Terrified Swan builds a creative community

Laura Reznek and Carolyn Deady created the Vancouver indie label to help deconstruct stereotypes about female performers

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      Beginning with international marches that advocated for women’s reproduc­tive rights and closing the gender pay gap, 2017 was a historic year for female empowerment. Supported by evidence from a female photographer, Taylor Swift won a symbolic victory against her sexual abuser. The Gal Gadot–led, Patty Jenkins–directed Wonder Woman demolished box office records to become the highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time. The #MeToo movement offered a platform for women to expose those who had sexually harassed or assaulted them, and to support the victims. In the entertainment industry and beyond, a drive has begun toward celebrating female collaboration.

      But while Hollywood stars or Rolling Stone cover artists may dominate the press, grassroots movements focused on women helping women have been growing all over North America. Take, for instance, new Vancouver imprint Terrified Swan.

      “The idea for the label came when Carolyn [Deady] and I, who’s also a local musician, wanted to create a cooperative group,” says Laura Reznek, singer-songwriter and cofounder of the label, on the line from London, England. “We never sought out management on our own because we wanted to keep the integrity of our own music, but there’s a loneliness in that. We thought that if we made a label where all the people involved had a part in everyone else’s project in some way, we would be able to build a creative community for women and nonbinary artists.”

      In Reznek’s view, female and female-identifying musicians are often overlooked in the industry. Regularly dismissed as just a “girl with a guitar” when revealing her profession, Reznek set up the label to help deconstruct stereotypes about women performers. To do that, she and Deady formed Terrified Swan with two aims in mind: to release new music, and to form an events company.

      “Both elements are necessary for establishing a person as an artist,” she says. “It also plays into the importance of collaboration. The shows we put on don’t just involve musicians—they have individuals who are also actors, dancers, filmmakers, or visual artists. They all have other talents, so we have the chance to cross-pollinate. We’re having an event soon, for example, where we’ll show a silent film, and ask instrumentalists to score it by collaborating together in the moment. I think it’s much more interesting to watch something unexpected like that.”

      Launched in the fall of 2017, Terrified Swan is in a stage of what Reznek dubs “slow burn”. After the release of its debut EP last November, Reznek’s Now Who Owns the Night, the label is gearing up to drop Deady’s new project in the coming months, and the pair are organizing a compilation album for International Women’s Day with songs from Canadian, Swedish, English, and Australian artists—the proceeds of which will be donated to a charity that provides sanitary products for homeless women.

      Forming Terrified Swan was a logical next step for Reznek, who never questioned her goal of making it as a musician. Taking up the violin when she was three years old, before mastering the piano and developing a mature, jazz-inspired singing voice, the artist battled depression as she was growing up. Music was, she says, the outlet that got her through her lowest moments, and she still credits songwriting as the way she best communicates with people.

      Now Who Owns the Night exemplifies her mastery of conveying complex emotions. Much more minimal than the arrangements on her debut album, Who Came Before Us, Reznek’s warm piano, violin swells, and powerful, velvety vocals conjure contrasts of light and darkness. While much of the album was composed and played solely by the artist—a technique seemingly at odds with Terrified Swan’s model—Reznek fulfilled the label’s mandate of collaboration with a 19-date tour around Western Europe, funded by Music BC.

      “I went on the road with two other artists from Vancouver, Alexandria Maillot and Sam Lynch,” she recalls, “to promote the album and to connect with women from the cities that we were visiting. We wanted to partner with performers who were doing really cool things. For one of the shows in Berlin, for example, we did it with a group of mimes, so in between our sets there was this amazing performance art. In Copenhagen, we connected with a company called Lo-Fi Concerts—similar to Sofar Sounds—which puts on shows in very intimate venues, and is run by two women.

      “The goal of the label is to be as inclusive as possible,” Reznek continues. “We want everyone involved to help each other out—so when we go to another place, everyone else is going with them in some way. It’s more than a platform to release music. We’re making a creative community.”

      Laura Reznek’s Now Who Owns the Night is out now.

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays