibe a la Stevie or Pharrell, the song stays on theme for the album, imagining a better world at our finger tips where our differences give us “more to learn” rather than things to fight about.

Swatkins & Allen Stone – “More To Learn”

4. “Lottery” ft. Raquel Rodriguez

Raquel Rodriguez takes the lead on “Lottery”, a golden nugget of a song written with songwriting phenom Jess Best. The lyrics are deep but unpretentious, reminding us that unlike a lottery, which offers immediate gratification, happiness is “like the finest wine, or feeling good inside, it don’t happen overnight.” The song’s piano lounge intro deceives the listener into thinking it’s not going to groove, but through a series of incremental steps, the groove builds, ultimately overtaking the piano with a gritty R&B beat and catchy vocal hook. The track also features a muted trumpet solo from Lettuce’s Eric “Benny” Bloom.

Swatkins – “Lottery”

5. “Until I Get Back”

“Until I Get Back” is the first time we get to hear Swatkins on lead vocals sans talkbox. His laid-back, soulful delivery and sophisticated layered harmonies show that he definitely doesn’t need the talkbox to help him sing—he’s got the pipes without the tube. The song’s groove is deeply funky, with Meters-eque guitar and bass parts and a heavy backbeat from Dumpstaphunk drummer Deven Trusclair. Its lyrics offer words of empowerment, reminding the listener that living well requires taking charge: “I need reminding, every once in a while, that I’m driving, c’mon gimme the keys, / never gone too far to turn this thing around, 180 degrees.”

Swatkins – “Until I Get Back”

6. “Bright Light” ft. Antwaun Stanley

“Bright Light” offers a reprieve from the funk at the album’s midpoint. Featuring powerhouse vocalist Antwaun Stanley of Vulfpeck and the rhythm section of Americana/folk stars Fruition, the song was originally written by Fruition’s Jay Cobb Anderson for Swatkins on his birthday and celebrates the charismatic musician’s “bright light that never turns off.” “It’s a song to sing to friends, to thank them for being their true selves and helping us gather the strength to continue onwards,” Swatkins said of the tune.

7. “Sweet Talk” ft. Moorea Masa

The funk returns—along with the talkbox—with “Sweet Talk”, a sticky-sweet song of sex and seduction featuring Moorea Masa on lead vocals. The tune invites the listener to embrace their sensual nature and see where it takes them, rather than hiding it: “You whisper to me in my ear; I find the curves of your body, / You start to shake when my lips come near; that’s when I know we’ll get naughty.” It also features a sax solo by Ryan Zoidis of Lettuce, plus the Naughty Professor horn section and Nigel Hall on Rhodes.

8. “Don’t Tell You That Enough”

Swatkins bears his soul to his longtime romantic partner on “Don’t Tell You That Enough”, again singing lead vocals without effects, but with a gentle chorus of talkbox backing vocals. Trumpeter Gabe Mervine embellishes the downtempo R&B track as Swatkins professes his love while admitting he doesn’t express it enough, reflecting that his “pride gets in the way of me saying what I feel.”

9. “Letting Go” ft. Ashley Jayy

“Letting Go” is the final surprise of the record, with Ashley Jayy taking lead vocals on a track that strikes a balance between the mystical R&B of Erykah Badu and Esperanza Spalding‘s worldly jazz, with a slight Brazillian and Latin tinge. The song was written in collaboration with The Motet’s Jans Ingber, who plays percussion, and neo-soul singer-songwriter Jarrod Lawson, who plays Fender Rhodes.

10. “Gotta Give It Away (If You’re Gonna Keep It)”

The album finishes as it starts, strong and funky, but whereas “100 Percent” showcased what Swatkins could produce in the studio mostly by himself, “Gotta Give It Away (If You’re Gonna Keep It)” highlights what he is capable of when he has a full band to arrange. Recorded at Color Red‘s studio in Denver, CO with former Turkuaz bandmates Michelangelo Carubba and Craig Brodhead, the song’s driving 16th-note bass line and stabbing horns courtesy of NYC’s Huntertones invite comparisons to Bay Area funk icons Tower Of Power. Its lyrics—sung by Swatkins—offer counterintuitive insight on the need to share generously in order to achieve abundance.

Friends and Other Necessities is a strong first statement from a once-in-a-generation talent. With contributions from a wide range of incredible musicians, the album embodies its title and offers something for everyone.

Friends and Other Necessities by Swatkins is available now on all streaming platforms and vinyl. Swatkins recently sat down for Live For Live Music‘s first-ever musical interview. Watch him answer questions about life and his new album in his signature funky robot voice below.

Catch Swatkins performing this Thursday, January 26th at Resident DTLA with Raquel Rodriguez and Nick Campbell Destroys. Click here for tickets, and for more on Swatkins, visit his website.

