Australian born songwriter Emma Swift, is set to release her new album Blonde On The Tracks – a reimagining of some of her favourite Bob Dylan songs on 14th August on Tiny Ghost Records. The album is produced by Patrick Sansone of Wilco, and features guest appearances from Robyn Hitchcock, Patrick Sansone, Thayer Serrano, Jon Estes, Jon Radford & the ghosts of Magnetic Sound Studio.
We caught up with Emma Swift in the run up to the release of Blonde On The Tracks to ask her a little more about the project, the emotional connection needed in music, and what has been on her playlist during lockdown.
When you cover other artists you seem to have no fear of selecting renowned artists. Even though you have said that recording your own material is more daunting, what other challenges have you set yourself on the horizon? Are there any more artists that you would like to cover? Maybe an album of Bruce Springsteen songs?! Blonde in the USA?!
I’ve got an album of my own songs called Slow Dancing With Ghosts that I am currently working on, so that’s next down the line. It’s coming together nicely and I am very excited about it. Many of the sonic references from Blonde on the Tracks are there, but there’s also a hint of Cocteau Twins and The Smiths guitar sounds in the audio palette we drew from. The songs are confessional and inspired by writers like Joni Mitchell, Sylvia Plath, Bill Callahan, Gillian Welch and Cat Power.
And yes, I do have some other ideas for covers projects underway too, but I don’t want to give my plans away just yet…
Are there any songs from any particular artist/band that you would not touch at all for any reason?
No songs by Mike Love. He’s a dick.
On the back of Blonde On The Tracks, have you had any feedback from Bob Dylan, or ever met him?
Oh no! But I’m not chasing feedback from Bob Dylan, to me that’s akin to seeking approval from the moon.
Bob Dylan is sometimes notorious for re-inventing his own familiar songs to such an extent that they can be unrecognisable from the original. Did this in any way give you some comfort to sing his songs in your unique style?
I didn’t really think about this at all, though I have seen him live five or six times and very much enjoyed the shows. The last time I saw Dylan and his band play was at the Sydney Opera House and it was magical and educational; a truly transformative experience for me as a musician and as a fan. What I did find comforting going into recording Blonde on the Tracks was the knowledge that Bob Dylan also enjoys singing other people’s songs. At the time I began recording he had just completed Triplicate, his three album tribute to the Great American Songbook.
You have worked alongside some of Nashville’s iconic musicians on previous recordings as well as with Blonde On The Tracks. Do you/did you feel any intimidation working with any particular artists or players? If so how did you overcome this as you blend with them so well?
Everyone I worked with on this album is a friend of mine, so that helped calm my studio nerves. A little bit of anxiety can be a good thing too. Nervous energy – harnessed correctly – can add a little extra spice to the studio cauldron. And it’s only a recording. It’s not like a live show. If it sucks, you can do it again.
Does it ever become a dilemma expressing your emotions through music? You lay your emotions out for all to see in your original and covered compositions. Does the catharsis ever get too much?
Certainly on my original songs it can get uncomfortable, particularly in the writing phase. That said, songs are a powerful way to process unsettling feelings, as well as an interesting method of self-inquiry. When I was a teenager I was obsessive about keeping a journal, but nowadays I’m more inclined to store my experiences in my mind until I can find a melody that fits. As for when I am doing covers, siinging other people’s songs is a kind of therapy to me. I never get tired of it and it never gets too much.
Has music always been your sole conduit to express your own emotions?
I write poetry. I throw tantrums. I tweet. I make collage art. I take photographs. I perform long, affectionate monologues to my cats. I’m quite an expressive person really. Music is just the avenue that gets the most attention.
When performing songs, do you feel that there must be an emotional connection to the song?
Absolutely. There are so many brilliant songs in the world, why would I sing one that didn’t resonate with me? I think you can hear when a singer doesn’t connect with the song. To me it’s as obvious as when you’re in a cafe and you overhear someone on an uncomfortable Tinder date. It just sounds… wrong. I enjoy a lot of different styles of music, but I tend to be drawn to the sadder songs because that’s how my voice is. I’ve got that Sandy Denny State of Mind thing going on vocally, so it doesn’t make sense to me to perform dance bangers! That said, I think Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem both do a brilliant combination of poignant lyrics with fun tempos.
The first real ‘live’ gig in the coming months hopefully is going to be momentous for all performing artists. If you had to choose a venue for your first gig where would it be?
My local bar, The 5 Spot. It’s such a cool hang. And it would be just lovely to see all my friends again.
Have you had any particular albums on rotation during the time we have been on lockdown?
Oh yes! There’s a fun mix of old and new happening here. Here’s a little rundown of my lockdown jams. Some of these I just have the singles for because they’re pre-orders on Bandcamp, and others I have the pleasure of the whole damn record to listen to.
Becca Mancari – The Greatest Part
Brittany Howard – Jaime
Marchelle Bradanini – Only A Woman
Zephania O’Hora – Listening To The Music
Fantastic Negrito – Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?
Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
Joni Mitchell – Hejira
Kate Bush – The Kick Inside
Love – Forever Changes
Neil Young – On The Beach
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
Radiohead – The Bends
Fairport Convention – Liege and Leaf
Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Gershwin Songbook
Many thanks to Emma Swift for her time. You can listen to I Contain Multitudes below.
Our review of Blonde On The Tracks will be online in the coming days.