Transcript Episode 633: Veronica Swift

By her early 20s, Veronica Swift was a jazz veteran. The daughter of musicians (pianist Hod O'Brien and singer Stephanie Nakasian), she recorded her debut at age nine. Swift’s career has taken its share of turns, including a rock opera in which she played a killer nun, composed while studying music at the University of Miami. Last year’s self-titled LP presents yet another side of the musician, as she marries her love of rock with her jazz bonafides.

Veronica Swift  0:01  
I live in LA and I've got my, I've got a studio space. And like, of course my my place is my place is all it's all equipped to be to record. But of course, the album was recorded in a professional like a professional studio. But I did actually I did did the background vocals on this on this setup. So the background vocals are done at home,

Brian Heater  0:25  
it was at a pandemic edition. No,

Veronica Swift  0:27  
no, no, no, it was all actually after I moved out here after the pandemic. So it just made sense. You know, everybody was moving out here. And my life started to become focused out here, my record label, my management, my, my partner, my band, rock and roll just being out here and everything because it's Nashville and La are pretty good, like rock and roll city. So that's a

Brian Heater  0:50  
very deliberate move that came with this shift in Yes, musical focus, I would say always

Veronica Swift  0:58  
wanted to come out here. And I was just waiting for the right time to make this shift. And the preparation for it was happening during COVID. So that's what I was doing for those two years.

Brian Heater  1:10  
Where are you based previously?

Veronica Swift  1:12  
So my career was always based out of New York, but I lived in Virginia, because as a kid, I mean, I grew up in Virginia in Charlottesville. But as a kid, I was going up and down the coast with my parents, weekend, Warrior gigs, kind of with them. And so New York was always like the musical base. But I only lived there for a year. I never really was in New York like everybody else was.

Brian Heater  1:37  
I'm in New York, myself. I live in Queens. Compared to New York, Virginia seems like a pretty good place to ride out a pandemic.

Veronica Swift  1:45  
Yeah, I mean, it's I was where I'm from. I'm from Appalachia, and I needed those mountains. And, you know, it was quite a, it was a good place to be. Yeah, you're right. I was in New York, too. Every now and then. One of

Brian Heater  1:59  
the big issues with New York, obviously, just space generally, but also a lack of access to nature. We've got some nice parks and

Veronica Swift  2:08  
take a train and drive an hour and a half. And you got like, beautiful nature up there. But But yeah, I know what you mean. It's not within walking. But you know, the parks

Brian Heater  2:17  
are gorgeous. Yeah, but at least got a little bit of both. It seems. LA's got

Veronica Swift  2:22  
Yeah, it's got a I mean, desert and you can ski and then go surfing in the same day. And then wintertime out here.

Brian Heater  2:29  
So you were touring with your parents pretty early on?

Veronica Swift  2:34  
Yeah, well, I mean, touring like not like I'm touring. Now, of course, my parents were You were along for the ride. Yeah, like they, they my mom teaches still teaches at UVA. She was double duty, and William and Mary as well, teaching voice, teaching private lessons during the week, and on weekends, they would go off and do gigs. So if it made sense to bring me with them. If I didn't get taken out of school too early, you know, they'd bring me after school on Friday, we'd drive to Annapolis or Baltimore or something and stay with family and then drive up to New York for the Saturday and then do a afternoon gig on Sunday, maybe somewhere and then drive home that night. Like that's kind of what was my, what my life was, you know, and it prepared me for the life I have now, because I was sleeping in the back of the car with my head resting on like an amp or something, using a blanket to cover my body. So I wasn't cold. Very similar. It prepared me for how to sleep on airplanes now by nature

Brian Heater  3:30  
of what they did. They were Yeah, encouraging of your career early on. Yeah,

Veronica Swift  3:35  
they never pushed me into anything. And nor did they discourage me. You know, they were just if she wants to do it shouldn't get up on stage and sing with us. And, of course, there, my mom found this youth jazz band that was, you know, touring every summer and they did a little record of kids, you know, like, elementary, middle school, high school age. And I started playing trumpet and singing with this band called The young rascals jazz project. And so that was a band that, like, I was not just with my parents, but I was with kids my own age two, that were really like actually one of those kids does in this famous band called butcher, brown quarry, Farmville, the drummer, he and I were in that band together. We're kids. The trumpet is your first instrument. Well, I guess, trumpet and piano kind of simultaneous piano for getting into like all the great composers and Bach and Mozart and knowing how orchestration works, seeing it and knowing how it works on the piano. Scott Joplin I love playing rags, but trumpet in terms of playing in an ensemble singing in choirs too, which is what I urge young singers like the start, if you have kids or something you start the kids in choirs, not vocal lessons because you have to learn how to blend and and you know, making your voice malleable is so much of what the skill set I needed. You know, now, they prepared me for it back then when I was a kid singing in choirs.

Brian Heater  4:58  
piano is I would say probably The best foundation as far as certainly learning to read, you know, learning learning to play music as well.

Veronica Swift  5:06  
Do you play trumpet?

Brian Heater  5:07  
I don't, I don't. This is speaking as somebody who has absolutely zero musical aptitude at all.

