Emma Swift will tell you she’s never been a prolific writer. When she was going through a particularly difficult and depressive period recently, she was utterly lyric-less. So she decided to channel Bob Dylan for a new album.
“The idea for the album came about during a long depressive phase,” says Swift, “the kind where it’s hard to get out of bed and get dressed and present to the world as a high-functioning human. I was lost on all fronts no doubt, but especially creatively.
At first, Swift started singing Dylan songs as means to have something to wake up to, and eventually pulled together a collection of tracks to re-interpret some of her favorite Dylan greats on BLONDE ON THE TRACKS (Tiny Ghost Records), out August 14.
There’s no place like the present on BLONDE ON TRACKS. “I Contain Multitudes,” the title track off Dylan’s 2020 album, was the first sound of the re-interpretations recorded by Swift at home during lockdown.
“When Bob Dylan released ‘I Contain Multitudes’ this year, I quickly became possessed,” says Swift. “It’s magnificent and heartbreaking, a love letter to words and art and music, to all that has been lost and all that might be redeemed. To me this song has become an obsession, a mantra, a prayer. I can’t hope to eclipse it, all I hope to do is allow more people to hear it, to feel comforted by it, and to love it the way I do.”
The track was a warm up to Swift’s latest single, her rendition of Highway 61 Revisited‘s “Queen Jane Approximately,” a smoothly churned redo with Swift’s vocals melting around the choral And you’re sick of all this repetition / Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane.
In the animated video, created by Hugh Hales-Tooke, there’s a masquerade-like vision of Dylan peeking through a bare stage—and even Bob taking on a more Georges Méliès, A Trip to the Moon likeness. All the more whimsical visuals are part of a musical collage of Swift, and other political, historical, and stop motion imagery. Swift embraces the essence of the 1965 track, also covered by the Grateful Dead, putting her own sultry spin to the wheel.
“Interpreting other people’s emotions is how I learned to sing and I’ve always enjoyed hearing Dylan’s songs from a female perspective,” says Swift. “You can learn a lot about melody and feeling by the way a singer chooses to interpret someone else’s song. You can learn a lot about words by singing someone else’s.”
Swift originally started recording BLONDE ON THE TRACKS back in 2017 at Nashville’s Magnetic Sound Studio and only recently put the finishing touches on the album, alongside producer Patrick Sansone (Wilco, The Autumn Defense), who both worked remotely throughout the recent COVID quarantine.
Deeply influenced by the likes Joan Baez, Sandy Denny, Billie Holiday, and Sinead O’Connor, Swift is open to interpretation of great songwriters.
“There’s an art to interpretation, and for me, these women are the masters,” says Swift. “I’m as indebted to them on this record as I am to Bob Dylan.”