Interview: Emma Swift
Emma Swift is something of golden light for Americana music, particularly here in Australia where it often leads a sheltered existence in mainstream media. Her time as host of the respected In The Pines on FBi Radio in Sydney and more recently as host of ABC National's Saturday Night Country has cast her as one of the most knowledgeable and personable figures in the local scene, opening listeners ears to both new and old country, from honky tonk to visceral outlaw country and new and emerging alt-country artists. Swift left our shores last year to take up residence in Nashville, USA - a commitment to both furthering her journalistic career and immersing herself and her songwriting in the home of country music. Her songwriting continues to emerge to a wider audience yet she has been honing her craft for a number of years, both solo and in the duo 49 Goodbyes. The good news is that she is about to record her debut EP Tennessee Rose in Nashville and launched a successful Pozible campaign to fund the completion of the EP. While Swift was back in Australia we asked her a few questions for our regular Six Strings column that profiles some of our favourite Americana artists from Australia and New Zealand.
What was the album that first led you down the dusty path of Americana music?
It's probably a collection of albums that took me down that path rather than one record. But I know when I first walked it. It was the year 2004. I was listening to Emmylou Harris’ Elite Hotel, Gram Parson’s GP, everything ever recorded by Ryan Adams to that point and Gillian Welch’s Soul Journey. I was talking about that kind of music with my friendly local record seller and he recommended Lucinda Williams’ World Without Tears. I bought it, took it home, put it on the stereo and just broke. There’s something magic about Lucinda. She’s raw and vulnerable, sexy and country and oh-so-rock’n’roll She’s perfect – the closest thing to an open wound in music. That’s the definition Americana for me – the heartworn stuff.
Every gig is so much fun. I love sharing songs with people. Just this past month or so in Sydney I’ve been having a ball. It sounds silly because I’m always singing sad songs. But even sad songs love company. Supporting Elizabeth Cook at the Basement in January this year was a treat – she’s brilliant. I managed to convince Robert Ellis to sing harmonies with me at a local bluegrass gig with Oh Willy Dear a few weeks ago and that was pretty cool too. Life is good wherever the music is.
How did you learn to play your instrument - from friends, tuition, listening to records?
Linda Ronstadt. I listened obsessively to my Dad’s Linda Ronstadt LPs. Everything about her voice made me want to be a singer.
Do you feel there is a strong country/folk music community in Australia?
There are strong country and folk communities in Australia. I’d like to build a better Americana community here, for those of us that are too twang for folk and too left-of-centre for country. I feel like it’s getting better.
What was your favourite Americana release last year?
What are your aspirations over the next 12 months?
I’m recording a seven song EP in Nashville, Tennessee very soon. I’m terrified. But also really excited about. I’ve just launched a Pozible campaign to assist in funding the project - I would love it if Post To Wire readers would consider helping me out!
I’m also planning a tour of the USA with my friends Chris Pickering, Melody Pool and Lachlan Bryan. They are all so brilliant. I’m excited to share a stage (and dodgy tour van) with them.
Later this year, I want to come back to Australia to release the EP. I want to keep making radio too because I love spreading the Americana gospel. I’ve been hosting a national country music program on the ABC this past few months and it has been great. And I still sometimes (when I’m in Australia) fill in at FBi Radio, hosting my old program In The Pines.