Photo Credit: Matt Baker
In a family of doctors, no one is shocked when it’s announced that yet another person is heading off to med school. Well, that’s similar to Veronica Swift and the path she’s currently on. Only it wasn’t white coat ceremonies, but rather life on the road and an innate love of all things music. We began this conversation diving into what she calls a “coming of age experience” growing up amid music. From there we get into why her 13-year-old self internally screamed with excitement, scoring film, and so much more, including her self-titled album, ‘Veronica, Swift,’ that drops on September 15th.
Kendra: Being that both of your parents shined musically, was there ever a doubt in anyone’s mind that you wouldn’t walk down that path as well?
Veronica Swift: You know how children learn language from an early age? Like if your family’s first language is Spanish, French, etc…you become a fluent speaker by mere exposure at an early age? Well, bebop was this for me, and having grown up on the road in jazz culture (at nightclubs, festivals, and theaters around the country) it never was really a choice of mine, but rather a coming-of-age experience.
At 9, I just joined my parents on stage and sang age-appropriate songs that I had known through my experiences growing up around that music and repertoire. Then, more and more opportunities were placed before me, that I felt I owed it to my lineage to uphold the traditions of this music. But no, singing Jazz was not ever what I wanted to do or “dreamt myself doing.” In my family, it just made sense! Music was my first language.
Kendra: Because by 9 you’d already dropped a record. At that age I was…Hmm, I was probably stressing over the TGIF lineup or something. Obviously, a lot of growth has happened since then, but what would you say has continued to push you the most towards leveling up with each passing year regarding your artistry?
Veronica Swift: The journey and mission of an artist is (in my view) to keep pushing yourself towards perfection (whatever that may be to you), and to reach beyond your capabilities to achieve certain goals. Before I was ever singing, before my record at age nine, I had a very sophisticated understanding of harmony, song structure, and melodicism not only from having grown up in a bebop family but because my favorite music was not that of my peers.
It wasn’t Britney Spears, NSYNC…what got me going was Bach, Stravinsky, Mozart, Rachmaninoff… All the Classical Composers I could get my ears on! At age five I was singing along to harpsichord concertos and studying symphonic scores. It wasn’t until I heard Queen, The Beatles, and Todd Rundgren that I began to see where my “passions” would lie in the world of songwriting too. I followed this continuing outward expansion of the music particularly when diving into the deep-cut glam rock of the ‘70s (I.e. Sweet, Nazareth, etc…) I absorbed every possible note and word. So you can say that I have a high standard that I am with each passing year building towards when finding my place in all these genres.
Truly, I’m following my own musical whims and where my taste leads me, and I listen to that instinct. I know it’ll tell me where I need to go rather than feeling I have to “push” myself. It’s as if I’m being led along a path, and as long as I listen to that instinct, I’ll never be led astray!
Kendra: With your 2023 self-titled, you decided to pay homage to so many artists that span the genre spectrum, and you also worked alongside The Dresden Dolls’ Brian Viglione. I did get a chance to see them once back in the day, phenomenal. How was working with him, and did you take anything away from that experience that you’ll continue to utilize moving forward?
Veronica Swift: Well, it is a beautiful story! Of course, The Dresden Dolls were one of the only bands that as an artistic outcast weirdo kid, I felt spoke directly to me! Here is a band that didn’t fit in anywhere, and yet paved the way for so many artists like me to not give in to conformity and people-pleasing! That it IS possible to find success in truly being yourself.
So with my 2021 release, ‘This Bitter Earth,’ I simply had to cover one of their songs; “Sing.” Brian had found me through my cover, and reached out exclaiming that he now was a mega V. Swift fan, which then of course, 13-year-old me began screaming at the top of my lungs!
I was out in LA and got the chance to meet him, and the connection couldn’t have been more natural and instantaneous. Within four months not only was he joining my band as my drummer, but we were to embark on a lifelong journey as life partners too. The way he’s able to take my music and focus it in and produce it- it’s magic what he does! He knows how my brain works, what I hear for my music, and we have the same taste in songwriting/production styles, so it really couldn’t be more perfect! So what did I take away from this experience? It’s to trust that what you manifest (even as a 13-year-old dreamer) will come to you!
Kendra: Again, this album has you tackling songs from musicals like ‘La Cage aux Folles’ to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.” With the latter, Trent Reznor has really made a name for himself in film. Is there a recent movie you would’ve loved to score?
