Sierra Swan Biography
- Linda Perry
“Without my music, let’s face it, I’d probably be in an insane asylum,” half-jokingly admits 27-year-old spitfire Sierra Swan, sipping a glass of wine. “It’s been the only way I’ve been able to take the highs and lows of my life and put them in a safe place. I’m more of an adult because of my music.”
It’s this kind of honesty and self-realization that inspired the creation of Ladyland, a lyrically charged testament to both feminine strength and tender vulnerability. It’s a musically rich, cinematic portrait of a woman’s battle for honesty and empowerment. Whether she’s boldly coming to terms with the inner battle of taking ownership of her faults and flaws on the piano-driven opener “Copper Red,” or sending a delectable kiss-off to a potential lover in the Aimee Mann-assisted “Get Down To It,” the end result proves Sierra Swan isn’t afraid to strip down to her core, and let people know what it’s like to be a living, kicking, screaming woman in this world.
Sierra found herself surrounded by music at a very early age. Her father was the prominent guitar sideman Billy Swan, who wrote, performed and toured with Kris Kristofferson and Kinky Friedman, among many others. Her sister Planet is also a singer, and was another source of music in her childhood. “I actually grew up fighting the urge to tackle music, but I was also completely mesmerized by it. I saw first hand what a weird lifestyle it can be and truth be told, I wanted to play basketball or dance, but sometimes you have to follow your fate and this is clearly mine.” The final sign towards her musical journey came at 13 when she and her family went on vacation. “I remember going to Vegas and watching The Jordanaires perform with this Patsy Cline tribute singer. I was so excited and elated. It was the closest thing I was ever going to get to seeing the real Patsy, and after hearing and seeing that show I pretty much knew that it was time to get serious about the world of music.”
From that point on, Sierra did exactly that. The songs started coming to her at age 16, and she almost immediately began performing at the Insomnia coffee house in Van Nuys. At 18, she had already established a weekly residency at Goldfinger’s in Hollywood. “I really started to understand what performing and songwriting was all about. Granted, I was churning out some pretty terrible stuff back then, but in the process I was starting to find myself and my direction. I realized that performing is like a little high and I guess you could say it's the healthiest drug I've ever done," confesses Sierra.
In 1997, Sierra hooked up with Graham Edwards and Dollshead was formed, signed and eventually dropped from MCA. “Being in an actual band was a huge growth experience for me and it made me realize just how badly I wanted my own voice and vision to be heard.” After the dissolution of Dollshead, Sierra developed her sound and her songs, several of which appear on Ladyland in their original form. She also worked with other artists, collaborating with Chad Hugo of the Neptunes and contributing vocals to two hit albums by the rock band Cold.
In 2001, she began writing and recording with a slew of different producers and was signed to Atlantic Records as a solo artist. However, things didn’t go exactly as she had hoped. “I was proud of what we were doing, but the producers didn’t quite get it,” she says. “They bring you in to work on your demo, then you somehow end up working for their demos. They like your voice, but they don’t want you involved.” She sighs. “I mean, fuck off!”
It was in the midst of all of this that one of Sierra’s toughest obstacles occurred. “My mom got sick, really sick, and I couldn’t continue recording. It was an awful time in my life and I chose to take care of her. She eventually passed in February of 2003 and I got dropped,” explains Sierra. “It was one of the lowest periods of my life and it still haunts me.”
It wasn’t long after her mom’s passing that Sierra met renowned songwriter and producer Linda Perry, and the two decided to try writing together. It was through this process that Linda helped Sierra realize her true musical direction. “In a weird way, Linda completely saved my life,” says Sierra. “As a producer, she accepts people as they come into her room. She says, ‘What’s going on in your life? Now play me something.’ She wants to hear it from you first.”
The product of their very first session together was Ladyland’s leadoff track; the abrasive and dynamically melodic, “Copper Red.” “It was the easiest song I’ve ever written with anyone,” says Sierra. It also signified the beginning of the bold new confidence in her songwriting – lyrically expressive and rhythmically aggressive. With Linda at the helm as producer, Sierra channeled her emotional turbulence through the sexy shuffle of “Don’t Say,” the self-defeating balladry of “Trouble Is,” and the assured feminine anger of the title track “Ladyland.” “Sierra is a very unique songwriter,” says Perry. “I love the juxtaposition of her words. It can come off quite strange on paper, but makes perfect poetry in her profound delivery.”
One particular high-water mark for Sierra and Linda is “The Ladder,” a breakout song that Linda Perry had penned years before, but after meeting Sierra knew it had Sierra written all over it. “I wasn’t sure about putting a song on the album that I didn’t write myself,” admits Sierra. “But when Linda played it for me, I was stunned. It has that theatricality, it’s cinematic. That’s why I fell in love with it.”
Another album highlight, “Get Down To It,” features famed songwriter Aimee Mann. “Writing with Aimee felt like it was meant to happen. We have things in common – a love for awkward melody and ideas.” One thing they certainly agreed on was one of Sierra’s most personal and poignant lyrics: “When a boy gets vulnerable/that’s when you cum inside,” which Aimee insisted on singing with Sierra. “I’m a protective gal,” smiles Sierra. “If I’m going to let a guy go there, it’s because he can finally show his vulnerability, something you can truly love. That’s when you really want to share yourself.”
Sierra finishes her last sip of wine and admits, “This album is honest. If something’s ugly, let’s make it ugly. If you wanna be dirty, then let’s get dirty. It’s all about being real, and not being afraid to say what you feel and experience it to its fullest. Good or bad.” It’s these very feelings and experiences, coming from the singular perspective of Sierra Swan, that make Ladyland such a unique and captivating musical journey.