With his newest single “Mirrors,” Charlottesville-based cellist, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wes Swing continues his exploration of both the emotional core of folk-rock and indie-pop and its sonic eccentricities.
While Swing has been known to juggle his classically tinged cello with straightforward acoustic balladry and indie-folk structures, “Mirrors” revels in flowing string arrangements. The entire sonic spectrum of the cello manifests through rapid staccato, full-bodied resonance and swaying legato to tremendous effect.
The seventh track off the upcoming LP And the Heart, “Mirrors” embodies the emotional depth of Swing’s first output in six years. After a traumatic wrist injury halted his musical career and saw him quit music altogether for a time, the album recounts his road to recovery and his gradual realization of the innate catharsis and affirmation found in music. The forlorn lyrics and melancholic modulations of the track create the perfect medium for this empowering sobriety.
And the Heart will release on June 2nd, and can be pre-ordered from Swing’s website.
Culture Collide chatted with Swing about his artistic outlook, his six-year absence from the scene, and what listeners can expect from him in the coming year.
Did your upbringing and hometown influence who you became as a musician?
It definitely did. I grew up in Northern Virginia near D.C., in a pretty rural place. It was the best of both worlds, in a way. I was able to spend my childhood running around the woods, but also have violin lessons from someone from the national symphony and get exposed to culture and education.
Since you started playing music with classical violin, how did you get into rock/folk type stuff?
I got into rock when I was ten or so. My friend gave me a Nirvana tape and I thought, “This is amazing.” My other friends got me into classic rock, and I found punk. I started playing in bands when I was 14 or so, and I taught myself guitar. Listening to classic rock, Nirvana and punk rock, broadened my idea of what my definition of music was, and made it more accessible in a way.
What made you want to apply your classical training to an indie-folk style?
When I was in undergrad, I thought for a while that I was going to go into classical composition. All of a sudden, I got really interested in pop, rock’n’roll, and jazz music again. I really liked the accessibility of songwriting and pop music. I could write music myself without having to find an ensemble. It quickly became something more pop oriented, especially with looping. I still have an interest in classical composition, and I think there are points in my music where I bring that in.
What do you find appealing about the cello over other instruments you play?
The cello has amazing range from bass to soprano. It’s so close to the human voice, and can blend and meld with the human voice in a really interesting way. I also love looping cello because it can take you to a string quartet. One of my favorite sounds ever is the string quartet, and the cello can capture that with looping. There’s just something special about the instrument that I can never fully explain.
What’s your writing process, especially for your current project? Do you have a specific instrument in mind when you write?
It really depends. Songs seem to come from nowhere. I’ll just sit down and there’ll be one waiting, and sometimes not. Sometimes I’ll write it on guitar and think, “You know, this could translate over to cello nicely.” The song “Mirrors” started on guitars, but as soon as I had it down on guitar I knew it was a cello song. It felt like it needed strings and electronics. I think I rely on intuition more than anything else.
The six-year gap between your Through a Fogged Glass and And the Heart involved many things, including a wrist injury that prevented you from playing.
I moved out to San Francisco fresh off a tour, and had this weird mysterious wrist injury. I went to doctor after doctor and got no explanation. I basically quit music. In a way, quitting was really good for me because it enabled me to build new habits, treat depression, get out of debt, and engage different aspects of myself. The music came out of this time of trying new things and finding myself again. I don’t regret the time because I needed to sort myself out.
Did your rediscovery of music happen gradually, or did you have a moment of clarity?
One moment I was walking through Golden Gate Park feeling really terrible and listening to Nina Simone. Listening to her voice over and over in this really beautiful setting, I started to feel my body and the air around me.
The other was writing “Mirrors.” It was a moment of joy for me. The song has a lot of questions and uncertainty. Seeing that I could go to music with these feelings and have the music still there to communicate those feelings was really comforting.
What separates And the Heart from your previous material?
A large piece of the puzzle was giving up control and trusting [my producer] Curreri. My singing voice has changed a lot, which you can hear on the record, and the things I’m willing to say are a little more direct.
You have a live tour coming up, are you excited to show everyone your new material?
The album comes out June 2nd, and that’s the CD release party in Charlottesville, and then we’re hitting the road from there. I really like touring. I’m excited to go to a bunch of places in the states I’ve never been to, and hopefully go to some new place in Europe this fall.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.