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INTERVIEWS SHEILA SWIFT
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT!There was a line from a PRETENDERS song. It went like this, "I've got a smile for everyone I meet." It's hard for most people to imagine CHRISSIE HYNDE flashing a smile at anyone. However, that line seems to fit singer songwriter SHEILA SWIFT a little more snuggly. She's got the cheeriest disposition this side of DORIS DAY, yet this oh-so-sunny disposition isn't the result of life gone easy. At the age of twelve she was faced with something most children never face; mortality. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor. One can expect the straits a situation like this would do to a parent, but SHEILA saw this crisis through different eyes."I don't think any kid ever truly realizes what that means." says SWIFT. " I was more concerned with the fact that I couldn't play basketball anymore. My parents took the brunt of it but I never ever honestly ever scared. I never had a fear of death. I just approached life in a different way than a lot of other kids ever get the opportunity to so I definitely live my life with purpose. You live your life day to day."
THIS IS WHO I AM
SHEILA SWIFT TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT HER NEW CD 'THE SHAPE OF THINGS'
FINDING THE COURAGE TO WRITE
AND BEING A SURVIVOR
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
Her debut CD THE SHAPE OF THINGS is not the first release from SWIFT. In 2000, she released her eponymously titled debut CD, more demonstration of vocal prowess than a demonstration of the artist that ROCKWIRED has come to know. "What's different is that there is definitely more of a commitment to pursuing the road as an artist and not just as a singer." says SWIFT. "I've written all of the songs and I'm more involved in the process as opposed to being this seventeen year old kid trying to make it big in the L.A. world." THE SHAPE OF THINGS is a CD with a heart on it's sleeve. It's a CD that strives for honesty without sacrificing time honored pop hooks that keep a song in ones head for weeks. (ROCKWIRED can't help but make the inevitable comparison to CYNDI LAUPER's 1993 CD 'HAT FULL OF STARS'
"There's more to come." cautions SWIFT. "This is just the begining for sure." ROCKWIRED seconds the motion. Pop music is about to get a real shot in the arm.
ROCKWIRED spoke with SHEILA SWIFT over the phone as she stepped away momentarily from a bachelorette party. It felt less like an interview and more like we should've been wearing mud masks, and doing each other's hair. Here is how it went.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS is your first recording in a number of years. What's different this time?
What's different is that there is definitely more of a commitment to pursuing the road as an artist and not just as a singer. I've written all of the songs and I'm more involved in the process as opposed to being this seventeen year old kid trying to make it big in the L.A. world.
You mean like BRITNEY?
I wasn't going to say anything but- let's not go there.
So you didn't shave your head?
I've got bangs now. (We both laugh) I'm trying not to laugh now, but this album is definitely the more mature side of me. It's a really honest and unedited experience.
What drove you away from making music the first time?
I don't think anything drove me away. It was more or less me withdrawing from it. It was all about growing up really. I had gotten some tough love from A&R companies out in L.A. There I was, this seventeen year old kid thinking that my dreams were about to happen and the dream didn't go quite as planned because I had all of my hopes dropped into one thing. I kind of decided that I needed to find out who I was beyond what everyone was trying to make me. I pursued college and I am so glad that I did and I drowned myself in a lot of literature classes and art classes and found out that I had a voice through painting actually; a different kind of art which I try to integrate with my songwriting.
What brought you back to music and wanting to write songs?
That is a loaded question and I feel like I had better have an answer.
We've got time.
It was definitely a culmination of things. I had four years to kind of chill out and figure out who I was and grow up. I definitely know who I am now whereas before everyone was identifying me as this blond singer in the same mold as all of the BRITNEY's and the CHRISTINA's, which I had nothing to do with on a personal level but now this time, it's like 'Okay, I have something to say whether or not you think my lyrics are generic. There is always a deeper message behind it. Take it or leave it. This is who I am.'
When you started writing songs, did you write for the expressed purpose of writing an album or was it done just to prove that you could?
I never ever considered writing songs ever. I wanted to be a singer ever since I could remember. Since I was four years old. When I was sixteen years old, I was in Nashville and met an amazing guy named JOHN MAYES whose been a mentor of mine in my early years. It was he who encouraged me to write. He said 'you're voice will only carry you so far. You're a dime a dozen. Every one is doing this. What else do you have at the end of the day to prove that this is you?" So I started writing. I started writing poetry that was terrible - but it was a start. I was rhyming things like "trouble" and "bubble" and "doom" and "gloom" and things like that.
"Hour" and "shower"?
Actually that was my first number one hit. When I went to college, I hadn't written a song in two years. I told my now husband MICHAEL, who I was dating at the time "How can I call myself a songwriter if i haven't written a song in two years?" and his answer was, "It's not that you can't. It's that you haven't." That has always stuck with me. That was probably in 2002. It was still quite a while back but it always stayed with me. That was when I realized that it was up to me and no one was going to hand it to me. THE SHAPE OF THINGS came about when a year after we had gotten married, MICHAEL was in the Navy. We ended up moving from Houston to Washington State. Quite a trek! I almost died in Utah falling of the mountains.
