Though singer-songwriter Katie Schottland is based in Brooklyn, the music she makes as Swimming Bell defies expectations one might have in light of that fact. The creative force behind the group, Schottland’s career began in 2015, when she broke her foot in a fall and began teaching herself the chords to Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” Her latest single, “For Brinsley,” is delicate and textured, Schottland’s drawling voice crooning over a haunting steel guitar. It’s the second single from her forthcoming LP Wild Sight, out April 5th via Adventure Club Records.
An intuitive and melodic artist, Schottland paints a vivid picture with “For Brinsley,” its characters coming together almost in front of the listener’s eyes. What I love most about the track, though, is how familiar it feels. It’s a long drive under a full moon in early autumn, the breeze carrying the first chill and the road stretching out as far as the eye can see. It’s the wail of a steel guitar on an old-timey radio, harmonies creeping through a still, dark night. It’s beautiful and ethereal, the kind of track that draws you in and wraps you up in it.
Audiofemme is pleased to premiere “For Brinsley.” Listen below and read on for our interview with Schottland for the surprising inspiration behind the contemplative track.
AF: Let’s start from the beginning; how did you get into music? When did you realize that music was more than a hobby and something you wanted to do as a career?
KS: I can’t really remember a time when music wasn’t a part of my life. It started with my parents and the things they listened to: The Beatles, Beach Boys, John Denver, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, just to name a few. I remember distinctly when I decided to make music more than a hobby because it was pretty scary. It was just a few years ago, and I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, in a bit of an existential mindset, and I kept coming back to music. It was the only thing in my life that I had ever wanted to work hard at, so I realized I should just do that.
AF: It’s mentioned in your bio that you played drums for a friend’s band. What’s it like to transition from a drummer in another band to the front-woman and singer-songwriter of your own project?
KS: “Played drums” is a pretty loose term! I played floor tom and snare in my friend’s band because I could keep a beat. I had already started writing songs and could play the guitar a little. This was a short-lived but very fun band to play in. A bunch of good friends, sometimes more, singing love songs. I started my own band very shortly after. We were called Stills. Since then, I’ve somehow managed to become the backup drummer for two other bands, which I find pretty funny. I love it all!
AF: What’s your creative process like?
KS: I find creativity can hit any time, anywhere. Very often for me, I’ll have a little line pop up in my head and I’ll jot it down. I lose many more little moments like this than I actually manage to keep. Sometimes late at night I’ll think of something and say to myself, “Write it down, or you’ll forget,” but often I’m too tired. Sure enough, it never comes back. Creativity also comes from just forcing myself to play the guitar and be in my studio for hours. Maybe I get nowhere, but I gotta get through that to find the next thing. There’s always something to gain from just practicing and playing.
AF: As a self-taught musician, how do you explain the way you go about writing your songs? Does it come very naturally, and, if so, does it ever surprise you how natural it is to you?
KS: I write songs in different ways, and I’ve had lots of conversations with many talented and trained musicians. I think everyone has their own methods and inspiration, but I’ve been surprised by how much overlap there is. Whether you’re a new songwriter, or a seasoned one, it all seems to come from a similar place. But I do think it’s a craft like anything else. As I said earlier, sometimes you have to just force yourself to play for hours knowing that maybe nothing will come out of it, but you gotta get through that to get to the next.
AF: Who do you consider your greatest inspirations when it comes to songwriting?
KS: So many incredible songwriters! Some of the influential ones for me have been Fiona Apple, Tomo Nakayama, Paul Simon, and my friends!
AF: “For Brinsley” is such a haunting, ethereal song, blending layered percussion and steel guitar. How do you incorporate such timeless sounds and put a modern and unique twist on them?
KS: The production on this album was inspired by Beck’s Sea Change. That album blew my mind when it came out. I loved the layers, the strange moments, the pedal steel, reverbs, etc. I wanted to try and get my own version of those sounds. Oli Deakin, who produced it, did a great job interpreting my ideas and adding his own, and we built it together.
AF: What inspired “For Brinsley”?
Brinsley Schwarz is a musician – and the name of a band – that has a song called “Don’t Lose Your Grip on Love
.” I was listening to that song a lot when I was in California last year. I kind of “borrowed” the chorus, so I wanted to dedicate the song to him. I guess if he catches wind, I’m doing something right.
AF: What do you hope listeners take from the song?
KS: I hope they just like to listen to it and they take whatever they need or want from it!
AF: What do you consider the greatest accomplishment of your career so far? The greatest challenge?
KS: I think the greatest accomplishment so far is simply the ability to push forward with music. I’m just kind of proud and surprised at my drive in all of this. I just keep pushing myself and making music. The greatest challenge is not getting in my own way with doubt and insecurity.
AF: What advice would you have for your younger self?
KS: Don’t start smoking cigarettes.
AF: What’s next for Swimming Bell?
KS: I dunno! I’d love to be asked on a tour through Europe or something!
Follow Swimming Bell on Facebook, keep an eye out for her upcoming album,
Wild Sight, out April 5th via Adventure Club Records,
and catch her on tour this spring.
SWIMMING BELL TOUR DATES:
3/14 – Easthampton, MA @ Luthier’s Co-op
3/15 – Catskill, NY @ Hilo Catskill
3/16 – Rochester, NY @ Abilene Bar and Lounge
3/17 – Toronto, ON @ Burdock
3/19 – Burlington, VT @ Radio Bean
3/20 – Boston, MA @ Sofar Sounds
3/21 – Warren, RI @ Galactic Theatre
3/22 – New Haven, CT @ Crunch House
3/23 – Windham, CT @ Willimantic Records
3/24 – Westerly, RI @ Knickerbocker Taproom
4/06 – Brooklyn, NY @ Trans-Pecos (Record Release Show w/ Monteagle & Pale Mara)
4/13 – Philadelphia, PA @ Bourbon and Branch
4/17 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
4/18 – Athens, GA @ The Flicker Theatre and Bar
4/19 – Chattanooga, TN @ JJ’s Bohemia