Veronica Swift: Scoring a film is definitely a bucket list dream of mine! And I’m not just talking about writing songs for a film’s soundtrack, but since I have arranging and orchestration experience (always more to learn), it is a life goal of mine to give this a try as well, particularly after having seen ‘LaLa Land’ which to me, didn’t have to cater to mainstream culture’s taste.
As a fan of old MGM musicals (and tap) I had high hopes for this one! That “finally, a mainstream body of work that I can connect with.” Once we cater to the mainstream, we erase any possibility of ingenuity and style. Like, I couldn’t remember a single song or melody from that movie, but when you walk away from ‘American in Paris’ or ‘West Side Story,’ now THERE’S a score for you!
To me, it all comes down to melody first! A strong lyric with a weak melody has much less of an effect compared to a strong melody with a simpler lyric. There’s a way to pay homage to the past while still making something new and fresh. I’d like to think my new record does just that- that it isn’t pastiche because you can connect the through lines from track to track.
Kendra: In regards to the musical aspect, “I Am What I Am” is this fun, energetic song that you can’t help but want to move to. When you were recording this one, did you have your parents in mind?
Veronica Swift: When conceptualizing a new project, I think “What is the narrative?” Every album has a story arc, and for this one, the only way to make all these genres work was to have some cohesive element which for me is the simple fact that these are all genres that have been important to me at different times in my life. Because it all starts with you and your family, that’s why I chose to have the bebop number right up front, but with a lyric that, along with the lyric of the final track “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” bookends the thematic message of the entire album.
“No matter what happens to me, I will be living my life knowing I am acting 100% in accordance to my values, and that nobody can tell me how to live or enjoy myself being myself.”
My mother was a broker on Wall Street before she was a singer. It wasn’t until she happened upon a jazz club one night, saw my father playing piano, fell in love, and began making music with him, that she’d found her calling in life. Just like for me in my relationship; Brian had saved me from pursuing a path that I was not happy or creative on, just singing Jazz was not truly me.
So this parallel with my mother’s past is what I am singing about in “I Am What I Am.” I also couldn’t help but include my early years of singing Bach fugues and preludes, so I wrote a fugue part right in the middle.
Kendra: You’ll be hitting the road in September and October, with some dates in Denmark. How do international crowds compare to the ones stateside?
Veronica Swift: Crowds are different everywhere you go. There are so many factors, not just geographical, that play into how a crowd reacts. What types of venues you play, your music/performance style, which day of the week, what time of day, etc.?
While Scandinavian or US midwest crowds have a reputation for being more polite, a jazz club in NYC is a more quiet audience than a rock club in Stockholm or Minnesota! I’ve found that the audience wants permission to let go, no matter where you are, and they will give you (the performer) what you give to them! So in a way, since I started performing rock n’ roll, funk, and soul, I don’t see a difference in audiences from state to state/country to country. I give 1000% up there, and that’s what I get back by the end of my show, every time!
Kendra: Now it’s time for a side note – with it being September AKA Self Improvement Month, I’m asking everyone to give us a song they like to put on when they are in self-care mode…
Veronica Swift: As obvious as it may seem, honestly I keep coming back to “Man in the Mirror.” As a performer, it’s a fine line between people-pleasing and pleasing yourself. Some days you get a little too caught up in “what will other people think of me if I do this or that,” but when I listen to this MJ song, I remember: the only way we can serve others, is by first serving ourselves. I don’t mean selfishly, but If we are not in line with our morals and our mission, then we are feeding the people a lie. For years I was resenting what I did on stage… I sang Jazz and was secretly denying myself music I truly loved. So while Jazz is a piece of who I am, it’s just that: a piece of a larger puzzle, and I could no longer keep the rest of myself hidden away.
Kendra: And lastly, with ‘Veronica Swift’ out on September 15th and some dates already on the calendar, what can fans expect as we head into fall?
Veronica Swift: Now that the new music and message are out there for all to hear, no one will be confused with where my heart lies! I hope this album makes it plain to see that I am more than just a genre; that we all are more than these labels imposed upon us… and so with that in mind, I want to announce to everyone reading/listening, that you’ll hear a lot more of “ME.” My originals will now finally get to see the light of day and make their way into our show. But don’t worry, we’ll give the jazz fans what they want! Think of my show as a celebration of the “past,” “present,” and “future.”