MorganEve Swain (also of Brown Bird) has a new three-track EP, The Water Street Demos, out as The Huntress and Holder of Hands. Though all the voices and instruments heard on the recordings are Swain’s, she’s formed a powerful six-piece for live sets. She dropped the demos November 7th, the same day The Huntress and Holder of Hands premiered at The Columbus Theatre in Providence, RI. Swain has undergone some unbelievably difficult changes in her life the past couple years, but yet she soldiers on. Inspired by her strength, Sisters of the Moon Music reached out to her about the new project and about Brown Bird.
Q: As you forge this new path under your moniker, The Huntress, what will that look like for recording purposes and on stage? Can we expect it to be mostly you solo, or are you planning on having a band?
Swain: The Huntress and Holder of Hands (the full name) began as a solitary project. After Dave passed I took great solace in sitting in our music room, where he had spent a lot of time on his own, practicing and working on new Brown Bird songs. The first three “Huntress” songs just came out of being in that room. I recorded them on GarageBand and used all the instruments I have available to me- violin, viola, cello, upright and electric basses, my voice… I began The Huntress without any set intentions. I wanted to continue to create music, and I felt a certain desperation to harness the way Dave and I had written and worked together. It felt then that if I didn’t write now, I’d lose him, and what we had musically. There is a phrase he’d read while he was sick and had intended to have tattooed on his chest when he got well- “Waste not your suffering”. It’s on my chest now, and is used in the chorus of The Huntress song “These Hands”. I think it sums up what The Huntress and Holder of Hands is all about.
About two months ago I was asked to perform as The Huntress at a show in Providence. That jump-started me into forming a band that could play these songs live. Because I had used basically every instrument I own and harmonized vocally with myself several times on each track, the challenge was to find women string players who also sang. I am incredibly fortunate to know some truly incredible musicians in this rather unique community I have the privilege of being part of, and the band actually came together fairly easily. I never wanted to be in or instigate an “all-female band”, but this is one I am seriously humbled by and proud to be part of.
So, to answer the actual question, for live-performance purposes, The Huntress and Holder of Hands is a 6-piece band consisting of cellist Emily Dix Thomas, double bass player Liz Isenberg, electric bassist Rachel Rosenkrantz, drummer Rachel Blumberg, vocalist and auxiliary musician Emily Shaw, and myself, primarily on five-string viola. I am self-releasing a short demo EP of songs recorded at home, as they were originally written as a solo endeavor. The band debuts this Saturday November 7th at The Columbus Theatre in Providence, RI as part of the theater’s “Revival!” show, and in the near future I hope to tour and record with the full band.
Q: Will we be seeing a lot of the same elements of Middle Eastern, metal, psychedelic rock influences that we heard from Brown Bird? You’ve said before that as a duo, you and Dave were always trying to achieve a “fuller, heavier” sound; are you still heading in that direction?
Swain: I am definitely working towards a full and heavy sound. It has been an enlightening experience to work with a “string section” and a drummer with a full kit- there is a range of dynamics available that simply wasn’t available to Dave and me as a duo- and being able to work with several basses and layered vocals has lent itself to that heaviness factor. As Brown Bird, Dave and I wrote very much from experience. Dave, being the primary songwriter, was more intentional with his inclusion of certain influences that I was- I’ve always just played what sounded right, without going into the intellectual reason it was “right”. These songs are all inspired by Dave, though, and the influences that are embedded in my soul are the same ones that were in Brown Bird’s soul. I’m certain that those same influences will show through, whether they were put there intentionally or not.
Q: What have time and focus allowed for you recently? Are you still on the road with the Devil Makes Three? Been inspired to write any new material lately? Or maybe recorded anything new?
Swain: Time and focus has allowed healing in a way that, a year ago, I wasn’t sure I would ever attain. The first year after losing Dave was basically a feat of human survival. In her book of the same name, Joan Didion calls that first year of grief “The Year of Magical Thinking”. I can’t imagine a more exact description. This continuing experience has opened my mind and soul to an almost child-like view of the world, and I have been inspired to write not only music, but a memoir of this experience and my life with Dave. It’s a slow-moving but important-feeling project. In the meantime, I’m hoping to go back on the road with The Devil Makes Three at some point this winter, and I’ve been performing with my friends Last Good Tooth, who just released an album on Supply & Demand Music. The Huntress and Holder of Hands is also hoping to hit the road sometime in the early Spring.
Q: You’ve only recently said you might be ready to perform songs from Axis Mundi, and Brown Bird remains very relevant to fans, do you think you might ever be performing those songs live as The Huntress? Or will you be keeping those things separate?
Swain: I honestly haven’t put much thought into this yet. It’s hard to imagine performing Brown Bird songs without Dave. But at the same time I feel like those songs deserve to live on. I guess time will tell…
Q: There is such a beautiful story behind the music of Brown Bird, one that has captivated and gripped your fan base in the past few years; might we ever see something like a Brown Bird concept album from The Huntress? Maybe something like “The Story of Dave and MorganEve”; or is Axis Mundi a little bit that album already because of songs like “Tortured Boy” and “Avalon”?
Swain: I don’t think Axis Mundi is a “concept album”. It’s a work of music that certainly came out of our experience as a couple and as a working duo and as two people dealing with Dave’s illness and mortality, but there’s no concept behind it; just experience. I don’t have any interest in making a concept album. I think the music speaks for itself and tells a story- whether it be ours or an entirely different story because of what it means to each individual listener- without needing to be put in the confines of a concept album. At the same time I do think ours is an important story to tell, so I’ve been slowly working on a memoir of the past eight years or so. Hopefully it will get to the point where it is readable and available to an audience wider than myself and my editor.
Q: You’ve mentioned before that you would eventually like to form some sort of non-profit in memory of Dave. Is there anything in place yet where fans can show support, or do you have any ideas about what that might be in the future?
Swain: This idea has gone through several iterations since I dreamt it up, without settling on any one yet. There are a lot of factors that weigh in to this endeavor. Right now I’m more concerned with writing and continuing to create on the path that Dave set me on. The best thing fans can do to show support for now is to keep buying our albums and t-shirts and spreading the word about Brown Bird to their friends and families. A close friend reminded me recently that if “all I ever do is continue to make music” and keep Brown Bird relevant for as long as I can, I will still be honoring Dave. But I need the help of our fans in order to do that.
Q: You are on a very new journey, one that certainly must have some anthem or soundtrack of sorts, can you tell us what music or album/s you have been listening to lately? Have you explored anything new recently?
Swain: I’ve found it difficult to seek out new music since Dave passed. I don’t have the same appetite as I once did, and am very susceptible to the moods music can inflict on it’s listeners. I’ve been sticking to familiar artists who create a certain mood that I can trust and settle into- Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, 40’s-era instrumental jazz guitar, Neil Young, John Zorn’s Bar Kohkba and electric Masada, and Yo La Tengo have all been on heavy rotation. I’m also very proud of Last Good Tooth’s new album, “And All Things on the Scales”, on which I sing but don’t play. I listen to it often. I think they’re fantastic.
To read more on the story of MorganEve Swain and Brown Bird click here.
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