On November 7th, 2015 MorganEve Swain released a three track EP, The Water Street Demos, as The Huntress and Holder of Hands on Bandcamp. Recording all of the parts herself, she delivered a testimony to her strength as a solo artist and a consummation of her instrumental talents. Though the gentle, fullness of her voice is the most powerful tool at her disposal, she also made exemplary use of the bass, cello, violin, and viola. This included a moving instrumental,“Etude”; a practice in wistful timing that leaves you feeling as though you are close to something, though you are not sure what, and before you can find it, it’s gone.
She had already put out the stirring “Call to Arms” demo in July of 2014. Swain, ever the enchantress, applied layers of her rich, mesmerizing voice to a rousing bass line and lightly chirping birds. Her steady drumming gives you something to hold onto as you spiral into bouts of fierce bowing that impact upon you the urgency of the battle cry. And while all can find themselves drawing from her lyrics, those who know the story of MorganEve Swain attach to the ode an overwhelmingly intimate portraiture of the songstress herself.
Swain had spent the last seven years as one half of the Rhode Island-based duo Brown Bird. Though Brown Bird had went through personnel changes in its early years, once founder David Lamb brought MorganEve into the fold in 2008, it quickly whittled down to the essential two. In 2010 they both quit their “day jobs”. (Dave was still working as a marine mechanic at a shipyard and MorganEve still worked in a coffee shop.) Next they bought a van and started working on a new album.
After a warmly received release of the EP The Sound of Ghosts (May 2011), Brown Bird hit pay dirt with the full-length Salt for Salt (October 2011). And after playing a smaller stage at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival, the well-liked, local-duo was moved to the main stage for 2012. Brown Bird was quickly amassing fans. In May 2013 they were on the road with Fits of Reason: the metal-influenced, electric rock album with jazz and Middle Eastern tendencies that they had used to redefine their sound a month earlier. That’s when Dave got sick in Houston.
Brown Bird went from being a band on the rise to a couple much too young to be facing such a horrible revelation, Dave had leukemia. And like many other artists, he did not have health insurance. Before the illness the two kept their private relationship just that, private. But the dire circumstances changed things, and so they began to share with the public what was happening. More than that, they tried to alert people to the importance of having health insurance and encouraged people to donate blood and bone marrow. When fans caught on that Brown Bird needed some help, they quickly gathered funds to help fly Dave home, and then a great deal more to help them purchase insurance.
The two spent most of the next year navigating three rounds of chemotherapy; then in August of 2013 they got married at their home on Water Street. Shortly after that, Dave received a bone marrow transplant. And while he was confined to that home on Water Street recovering, they started to work on their new, yet-to-be-named album: a “victory” album as MorganEve referred to it. One they would tour with when he was well. Then, in March 2014, Dave got sick again. A final round of chemo only worsened the scenario and he passed on April 5, 2014, he was just 36 years old; survived by his wife MorganEve, only 28.
Just weeks later, with unfathomable fortitude, MorganEve summoned the strength to begin recording her parts for what would now be the final Brown Bird album. Three months later she had finished, and matched them to the parts that Dave had already spent so much time recording so precisely. She released Axis Mundi in April 2015. Axis mundi was something MorganEve had found Dave had written down in his lyric notebook; so she looked it up.
In many beliefs it is the point where heaven and earth meet, and connect. On the Brown Bird website she explained that, “Anything or anyone suspended on the axis becomes a repository for potential knowledge.” In his life, Dave made it a point to actively seek new knowledge. Born the son of a minister, he continued in his adult life to educate himself on spirituality, religion, and philosophy; and it showed in his lyrics. Brown Bird lyrics prove to be thought-provoking oral literature, heavily steeped in metaphor and imagery; leaving you ruminating on the sufferings and struggles of humanity. Brown Bird’s music could be characterized by Dave’s sermon-quality lyrics and his striking, authoritative vocal delivery; often offset by MorganEve’s even, measured tones. While he is casting fire and brimstone from the sky; she gently billows in and, with subtle urgency, ushers you safely from the storm.
Their album, Axis Mundi, encapsulates the sound that Dave and MorganEve were always striving for. It blends their deeply personal lyrics and unique timing with elements of surf rock and psych rock; some heavy, driving riffs; and some global influences. “Tortured Boy” is a stripped-down exception because MorganEve wrote it for Dave years ago, at the onset of their romance and partnership. In it she humbly confesses,” I don’t want to bathe, I’m afraid I’ll lose your smell; I don’t want to sleep, in case you have to go.” She also decided to include a hidden track, “Avalon”, which was a Christmas gift Dave once made for her. It reads like a private poem to her, with him proclaiming, “You’re a huntress and a healer and a holder of hands; and your heart is the Avalon that I seek for my end.”
On Saturday, November 7th The Huntress and Holder of Hands debuted live at the Columbus Theatre in Providence, RI. MorganEve took some time to answer some questions about The Huntress project, and about Brown Bird. Her answers were thoughtful, complete, and inspiring, and the interview is included in its entirety here.
Help keep the legacy of David Lamb alive by purchasing Brown Bird’s music on Bandcamp.