Sarah Swire is the sort of multi-hyphenate who breaks the character limits of social media bios: Between touring the world as a performance artist with band Belle & Sebastian and acting in a recurring bit on Murdoch Mysteries, she’s also produced music for the BBC. But these days, the best description for the artist, who creates music under the moniker Sister Swire, might be sonic cartographer. This isn’t just because she’s looking to plant a flag at the corner of musical theatre and indie rock, but because she chased the sound her ears were envisioning across the Atlantic, swapping the Glasgow, Scotland scene that shaped her for downtown Dartmouth instead.
In HRM and Glasgow alike, “It’s just egoless art. They both just make wild and incredible things and they push the boundary constantly and they're incredibly innovative,” Swire muses, speaking with The Coast by phone while on break from recording her debut album at Joel Plaskett’s Fang Recording (formerly called New Scotland Yard), her base camp in the city until midway through April.
Originally from Toronto, Swire says Dartmouth was the obvious place to make her first LP, after years of being told she was “too weird” by former bandmates and fellow scenesters elsewhere: “I guess what we are creating in some way or another is outside the usual gambit of folk and rock: It is art rock,” she says. With a breathy laugh, she scrolls through her text history with Plaskett, to find the working Spotify bio he suggested: “Nora Marling writing songs for a musical about Robert Plant filing a self-indulgent, unsuccessful lawsuit against the band Hart while he’s squatting at Jack White’s summer cottage with Martha Wainwright.”
While surfing the same sonic wavelength with Plaskett, Swire is already feeling at home at 45 Portland Street: “I just feel like part of this whole experience has so much to do with how special this space is. There's no other word for it other than magical,” she says. “On top of the incredible genius that Joel is—being both enigmatic and electric, but also very gentle and wise—he cares about the spirit of sounds in an incredible way… And because this studio is mostly entirely analog equipment, the space that we're in becomes like a player, too—and has an opinion. The instruments have lived and have attitude. Things crackle and bend just at the right moment. The space has an opinion on what you're making feels like you're dueting with a space that feels alive. And I have never experienced a creative process like I have here.”
“I think I've written on my EPK [electronic press kit] that it's this feminine, timeless, malevolent entity,” she says of her onstage persona, a sort of singer-songwriter take on the character musician type that Orville Peck has perfected. Her debut single, “My Sister is a Butcher”, slouches and shudders along a jangly guitar melody, proving her point and illustrating her vision all at once. “It's like you're trying to conjure Beetlejuice, but you get Sylvia Plath—and, like, she's just got a bone to pick.”
Sister Swire’s Dartmouth-forged debut will be released in Fall 2022.