Call Ember Swift queer. Any other label would defeat the purpose of her role as a single soul among several who are basking under the same sky.
“To me, queer is more of an umbrella term that enables me to join hands with all of my queer brothers and sisters,” says the musician, “and that also means my queer-minded brothers and sisters that might lead heterosexual lives.”
The politically charged Canadian, who performed at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival last month, is part of a snowballing dialogue. Her music speaks it.
“Bliss,” a song she performed at the festival, infiltrates lyrics on the cultural impact of the mining industry, but like several tunes on her newest album “The Dirty Pulse” it wasn’t her initial idea. The concept began with someone who opened up to her on the issue and then, through the tune, she hoped to spark more discussions.
“It’s a giant cycle,” says Swift, who just returned to Ontario after a seemingly endless trip to Ohio.
Her queer politics, among others, and her guitar-playing abilities and vocal conviction draws her comparisons to Ani DiFranco. Of course it’s not a bad likening, as Swift admits; it’s just a cliched one.
“I can sit in a room with 10 of my contemporary female singer-songwriters, even those who don’t play guitar funny enough, and all of us have been compared to Ani DiFranco.”
Swift’s lyrics have never strayed from a political perspective, but they’ve certainly grown. At 9 years old the lyricist began writing tunes, of which she has little record of, and throughout high school she submitted songs for school projects and persuaded her teachers to allow her to substitute writing music for poetry or essays. During those years, her interest in school-based and community-based environmental activism blossomed. Swift’s early work combines her political opinions with melodic opuses that she hoped would help create social change.
She admits her naive world outlook caused her to be narrow minded. But now in her early 30s, her perspective has broadened.
“Some of my early stuff was very, very angry,” she admits. “It was not coming from a place of understanding or experience; it was a place of indignation and resentment. But I was young and didn’t understand some of the subtleties of what I was talking about.”
To further augment her worldly views, Swift will take three months off from touring and trek to China in the beginning of April. She studied Mandarin language for four years at the University of Toronto, where she graduated with a degree in East Asian Studies, but it’s been nine years since she’s used it. Things could get hairy, but at the same time, it’s like learning to walk again, she suggests.
She’s also traveling without her band members, violinist Lyndell Montgomery and drummer/percussionist Adam Bowman. But the alone time will allow her to explore a community she’s been lurking around for a while.
While in Beijing, she’ll delve into the underground music scene and focus on the gender divide. “I don’t wanna say that it’s wider, although in some cases it is. … It’s really interesting how women are heard and how women’s voices are expressed in the arts as compared to how they are here in North America.”
As she travels the city, she’ll gather notes and ignite her song writing motor. Perhaps, through some contacts she’s made, she’ll nail a few gigs at the trip’s end.
“It’s like a homecoming of sorts,” Swift says. “I’m not sure what I’ll find there.”
8 p.m. March 10
The Ark, Ann Arbor