Great skiing! Bad road conditions. Sorry all of you Utah-ians!
Anyway, THE SHAPE OF THINGS came out of the isolation I experienced while living in Washington. I saw the isolation a s a very positive thing. I was getting back to my roots musically and really owning it this time. THE SHAPE OF THINGS was the last piece of the puzzle for me to just kind of settle in to myself and to be real with my art.
How long did it take to record THE SHAPE OF THINGS?
This album came out in an incredible way. I committed to it in January of 2006 with just one song written. from February through May of that year, all of the songs were written. When the songs were written, we recorded it in about 10 days. We were up in Cider Mountains up in Idaho. The experience was amazing! We tracked the drums and bass in three days and ll of the other ecoutrements and then the vocals and it was like a lightening bolt, fast process. There's more to come. This is just the begining for sure.
Who all worked with you in putting it together?
I'll give my little Academy Awards speech now. First, I would say, my husband MICHAEL HEARST. He is a great guitar player. He wasn't actually able to play on the album but he was very instrumental in supporting me in my efforts to go about making the album. The money spent making the album could've gone to making a great down payment on a house which would've been a much sounder investment. He wasn't able to be involved in the process of recording because he was in the Navy at the time but he's now a part of the band. I found a producer out of Portland who got me to focus in on sitting down and being more disciplined with writing. CRAIG ALVIN was the engineer and the guy who mixed the album. NATHAN TRUEB played the electric guitar off of the album - awesome, awesome guy out of Portland also. The guy that raised the bar for us for sure was JOEY CANADAY. He played bass and then JEFF MORINO played drums and busted the songs wide open. And last but certainly not least there is MARSH SHAMBERGER on keyboards. He's the one who does the duet with me on the song THERE IS STILL LOVE. He is the lead vocalist and keyboardist for this band outof New Mexico called SOULAR and I can't tell you how instrumental he was in getting this CD together. I learned a lot from the process and am extremely grateful. These guys just stepped in and made me look good.
And it sounds good. Listening to it reminded me of CYNDI LAUPER's CD HAT FULL OF STARS (1993).
There you go. I'm definitely and eighties child!
Initially what drove you to music? You've said that you've wanted to be a singer since you were four years old. Why is that?
I have no idea, but I came out of the womb singing. I've always had a set of lungs that could rival the loudest person in the world, which is to my detriment sometimes, but I've learned to manifest that on stage sometimes. Brian, this is something that has always been a part of my being. There's that stubbornness in me to want to do this. Maybe it's because I'm a Sagittarius, I don't know. I just know that this is what I'm supposed to do.
Growing up, was there ever anyone that had any influence over you musically?
I'd have to say my parents for sure. I learned to play guitar just from watching my dad. He was the 1976 Houston Battle of the Bands winner. He was the lead guitarist for a band called DILLINGER. I think they played a couple of high school proms (laughs). I was weened on BEATLES music and seventies music. My dad really just imparted to me what a great escape music is and my mom could tell you every lyric to every song. I grew up in a house full of music and it's always been a part of my being.
In your bio, it talks extensively about you being diagnosed with a brain tumor as a child. How has that experience shaped you as an artist and person?
That's another loaded question.
And I'm expecting a long answer.
It's amazing to me now how we're doing press releases now and that this is what sets me apart. This is my story. The fact that I'm a survivor sets me apart. I was two weeks away from my thirteenth birthday when I was faced with my mortality. I didn't really realize it. When the doctor said that I had a brain tumor, I said "What does that mean?" I don't think any kid ever truly realizes what that means. I was more concerned with the fact that I couldn't play basketball anymore. My parents took the brunt of it but I never ever honestly ever scared. I never had a fear of death. I just approached life in a different way than a lot of other kids ever get the opportunity to so I definitely live my life with purpose. You live your life day to day. I have some residuals from the tumor. The tumor is in the center of the brain. Its called a Ganglioglioma. It's on the optic tract which means I have no peripheral vision, so don't scare me on my left side or I'll knock you out. It also has an AVM around the tumor. It's called an Arterial Vascular Malformation and what that means is that it could be a healed aneurysm. It's tumor that actually stops growing at puberty. It's a miracle that I've had no surgeries or no biopsies. I just have migraines and I can't see straight. Other than that, I'm a blond with a brain tumor. I can get away with anything.
What all goes into writing a song for you?
It's different every time. I am not one of these formula people. I approach songwriting like I would approach a painting. When I'm painting, I look at the canvass and I kind of see what it wants to do. I kind of approach it with colors in mind. A lot of the times, in music, I'll approach lyrics that way. I'll let the pieces fall together and then I'll play around with it. It's got a lot to do with a mood or experience. It's a sort stream of consciousness effort. I don't if you can easily explain the creative process. I guess the whole idea is to keep creating.