Veronica Swift  5:14  
But standing, you got the understanding of it. Sure.

Brian Heater  5:18  
I mean, I've talked to a lot of musicians, it's a big part of my job. So it mostly comes to that I'm reading a book about reading the Philip Glass book that came out a couple of years. giving me some really interesting insight. You know, one of the things he talks about is how important jazz was to him early on, you hear it coming up like 50s and 60s, and was probably one of the first people to really blend those two genres.

Veronica Swift  5:44  
Yeah, for sure. And that's what I love about I always bring up Gershwin in my shows. Because having written like one of the, arguably one of the first like jazz Symphony pieces, right, like Rhapsody in Blue. You know, he was coming up in the schooling of the studying like with kind of hanging out with Rachmaninoff and hard Jim Horvitz, all those all those guys were all learning and bouncing ideas off each other, and what a time you know. But I always bring up like, Imagine all the people that when he came out with Rhapsody in Blue, all the people that the haters out there saying, well, this isn't authentic class, or Leonard Bernstein to you know, we, these are all transgender heroes of mine. And if they did listen to the advice of just stick to the program, and just, why would you mess with something that's already perfect, you know, and trying to make something new out of it? There would be no Gershwin and Bernstein, you know, it's

Brian Heater  6:38  
wild, you know, to go back. And I think we'd like take the, I think we take them for granted. Now, like, and at a certain point, for a lot of people, it's all just kind of gets lumped in with classical music.

Veronica Swift  6:51  
I know, like the distinction between Baroque, Classical, romantic, impressionist isn't really talked about too much, or just call it all classical music, it's like jazz to you call it if what jazz is to the average person on the street, they would say something and then another person will say something completely different. I mean, Rock has become that now too, because it's got a long enough history that there's been enough like sub genres, and different directions that you really can't to just say rock, it doesn't mean one thing anymore. And that's why I urge like young artists to find, like some kind of, I mean, obviously, for marketing and branding purposes, especially if you're going to be on like, the Spotify and following all that stuff. You got to align yourself with something in the beginning, but for your own artistry to develop a word that is uniquely yours, like the Dresden Dolls came up, theirs was punk cabaret. For me, I came I use Trend genre, because that word just resonates with me. So I think to find, what is it that uniquely your thing that then then it creates a whole other, you know, mythos rounded, people can follow. You're pretty

Brian Heater  7:56  
conscious, though, then of the marketing side of things. Would you say? Yeah, of course,

Veronica Swift  7:59  
no, I don't, I don't turn a blind eye to that stuff at all. And if anybody like talks to my record label, they would know that I work very adamantly with the marketing team to say, how do we make this make sense? And how to find cohesion, with look versus sound?

Brian Heater  8:14  
Treasure Hunter is interesting, too. Obviously, there's, there's LGBT connotations. When using the word trans, was that something that you were conscious of when you adopt? Oh, 100% 100%

Veronica Swift  8:24  
Actually, I was my cousin, who was who was transitioning, we were we were bouncing ideas off each other talking about this. And I wanted to be aware of like, you know, that I have an older fans to, like, from my old demographic, you know, that may look at it like, well, you know, get the likes, you know, some of my older fans of presenters, they go, Well, let's use the word eclectic, you know, and I'm, like, use whatever words you want. I'm not here to, you know, I don't like to tell people what to think or how to think. But I like to give them the tools necessary to form their own opinions, right? But not to tell them the answer. So then I have the fit. And I want it to be also respectful of the LGBTQ fans, I do have saying that I'm not using this word to align myself with I'm not like, using it to make for my own benefit. What I'm doing with this word is, I mean, for me, it's about a musical coming out story and finding where on the genre spectrum, you lie, but that also does translate that translate to a social connotation as well. It's all one big metaphor. And I hope that my example on it from a musical standpoint, can compete translated and communicate to people who are maybe trying to find where they fit on the spectrum of whatever whatever identity sexual or political or musical

Brian Heater  9:46  
that is. You said probably this applies more to the older fans, but for people who have had difficulty contextualizing that this at very least is something that a lot of that people can Have instantly relate to is attempting to find a group of people find their musicians. Yeah,

Veronica Swift  10:06  
absolutely. And the point is, is that we're not, we're providing a place where it's not genre specific. It's not genre based. There are obviously like, if you've heard the record is different. Like, the songs all have like, like the first song is very, bebop, there's definitely like, Each song has its alignment of you know, it's it's not like a fusion album, per se, you know, where it's all one big mashup, it's really, each song is purely in its lane. But every song is a different, different lane. And it's the same hat, but we're in different ways, you know what I mean? And so that's why I mix, like, I'll take like an older style of music, but to a newer song, you know, that's not something that's new. And I'm not saying I'm doing something new and fresh here. But the point is, is the point you just made is that this is a place for everybody of any kind of any kind of audience to come and find something they like, are you

Brian Heater  10:59  
intentionally in certain cases trying to pick a song in a genre that would seem to be a contrast from the beginning?

