In many ways, Matthew Swann’s latest solo project, Astral Swans, is an exercise in contradictions. The Calgary veteran, who has cut his musical teeth on popular local bands, such as Hot Little Rocket, extra happy ghost !!! and Gold, is perhaps best known for his “anti-aesthetic,” as he puts it, which slowly coalesces into shape in his lo-fi, spectral pop songs, but the songs themselves come to him in a flash of whimsy, arriving all but fully formed in a flash of inspiration. As if plucked from the ether with a set of frayed television antennas, Astral Swans brings the margins to the core, drawing inspiration from peripheral artists to centre his own voice.
Astral Swans first started as as an extra happy ghost !!! spin-off in 2012. The financial and logistical pressures of continuously forming and reforming a band around what was largely his solo project inspired Swann to strike out on his own. “I needed to do something solo just because it was getting to be difficult to arrange band members for extra happy ghost !!! shows and tours — covering the costs of touring a full band was really getting to be difficult,” says the affable musician. Rather than lugging around the entire production that follows a full line-up, Swann realized it would be easier for him to forge ahead as a solo artist good and proper, plucking songs out of whimsy as they came and hopping on flights as shows presented themselves.
It didn’t take long for a full-length record to take shape, recorded, as the story goes, next to a radiator in a cold bedroom. Though he originally planned to self-release it, he still shopped it around in hopes that someone would at least return his emails — a long shot, given his prior experiences releasing albums.
“I always shop stuff around and no one really gets back to me,” he laughs. “What’s funny is that I sent it around to a bunch of labels that were a little more along the lines of what I thought would put it out, weirder labels, more underground labels, and didn’t even get a reply, or anything.” On a whim, he sent select tracks to Dan Mangan, with whom he had crossed paths before and remained in loose contact. Mangan loved what he heard. “He emailed me, saying that he heard a couple of tracks and if I could send him some more. I sent him the whole rough mix of the full-length and he wrote back, ‘Can I call you? I really like this stuff and what to help you shop it around,’ or whatever.
“As far as I know, he set the label [Madic Records] up because of the record I sent him… Initially, he said that he’d like to manage it and put it out himself, but that he was too busy. As time went on, he said, ‘Fuck it,’ and just did it.”
Thus, Madic Records was born and Astral Swann’s debut 7”, “You Carry a Sickness” b/w “Park Street,” became the first release on the boutique label, which enjoys the full support of Arts & Crafts. The full-length is scheduled for release in the fall and, to the label’s credit, the original recordings remain almost untouched, save for choice tweaks here and there. Swann’s signature aesthetic remains as unpolished as ever.
“There’s something that I feel uncomfortable about with a pristine production aesthetic, or whatever. There’s always an element of anxiety to everything I’m doing, I think. I have a very cerebral, anxious nature and I think it’s a lot of digging through that part of my own psychology and interpretation of events in the world. There’s definitely a darkness, but I don’t feel like it’s a darkness for darkness’ sake. There’s always some search for some kind of truth or meaning behind that. I’m hesitant to use that terminology because it seems so silly and self indulgent, but I think it’s about trying to have an honesty about imperfections, darkness and sadness and strangeness.”
Astral Swans’ debut 7” is available via Madic Records now.
By Sebastian Buzzalino