Matthew Swann lives in Calgary, but when the debut LP by his latest project, Astral Swans, comes out in the fall, it’s bound to get a lot of attention on the West Coast. That’s because it will be the first full-length release from Madic Records, the new label run by local hero Dan Mangan (with a little help from his friends at Arts & Crafts).
Mangan and Swann go way back; circa 2008, Swann’s band Hot Little Rocket and the “Robots” tunesmith were both on the File Under: Music label. The two acts played a bunch of showcase gigs together, although they were to have very different fates.
“Dan took off, and we disintegrated and broke up,” Swann recalls when the Straight reaches him at home in the Stampede City. The musicians kept in touch over the years, as Mangan became the Juno-winning darling of the Canadian indie scene and Swann carved out an equally distinctive, if smaller, niche with his experimental psych-pop band Extra Happy Ghost!!!.
Mangan remained enough of a fan to make Astral Swans Madic’s first signing, and the first fruits of that are the two songs on the label’s debut 7-inch single, set for release on Tuesday (March 25). The A-side, “You Carry a Sickness”, is a haunting lo-fi hymn showcasing Swann’s unvarnished yet tuneful singing over a deceptively simple-sounding electric-guitar rhythm augmented by minimal percussion and sweetened with a high, whistling organ line. On the flip, “Park Street” is even more spare, which suggests that Swann was looking to simplify his life. Although he gets itchy at the mere mention of the term singer-songwriter, he says that, with Astral Swans, he set out to create material that would allow him to tour solo, which Extra Happy Ghost!!! has not allowed him to do.
“Though I would write independently and often record independently, it would still be arranged for a full band,” he says. “And it got to a point where it was incredibly expensive and just challenging to tour, and to be able to just assemble the right people for shows, even. I think I went through something like 13 different members in about two-and-a-half years, or three years. Something like that. So I was like, okay, well, I’ll do something where I’m writing intentionally for the purpose of performing solo, and not having to do stripped-down versions of songs that are meant to be played by full bands but then sound kind of ridiculous.”
Swann also notes that Astral Swans is more song-focused and less built around what he calls the “anti-aesthetic” of Extra Happy Ghost!!!—a band that he says is still a going concern despite his solo activities.
“I think what I want to do is go heavier and more dissonant with it now that I have this outlet for the song-based, more structure-based stuff,” he says. “But I’ll be primarily focused on this for a while, and I don’t know when I’ll start writing a new Extra Happy Ghost!!! record; I have a few songs down. But, yeah, I definitely still hope to keep that project going.”