Veronica Swift  11:07  
That's it? Yeah. Well, in every, you know, some of the songs are a little closer than like for Dominum a parade for example. That's like super contrast versus like a che guy that just out dodgy, which is a little closer, especially not just closer in style and sound, but it also time the eras but I like to it all comes from the story, the narrative of what the song is, to me what how I've interpreted the song and for take Doron and my prayed for example. That is such a contrast. But to me that felt that was one of the most natural arrangements to write because of how the Lyric is so. I mean, like this, take the lyric by it's like, isolated. Don't tell me not to live, just sit in putter, life's candy, the sun's a ball of butter don't bring around a cloud to rain on my parade. That's such a declamatory statement and even like the orchestration you take it done, Jen, Jen, Jen, Jen, Jen. That's the original Barbra Streisand orchestration style, and it sounds like a drive and kind of check, check, check. And there's your guitar strumming, kind of like translate to that. So each thread pulls through until all of a sudden you have a punk arrangement that writes itself. In

Brian Heater  12:25  
the process of reimagining or recontextualizing the songs do you start by performing them in a more traditional way?

Veronica Swift  12:34  
Well, I some of these I have I have performed like I've definitely sung around my prey. But for me, I try to be very careful on especially on my own shows, like, obviously at home, I'm singing it all the time due to the original, in the original style to get into that character to understand every nuance what the composer intended. But on a live show, I'm very careful not to. Of course, back in the day, when I was singing with just trio doing jazz standards, that's one thing that's one facet of my personality. I'm talking purely since 2021. When I started doing the trans genre thing. I was very careful not to perform these songs in their original way. For the purpose of I wanted to test it on my audience to see if they recognized any you know if they recognize any elements from the original and or to see if they just if it's so uniquely its own arrangement, like like Marilyn Manson doing Sweet dreams. It sounds like if you did never, like if you'd heard the Eurythmics version on the radio, but then you went to go see Marilyn Manson, you're not even thinking of your ethnics. It's just like a new song. So this was like, a bit of like, a, like a I was like laboratory, like a scientist in the laboratory. You know, I always tried the songs out before I record them, try them out live and workshop them. What works, what doesn't work? What what are the audience responding to, you know, yeah,

Brian Heater  13:56  
you use the phrase get into the character of the song, which is an interesting way of putting it is there a sense in which performing some of this music is like acting? Yeah, and

Veronica Swift  14:07  
what is acting you're just pulling from your own personal experiences to bring into some some someone else's space or life and I mean, music can be like, it's like a little bit of that. And also it I mean, it's still you know, I'm up there as myself. I'm not up there as Fanny Brice singing that song in that particular moment. I've chosen and curated a show that all is very personal to my story in my journey, but can be you know, it's it's abstract enough that it can be taken. Everybody who's listening in the audience can apply it to their own lives, too. So I think that's the line that's very, it's a very tricky line to tread like how much in character Am I have the original character am I going to bring into this? But really, it's if you're pulling from your own experience, then it doesn't feel like acting at all. And that's the secret of acting, isn't it?

Brian Heater  14:57  
Do you have to have a personal Connection with a song and order to effectively perform it.

Veronica Swift  15:02  
This is not something I don't say the answer this for any other artist, I can only answer for me personally and for me, yes, I have to kind of whether it's something abstract, like if it's an instrumental, obviously, there's no lyrics to pull from. But to find to be able to superimpose something that I felt or, you know, sometimes the songs can provide answers if you like, if you venture into that space of putting your own something you've experienced into an instrumental piece, whereas the lyric piece, obviously, I do like to pick songs that I have personally experienced myself, you

Brian Heater  15:37  
know, in earlier albums, I don't know if this applies for this one, as well, but gotten the sense that there is a marked effort to choose a set of songs that continue to apply to the current moment, I

Veronica Swift  15:50  
think that's what a record is, it's a record of where you are or where things are, at that moment in time. Whether it's your, your musical, your, your musicianship, your musical education for, you know, artists that are coming through school, they make records, right. But that's kind of where they are in their life, as a musician, as a music student, or as a person, or where things are with the current state of the world like that my this better Earth album was a record that I wanted to make for that purpose of documenting where we were as, as a as humanity, where we were standing, but not to answer give my point, but that was a very carefully curated album, it was not to put my own personal ideologies into the album, but to leave more of like a question, and a social commentary,

Brian Heater  16:39  
specifically, how does this new group of songs on this album apply to either you or the current moment, like I

Veronica Swift  16:45  
mentioned, in a global sense, it's hopefully to translate to people that they don't have to pick, like, you know, to be this or that they can find where they are on the spectrum of that. But for me, personally, it is. That's why I like the word transgender, it's a transition between where I was before and exposing, you know, showing myself to the world of like the full, the full Veronica, that's what any artist can hope for at some point in their lives is to be their fullest self and be completely open and honest with their audience. And to give us also the give my audience a chance to see where it is we're headed, give it a little, instead of doing a 182. Now I'm going to do original rock music, you know, dry this project, give it something that makes sense, a jumping off point for people to bring the audience along from where we were, say, here's some jazz sprinkled in here and some theater and Broadway tunes. But then also, here's some like, industrial metal and rock and funk and soul and James Brown, and this kind of where we're headed. So if you're, are you with us? Cool, is where we're going. Come with me. That's what, that's what this album was for.

