Angie Swan talks about the David Byrne gig and the changing industry

Growing up in a household where records were constantly blasting and the soulfulness of her dad’s blues band rang throughout the basement, it’s no wonder that Angie Swan, musical pillar David Byrne’s newest addition to his backing band, has skyrocketed into an impressive career and made a lasting namesake for herself. Hailing from Milwaukee, Swan found herself immersed in a community of like-minded musicians when she began her studies at Berklee College of Music. With huge tours under her belt; most notably her runs with CeeLo Green and Fifth Harmony – Swan shows no signs of slowing down.

After meticulously trying out many different instruments, from violin to clarinet, Swan fell in love with the intimate intricacies of learning guitar. Clearly, her hard work, immersive knowledge, and pure love for this stringed instrument allowed her to forge her way into catapulting into the career she had always dreamed of.

Following her work at Cirque de Soleil, Swan received word from a former Berklee professor that Byrne was searching for a guitarist. After a series of online auditions and recommendation letters, Swan found out she had booked the job when she received a personal email from Byrne. “It was really word of mouth. [Musicians] want people to vouch for you, similar to how Jammcard works. Just having people support each other and say “Hey, this person is good to work with.”

After hearing that she would be a part of Byrne’s tour, Swan sat on the information for almost a year. “In November, Milwaukee had a film festival and they always play Stop Making Sense. I went to see it with my mother, knowing that I already had this gig. We were in the movie theater watching it and the whole crowd was going crazy and dancing and singing to the screen. My mother whispers to the guy next to her and says, ‘My daughter is going to play guitar for him.’” With the full-fledged theatricality and rambunctious choreography on stage, Swan’s history with Cirque de Soleil thoroughly prepared her for the physical nature of the show.

“I didn’t know that the show was going to be fully choreographed, it’s a completely blank stage. There was no music equipment onstage. We’re all wireless and all in-ears. You can really make the most of the space.”

In her past, Swan has played with many groups comprised solely of women. She states, “I’ve played in a lot of girl groups. I hate that term because in a band full of guys, you don’t call it an all boy band … I think the term should be abolished. It’s derogatory. Most people touring aren’t “girls”. They’re women. They deserve a better title if they have to have one. There seems to be a lot of things that are becoming trends. Unfortunately, trends come and go. I’d rather have it be a change.” As feminist ideals begin to skyrocket into commodification, it gets harder to determine which methods of equal representation–without nuance–are here to stay.

“With the music industry, change is already happening. It’s like a silent war. For instance, I was going through the Jammcard app and you just see more females within the app. There are no pink backgrounds saying “Hey! This is a girl!” They’re just musicians. You can be a musician without having to talk about your gender, unless that’s what you’re going for.”

In a world where femininity is becoming as personal as putting on a pair of shoes, Swan has redefined what womanhood means to her. With pillars like Wendy & Lisa, Jennifer Batton, Janelle Monae, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe as her inspiration, this musical powerhouse has forged her way onto the stage through her raw passion and hard work.

By: Elizabeth Hsieh