'All Rise for the New Lady of The Lake'
Sierra Swan's new album Ladyland is a musically rich, cinematic portrait of a woman’s battle for honesty and empowerment. Whether she’s boldly coming to terms with the inner battle of taking ownership of her faults and flaws on the piano-driven opener “Copper Red,” or sending a delectable kiss-off to a potential lover in the Aimee Mann-assisted “Get Down To It,” the end result proves Sierra Swan isn’t afraid to strip down to her core, and let people know what it’s like to be a living, kicking, screaming woman in this world.
In 1997, Sierra hooked up with Graham Edwards and Dollshead was formed, signed ... and eventually dropped from MCA. After the dissolution of Dollshead, Sierra began writing and recording with a slew of different producers and was signed to Atlantic Records as a solo artist. However, things didn’t go exactly as she had hoped.
It wasn’t long after her mom’s passing that Sierra met renowned songwriter and producer Linda Perry, and the two decided to try writing together. It was through this process that Linda helped Sierra realize her true musical direction.
The product of their very first session together was Ladyland’s lead-off track; the abrasive and dynamically melodic, “Copper Red.” It also signified the beginning of the bold new confidence in her songwriting – lyrically expressive and rhythmically aggressive. With Linda at the helm as producer, Sierra channeled her emotional turbulence through the sexy shuffle of “Don’t Say,” the self-defeating balladry of “Trouble Is,” and the assured feminine anger of the title track “Ladyland.”
Chatting recently with Sierra, the night she opened for James Blunt here in Detroit, I first noted that she had stated that without her music that she would probably be in an insane asylum at this point! So, was that true?! "Yes, I was being definitely truthful. I think I'm a little bit more of an outward personality and I guess my emotions do get the best of me sometimes. But, my friends have told me that I can get a little crazy. But, I'd probably get some good pills or something," she laughs.
Your new album definitely finds you stripped down to the musical core, allowing people to know more about what it’s like to be a woman in today's musical world. Was this the purposeful undercurrent to this album from the beginning, perhaps? "I think it's more that there's just not enough women doing their job, as far as being a musician and singer-songwriter. I really think there was a great movement about ten years ago, but now I just think it's lacking in musicianship. There's a lot that I like, but there could be more right now."
Are you trying to lead a new wave, perhaps?! "I'm not trying to lead anything, but I'm trying to do what I do. My comment on that is the more the merrier and I hope to be a part of a new surge of more women doing it. I'm writing songs that are truthful and leaning towards more dark subjects instead of 'Hi, I'm perfect and blonde, ...' and stuff like that."
How are you handling all the comparisons - due to your ethereal voice and copper hair - to that of the wonderful Tori Amos? "You know what, no I can't get away from that comment, but I don't mind it 'cause she's amazing. I look up to her, but she's a hit and miss with me. I always loved certain songs of hers, but I'd never get a whole record. I admire her. She can just get you with her eyes. She's an amazing pianist and very inspiring to watch someone like her do their thing, and do it so confidently."
Just where did this new album title 'Ladyland' originate? "Well, it's also a song on the record, but I wrote it a long time ago and it's easily one of my favorite songs. I think it's a great title track, because the title is so not what the song is about. The song is about how as women and men working together, women can do cruel things and they can also do wonderful things. The dichotomy of the two is the same. It's more about that and it's just a great sounding title too!"
Knowing that Sierra Swan REALLY is your real birth name, I'm assured that you've had many disbeliveers throughout life! "Yes, that's my real birth name ... and my sister's name is Planet! So I actually have a normal name compared to her," she laughs. "So it actually brings it down a level. I guess there was a movement during that decade when my parents had me that they were just like 'Yeah, pick a name out of anywhere and that's it!' I love it and don't hate it, that's for sure."
Having gotten the singing bug at age 13 and then having played in coffee houses and such from 16 onwards, in reflection what was probably your most pivotal point with regard knowing that you were born to make a career from singing? "I have always been a big fan of music and I didn't want to be famous or anything I just wanted to do good in music. That was my only goal. But, I think that the moment when I said to myself that I have to do this - and I'm a huge fan of Patsy Cline; I just think her voice is amazing - my Dad took me to Vegas and the actual Jordanaires were playing back up to a fake Patsy Cline. But she sang exactly like her and everything made for such a beautiful show and I was like 'OK, I need to do this!' There was just something about that show that made me know that I was going to do this, no matter what."
Tell us more about your involvement with Linda Perry "Quite a few years ago I was on Atlantic and I was introduced to her through Mary Gormley, who was my A&R at the time and she just thought we'd get along. And the first meeting was interesting - she has an aura about her and she's a little intimidating and I'm not very responsive to that. So, I was checking her out and she was checking me out, but once we got in the studio it was done. It was like 'This is awesome. This is exactly who I need to be working with.' So, when the s**t hit the fan with the label she jumped in and called me out of the blue and told me she was getting me re-signed that same day. I really didn't believe her, but true to her word an hour later she called me back to tell me I had been re-signed! I was shocked, but that's the kind of girl that she is."
Did any tracks from that recording session at Atlantic make their way to this new album on Interscope? "Well, some of the songs that I wrote we reproduced them and had more time with them this time. I own the masters because of my deal with Atlantic. I told them I don't want your money, but I want my record!"
I don’t think many people will remember you as the band DollsHead, but was it being dropped by MCA that broke you guys up or were there other things going on within the industry at that time? "Well, it was a band so there was a lot of turmoil. But yeah, there were some arguments, but I love that man [Graham Edwards]. He taught me a lot. It ended because I wanted to do something a little deeper musically and he was at an age - just right after I quit - that he wanted to do a pop thing and I was just not interested."
If you had to re-record an old 80s pop song, which would you choose … and why? "Jesus ... that's a really good question! Oh my God, so hard though," she laughs. "OK, yes, Tears For Fears' 'Mad World.' I love that song. I think it's amazing."
If you had to record a new song for charity, which other 3 musicians would you choose, what would they play, and what would the name of the new song be?! "Prince would play the drums. Wow, this is a great question, but it's hard! Couldn't Prince just play everything?" she laughs again. "No, I actually think that Tony Kanal from No Doubt is a great bass player. He's really funky. And Brian May on guitar. And the name of the new song would be 'Let's Get It Together'."
Finally, please describe yourself in just three words "Stubborn, Loving and Disturbed!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Sierra's brand new CD or perhaps a signed Poster, just answer this easy question: After the dissolution of Dollshead, Sierra developed her sound and her songs, several of which appear on Ladyland as noted above. She also worked with other artists, collaborating with Chad Hugo and contributing vocals to two hit albums by the rock band Cold. But, what group is Chad Hugo better known to be a part of?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new and AUTOGRAPHED CDs or Posters! Just send us an e:mail here before May 15th with your answer and the subject title 'SIERRA SWAN SIGNED CDs' to: email@example.com
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