Interview: Emma Swift

Emma Swift
Image Courtesy of Emma Swift

For a long time Emma Swift was the voice of folk and Americana in Syndey as the presenter and programmer of popular FBi Radio show In The Pines. Then last year Swift, also an accomplished singer-songwriter in her own right, made the decision to pack up her cowboy boots, sequined jackets and guitar and move to Nashville, the spiritual home of Americana music. Now, as Emma Swift wraps up a Pozible campaign to record her debut EP, our very own Gareth Hugh Evans managed to pin her down to chat about the move to the US, her upcoming plans to live and work in the UK and all the 101 other things on her plate at the moment.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You made the big, semi-permanent move to Nashville last year. How are you feeling following the big move? Are you still pinching yourself that you’re actually there?

Emma Swift: Nashville feels like a geographical soul mate for me. There’s so much history in this town, stories and songs and dreams – chased, broken and made. I love it. Add to that there are thrift stores abundant with sequins and dusty record bins and half-read music memoirs and bars that sell two dollars beers all day long. Sometimes I’m so happy I get emotional about it. I’ve been known to cry in the supermarket if a particularly good country song comes on the in-store radio – say an early 70s one with pedal steel and soaring vocals and perhaps a line about Tennessee. I’m pretty cheesy like that. I feel lucky to be here.

GHE: Known as being a city of opportunity for aspiring Americana musicians Nashville must be overwhelming with the sheer volume of artists making the move there to try and “make it big”. Is it a tough town to get noticed in?

ES: I’m so far from the “trying to get noticed” stage at the moment! I wouldn’t know the first thing about it. Right now I’m more interested in making friends and making music I’m proud to put my name to.

GHE: Last year you were also announced as a winner of British Council’s Realise Your Dream award with the idea of spending some time in UK working with radio broadcasters at the BBC. How are plans to fulfill that dream coming along? Has your experience in Nashville thus far influenced what you want to get out of your UK/BBC experience?

ES: My plans for the UK are going great. I am planning to head over at the end of this year, once my record is made. And then I’ll work in radio as well as play shows. Probably make a similar life to the one I had in Sydney but on a bigger scale. I can’t wait to explore Britain’s Americana scene.

GHE: To add to everything else you’ve got on you were also at SXSW this year – singing with Henry Wagons and reading at Marieke Hardy’s People of Letters event with the likes of Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman and Jenny Owens Young. How did you even get involved in such amazing opportunities?

ES: Marieke Hardy and I worked together at triple j a few years back. She was hosting the breakfast program with Robbie Buck and Lindsay McDougall and I was their morning newsreader. She’s an incredible woman – passionate, inspired and funny and she’s been a big supporter of my creative endeavors over the years. She asked me to read at People of Letters in SXSW after reading my blog. It was an incredible experience. I read a letter defending Americana music and then sung a Gram Parsons song. I’m reliably on message, wherever I go!

GHE: We should probably talk about your EP that you’re rasing money to record in Nashville via a Pozible campaign. I understand you’ve been writing this for some time – what’s the process been like getting to a point where you’re ready to record?

ES: The process has been LONG. I’ve never been confident in the songwriting department. It took years of getting over myself – over my self-doubt and anxiety and awkwardness before I felt confident enough to sing my songs in public. I’m a recovering Catholic – I’ve always felt I was supposed to repress my emotions or drink them away, not put them to melodies. I had to wait to get old enough to not care anymore. And that took a long time.

GHE: You’ll be recording the EP in Nashville but you’ve chosen Australian Anne McCue as your producer – why did you decide to go in that direction?

ES: Anne is a seriously brilliant songwriter and guitar player who has been living in the USA for more than a decade. I’ve always admired her and when I moved to Nashville she really took me under her wing and became a great friend to me. I trust her intelligence and her instincts. And she knows a lot of great musicians around town who will be called in to help out when required.

GHE: Once the EP is out there in the world what’s the next step? Will you be pursuing radio play, touring, that sort of thing?

ES: I will definitely be pursuing all of those things. Anything and everything to get my music heard by as many people as possible and anything and everything to keep me from having to wear a pencil skirt in a stuffy office ever again.

GHE: You’re also appearing on an upcoming Springsteen compilation as well – what’s the details on that?

ES: Back in January my friend and former FBi Radio colleague Stuart Coupe asked if I would like to be a part of a Bruce Springsteen tribute record to be released in conjunction with the Boss’ Australian tour. I have always loved Stuart’s record label Laughing Outlaw and was delighted to make a guest appearance alongside such a great roster. I covered “Secret Garden”, which is an old favourite. My mission was to make it as pensive as possible. Anne McCue produced it here in Nashville and was brilliant. She knew instinctively exactly how I wanted it to sound and did a great job.

GHE: Finally, now that you’ve spent a decent amount of time in the States, what’s your feelings around the folk and Americana scene in Australia? How do you think we compare to the rest of the world?

ES: I think the folk and Americana scene in Australia is alive and kicking. I feel as though there has been a really great change over past couple of years – bigger audiences, diverse crowds, a lot of people really enthusiastic about playing old school music. When I first moved to Sydney it was an indie rock town, then it was a dance town. It’s more diverse now. I’d like that to be better reflected on the radio but I think that will happen soon too.

Emma Swift still has three days left on her Pozible campaign – you can pledge here. Listen to Swift’s version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” below:

1 Comment

  1. April 26, 2013 at 15:24

    […] “I will definitely be pursuing all of those things. Anything and everything to get my music heard by as many people as possible and anything and everything to keep me from having to wear a pencil skirt in a stuffy office ever again” – Emma Swift chats to Gareth Hugh Evans. Interview here […]

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