Brian Heater  17:53  
Do you feel that there was a part of you that you were hiding? Before? 100%

Veronica Swift  17:56  
big part. I mean, when since I was a kid, I was, before I ever had a jazz career. I mean, my jazz career started at nine. But all throughout those years. I know it sounds funny. I was performing like for, you know, jazz, Lincoln Center, and 11, and all that stuff. But all throughout those years, I mean, jazz was such a just a facet of who I was, I was I wanted to bring orchestral, symphonic romantic and classical music and into an impressionist music into and then when I heard queen, they, you know, brought elements of classical music into their sound, and that that pulled me down the Rock and Roll rabbit hole, you know, in deep purple and, and Led Zeppelin and that whole world and just getting pulled into that that was like, Oh, my gosh, this isn't a feat. It's theatrics. But it's, it's got a raw, visceral thing about it that I don't get to experience when I sing jazz, just for me personally, that was more familial, quite literally. And so I wanted to create a world where I could experience all this in one place queen

Brian Heater  19:02  
is probably the best gateway drug you can get from Yatra county to rock music, right? Yeah, man, why did you feel like you had to hide that part of yourself for so long? Because as

Veronica Swift  19:14  
a kid, I also you ever watch that show the crown from from a young age, I knew I was born into this. Not system, but there was a an industry element that that followed with me as a young kid, seeing how certain sides and elements of the business worked. And feeling like, you know, a lot of people around me, there was a an unrest, you know, they weren't meaning for it to be a pressure but there was a unspoken pressure. You are the torch bearer of Great American Songbook, you are the answer. You know, just there was all this pressure to uphold the duty to uphold this music and this great tradition that I definitely felt proud of, you know, and I would feel that with when I was playing with people like Emmett Cole When Benny green and Winton My God, I feel this. That is one part of the, that's like one half right. And then there's the other side, which is the individual and the, the self expression and the and the weird combination of everything that that didn't really seem to have a place in that world. So I, for the longest time picked duty, over my, my own personal self expression. And that comes with just like any, if I did pick the other way that would have come with its complications as well. So I just tried to there does

Brian Heater  20:33  
seem to be this almost like conflict in jazz between the more reverential side like Whitman Marsalis being probably like one of the prime examples of somebody who feels it's his duty in a certain sense to really hold up the these great artists that came before him. But but, you know, underlying, Jazz's evolution generally has been this notion of change, and has been this notion of like, of not staying, not staying in the same place. Were you able to experience the latter in that as well? Or was your focus always on sort of the more traditional side of the jazz world?

Veronica Swift  21:16  
Well, do you have to put yourself in my shoes in the sense of the context of what I was singing, when I started singing this music, it was to be close to my family. And my family are traditional, straight ahead, bebop, and my dad is authentic as it gets, he was there. It's not like he studied in school and then became a no, he was in New York in the loft scene in the late 50s. Recording, playing with art farmer Oscar Pettiford, played in Chet Baker's band, I mean, he was one of the cats. And my mom was in the group with John Hendrix, you know, after Olympics and Ross disbanded. So that is as close in there in my era, that's as close as it gets, really. And so I felt, for me, it was just a way to get closer to my folks. And to do something that as a family that we could, we could do together. And when my father passed away, is when my jazz career started to really take off. And so for me, I was really feeling the conflict of I want to feel closer to my dad. And I want to like, in a way, there was also a little bit of a, maybe it was self imposed, or to feel the pressure to bring their legacy out. It's not wasn't really for me, per se. It's not like, I want to be a famous jazz singer that never came into the equation. But it just sort of happened by you know, and then I'm like, Oh, God, well, how am I going to bring myself back to who I am and find my own voice in this? And that's what COVID allowed? In what sense? Well, there were no gigs, there was no time spent going on the road. And there were no records to put out, no one's putting out records at that time, really, too out of respect. So it really like forced me to finally get to writing my own songs and discovering what that feels like to tell your own story with your own words and your own voice. And yeah, it was just it wasn't a creative explosion, writing all this music, developing how Okay, and then and then the business side of things, how am I going to translate this, to the fans that I have, and the the Booker's and promoters I have? How are we going to transition this show, bring this show to where I want it to go. And so that I kind of broke down six month elements, like in the six months of periods of this kind of band, and then this kind of band, and then we'll introduce these elements here. And these songs will wait for Darren on my parade, but we'll put that, you know, I was being very strategic about it. And that's what that time off allowed me to do.

Brian Heater  23:41  
Is this album, is there a sense in which it is transitional? Or is this really that final destination?

