Sierra Swan has had quite the musical career already, working with songwriting great Linda Perry, to collaborating with Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. Now, the celebrated chanteuse has released her new, six-song EP Tangerines, which she wrote and recorded in her home studio during Covid as, she says, a way to “escape and provide a sanctuary amidst the chaos.”
Skope: “I Want All Of My Shit Back” sounds like either Trent Reznor fronting The Revolution or Prince leading Nine Inch Nails. Did these artists help inspire the sound of this track? If not, which artists did?
Sierra Swan: Yes, definitely Prince. I’ve been a huge Prince fan since I was a kid, honestly who isn’t? If you don’t like Prince there’s something wrong with you. Ya. That’s how I feel about him.:) I have never been a NIN fan, really. But I do like that kind of music. I just haven’t ever really bought any of their albums. That song really came out of nowhere and I do credit my deep love for Prince for coming up with it, production-wise too –I was going in the purple direction.
Skope: I was listening to your music on Spotify, and Tangerines sounds a lot edgier than much of your earlier music. Is this accurate? If so, was this edginess intentional and what influenced these creative urges?
Swan: Actually, depending on which album you were listening to, a few of my records do have edgy moments. I produced a record called GIRL WHO CRIED WOLF, that definitely has nuances of what this EP has, and my last album GOOD SOLDIER, produced by Billy Corgan, definitely has some similar vibes as well. The album that Linda Perry produced is a lot more tamed. As far as urges are concerned, being an artist, in general, is an urge.
Skope: What, if any, experiences influenced the music and lyrics on Tangerines?
Swan: That’s hard to explain, because sometimes when I’m in the studio things just happen. I know it sounds really cliché and cheesy to say, but it’s absolutely true that sometimes there are moments that just come out of you and they’re the best moments because they are not forced. I’ve always been more of a metaphorical kind of songwriter, so there’s Waze messages inside the strangeness of what I’m saying. Life is complete chaos, and my writing tends to be a little chaotic. I sometimes realize what I’m trying to say way after it’s written. The chorus kind of summarizes the feeling of the song though which is, I’ve lived a pretty intense adventurous life and a lot of it wasn’t very positive. And even though I’m showing up to the party with my makeup smeared and my hair all disheveled, I can still take control of my situation. And even with all of my flaws, I can still be the person I’ve always wanted to be.
Skope: In “Troubled Boy,” you say you’ve always been a troubled girl. What do you mean by this line?
Swan: I suppose I’m trying to be fair, right? :-) Isn’t that what women do? We want to be fair, so that’s my feminine side trying not to point the finger only at the man who has tendencies to be a little misogynistic. But the flipside to that is that a woman’s dark issues are sometimes a reaction to the misogyny that we see in society. We’re not pretty enough, we’re not young enough, we’re not enough of something. When really, we’re fine, we’re absolutely fine the way we are, if that makes any sense.
Skope: Billy Corgan is credited with writing “Peach.” Did he write it especially for you? Or is it something Corgan wrote that you asked to cover?
Swan: Billy and I have always discussed me singing some of his songs, so it wasn’t a strange thing for me to ask him for a song. I was finished with the fifth song for the EP, and I needed a sixth and I just was done writing. I didn’t have another song in me at the time, so I texted him and asked him if he had a song lying around that I could have; and he replied yes. “Peach” was a song that he wrote for his solo album Ogilala, and he didn’t end up putting it on the record. When he sent me the song, which was just him on piano singing it, I was completely floored. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. I actually asked him “are you sure I can have this?”. Because it was so beautiful. And he replied yes. When it came to the production, he trusted me with that as well. We have worked a lot together, so we have a very particular relationship, and we are very alike musically; we like the same things. So, when I sent him the final version, he was very pleased, and so therefore so was I.:)
Skope: You were in Black Eyed Peas. Do you ever feel like Bob Welch type (who left Fleetwood Mac before they broke out)? What did you learn from that BEP experience, and do you have any regrets about the timing of your departure?
