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Artist on Trial: Sara Swenson

(Photo by Michael Price)
 
Described as having a “uniquely Midwestern softness and heartfelt authenticity,” Sara Swenson delivers that sentiment with catchy, thoughtful songwriting that hooks audiences in. In the week before she performs at the annual Folk Alliance International conference in Kansas City, we talk with Swenson about her music and what’s next for her.
 
The Deli: Down and dirty: one sentence to describe your music.
 
Swenson: A vocal hybrid of Feist, Sharon Van Etten, and Sarah McLachlan, employing a varied and interesting soundscape that accompanies songs of my stories (which also happen to be some of your stories, too).
 
The Deli: What inspires your music and songwriting?
 
Swenson: My experiences and emotions + the experiences I observe from those around me + whatever is sonically floating my boat at the time + how pieces of those songs can fit with said experiences to create a sound that represents the feelings I want to convey. Make sense?
 
The Deli: What have been your greatest accomplishments as a musician?
 
Swenson: I think just staying in the game. It can be a hard slog sometimes, but it can also be a personally satisfying one. I’m proud that I’m four albums in, and I feel like I’ve just put out my best work yet. But having a song on a big TV show once was pretty great, too. :)
 
The Deli: Tell us about your most recent album, Runway Lights. What can we expect from it? You wrote it while living in the UK. How did that experience inform the album and shape your music overall?
 
Swenson: My experience abroad was the basis of Runway Lights—they’re songs I wrote in transition, in love, thinking back to home, etc. The sounds and production on the record are a real hybrid of things I love… folk/acoustic, atmospheric/electronic, soul/horns. There’s plenty going on, but also plenty of space to let the songs expand as they need to.
 
The Deli: Now that you're back in the KC area after living in the UK for awhile, do you think the music scene here has changed at all? If so, how?
 
Swenson: I think the most noticeable difference is the amount of attention the KC music scene is getting now. It’s amazing to have things like the Folk Alliance conference here. 90.9 The Bridge has made a tremendous impact. There are more and more notable festivals going on. It’s wonderful to see all of the excitement and support for some truly remarkable talent coming from this area.
 
The Deli: Do you typically perform as a solo artist, or do you have others collaborating with you?
 
Swenson: These days I’ve been performing solo, although I’ve performed in about every possible configuration in the past… who knows for the future!
 
The Deli: What does supporting local music mean to you?
 
Swenson: Going to shows. Buying the music and merch. Being on the same team and cheering each other on!
 
The Deli: Who are your favorite local and non-local musicians right now?
 
Swenson: Local: Mark Lowrey. Hembree. Akkilles. Non-local: Ciaran Lavery. Sons of Caliber. Gregory Alan Isakov. Brandi Carlile. Patty Griffin.
 
The Deli: What is your ultimate fantasy concert bill to play on?
 
Swenson: So tough! So many people I’d love to play with. Can I just sing duets with Ryan Adams, Justin Vernon, and Willie Nelson?
 
The Deli: A music-themed Mount Rushmore. What four faces are you putting up there and why?
 
Swenson: Patty Griffin: She’s inspiring, top to bottom … songwriting, performance, stage of life, etc.
Justin Vernon: The man has a rare gift for using syllables and sound for emotional purposes. I don’t entirely understand it, but I really wish I did.
King’s College Choir of Cambridge (can I do that?): Cathedral choirs embody peace and hope and beauty to me.
Michael Jackson: He’s made me want to shake it from a very early age. Again, a gift for a dancey, poppy tune that lasts.
 
The Deli: What goals do you have for 2015?
 
Swenson: I did pick up an accordion at an estate sale, and I’m determined to master it well enough to at least play a few songs on it. Beyond that… like I said earlier, just continuing to write and perform music I’m proud of. We’ll be expecting our first child in the spring, which is obviously a game changer, but I’ll keep at the music as best as I can. Maybe a baby pack on back and a guitar on front?
 
The Deli: Where can we find you on the web?
 
 
The Deli: Always go out on a high note. Any last words of wisdom for the Deli audience?
 
Swenson: Love to you all. Thank you for listening and investing your time into local music. You help keep us going!
 
--Michelle Bacon
 
Michelle Bacon is editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands.
 
 
Sara will be performing at the Folk Alliance International conference next week three different times: Wednesday, February 18 at 8 p.m. in Westin showcase room 640; Friday, February 20 at 11:30 p.m. in Westin private showcase room 644; and Saturday, February 21 at 7 p.m. in Music Fair (Sheraton) Chouteau Room.
 
 

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Video premiere: "Android Dreams" by Monta At Odds

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
 
The Deli KC is proud to premiere the new music video from Monta At Odds, “Android Dreams.”
 

 

“Android Dreams” appears on Monta’s latest album Robots of Munich, a concept album inspired by the storyline of Blade Runner / Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.
 
A robotic synthesizer introduces the song, followed by a steady mechanical backbeat. The video—directed by Barry Anderson—follows this rhythmic pattern, expressed through a series of panned images of a young girl. This, along with the melodic interplay between Delaney Moore’s synths and Mika Tanaya’s vocals, gives the images and video an eerie, apparitional quality.
 
Check out the video and pick up a copy of Robots of Munich online or at a local record store.
 
--Michelle Bacon
 
 
Join Monta At Odds this Saturday for a psychedelic Valentine’s Day show. They will be opening up for The Philistines at The Ship. DJ Thundercutz will be spinning records throughout the evening. Facebook event page.
 