Veronica Swift  23:47  
I don't, I

don't think there is such thing as a final destination. I think everything's leading to something else. You know, it's definitely like where I was in that moment. But of course, a record comes out after you've recorded it, right. So it's like usually with most artists, especially artists who are like fast pace, like me, or like, like David Bowie, for example, you know, they come out with the record, and then it's like they're already like, on the next thing nowadays beyond exactly,

Brian Heater  24:17  
let me rephrase it no Sure. When you were thinking about that place that you wanted to go and that you were taking this this sort of step by step transitional journey to get there. Is this the place is this is this record that play

Veronica Swift  24:31  
yeah, this was what this so this was the place during the time of COVID you know, two years and then that that year and a half of touring these songs trying them out. This album was that destination place. So then finally when it comes out, it's like, great. Now what we got what what's next? Where are we going to go with this now are we taking this now could go anywhere could go here could go there. And it seems to be that the audience now that they're getting used to this This album and getting used to the new fingers. And well, they're kind of, we've tried a few of the originals out. There's a couple, of course a couple of originals on this album. And I think people are now ready to hear. What is the composer? What's the lyricist, like was Veronica the songwriter like?

Brian Heater  25:13  
So the next record? I mean, you know, insofar as you're actually thinking about the next record, I know it's crazy. It's crazy. promoting this one, but that's how album cycles work. Yeah, you're working toward an album of originals? Yeah,

Veronica Swift  25:27  
man. Yeah. It's just like, what this what what this self titled album was about it was to just introduce people to not just a new side, but many new sides of who I am. And hopefully, you know, that they follow me to the end, and whatever that is, you know, the end of the end the end. But I look at it like a tree. You know, I look at it like a tree because that's something that's growing always it's there's no, you know, it appears Stable and strong, right. But it is constantly growing. So the roots are, have been established. That's this bitter Earth and confessions and honestly, any other of the records and live performances that people can see. Those are the roots, jazz, bebop straight ahead. And theater. And the trunk of the tree now is this album that we're working on promoting this is the, the, all the nutrients needed to do anything, musically, or artistically are in this trunk here that that's where all the mix of everything is right. And then from there, the branches, whether it's a branch, that's original rock project, or a branch, that's a 20s musical that I want to write, or, you know, the branches all or the specific artistic projects. But this had to be established first, in order to so it isn't confusing, you know, right now, it may be confusing, but if in the future, it will make sense. So rock

Brian Heater  26:50  
as a writer rock isn't necessarily your default then. For

Veronica Swift  26:54  
now it is. It has been for a long time, but I also write in 20s. What is rock? And nowadays, what is jazz? What is classical? It's these umbrella terms, right? Queen is rock, but there's so many other things, right? There's Tin Pan Alley, kind of, and there's old English songs of you know, so for me, it's a it's just I want to find my style that is my style. For sure I would, right now it's kind of taking shape in the rock realm, because that seems to be the natural place to go. But jazz is informing the songwriting, the old like kind of 1920s 1910s pop songs, Classical and Romantic music and opera. That's all informing.

Brian Heater  27:38  
You mentioned this bitter Earth before. And I'm thinking about that song specifically, because that's a really good example of a piece of music that was completely recontextualize. Yeah. I don't know if it was for Shutter Island, but it was on the Shutter Island soundtrack.

Veronica Swift  27:53  
It was inspired by that I did a different rehome. But yeah, that's that was inspired by that track. I said, wow, like look at just what you can do by just putting something in the relative minor. Just simple for people

Brian Heater  28:05  
who don't know that example. Specifically. It's like, effectively, it's Dinah Washington song from the 60s that's placed over like an ambient electronic track. And in a sense, like, has different emotional residents when you juxtapose those two things?

Veronica Swift  28:21  
Yeah. Hence the word. I love the word juxtapose as you can probably imagine. So yeah, of course I wanted to, that's that lyric, especially that song came to me during the time when I was doing the monk competition and member the Paris shootings. And so I think it's interesting how certain songs kind of just pop into our lives, whether we are searching for them or not, you know, just like people, and just where I was, and where the world was at that time. That's how that song made sense to me. Just like with Don't Rain on My Parade, where I am right now. That's how the song makes sense, could change. But that's the beauty about music and artists always evolving. But at that moment in time, that that was a beacon for that album, that song and the way that he had recontextualized it. And 5g I think did an excellent job of making something unique and fresh out of that not just copying, you know, he didn't copy the harmonies or anything.

Brian Heater  29:20  
There are good mashups, and there are bad mashups. And when there was that mash up trend of like, was maybe like 15 years ago or so there. There was a lot of examples of people just putting two pieces of music together. And it doesn't always work. You know, you experiment you, you know, you try a few things. And sometimes you'll hit on this this perfect combination,

Veronica Swift  29:42  
but that's the key. Yeah, you have to experiment. You can't just make something perfect right out the gate. Sometimes maybe but that's very rare. We always have to experiment and take that leap and build.

Brian Heater  29:54  
I have to imagine that that's the case with some of the songs on this album are there Are there any examples of one that ones that you thought would go in a radically different direction than where they ended up?

Veronica Swift  30:06  
I am Yeah, I'm pretty clear. With my with my own visions usually I, how I envision it is how it always ends up. There's very only been a couple songs that just for, just for like you said experimental live, I mean, not on the record the record, I would never put anything on the record I didn't think worked. But live of course, there's room for that kind of, you know, that was, maybe I was too corny, or maybe that was too obscure, like I tried to do this version of you don't know, you don't know what love is you in the night in the music. Where and that's this part of this is also with like having the right members to back when I was playing with more jazz musician members, I would try you in the night in the music and I was what I was going for was really like a heavy, like, almost like just just like dirty rock kind of just big chords and sound and synth noises kind of in a harmonic minor Phrygian sound for you in the in the music and just jazz musicians can't really it's the ones that I was playing with. They don't think that way musically, so it didn't come across. So yeah, it could be the element is just the musicians or the you know, the your own. Vision doesn't pan out the way you think it will. But there's so many elements, right that you have that you can change, and then just little things or big things that can completely make it work all of a sudden.