Swan: That is totally false, I was never in BEP. Somewhere down the line someone wrote that in an article, and it stuck. I get this question a lot and I get very excited to answer it because I want to clear things up. I was never in that group. The woman who was in the group before Fergie, was a woman named Kim Hill, who is an amazing artist. She was on their first record and played with them at all their live shows. To be honest, the Black Eyed Peas were at their best before they blew up. I sang on one song with my sister Planet Swan called “Fallin Up.” I knew them and Will needed some female singers to sing the backgrounds on one of the songs and one of my friends that played keyboards in the band called me and asked me to come over to the studio to record the vocals with my sister. I was good friends with all of the guys, we recorded at the same studio, and we were all learning how to be musicians at the time. It was a lovely time in my life, I cherish it very much. But to be clear, I was never in that group.
Skope: Linda Perry helped produce Queen Of The Valley. She’s a great songwriter and a fan of your songwriting. What did you take away from working with her?
Swan: Yes, she produced one of the songs on that album. She and Bill Botrell produced my first official album on Interscope called LADYLAND. She’s amazing and she’s also a real supporter of artists she loves. If it wasn’t for her, I would’ve been a real hot mess in my early 20s. I had gotten dropped from Atlantic and I really didn’t know what I was going to do. My mother had just died, and I was lying on my couch feeling completely empty and all of a sudden, she called me and said that we had a meeting with Jimmy Iovine the next day. I just kind of wiped my tears away and looked to the heavens, thinking “OMG.” We went to his office and he signed me. It was a real miracle. Unfortunately, after I released the album and did a little tour, I got dropped again. I think the industry has a really hard time understanding how to promote women who are not pop artists, necessarily. So, Linda is a real powerhouse and a real fighter for female artists who have more twists and turns in their music. So, I learned how to trust myself and be exactly who I want to be, and that I don’t need to transform in order to please others. The only person that needs to be pleased is myself and I people like what I do, GREAT.
Skope: Your father, Billy Swan, had some hit records. Did he encourage or discourage you from getting into the music business?
Swan:. Yes, my dad is awesome. I am a very lucky lady that I came from such an amazing person. He always encouraged my sister and me to do exactly what we wanted to do. If that was going to be music, that was completely fine with him. As soon as he realized that we had that desire, he was incredible. He always made sure we knew as much about music as possible; I would get different CDs every week to listen to, we talked about music, we listened to music and we played it. He still calls me and talks about music. Sometimes I get random texts from him that are just lyrics that he came up with – yeah, I’m that lucky. Billy Swan is my hero, always will be.
Skope: Speaking of guys named Billy, how is Billy Corgan as a collaborator? He’s had some rocky relationships with his bandmates. Have you been able to recognize any traits that might make him ‘difficult’ to work with?
Swan: Billy is extremely misunderstood; let me tell you why. He simply doesn’t suffer fools. He is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met in my life and he just wants to work with people that work just as hard as he does. I’ve had enough experience in this business to say that some people that are even successful, don’t work as hard as he does. I am grateful for our friendship and the millions of things he’s taught me. He is like any great artist, he just wants it to be right, he wants it to sound great. Sonically, he’s really hard on himself. He doesn’t just try a guitar pedal; he goes through hundreds of them. At this point in his life, he knows exactly what sound he wants and what pedal to grab, but in order to do that you have to play all of the time and he’s been in this game for a while. He’s a master at what he does; I don’t see him as difficult at all. I see him as someone who knows what he’s talking about, and he has such a gentle, kind heart. The man has been through a lot. And through it all, he has remained sober and always willing to understand himself and others more. He’s one of my favorite people on this earth. I trust him, that’s more than I can say about a lot of people in life.
Skope: Now that you have fresh music, and the pandemic appears to be under control, are you planning to tour this summer?
Swan: I would love nothing more than to tour this summer. But in order to do that, I would need a lot of money. That’s the truth. I have two kids, who need me at home for the most part, so just hopping in my car and going to clubs is not really an option for me. So, if anyone out there wants to throw me a ton of cash, I will see you on tour this summer.;)
For more information about Sierra Sawn, visit: http://www.sierraswan.com
To stream or download Tangerines – https://sierraswan.bandcamp.com/album/tangerines
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