Bent Knee is definitely one of our favorite bands here at Proglodytes, and Courtney Swain is their incomparable lead vocalist/keyboardist. As a member of Bent Knee, Courtney has been busy with a European tour (that included the premier of an ambitious new collaborative piece called “Paper Earth”) and an upcoming stateside tour, but as a solo artist, Courtney has had a lot going on lately as well. We caught up with Courtney to chat with her a bit about all of the many exciting things going on in her life.
1.) Bent Knee just went to Europe! What were some of the coolest things you got to see over there?
The Europe tour was awesome. I had an amazing time. The coolest things was meeting so many people who travelled from near and far to see us. On our train ride from Zürich to Milan, Chris and I were walking back from the food cart when this person looked up and blurted out “…Bent Knee??” Her and a friend were traveling 12 hours from Austria to see our Milan show! That’s a moment I won’t forget for a long time.
2.) The band recently worked on a composition called “Paper Earth” with a percussion ensemble. Tell us about that. How did it come about?
Indeed! I was typing out the story behind the composition, and realized that this article that came out in the Boston Globe did a way better job articulating what I wanted to say, so check this out first ( Click here for Boston Globe article )
I myself took a bit of a backseat for this piece because I was worn out from the writing and release of Land Animal when we started conceiving it. Chris, Ben and Jessica worked really hard to pull the piece together during the winter, and Sam Solomon (see article above) had a huge hand in making it sound better than our original ideas. So far we’ve performed it twice; once at an open rehearsal, and then at the world premiere during the Apples & Olives Festival in Zürich, Switzerland. We’re performing it in Boston for the US premiere on Saturday, March 24th, and we’re filming it live! Very exciting, as we’ve heard from many people who want to check out what it’s about.
For me personally, I’m enjoying performing the piece a lot, as I’m taking a very different approach to singing than the regular Bent Knee set. The arrangements really clear out for sections with vocals, so I can dare myself to be as quiet and intimate as I can. It’s cathartic and fun.
3.) We’ve also noticed that Bent Knee has been writing music for the next album. How is that shaping up?
Things are still in the very very beginning stages, but there’s a lot of cool material. Our writing process for the last few years has been individuals bringing in demos for the band to tinker with, but that process was starting to stagnate. So, we decided we’d start writing from scratch by going into the studio with no plan or direction. It’s exciting and terrifying for everyone, each for our own reasons. It’s a big change from what we’ve been doing, but I have a good feeling about how it’s going to turn out. By the time we hit the road in the summer, we’ll have a few new songs to play out. I’m really looking forward to it.
4.) Bent Knee’s music has been categorized in so many ways in the press. How do you describe it to friends?
If I’m being completely honest, I rarely talk about my music with my friends… ha ha. Most of the time we talk about where the band just got back from, and how we’re dealing with each other. Being in a band is emotionally taxing, and things were really tense a few years back. All six of us have put in a lot of work since then, and we’ve become more centered, thoughtful, and supportive of each other as of late. It’s really awesome.
I know this is a total non-answer BUT you know we hate genres and definitions so take that… 😉
5.) What is your favorite song to play/sing live?
Off the new album, I love doing Holy Ghost and Terror Bird.
I feel like a real rock star when we do Holy Ghost, and I my blood really starts pumping when the drums kick in and we get “Oh, nothing charges me like the night”. There’s another moment right after the second chorus (when it drops to the funky groove) where I always turn around and have an eye-contact moment with Gavin. I always make a punching motion on that first snare hit, and Gavin makes some kinda face. It’s a routine I keep throughout the many shows we play, and it’s a little moment I save for us.
Terror Bird is a lot of fun to play, because it’s kind of an indulgent song in terms of juicy chords, big riffs, and long held-out vocal lines. For most of the summer last year we were starting the set with the song, but this year we’ve been sticking it in the middle of the set. On a really good night I’ll feel the hairs raise on my arms as we’re playing it. During a typical BK set I exert a lot of energy outwards, and spend a lot of time connecting and reaching out to the people listening. But, I always promise the piano break in Terror Bird to myself. I close my eyes, go inward, savor the chords and the moment, and I feel grateful that I’ve persevered through whatever it took to get on that stage to play this music.
6.) You released a wonderful EP called Growing Pains last year. Congrats on the good press! We definitely loved it over here at Proglodytes. Do you plan on releasing a full length album soon as well?
Thanks so much! Proglodytes was the first to get wind of it, and write a really generous review. I really, really appreciated that.
There is a full-length album in production right now, and I’m hoping to release it later in 2018 or early 2019. Most of the tracking is done except for the bass, and some friends I want to have on the record. I’m planning on carving out some time to obsess over the vocals for a bit and get it to sound better than anything I’ve ever done so far. Despite it being my own work, I think the songs are really stellar, and I can’t wait to put it out.
7.) You’re starting a Patreon page, which is very exciting. Tell us about what one can expect if they become your Patreon subscriber.
Yes! I got back from Europe last week, and as we were standing in the baggage claim of Boston Logan Airport I looked at Chris, Gavin, and Vince and blurted out “I don’t think I’m doing enough with my life!” (Ben and Jess were actually getting the bags off the turnstile.)
Ben’s YouTube channel and his following there have been a source of admiration for me. With this Patreon I really wanted to start something like that where I could have a community with the people who listen to my output. Over the last week I’ve been working on the descriptions on the page, and I have a list of things I’m really excited to start sharing. There’s are some demos of my unreleased full-length album I’d like to talk about; iPhone Voice Memos I’ve dug up that were the beginning jams of what became Terror Bird; behind-the-scenes for the performance of Paper Earth this Saturday, etc. etc. I’m really thrilled to get it off the ground.
8.) Who are some artists that have been inspiring you lately?
I’ve been really enamored by Moses Sumney’s album “Aromanticism”. Beck’s “Morning Phase” has been getting a lot of rotations, too.
Lately I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from a podcast series called Song Exploder. I was especially moved by the episodes on Dirty Projectors, Perfume Genius, and Oath Breaker.
9.) We’ve chatted before about the realities of being a musician in 2018. What are some of the best things that fans of your music can do to help you and your friends continue to make music?
Whatever you’re doing is working because we’re still here making music! ha ha
Jokes aside, a lot of us in Bent Knee have Patreon accounts now, and I think that’s a really great, direct way to support. Likes on social media are neat, but I love when people comment, too. I always try to write back, but even if we don’t, it’s much appreciated.
10.) What pop culture franchise would be the best fit if Bent Knee were to be cast as main characters in a Hollywood movie, a la Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc.?
Oh boy, this one’s gonna take some brain power… While I think on it, I can report to you that we have a running joke in the band that we look like the characters from Final Fantasy… VII? I want to say?
Honestly I think we have a great chemistry and the right voices to be cast as Minions. Is that a cop-out answer…?????
Let’s say a wizard grants you the ability to talk to animals, but you can only pick 3 animal species to talk to. What animals would you pick?
- Definitely cats. As somebody who lives with a cat and has countless voices for her, I’d really like to know her true voice and her thoughts.
- Ants! I think they’d have a lot to say. Maybe good tips on best ways to get around town. There’s a lot of them so I feel like I’d suddenly have an expanded network of acquaintances.
- Dogs! How could anybody not want to talk with dogs!
Check out Courtney Swain’s Patreon, and make sure to see if Bent Knee is coming anywhere close to you on The Paper Earth Tour! (Tour dates listed here)