By Michael Grondin
CALGARY — The dark, introspective neuroses of Calgary’s singer-songwriter Astral Swans can be found on the debut album, All My Favorite Singers Are Willie Nelson, which will be released via Madic Records on February 24th.
Matthew Swann, the “chaotic space cadet” behind Astral Swans, sings about the darker emotions we all feel. Swann recorded the album with friend and musician Brad Hawkins.
The instrumentation on …Willie Nelson is unique; blending distorted indie-folk guitar, abstract percussion and synthesizers that fill the voids.
Though Swann offers dark themes and lyrics, the album is full of catchy melodies and unique soundscapes, contrasting playful humour with dark undertones. The album has twelve punchy, simple and honest songs. Unlike many singer-songwriters that use clichés and generic themes, Swann’s approach is simple and truthful to his experiences.
Swann says …Willie Nelson is a song-focused record, with elements of absurdity, abstraction and general weirdness.
On the naming of his album, Swann says, “I don’t have a definitive answer for it. It’s kind of a nonsensical statement but it’s rooted in a love for a romantic sentimentality and this old school singer-songwriter vibe, and it’s kind of just alluding to that feel, but in a very abstract, contradictory way.”
He adds that the inspiration for his songs stems from moments in his life.
“I don’t really think songs through too much or ritualize or plan when I’m writing a new song,” says Swann. “It’s just a product of a moment. It generally starts with some level of inspiration, whether it’s just something happening in my life or it’s coming from feeling a certain way after encountering someone else’s art or someone else’s music. It can be just a flash of feeling.”
Before starting Astral Swans, Swann played in other Calgary acts, including the much loved Hot Little Rocket, experimental noise band Extra Happy Ghost!!! and the dream pop band Gold.
“I wanted to do something that was a little more solo focused, a little more personal, just to make it easier to write and tour – to not worry about all of the technicalities of band life,” he says. “So I just started writing a bunch of songs.”
Swann would play the odd show in Calgary, Lethbridge or Edmonton, opening for such bands as Chad VanGaalen or Shout Out Out Out Out. He also played Sled Island. However, recording has been the central focus. Accordingly, …Willie Nelson is releasing on musician and songwriter Dan Mangan’s Canada-based record label Madic Records. It comes nearly a year after Madic released Astral Swans’s debut 7-inch You Carry a Sickness/Park Street. Astral Swans is the only band on the label thus far.
“We wrapped up the recording process a little over a year ago, and then around December of last year, I started talking with Dan Mangan and got signed by him,” says Swann. “We commenced the mastering and started getting things ready for the actual release which took a lot of time because the label itself was brand new.”
Swann released “Beginning of the End,” the first single of the album along with a funny, yet dark music video directed by Calgary filmmaker Mike Peterson.
Swann says he has been able to freely experiment with the writing of this record, and that working with musicians such as Dan Mangan have allowed him to convey a degree of honest self-expression with his music.
“It’s very much just about the music, which is really amazing,” says Swann. “It’s been a really nice, laissez-faire process, but not in a slacker sense.”
Astral Swans is touring Canada with Dan Mangan + Blacksmith and Hayden, playing Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall on March 10 and Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre on March 13. Buy All My Favorite Singers Are Willie Nelson out this week at your favourite record store.AB, Alberta, Astral Swans, BC, British Columbia, Dan Mangan, Dan Mangan + Blacksmith, Jack Singer Concert Hall, Vogue Theatre