Why are we called Swan Sovereign?
We love the song “Swan Swan H” by R.E.M. – an emotionally powerful song full of poetic images rumored to describe our country in the post-Civil War era. The song starts with the line “Swan Swan Hummingbird, hurrah.” We considered naming our band Swan Swan Hummingbird because the three words seemed oddly fitting for an all-female trio of musicians.
We also have what you might call a band mythology that we have been unintentionally developing over the last several years in which the three of us live on a post-Apocalyptic compound in the desert, a stark environment that is harsh yet safe, secured by fierce dogs patrolling the perimeter and stocked with rifles and rations of dry goods for our survival.
The post-war imagery of the song “Swan Swan H” seemed to dovetail (no pun intended) with this mythology and with our new trio format. But in the end, we didn’t want to name ourselves after another band’s song. We had become attached to the image of the swan (they’re fascinating…they mate for life and are known for being graceful yet vicious, among other things) so we combined it with Sovereign for a militaristic, separatist tone.
How is Swan Sovereign Different from Dirty Martini?
Well, we’re playing different instruments, for starters. In Dirty Martini, we all played guitar. Sometimes it was an acoustic trio and sometimes we added a drummer and a bass player. But in Swan Sovereign, Steph plays drums and McKinley plays bass, leaving Lara as the sole guitarist. Our level of collaboration is different in this band as well. We are co-writing the songs from the ground up and the music reflects that. Dirty Martini was gloomy, introspective and rain-soaked, like April in Portland; Swan Sovereign is more like a dance party on a sunny day in Antarctica — bright and blinding, with snowballs flying and a bit of blood on the ice from playing too rough.
How did the Band Come Together and get Started?
Dirty Martini was born on Valentine’s Day in 2003 as the direct result of us having no dates and no plans. We decided we might as well play a show together and we billed it as an Anti-Valentine’s Day event designed for audience members with no dates, no romantic plans. We had a few too many dirty martinis on that night, thus the accidental band name that stuck for 11 years. We had so much fun preparing and playing that show, and we got more opportunities because of it, so we just stuck with it and followed that road as far as it went. When the road got choked with weeds and thorns, we busted out our machetes and started hacking out a new trail — more rugged, less precise, more gritty: Swan Sovereign.
What are Each of the Three of you Doing Besides Playing With Swan Sovereign?
Lara Michell has released 4 solo albums, and plays with a number of other bands: THE STOLEN SWEETS (1930’s vintage swing jazz); LOVE GIGANTIC (late-70’s inspired rock and roll reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, Heart and Led Zeppelin); and A SIMPLE COLONY (quirky pop/rock duo collaboration with Michael Dodson of the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus).
Stephanie has released 7 solo albums, the most recent a foray into the world of trip-hop and electronic music. She’s toured throughout the states and the UK. In 2007 she produced a humanitarian concert series to benefit refugees in northern Uganda raising over $70,000. She’s also a professional actress and has performed in various plays regionally. She and her husband Tony Furtado sometimes perform together with their 2 year old son Liam in the wings.
McKinley is the nerdiest swan of all. She wrote a musical about physics, Gracie and the Atom that was produced by Artists Rep Theater in 2010. Her book, Physics for Rock Stars was published by Penguin in 2014. McKinley hosted two seasons of “Decoded” on History Channel.
What are Your Plans for the Future?
We plan to fortify our bunker with barbed wire and concrete barriers. Then we will write and record new songs and emerge from the compound for live shows.