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Now, Sierra, you took some time off after you had your first child [Jasper Thomas Swan-Garton, age three], and you’re expecting your second this year. Has motherhood changed your songwriting?
Sierra Swan: [Laughs] “There’s nothing more inspiring than having kids. You think you have problems, but you don’t. What was surprising was how writing came back to me naturally, and I realized that I had a lot to say. Maybe I wasn’t trying so hard because I was thinking about other more ‘important’ things. I let myself get out of the way and the songs flowed.
“I think you can be consciously creating when you don’t even know it, but sometimes you have to sit down and catch the art, catch the dreams. Becoming a mother changed me as a person, but it also changed me as a songwriter. The whole experience made me ready to do this with Billy.”
Corgan: “Sierra would play me her new songs, and I thought they were fantastic, so I would keep encouraging her to write more and more. Then she played me another batch, and they were even better. Finally I just said, ‘OK, I’ve got to produce you.’ And she was like, ‘You’re kidding, right? Because I know you don’t do that.’ But I was serious. There was something she was onto that I just couldn’t deny.”
“Sierra’s been through the whole major-label thing – it just never worked out for her. My own personal opinion is that she would always default into the standard singer-songwriter production. There’s kind of like this LA style, if that makes any sense. I don’t want to name names, but it’s got a nice, cozy vibe, a little bit of guitar, but it always winds up being a little middle of the road. What gets sacrificed a lot of times is the songwriter’s edge.
“Sierra’s work was always put under the wrong microscope and expected to do what she’s not designed to do as a vocalist. So there would be fleeting moments of brilliance mixed in with a lot of middling moments. It’s like taking a great guitarist, somebody like Steve Vai, and asking him to only play rhythm guitar.
“To me, Sierra had an edge, but she captured it with simplicity. Big, sophisticated production had always blunted her in the past. In my mind, she belongs with the great crooners like June Christy or Frank Sinatra. Her voice is her instrument like Charlie Parker’s saxophone is his instrument – that’s what you’re listening for. How they riff over everything is what’s so interesting.
“When I heard Sierra’s demos – just acoustic and voice and a little bit of guitar work – I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s what she’s been looking for.’ Again, in production, that would always get blunted. I know how she thinks, and I was worried that she wouldn’t let it be raw, that she would somehow push me some other way. I told her, ‘I’ll produce you if we can do what you’re doing already but just the better version.’ And she agreed to that.”