“I once saw a dead bird on the sidewalk, so being a sensitive guy easily affected by death.. I wrote a song about it.” Matt Swann offers some lighthearted stage banter in Cranbrook, BC, at the end of a season of touring small venues and humble stage shows throughout Canada. This time, sharing a stage with his Madic Records manager, Dan Mangan.
From the initial press release of the label announcement, Dan has been forthright about the experimental nature of this personal project:
“I’d had this longstanding pipe dream of having a boutique label. For years, it seemed a fulfilling hobby; to help spread the word about music I believed in that wasn’t getting enough attention. It was never quite the right time, and I figured if it ever were to be, that it would happen fairly organically, and because a particular album or project fell in my hands. It took about one listen through Astral Swans’ rough mixes to light a proverbial fire.” (http://danmanganmusic.com/dan-mangan-launches-madic-records/)
Speaking to Dan about working with Matt and developing this toned-down touring style, he confirmed this experiment was a mutual decision, as, “Matt has zero intentions of world domination. If he could play to 80 people every night he would be so happy.”
Lyrics are meant to be the focus of Astral Swans’ performance, with lines arising around sensitivity in the wake of death, compromising social situations, or simply having a conscience in a world that doesn’t seem to value it. Matt’s sensitive existential musings are summarized by the line:
nature doesn’t care about you,
nature doesn’t notice you exist at all, but I do.
A phone interview from Summer 2015 explores 6Qs with Matt:
Q: Favourite Song(as a personal inspiration, or instant go-to):
Astral Swans: “It’s tricky to be definitive with this one , so if you don’t mind I’ll list a few. Here a a few go to’s: River Guard by Smog. Oh Sweet Nuthin’ by the Velvet Underground. Blue Eyes Cryin in the Rain by Willie Nelson (**which is also one of the covers he does)
JK: and that’s one of the covers you often feature at shows, in my experience.
Astral Swans : yeah, the title of the album gives it away too.. Hah.
Q: Favourite Cover Song:
Astral Swans: Hmm – I’m gonna go with wild horses written by Keith Richards and covered by the flying burrito brothers. Gram parsons vocal is stunning! Also, something many don’t know is that the cover version was released before the Rolling Stones version was made available due to problems with album.
Q: Favourite Road Trip Sound (Song, Album, and/or Podcast)
Astral Swans: Always changing, but a few of my staples are:
- Dr dre – chronic 2001 “I’ll try to rap along with Dre but my flow’s kind of weak.”
- GZA – liquid swords
- Guided by voices – bee thousand
- The Kinks – Lola vs powerman and the moneyground
- Electrelane – no shouts no calls
- The replacements – let it be
Q: Best Place to Play a Show
Europe! Sorry Canada, eff you USA, Europe rules; People listen, you get paid well, they put you up, they feed you, their accents are gorgeous, everything is old, and trippy, and beautiful. It’s the promised land!
In Europe, primarily Germany due to its incredibly supportive indie scene where the crowds listen. Plus, unlike our great Canadian expanse, travel time is much less between places. (meaning more shows in less time)
Travel across Canada can be long, and not effective for making money as a solo artist, so quite often will buy a plane ticket to save time and dollars. We agreed one of the worst/longest Canadian highways for solo travel is from Winnipeg to Toronto. Though, it is overall more cost effective to drive when with a full band (which was the case for Matt approx 10 years ago when he was in Hot Little Rocket).
Fall touring was in alternative venues/house concerts, which was made up of some less familiar places across the Canadian mainland. Newfoundland will have to wait for a more focused East Coast tour, otherwise this one would be over 40 days.
Q: What’s the Hardest You’ve Ever Laughed? (borrowed from Nerdist #263)
Astral Swans: Maybe not hardest *ever* but the hardest laugh recently was at a Weird Al free outdoor show in Place D’es Arts for Just For Laughs festival in mid July.
JK: Excellent! Usually for me, the stories that come to mind are when I’m with family, like once in my grandma’s front lawn with a bunch of my aunts and uncles in the summer.
Astral Swans: Ah, that’s sweet! Family laughs are the greatest. Though, I guess you could say (Weird Al) is a member of the universal family.
JK: Ha. Absolutely agree.
Q: As a Musician, or perhaps as a person as well, what’s your Spirit Animal?
Half bunny, half cat, half baby goat. The spirit world allows for the existence of 3 halfs.
JK: Love it. Any particular explanation for any of those? Or for the split between 3?
Astral Swans: Well, the cat comes from my obsession with cats, both with internet animal videos, and with the pet cats who’ve become an obsession. Bunnies specifically because of the park nearby my Calgary apartment where there are “wild” domesticated young bunnies being fed and looked after. Baby goats, because they’re cute and hilarious.
Matt, on this fall’s tour: “The house shows were amazing. The forum worked well for me, I think it’s a touring method that I’ll continue using for sure. I feel really fortunate for the efforts of everyone involved: Dan Mangan for conceiving the idea, Lauren who booked the shows, and was the liaison with the hosts, and most importantly the hosts themselves. There is a lot of trust involved in this exercise for sure.”
To talk about the music Matt recorded for his album All My Favourite Singers are Willie Nelson, is to acknowledge a certain refreshing honesty he is cultivating. With lyrics discussing mental health and personal vulnerabilities, the upbeat, quirkily percussive guitar is supported by Distance Bullock on drums.
At the October house show in Edmonton, 30 of us gathered on an assortment of chairs, floor pillows, and couches – amidst carefully placed strings of Christmas lights – we were receptive to immediate benefits of community. Not only was it a respectful byob environment, but among the guests we quickly found friends and neighbours in the small crowd, making a small space even more like home. Though some may say that’s just a product of Edmonton’s changing music scene, the nature of house shows enables a similarly unique hospitality of community.
If you’re interested in hosting, add your house to the list here!
Look for Astral Swans coming to your neighbourhood…literally! He’s got a haunting rendition of Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”, a fitting feature for the record he’s toting entitled All My Favourite Singers Are Willie Nelson.
A great thanks to Madic men for their entertainment, insight and honesty!