I also photograph marketing for small businesses, one of my clients is a local pizza place. At the pizza place was a server named Sierra Swan. Sierra and I became friends. I knew she was new to Minnesota and was a musician. Sierra told me that she was taking a break in the music scene to be a mom and work some serving shifts to keep busy. She gave me her album and I was amazed by how much talent she had. I later asked her if she would like to do a feature for TSLN. After we agreed on a date, I decided to type her name in google. I was dumbfounded when I saw my google search results. Sierra swan had a Wikipedia about her, an official website, music videos, 2,572 followers in Instagram, and professional photo shoots that filled the image search. The woman I met was so incredibly humble.
The interview ended up being very long, we chatted so long that we had to schedule another day to chat.
One significant thing that always stood out to me about her was her style. She would walk into a room very confidently with her hair tousled and her makeup natural with red lips. You could tell she was so comfortable in her skin. I mentioned that to her at the photo shoot and she said ,”I just don’t give a fuck about what people think.” I loved that answer. She said, “I hate when men call me “edgy”, it’s such a silly category to put me in when I am just being me.
Sierra Swan is no longer serving but she is turning people’s poems into music. It is such an interesting thing to do. She said that she doesn’t even care if she does not relate to the poems, “It is other people’s feelings and thoughts, they have the right to make them into music too.”
If you would like to submit your poems, you can submit them on her website.
Interview with Sierra–
The Short Story of Sierra Swan
In the beginning of my creative life, all I wanted was to make my own music. I wanted to write my music, play my music, record my music, perhaps with a little help here and there, but definitely not all of the time. I would sit at my desk , originally made to do school work, with my 4-track, a mic, a guitar and write and record, sometimes all day long. The incense had to be burning and the lighting had to be perfectly dimmed. All together it meant I was in my happy place.
I could hear my father playing and recording from my window, which faced our backyard and also my father’s studio, which was conveniently right next to the pool. Living the dream in the sunny San Fernando Valley, I guess one would think.
I grew up in Sherman Oaks, which was the center of the valley girl explosion, which occurred in the 1980’s. There I was, smack dab in the middle of it all, falling in love with the culture and the music and just a few blocks away from where it was all happening. Now that I think about it, I realize what a huge deal that was, to grow up in such a bizarrely relevant time and place. Now, I realize Picasso was not creating masterpieces down the street and Robert Johnson wasn’t making any deals with the devil either a few blocks down, but it still had its own significant place in time.
Being a huge admirer of artists like Prince, I was dedicated to the idea of doing everything myself, not in an obnoxious way but in a way to express what my soul was saying, not sort of saying, which is what can happen when you write with others. I think Prince understood the urgency of being loyal to your creative spirit, maybe to a fault at times, but for the most part he was correct. So as Prince as my professor, I guess you could say, I wrote and recorded in my father’s studio, every night practically, unless he was using it or I was out dancing with friends somewhere over the hill, which would also be referred to as Hollywood.
I collected quite a few songs during that time and decided to play them for Gary Helsinger, who I had met while I was in a band called Dollshead, which had been signed and dropped by MCA in a matter of a minute, at least it felt that way. Gary worked as a publisher for Universal at the time, I can still call him a friend to this day, believe it or not. He played my demos for Anne Preven and Scott Cutler, formerly of the band Edna Swap. They liked the demos enough to agree to meet with me and from then on, for quite awhile, was the beginning of a lovely collaboration . They were unbelievably accepting of my ideas and I learned a lot from them, and for that I am extremely grateful.
After awhile, record companies started to show some interest and I eventually signed with Atlantic Records. Mary Gormley was my A&R and put up with a lot of shit, I recall. Like most record companies at that time, the person in charge changed quite a bit, which meant that the artists who were signed one year, became old news real quick the next and eventually dropped, which was my fate after spending close to a million dollars on the album, later to be known as ‘Queen of the Valley’. My mother passed away from a short but courageous battle with colon cancer around that time, so I was an absolute mess. I insisted that they give me my masters, which they graciously agreed to do, thank baby Jesus because if they hadn’t, I would’ve gone into a much deeper depression.
Soon after that, I received a phone call from Linda Perry, who co-wrote and produced a few songs on ‘Queen of the Valley’, she wanted to get me a deal at Interscope Records. I was laying on my couch when she called, obviously I was blown away by the offer and thanked her non-stop. A few days later, I was in Jimmy Iovine’s office with Miss Perry and before I knew it, I was guaranteed a deal, as long as Linda Perry sat in as producer. What can I say, I was relieved.