Brian Heater  31:39  
So you have to choose the group of musicians based on the kind of music that you want to perform.

Veronica Swift  31:45  
Yeah, and that's very tricky, because you want to find guys that are girls, whatever people that can, that are authentic in, you know, the genres that we're playing. For me, it was like, finding the right drummer was a key. Because a lot of times the Jazz drum especially like some of the young jazz drummers, they can just play rock, you know, they there's just energy that isn't there. Playing something so simple, but with so much force, you know, the force that is required that I never got them. Of course, with rock drummers, they can't swing a lot of the time, right. They don't have the sophistication of the language. And then I met Brian Viglione, the Dresden Dolls who was like, literally, like there is no he was like the perfect drummer and producer for this project because he understands music in the same way that I do. It's more than just playing authentically in the genres. It's embodying them. Understanding the context,

Brian Heater  32:40  
especially difficult in this case, because you need people that can play several different genres. Mm

Veronica Swift  32:45  
hmm. Yep. And classical is elements for the pianists. That's very hard. That's a very tall order. And I was very proud of Adam Klippel, his his skill set what allowed him to embody all of those, you know, he plays the Chopin. He plays church, Oregon gospel org, and he's also playing bebop, and, you know, that's very hard to find.

Brian Heater  33:07  
If you play piano on the record, as well. Oh, no, I'm,

Veronica Swift  33:10  
I would only want to play on my own originals. I could not see myself playing on these songs. But I will do that live eventually.

Brian Heater  33:20  
Why can't you see yourself playing those songs? Um, because

Veronica Swift  33:22  
I'm just I'm just saying here first and foremost, I'm not. I'm not a bebop pianist. I mean, I just, I'm not a classical pianist. You know, I play classical piano that doesn't make me a classical pianist. You know, there are a lot of people that call themselves you know, I like I'm a, I'm a jazz vocalist, but to sing jazz music, and to be a jazz vocalist are just two very different things, right? We see that all the time with pop singers who want to sing jazz, right? And doesn't always it doesn't embody the spirit of the music as much as we would think it would. But so yeah, because I don't. I'm not a pianist. I play piano, but I'm not a pianist.

Brian Heater  34:03  
Authenticity is an interesting word. And it's obviously something that matters to a lot of people a lot of different genres. Jazz, Jazz, is certainly one of them is there when you are moving into unfamiliar territory as far as actually performing to something like imposter syndrome creep its way in of just feeling like

Veronica Swift  34:24  
because it's, it's who I am. It's always been who I am. I just, I never got to show it. But it's like when a kid was coming out, you know, everybody wants he's come out. It's like everybody's like, of course, you know, and that's been the that and of course I can speak from experience because not not in the sense of coming out in that way. musically. I mean, of course, but in the terms of what my own experience has been. The second I bought those kind of that rock and roll energy and the originals especially because no one can debate when it's your own song. No one can debate what how the song should be The audience goes, Oh, of course, you should be doing that. You know, it just even if they don't like it, or if they want me to do the other thing, it's like, we like the jazz stuff. But this makes sense. And there's just an energy that's, to me what authenticity is, is when there's just no debating that somebody is just doing them. And that's kind of like what I think coming out

Brian Heater  35:22  
strike figure if I was understanding this right in an interview that was listening to that, and I went, went back and listen to the song, but on one of the Queen songs. There's what sounds to be guitar solo, but that's actually your voice.

Veronica Swift  35:36  
Yep. Yep. It's rock scatting. You know, just with distortion on it. Yeah, I've always wanted to, I don't play guitar. But that the way that guitar the way that instrument sings, it always made sense to me. And I wanted to bring in also to find my own thing and rock music to bring the elements that I do that do make me different, that will make me stand apart from the other bands, and singers to bring my my bebop and scanning vocabulary, and improvisational vocabulary, because there's not a lot of room for that in the rock music that there could be. That's the key. Robert Plant does it a little bit, you know, he's written off of Jimmy Page, but to actually take solos in like scatting. But but use the articulation of the guitar. So it's, it's authentic to the instrument. That was a goal of mine from the start. Since I was a kid there. Is

Brian Heater  36:32  
there a sense in which scatting is the vocalist playing an instrument? Yeah,

Veronica Swift  36:39  
yeah, absolutely. And the vocalist has to have the understanding of vocabulary and the theory, of course, or the ear, to know the language, but it's knowing that language and then knowing how to say something with it, right. And the approach has to be conversational, as well as knowing music theory, just knowing what chords and what changes and what modes to use over that. That's all well, and everything, but it's really just tools to use as a way to communicate. It's just like, when you learn a language, you know, you got to know the grammar, you got to know the set the rules of the syntax and everything, but the nuances of, of pronunciation and like, know, the way they these different languages use in put humor. And that's something that has to be there in improvisation. Absolutely. That

Brian Heater  37:27  
humor is an element to that. Yes.