Swatkins Talkbox Interview

Swatkins – Friends And Other Necessities

Swatkins – Friends and Other Necessities – Credits

Recorded by

Andrew Block at Neutral Sound Studio, New Orleans LA
Gus Berry at Jackpot! Recording Studio, Portland OR
Slater Swan at Anjuna Recording Studio, Portland OR
Sam Brawner at Blue Dream Studios, Los Angeles CA
Josh Friedman at Color Red Studios, Denver CO

Produced by Swatkins

Mixed and mastered by Sam Brawner

“100 Percent”

Written by Steven Watkins BMI 834172642

Swatkins– talkbox, bass, guitar, synths, drum programming
Joey Porter- clavinet, synth solo

“Lost And Alive”

Written by Moorea Masa 50% BMI 760922045, Steven Watkins 50% BMI 834172642

Rhythm tracks at Neutral Sound

Moorea Masa- lead vocals
Raquel Rodriguez- vocals
Deven Trusclair- drums
Nick Campbell- bass
Andrew Block- guitar
Swatkins– Wurlitzer, organ, Rhodes, synth

“More To Learn”

Written by Eric Krasno 25% BMI 409619643, Jans Ingber 25% BMI 506370475, Allen Stone 25% BMI 553607842, Steven Gray Watkins 25% BMI 834172642

Rhythm tracks at Jackpot!

Allen Stone- lead vocals
Raquel Rodriguez- vocals
Tyrone Hendrix- drums
Peter Knudsen- guitar
Eric Krasno- guitar
André Zapata- bass
Michael Elson- organ
Swatkins– Wurlitzer


Written by Jessica Best 50% BMI 674139135, Steven Watkins 50% 834172642

Rhythm tracks recorded by Andrew Block at Neutral Sound Studio, New Orleans, LA

Overdubs, mix, and master by Sam Brawner at Blue Dream Studios in Los Angeles, CA

Produced by Swatkins, Sam Brawner, and Connor Schultze

Raquel Rodriguez- lead vocals
Swatkins– electric piano, synths
Jess Best- vocals, arrangement
Connor Schultze- bass, arrangement
Michael Elson- felted upright piano
Eric “Benny” Bloom- trumpet
Peter Knudsen- guitar

“Until I Get Back”

Written by Steven Watkins BMI 834172642

Swatkins– vocals, bass, guitar, wurlitzer, synth solo
Deven Trusclair- drums
Nick Campbell- bass
André Zapata- bass
Andrew Block- guitar

“Bright Light”

Written by Jacob Anderson 35% ASCAP 629077821, Jans Ingber 25% BMI 506370475, Steven Watkins 25%, BMI 834172642, Antwaun Stanley 15% BMI 894491289

Antwaun Stanley- lead vocals
Moorea Masa- vocals
Tyler Thompson- drums
Ryan Lerman- guitar
Jeff Leonard- bass
Swatkins– organ, vocals

“Sweet Talk”

Written by Moorea Masa 50% BMI 760922045, Steven Watkins 50% BMI 834172642

Rhythm tracks at Neutral Sound

Moorea Masa- lead vocals
Raquel Rodriguez- vocals
Alvin Ford, Jr.- drums
Swatkins– wurlitzer, bass, synth, talk box
Andrew Block- guitar
Nigel Hall- rhodes
Ryan Zoidis- alto sax solo
Naughty Professor Horns- horn section
Nick Ellman- baritone sax
John Culbreth- trumpet
Ian Bowman- tenor sax

“Don’t Tell You That Enough”

Written by Steven Watkins BMI 834172642

Rhythm tracks recorded at Anjuna Recording Studio, Portland OR

Swatkins– vocals, talkbox, guitar, clavinet
André Zapata- bass
Sam Brawner- drums
Peter Knudsen- guitar
Michael Elson- organ
Gabriel Mervine- trumpet

“Letting Go”

Written by Jans Ingber 25% BMI 506370475, Jarrod Steven Lawson 25% ASCAP IPI 646186917, Ashley Minnieweather 25% BMI 703742267, Steven Watkins 25% BMI 834172642

Ashley Minnieweather- vocals
Jans Ingber- percussion
Peter Knudsen- guitar
Jarrod Lawson- rhodes
Swatkins– guitar, keyboards

“Gotta Give It Away (If You’re Gonna Keep It)”

Written by Steven Watkins BMI 834172642

Recorded at Color Red Studios, Denver CO

Swatkins– lead vocal, talkbox, clavinet, synth solo
Michelangelo Carubba- drums
André Zapata- bass
Michael Elson- organ
Craig Brodhead- guitar
Moorea Masa- vocals
Jans Ingber- percussion, vocals
Dan White- saxophones
Chris Ott- trombone
Jon Lampley- trumpet

Click to view album credits.