SWAY WILD ON THE ROAD AGAIN TO NIRVANA AND BEYOND By Sandra Castillo
The scenery in the world premiere video for Sway Wild’s “Chimney Fire” unfolds like a panoramic picture postcard for those looking to escape the concrete jungle to find respite among tall trees and illuminated blue skies. With its striking backdrop of old growth forest enveloped in silhouette and golden sunlight bursting through the majestic pines that tower over them like giants, band members Mandy Fer, Dave McGraw and Thom Lord regale in the present to witness a spectacular moment that is theirs and theirs alone.
RG Magazine caught up with the talented trilogy currently celebrating the release of Sway Wild, their eponymous debut album which made its premiere this past September. Embracing the alchemy and sonic fusion fostering their music, which ranges from Folk/Rock/Pop/Prog/World/Funk/Jazz and is “heartfelt, dynamic, infused with jazz influences laden with a solid groove,” Sway Wild rightfully claims its position in the echelon of established artists canvassing similar musical terrain. Veterans of the music scene and no strangers to the rigors of travel, the band has covered “roughly 35 states and 13 countries over the years, including the US, Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Spain, England, Scotland, Wales, Switzerland, Portugal and Costa Rica.” That’s a hell of a lot of road mileage to share their music with audiences around the globe that just can’t get enough of them.
Here is what Sway Wild had to say…
Greetings from RG Magazine. Please introduce yourself.
Mandy Fer of Sway Wild here. I play lead electric guitar, sing and write songs.
When and where did the band form?
Sway Wild, officially, was formed in the late summer of 2018. Dave, Thom and I had played music together, previous, to that summer in other projects. Dave and I had been performing as “Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer” for about eight years before Sway Wild was formed. Thom had been living in Flagstaff, AZ (our former hometown) before relocating to the Pacific Northwest in 2017. Dave and Thom met in 2002 while working as wildlife biologists studying California condors in the Grand Canyon and played music together between 2004-2011 in Arizona. We recently united with Thom after seven years of living in different parts of the country.
Who is the main songwriter/melody maker for Sway Wild?
Both Dave and I do the songwriting, but on the last record, it was more of my own writing. Even when it is technically listed as my song, Dave and I work through all of them together, fine-tuning the bits and pieces together until they seem to fit just right. We all work on arrangements as a band.
Let’s get the lowdown on the debut album, Sway Wild, and what it was like to work with one another on it.
Sway Wild was recorded over the course of three, rainy months in Portland, OR at Hallowed Halls with engineer Justin Phelps (Bob Weir, Cake, Galatic, Amanda Palmer and many others). We tracked 14 songs and worked our cans off and had an awesome time throughout the process and grew a lot as a band in the studio together. From the very beginning, Justin approached each minute in the studio with a smile on his face and an overwhelmingly positive work ethic. The studio, Hallowed Halls, is a beautiful, old, historic Carnegie Library; an inviting place to get creative and hunker down for a while. One of our favorite moments of all the tracking was when we had the horn sections come in to record. Members of MarchFourth (Anthony Meade-trombone, Paul Chandler-trumpet, Jon Van Cura-sax) walked in the door, and it was a real dream-come-true to hear them elevate the tracks to the next level, creating a slammin’ bed of horns for the tunes to groove with.
Every band is different in its chemistry and artistic alliance. What do you attribute as the major component of keeping Sway Wild a highly functioning, successful machine?
While on tour: communication, physical activity and healthy food. Laughter is a huge component that allows us to keep on keepin’ on down the road.
On your official website, it mentions that Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer embarked on a “sailing expedition (that) served as a kind of sabbatical from seven years of heavy international touring.” Talk a bit about what it was like to set sail on the seas, so to speak, and regenerate the mind, body and soul from the urban grind of working.
Bassist Thom Lord owns a 1972 36’ Islander sailboat that we took up the Inside Passage into British Columbia for two months. Being out on the water up in the remote anchorages of B.C. was a divine experience for us, from which we gleaned a whole lot of inspiration, once we got home to get creative and play music together. We saw humpback and orca whales, black bears, grizzlies, porpoises and dolphins, and it was such an incredible opportunity to escape from the internet and interstates and to reconnect with ourselves and one another. We built a lot of trust as a trio…and it was good training in small spaces-i.e., sailboats and mini vans.
Where does each band member draw inspiration to do what each of you do when creating beautiful noise for recording and the stage?
Outside of music, I personally draw most of my inspiration from human connection, activism and nature. Whenever we are recording a tune, there is a good amount of visualizing for me about the content of the song while performing it. One of the tunes that we recently recorded-called “As It Was”-is a song in memory of all of those who have lost their lives to gun violence. I specifically remember tracking this song in the studio and knowing with certainty that we had gotten “the take” when there were tears running down my eyes after strumming the last chord. Moments like that, when you can feel your soul coming through the music are precious, and it’s important to be able to access that connection while you’re in the studio.
Mandy, there’s been considerable focus on your talents as a guitarist, namely the fact that you’re able to “extract” so much emotional latitude from your guitar. When you are playing, what exactly happens to you and your mindset?
It depends on whether I am playing on my own in my room at home or on stage. I think while playing guitar, I experience some of the heightened emotions that I experience at any moment. They can range from absolute terror to sheer bliss, depending on the night. I try to play with a fierce delicacy and not overplay and/or play too loud. It is a dance with the electric guitar that I am constantly refining and relearning, especially when we are playing some of the more intimate, smaller rooms.
The islands in the Pacific Northwest have become such an integral part of who we are. The San Juan Islands are far from any stoplights or interstates, and while this means that it takes a bit more effort to get the show on the road, having to sort ferry logistics/flights, etc., the regeneration that we feel after being home surrounded by such outstanding nature and being held by such a supportive small-town community makes it all worth that extra effort. The islands are full of artists, farmers and nature enthusiasts and provide a beautiful and peaceful place for us to hunker down and get creative.
Let’s talk about some of the songs on Sway Wild.
“Comin’ and Goin’” is a song about impermanence, how all things come and go, as do we. I wrote it after my grandmother passed, and the melody and the words came to me at the very same cove where I had previously spread some of her ashes. “Chimney Fire” was inspired by a close call, real-life story of what some friends of mine experienced (friends were ok, house wasn’t). It’s a greater metaphor for making it through a tough time. The album also includes a trilogy (three songs that all weave into one another: “Get Free,” “Here We Are” and Home”) reflecting on social injustice issues, climate change and the current state of our country/world.
What is the mission statement of the band?
Move forward with love and gratitude.
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