Interview: Brother Bird shares journey from solo work to her first full band tour.
Posted: by The Editor
Brother Bird is the newest project from Nashville singer/songwriter Caroline Swon. After dabbling in open mic nights, competing on “The Voice,” and now releasing her newest EP through Favorite Gentleman with the help of Andy Hull, she is conquering the industry one step at a time.
In 2011, Swon posted a cover on YouTube of Manchester Orchestra’s song, “Deer”, that gained quite a bit of attention. Being a huge fan of Hull, she was blown away, not only to discover that he shared the video but also reached out to her. Since then, she has competed on a national television show, released numerous solo tracks (under Caroline Glaser), and is now working with Hull to create a new career for herself.
About to embark on her first full band tour as “Brother Bird”, with Manchester Orchestra and The Front Bottoms we took some time to learn more about her incredible journey. Listen to her debut EP or check out one of the band’s OurVinyl sessions as you read our interview below.
The Alternative: What made you decide to switch over to doing Brother Bird as a project as opposed to your previous solo work?
Caroline Swon: I had been toying with the idea of releasing under a new project name for about a year and a half. It really just took this EP coming together to give me that final push (the MO/Front Bottoms tour definitely helped!)
Would you say there is a difference in style/approach to songwriting with Brother Bird?
I’m always learning and growing as a songwriter, but this is the first project that I feel truly sounds like me. It’s the first time I’ve touched on some pretty vulnerable topics in my life, which initially terrified me, but I think it just allowed for a really raw, melancholy sound.
What was the main turning point for you when it comes to making music your priority/career?
I was 18 when I auditioned for The Voice. I always loved playing music, but was pretty reclusive about it up until then. I had a YouTube channel and played open mic nights every once and a while, but didn’t really ever see it as a realistic career path. When the audition presented itself, I jumped on it. Everything just kind of snowballed from there.
After that, I released music under “Caroline Glaser,” but didn’t know anything about writing songs, touring, or recording; I had zero experience other than being a contestant on a national television show. It created a really bizarre kind of backwards platform that I am, now, beyond grateful for. Money can’t buy the kind of knowledge you gain from an experience like that–– not to mention the crash course in how to handle criticism in the *extremely* public eye.
Five years later, I finally feel like I landed in a place, creatively, that feels new. I needed that time to just be a sponge. The Voice made it possible for me to get on the road & record right out of the gate; I made A LOT of cringe-worthy mistakes but as cheesy as this will come across, it all led to where I’m at now.
There has been a big shift in how people find and consume music in the past 5 years, how have you learned to grow/adapt with these changes?
Well, to be honest, how I release music hasn’t changed a whole lot, but how I consume music certainly has. I try to reflect that in the music I create and the inspiration behind it. Streaming has made discovering new artists/records extremely accessible, and I think that’s a really cool thing.
I read an interview from 2016 where you talked about being a Manchester Orchestra fan, what has this recording process been like for you? How has working with Andy been?
I’ve always been a massive fan of Manchester Orchestra and all things Andy Hull. I covered their song “Deer” on my YouTube channel when I was in high school. I have no clue how he found it but he did, and he tweeted it out along with a super encouraging message with his email address. Getting notoriety from somebody I looked up to that much created this massive shift in how I perceived music. I got on The Voice shortly after, and we touched base here and there for a few years. He was always crazy supportive and genuinely intrigued in how my music was coming along, which was and still is totally surreal.
I had the insane privilege of working in the studio with Andy & Robert McDowell (guitarist, Manchester Orchestra) a while back on a couple of songs that have literally been killing me on the inside not to share. Planning on revisiting them and eventually sharing with the universe, but for now they live in our Dropbox folders.
Back in 2016, I had written a handful of songs that I was really eager to get recorded, but not really sure what to do with them. My wildly talented buddy, Brandon Day, and I produced them in Nashville with the intention of submitting for film/TV placements, but I still felt kind of discouraged with where I was at artistically. I sent the tunes to Andy, and he immediately jumped on board and has literally endorsed this thing in pretty much every way possible, from introducing me to my new agent and connecting me to mixing engineers/graphic designers, to literally helping me name the project. The plan is to get back in the studio early next year to start working on a full length record together…which I am absolutely over the moon about.
What are you most excited about on this upcoming tour?
This will be the first time I’ve ever played these songs live with a band, so I’m really just stoked to get in front of their crowd in these insane venues. The Ryman date (November 25) has little googly eyes & hearts all around it on my calendar. I’m also genuinely a huge fan of both bands, so reaaally looking forward to fanning out every night.
What sparked your interest in music growing up?
Music has always played a pretty big role in my life. My parents are both huge music fanatics, so I was introduced to a lot of really great stuff early on, like James Taylor, Neil Young, Carly Simon, Tom Petty, The Eagles, Carole King, etc. I can’t really listen to any of those artists without getting real sappy/sentimental. I’m also especially close with my older brother, and music has always kind of been our language. When either one of us calls the other, there’s about a 99% chance it’s about a record that needs to be listened to immediately (or a concert I need to drive home for).
I took piano lessons from a really young age up until the end of middle school, but performing/writing never really interested me until I discovered YouTube in high school— I’d spend hours pausing, rewinding, & memorizing hand placements on songs I wanted to learn. I got my first guitar around freshman year, and I found love for both instruments that way. I just thought it was the coolest thing on the planet to be able to accompany yourself.
Do you remember what the first song you ever wrote was?
Eesh, unfortunately… it wasn’t very impressive, but I feel like that’s probably to be expected with your first tune. I wrote a song after a bunch of my friends moved away, and (unintentionally) stole the exact melody to a Priscilla Ahn song I had learned that week. Not my proudest piece.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences and how has living Nashville shaped you?
Ben Folds is a really big one for me; I’ve seen him live around 9 or 10 times. His writing has always just had a way of hitting me really hard. Aside from that, listening to pretty much anything by The Staves, Fleet Foxes, Dallas Green, Andy Hull, or Jim James will get me in the mood to pick up an instrument & write something. And as of late, Big Thief and Phoebe Bridgers have been on almost constantly. I think I’ve listened to “Velvet Ring” nearly 10000x this week alone. I can’t let the last 5 seconds play before hitting repeat.
Nashville is wonderful–– there’s music around me all of the time, which has been an incredible motivator. There’s a lot of co-writing going on here, but as far as writing goes, I find the most creativity when I chug a bunch of coffee and sit in a dark room by myself.
I was honestly shocked when I found out your partner is in a country band just because I had found you through an entirely different scene. Do you consider yourself a part of one music community more than another?
I like this question! I met Colton on The Voice back in 2013. He’s in a country duo group with his brother, and they’re both absolute freaks of nature with music; so talented. I know very little about their genre, and I kind of love it that way. We’re both each other’s biggest cheerleaders, and because our musical paths are different, it leaves room for us to be present when we’re supporting each other— whether it’s the ACMs (Academy of Country Music Awards) or a Manchester Orchestra and The Front Bottoms tour.
I don’t really know what “music community” I’d say I fall under, but I know a lot of insanely talented musicians that fall under all different genres and that’s definitely the route I hope to take with Brother Bird.
If you had to describe your music in a sentence or less to someone who has never heard of you before what would you say?
Ethereal and mostly sad.
Emily Kitchin | @deathnap4cutie
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