Veronica Swift  37:29  
Yeah. Like, for example, when we, when I do do nothing to hear from me, I'm riffing off of Gary, my guitar player. And I'll be like, do nothing till you hear from me, won't you please consider our romance and he goes, Oh, you know, like, and that's, there's humor right there. And I go, ah, you know, riffing off each other, there's a communication there. And it makes sense for the audience like they there with it. It's not like, but it'll be able to look at that crazy line or just played, you know, it's something palatable. So

Brian Heater  37:59  
that's kind of the main thing that separates good Gatsby from bad scat singing is the way in which that performer plays off of other members of the band, with

Veronica Swift  38:09  
the knowledge of the language that has yet and I know that like, language, not meaning what syllables, do I use BA or B, that almost as not as a non important thing? I mean, of course, some, some singers have very interesting syllabic styles, but it's there as if they have the language, it's hip, you know, they've made a way to found a way to make it like, like Mark Murphy, or, or yet, even Clark, Terry, you know,

Brian Heater  38:35  
what does language mean in this context? Yeah. So

Veronica Swift  38:38  
just like with a note is like, comparable to a word, it has meaning, but it's, it's got it without context. We can't really know what to do with it, right? And then the musical phrase is like the sentence when you put a bunch of words together, that means something that are telling a story. So who, like that's like the word Oh,

oh, what about it? Oh, what we believe Oh, how I'm feeling sad, you know, you wouldn't say, Oh, I'm, oh, I'm

so excited. You know, that doesn't match the emotional context of how it's played. You know, what I mean? Or the instrument and then the in different instruments have their own articulations which can help you know, communicate these different emotions as well. Like trumpets have a more forward attack in the tongue articulation is very, like bop, bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop. Do they do they do they? Do they didn't do that. But the saxophone of course, has more. You can scoop more notes and have a little bit more of like him that brings a different kind of emotion, right. So looking at the different instruments getting the limitations that They have can help you get into the language. And that's why I love listening to Lester Young you're

Brian Heater  40:04  
juggling a lot then in that particular example because you're taking into account the instruments you're taking into account the like the the music itself, but also I assume the the emotional context of the lyrics when there are lyrics.

Veronica Swift  40:19  
Yeah, yeah. And using even if you're going to be scanning without lyrics, like not doing a vocally style. Like when we're hitting Ross, which there's very clearly like a concrete story being told, you can still tell a story just in an kind of an abstract way, but using just the the sounds of the instrument you're trying to emulate. And the timbre of your voice, you know, you can tell a story that way too, doesn't have to be with words, but the notes are like the words. And as long as the musical phrases like every every type of jazz or rock, there's, there's like a set of licks, as we call them write licks that come from a certain like bebop has licks. Of course, Charlie Parker, we attribute a lot of the famous licks to him because he was just so ahead of his time and different from everything else. So Baba revolute. And Dan Lew day, there's a bit of a bebop lick. And knowing like hearing Coltrane licks versus like, Louis Armstrong licks, I mean, you have to dive into these different eras and know what the different kinds of licks in the vocabulary are compared to each era. And, and also that gives you context to the era that you prefer to play in. Like, if cats are playing like John Coltrane, they got to listen to who John Coltrane was listening to not just John Coltrane, or Brock bands, trying to emulate Aerosmith and Steven Taylor, well, who were they listening to?

Brian Heater  41:43  
You don't hear a lot of scatting these days, is there a sense in which it's kind of a dying art form?

Veronica Swift  41:48  
I don't, I actually am seeing. And that's the thing, everybody starts somewhere. So I don't like making fun of singers who aren't so good at it, you know, or or like, aren't as authentic in it in that moment, because everybody starts somewhere. And singers, a lot of the time, you got to think of why they get into singing jazz, where they're coming from. They're coming from theater backgrounds, or pop singer, songwriter, backgrounds or opera, they're not coming from jazz backgrounds, a lot of them. So it's, it's my job as exempt, leading it by example, or also being an educator is to give them the tools they need to then become like, there's a lot of singers I see on Instagram. And every time I'm scrolling through, there's like, young singers transcribing solos and singing to the recordings. I mean, it's, if anything, it's becoming more of like a because of reels and all the trendy little things that people are doing. Instagram is becoming more of a thing now than it was before. You may have been able to say that about scatting. Before, in like the 80s or 90s. It's a dying art form or whatever. But now, it's like, because of reels and all that trendy stuff on social media, it's kicked back up again.

Brian Heater  42:57  
It's experiencing another life outside of jazz in a lot of cases. It sounds like

Veronica Swift  43:03  
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's got to be for, for me any kind of music, but jazz, especially because well, whatever. Word had taken shape back then. And the original in the time it was coming up. It was people's music, you know, it was a it was a way it was black, American music, you know, whatever word you want to use, it was it was for the people. So it's got to be that for the people first for me, and if that kind of thing is, is catching on to young, aspiring artists and singers and musicians, an instrumentalist, then by all means, I think that's something really cool that it's like it is it's still it's showing you it still is for the people.