Not long after that, Linda and I started working on my first official solo album, ‘Ladyland’. We had Bill Bottrell produce a few songs on the album and I learned a lot from him. Bill is the type of character you would see in a Jim Jarmusch movie. You know the guy with the glasses in the corner of the bar, who clearly knows a lot more than you do and looking super dope knowing a lot more than you do. When the album was complete the record company did what they could, I suppose, but without boring you with details, I eventually got dropped. My manager at the time Caresse Henry, who has since passed away and who also was sweeter than honey and I miss her greatly, called me and just said, “sorry honey, I tried.” and I know she did, the business was a mess at that time, I wasn’t the only one who got the phone call that day. This is way before Myspace/Facebook and Twitter keep in mind, but the future was already being felt and the present, which was following the model of the past, was no longer relevant.
After I picked myself off the ground, and that is a metaphor for many weeks later, I decided to get back to my roots. Set up my little studio and do everything myself. So I did, I wrote and produced an EP called ‘Coward’, with my sister, Planet Swan sitting in the engineer seat and a little after that, wrote and produced what I believe is my best album, ‘Girl Who Cried Wolf’, that process was such a healing time after feeling compromised and over worked doing some things I really didn’t want to do. I did whatever shows I could, but mainly stayed in Los Angeles. The actual reason I did not tour much was because I became pregnant with my first child. Terrified in the moment, I decided to welcome the challenge with open arms.
After my son was born I started writing again, the next batch of songs would eventually be known as ‘Good Soldier’. Seeing as I had no deal, I was totally willing to produce this album as well, but I had sent a few of the songs to my friend Billy Corgan, who supported the current mood of the songwriting and sweetly said, “if you keep writing songs like this, I will produce your album.” Over the moon, I wrote and wrote, eventually I had a nice batch of material. Mr. Corgan gave the go ahead, so I raised the money to go to Chicago and start recording ‘Good Soldier’. I loved every moment, it was almost like being in art school or something. Everytime I was done laying down guitars or vocals, I would go grab Billy, who was working in the next room, to hear and ultimately approve what I had done. I love Billy a ton, he and I have always had a very complicated friendship, but I will always be forever grateful to him for giving me a chance to see that record through. He did not have to help me, and I know that.
After I had finished ‘Good Soldier’ I found myself pregnant with my second child. My husband and I always wanted a second, so it was not a total surprise. I did as much as I could while pregnant to promote the album, but I did not have a well of money to draw from, so that record kind of floated around my media pages for a few years. Once my daughter was born, I had to get out of Los Angeles, my husband and I wanted to buy a house and desperately needed help with the kids. Seeing that my husband was from Minneapolis and his parents still lived there, well that was our obvious next step, and hey Prince is there too, I thought!
While on tour with The Smashing Pumpkins, where my duties consisted of playing a little bass, moog and singing background vocals, the unfortunate news of Prince’s passing fell down upon everyone’s shoulders. We were in New Orleans when it happened. I was in a cab, when my husband called me and said, “I think Prince died!” I felt so sick to my stomach. As I walked around the French Quarter you could hear people talking about it, I mean it was a big fucking deal. STILL IS! I felt comfort knowing I was in the city, where I believe, a lot of his background comes from, being relatives or heritage, needless to say moving to Minneapolis lost a little bit of magic for me in that moment. Billy and I covered Prince’s song ‘The Cross’ before the New Orleans show to pay tribute.
I forgot to mention that during the time I was pregnant, I had come up with an idea of making a website that offered a way for people who wrote lyrics or poetry to transpose them into songs. How you may wonder? Well they send me their writing and I put music and vocals to it. The project is called http://www.swansongswithyou.com, I did not have a ton of time to dive deeply into it, but it does exist. The website allows me to act as a portal, I suppose, a way to share our gifts with one another and ultimately have something to show for it.
Well, now I live in Minneapolis surrounded by my family and in a home I can call my own. I love watching my children play with all of the neighborhood kids in our backyard. I love cooking dinner for my family, when I find the energy. Taking walks by Lake Harriet, when it isn’t 10 degrees outside, but when the kids are in bed, you know what I love the most? I love walking downstairs to the basement, turning on the little space heater, plugging in my Christmas lights, putting my head phones on and allowing the instruments, my voice, or whatever seems to be the leader that night, take me to the next song, the next place, the next chapter of my amazing life and realizing I am basically right back where I started. Life is magic that way.