 

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KCPT features editor Michelle Bacon

We want to express our gratitude to KCPT and videographer/producer John McGrath for airing a segment of our editor Michelle Bacon on their weekly show Arts Upload. It prominently features our website, along with Michelle’s bands The Philistines, Dolls on Fire, and Drew Black & Dirty Electric. Tune in to Arts Upload every Thursday night on KCPT! You can watch Michelle’s segment below.
 
 

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Find out more about Kangaroo Knife Fight, our 2014 Readers' Choice artist!

Check out our interview with Kangaroo Knife Fight, The Deli KC Readers’ Choice for 2014 Emerging Artist! See them this Saturday at the MidCoast Takeover fundraiser at recordBar too! Here’s the link.





Album review: She's A Keeper - Westside Royal (EP)

Westside Royal, the new musical offering from She’s A Keeper, is out now on the Internet [the music IRL is at a party on Saturday at Davey’s Uptown, $6, 10:30]. The five new songs wash over with confidence and calm. It’s a professional and creatively successful piece of work that the band has offered up for critical review by The Deli KC.
 
Upfront, let’s be clear: I like this album. I’d like-button this album, probably, but that’s not the point. After over a dozen streams or so I hear plenty of good stuff, great stuff, and yet—and always—there are compositional choices inevitably worth questioning. Today this will be me, tomorrow it will be someone else, ultimately it is you. There is something really nice about being critical of material that strives for and achieves a certain level of quality. We get to dig a little deeper and talk about the little things, the details. So thanks for the new stuff, guys, and allowing us to pick apart this awesome EP a little. Let’s get into it…
 
Album opener is “Wannabe.” Great opener. A strong sense of longing in the mood and lyrical content creates magnetism. The music is lively and progressive with great drum work and a really nice piano feature midway. The whole track blossoms and just feels good. The only part that sticks out to me as a missed opportunity is the lack of sonic interest after the piano section. It’s a transitional period in which the band hits a wall (a sequence all in unison) that serves to de-escalate the intensity of the building momentum. What it lacks is some sort of textural context, some color to complement such a straightforward approach. It’s a standard technique and is cultivated by the dynamics of a live show. For a recording it might be more effective to provide a sound to either carry the listener’s attention as an auditory focal point, or as an embellishment to the simple, homophonic texture of the band.
 
And, of course, once I criticize the band’s use of color I have immediate cause for praise. The second track, “Staying Up” is my favorite kind of song: refreshing, reflective, organic. From the immaculate roll of the opening chord, the music unfolds with elegant gravity. Imagine leaves falling. Jangly guitars fit snugly in a vibrant mix and are accompanied by tasteful and highly complimentary banjo picking. This is one of the most unique moments on the album; Keeper finds a place to reside comfortably and welcomes the listener to a sound of its own. The vocal work at the end is really cool and extremely well done. Because I like this track so much, I wish there was more to bite off lyrically, but I think this is a minor smudge in light of the track’s overall magnificence.
 
The first tidbit of attitude we get comes immediately with the onset of “I Won’t,” a cool, breezy, kinetic track lushed out quite beautifully. The egg shaker, for instance, is a breath of fresh air. The drums are built logically and done with precision. The dirty guitar would contribute more with a more vibrant tone, maybe more chord definition. But, the clean guitar work is spot-on. I love the tone and the slinky riff that carries the groove and harmony. I am looking forward to experiencing this song live. It seems honed by interaction.
 
On “Dead Serious” we get the most intriguing literary premise and the lyrics have more color, a wider vocabulary, and more devices. This sort of lyrical craft is a great complement to Keeper’s instantly amicable sonic stylings. We also get a cool, augmented, kinda hypnotic chord structure bringing in some welcomed harmonic struggle in the midst of the album’s overall consonance. The outro feels fresh and playful with that augmented bit making a delicate return.
 
“Pennsylvania” closes the EP nicely. It’s a sentimental ballad about a far off place, a far off time. My initial thought is a harsh one: Do we need more of these? The track goes down easy... maybe too easy, but again, Keeper does it well. The band stays concise and resists the urge to include a four-minute chant section that helps keep the song lean and honest. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous melody and the style is executed with great skill, I just can’t help but wonder if the band could have been a bit more adventurous in its closing statement. I am being quite critical of a track that is, for all intents and purposes, flawless. This is food for thought. Here is a band that has a great following, great instincts and musicianship: Do we have the faith to follow them into unknown territory?
 
Finally, here’s my dilemma with the piece and the EP in general: while the band packs a little too much sugar in their recipe sometimes, the music ultimatelyleaves a good taste in my mouth. It also leaves me with an undeniable sense of peace and closure. Which, damn it all if that’s not the point.
 
Overall, it’s obvious that She’s A Keeper is a group of talented musicians who know how to make a solid recording. Due credit must also be given to engineer/producer Joel Nanos at Element Recording, where the project came to life… which is just down the street from what I can only assume is our mutually local liquor store of which the title may have been adopted (my hunch).
 
 
Check out She’s A Keeper online and join us on Saturday, January 31, to see them LIVE at Davey’s Uptown with Organized Crimes. Facebook event page.
 
--Jerad Tomasino
 
Jerad is a musician and human being local to KCMO since 2005. He studied Music Composition at the Conservatory at UMKC, is a founding member of Golden Sound Records, The Crossroads Summer Block Party, and has been active as a writer/player/producer for bands, including his own Everyday/Everynight (KCMO) and Nifty250 (Omaha).
 
 

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