Brian Heater  43:45  
How did you learn how to scat?

Veronica Swift  43:48  
Well, I mean, when I was nine, and I started to sing with my parents, I was of course singing child age appropriate Songs For Children. Like, I guess I got rid of them.

Brian Heater  43:57  
You weren't sitting closer.

Veronica Swift  44:01  
Nor was I singing darn that dream. No, I was singing songs, I got rhythm and everybody's bobbin and Burke's works, you know, all those kinds of sound standard standards that had you know, no more than about romance and all that. But, I mean, my parents were no, my, my dad was just like, hey, if you want to scat it's really fun. You know, and I was really nervous about it. Everyone is nervous to do that. When they start out. No one just starts out singing lines. And so I was sitting under the piano when my dad was playing like, a C blues or something. And he's gone round and round and round. He's like, I love to play the blues. Ronnie, I could play all day. You just start whenever you want. It's really you know, my dad kind of was like, it's really easy. Just sing one note. Just try on one note. So of course I'm sitting there piano all disgruntled, I'm not going to scat and then he's going around around around so I just go, Bob. One note. Okay, there's one note there's one note dad bought up But who bought up, you know, and if anything like that, I'm learning from my child scatting style how to be simpler, and tell more with less, that seems to be the goal as a experienced, you know, improvisation person you know. And so then you are, transcribe, that's another big, important stage in the development, because that's where you get the language. When

Brian Heater  45:27  
you say transcribe, you mean like just transcribing the notes of the song, that being the

Veronica Swift  45:32  
articulation, if there's slurs, or the the style in which he has played that's like all the elements of, of the language that we're talking about. So taking less than young solo, not just writing the notes down starts with the notes, of course. And when you're young, and you're just learning how to do this, of course, you're just starting with the notes there. But once you start to get in the nuance of aledmys Oh, he he slurred that note, which means he's not really articulating it to date, he's going to be, which has a different sound, right? And so how long are He? Is he holding out notes? And what's the attack? Like? What's the decay? If there is decay and stuff like that?

Brian Heater  46:10  
Instrumental solos then are that's that's the jumping off point. That's where you learn that language. It's not necessarily just from other scat singers.

Veronica Swift  46:18  
I mean, like, of course, it's fun to learn Ella Fitzgerald and Mel toimi solos. But I mean, what are they listening to is the key, you can do that. But don't just that buck doesn't stop there. You want to see who were they listening to? And then trace that back to the source as far as you can, because that gives you the context of who your favorite artists, like where they were coming from.

Brian Heater  46:38  
You mentioned being nervous that first time you attempted to do that, did you have a similar where you seem really nervous when it came to just like singing in front of a crowd for the first time?

Veronica Swift  46:48  
Oh, sure. But, you know, it's just like with anything, when you're, when you're nervous to climb a tree, or when you're nervous to jump off of a rock into the, into the lake, you know, you just just do it, one foot in front of the next and Ah, okay, here we go. And then the more you do it, the less,

Brian Heater  47:06  
there's also just a sense in which I feel like a lot of nine year olds are, are more willing to take that job, but are more willing to sing in front of people. Yeah,

Veronica Swift  47:15  
you haven't had a life of like, being embarrassed too much. You've maybe a little moments here and there, like, Billy made fun of me today, or whatever. But you know, at that nine and 10. And earlier, you kind of don't have those memories to hold you back. And that's why I tried to listen to my younger records, because then I want to incorporate that energy into what I do. Don't hold back ever. A

Brian Heater  47:42  
lot of times when I have older musicians on a comment that like, Oh, it's you know, it's there aren't a lot of jobs. There aren't a lot of people in the world who have been doing the same thing that they were doing since they were like 17. But it goes back to being a nine year old. It's wild, that you're making a career out of this thing that you've been doing since you were nine or 11.

Veronica Swift  48:03  
I mean, if you're an artist, you live for it, you live and breathe it whether I was singing jazz at nine years old, or even before then I was writing stories when I was three or four, you know, making up stories that had really, I think my real talent is storytelling and singing is just a way to do that. But I really, the source of it all is storytelling. And when I was three or four I was you know, like any kid their imagination runs wild and for me, I never lost that. So it's seeing how plot lines and character development did all intertwines and how I would tell a story that would go on for two hours. My mom's like, okay,

okay, get to the end. That's, that's

really I want to trace it back to this that that's the source of everything I do. Is that

Brian Heater  48:47  
how one ends up writing a goth rock opera,

Veronica Swift  48:51  
you've done your homework. I see. Oh, it was one

Brian Heater  48:53  
of the more interesting things that I found I and there's some video of it as well. Yeah. If your icon Is that you playing a character?

Veronica Swift  49:01  
Yes, yes. And it's a character everything that happens is a metaphor for the things I was going through at that time. And one day I want to produce a stage show maybe off Broadway or something of Vera icon, of course like to do a project like that at that time when I was singing jazz stuff a bit too far of a 180. So I've had to build like I said, the branches that maybe the branch is one of those branches is Vera icon, the musical or the rock opera, right? That's a we have your icons my Ziggy Stardust