As a former New York bartender, Swati learned something from watching bands fumble through cringe-worthy performances. She realized what to avoid. Each night she witnessed lead singers trying to soar, but often stumbling, over a too-ambitious octave or indulging in over-long guitar solos. But she didn’t put these tips to use on her debut, “Small Gods,” until now – at age 33.
“I think I was kind of living my life with my eyes closed for a while,” Swati admits from Austin, Texas. “Something – I don’t know what it is – opened my eyes and I needed to connect with people on a deeper level than I was with just those few people around me. … I think life is really short and I decided I needed to do what I’m put on this earth to do.”
But Swati, whose name means “birth of a star” in Hindu, never drifted from the music scene. She’s secured spots at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and Lilith Fair, where she recalls receiving an evil eye from Sheryl Crow when an abrupt group performance of an obscure Bob Dylan tune left Swati feeling awkward. “Sheryl crow kept on looking at me like I wasn’t supposed to be there,” she recalls.
Those familiar with her live performances know Swati’s guitar-driven music flourishes with sounds that bleed her Indian heritage. The self-taught guitarist, whose parents were born in India, used to dream of music – literally.
“My father would sing me to sleep rather than read a book,” she recalls.
For her debut album, Swati unleashed emotions that were tied to the demise of a two-and-a-half year relationship with her girlfriend that she calls “volatile.” “I didn’t get any closure on it,” she says, noting she was also dealing with the flu. “I was really depressed – totally on my couch.”
At the time, the Bruce Springsteen tune “I’m On Fire” surfaced from her subconscious. Because it resonated so clearly with her situation, it nearly felt like her own song. Though she covered Springsteen, Swati’s a songwriter in every aspect of the label and she has no issues ranting on fakers.
“Be honest,” she says. “Don’t be a fucking rock star. If that’s what you wanna do, go fuck yourself.”
The musician, who’s a sucker for sad music, and her producer Duke McVinnie used the recording studio as a therapeutic getaway for Swati’s honest lyrics. While recording at Allaire Studios in New York, it was just her and the guitar; other musical flourishes were layered later.
“I really wanted to put out (this record) ’cause it seems like the most honest work that I’ve put out,” she says, noting she’s recorded several demos.
As a longtime trombone player, not to mention a disciplined one, Swati gave up the before-sunrise Saturday symphony rehearsals for an instrument that would allow her to feel freer. She quit after a Carnegie Hall gig at age 17.
“I didn’t want the conformity anymore. I don’t really look at myself as a musician or a guitar player. I just think I make music. I find it; I invent it.”
8 p.m. March 26
Xhedos Cafe, Ferndale