When it comes to matters of the heart, Kelley Swindall has it figured out. Well, sort of.
Maybe it’s something she’s still figuring it out, but her “story songs” manage to dissect the drama of love, loss, heartache, moving on—and all that funny stuff that happens in between. Swindall’s quirky, old-school twang blends right in to her country folk and blues roots with a touch of retro vibe on new single “California,” off her upcoming debut album, You Can Call Me Darlin’ If You Want (Velvet Elk Records), out June 19.
The Georgia native’s entry into songwriting actually started in New York City’s East Village. Never a songwriter, a breakup opened the floodgates of her storytelling.
Picking a few chords she still remembered from the days of church youth group—and Googling others—she jumped right in and figured it out along the way. Soon, she was crafting her sound, performance (and more stories), piecing everything together on her debut.
Her own story has just begun. On You Can Call Me Darlin’ If You Want, Swindall opens her heart and pulls out her own heart strings along the way. After all, she’s singing about heartbreak, redemption and “all the stuff real country music is made of.”
On “California,” Swindall brings some levity to her more heartfelt, roots-driven You Can Call Me Darlin’ tracks with a lighthearted tale of a girl trying to making her way—despite the male distractions. “It’s much lighter in subject matter and tone than some of the others songs [on the album],” Swindall tells American Songwriter. “So it makes a good counter, rounding it out.”
Grainy and raw, the Super 8 video opens like a late ’60s, early ’70s postcard as Swindall pulls out some of her other personas—herself, as a hippie love child on her way to the West Coast, a swindling wild woman Susannah, the gambling man that steals her heart, and other colorful characters along the way.
In a nutshell, the story, Swindall says, goes something like this: “[The] narrator has her heart set on getting to California to do that deal, but Susannah and Gamblin’ Man’s hearts are set on each other, and they’re not going nowhere, which makes for good drama and a good story.”
Shot in New Orleans and Austin within three days, Swindall’s debut video was done guerrilla style. Location scouting and test shots were done a month earlier with the video’s director Vanessa Pla. When it was time to film, Swindall and her skeleton crew, including friend Elizabeth Nesmith, who served as a body double and wardrobe assistant, had four days and two cities to make it happen.
“It was well planned but also fly by the seat of our pants,” she says. “We’d show up to places and steal shots and run to the next one, which doesn’t sound so difficult, but we had to change into each character for all the individual shots at each spot,” says Swindall. “In the cemetery, we’d crouch behind a tomb to switch clothes or find stalls in bar bathrooms.”
Swindall plays all the characters in “California” and says she loved taking on Susannah and the gambling man. Everything else fell together by happenstance in the video.
“On the morning we were leaving [New Orleans] to go to Austin, there were buskers across the street from the hotel, so I asked them if they’d be in the video and play with me, and they were so down,” says Swindall. “There are several shots that came about from seeing something cool, that we hadn’t planned on, and working it in.”