SF duo Silver Swans makes midnight music for contemplation
MUSIC Cast in the shadows of flashlights, candles, and streetlamps, Ann Yu sings herself to sleep, hiding under soft sheets and contemplating lyrics instead of counting sheep. Her secrets escape at midnight in the form of gorgeously moody melodies, that when paired with slow-motion synth and beats by DJ and producer Jon Waters, become the encapsulating repertoire of Silver Swans.
The hearty bass and electric hums created by the San Francisco duo could inspire a subtle swagger, but its kind of electropop is intended for more contemplative purposes. Silver Swans is dark and brooding, yet innocent and nostalgic. Eager ears should take note of Yu's creative process and "just sit in bed," wrapped head to toe in some sort of cozy material.
"I don't think there's a single track on our album that wasn't written while I was wearing my polar fleece flannel pajamas," she smiles, her freckled cheekbones blushing a delicate pink.
Yu's comfort is audible and infectious; her voice rings with a vulnerable honesty that draws you close to her fragile lyrics, revealing whispers of unwanted ghosts and wavering happiness. The eerie intimacy is a natural product of Yu's musical environment: no stuffy studio and no inhibitions. The sounds are derived from the familiar, unpretentious spaces of her own home.
"It's like when you sing in your room or in the shower. I'm just trying to capture those moments."
Netting a true emotion takes patience, but today's music industry moves fast, and electronic music is expected to rocket through the entire creative process. It's a race to write, record, and release, and if a band isn't keeping up, they could easily be left behind in a cloud of blog dust. It freaks Yu out.
"There are no limits. You have to kick stuff out so fast. There are no rules. It's crazy."
Ironically, Yu and Waters started out at a snail's pace; it's taken years for Silver Swans to officially commence. The two first proposed the idea of working on a project together in 2007. At the time, Yu was dedicated to her indie rock band, LoveLikeFire, until last year when the tour landed her back home. The duo finally took on a name, inspired by Waters' family crest and secured once Yu found a corresponding necklace.
"I know it's hokey. A silver swan necklace," she laughs. "It was a sign."
In January 2010, the Swans hatched their first LP, Realize the Ghost, on Tricycle Records. Near the end of the year, the duo self-released the EP Secrets. Yu and Waters' collaborations are almost entirely traded through space. Yu e-mails Waters a mood, song, or inspiration; Waters sends her back a few measures of a potential track. Yu writes up the melody and lyrics; Waters ties it all together.
Yu says this process sometimes happens so fast that it's hard to comprehend her own participation. Yu wrote her part to "Secrets" in about 30 minutes. The song immediately haunts with Yu's first lines, "Are you happy? I know you shiver like a stone. I know you can't be when you have nowhere else to go." She swears someone else came into the room and wrote it.
"I'll look back at the lyrics and think, 'Oh, wow, I couldn't have said it better myself.'"
That initial recording of "Secrets" remains the only one. Yu hasn't been able to precisely replicate the emotions she had behind her vocals that first night; spontaneity can't be matched. This is why she reminds herself that it's always best to let the inspiration come organically, regardless of outside pressures to produce in volumes.
"I'm not a trained musician," she says, sipping on her sparkling cider at Heart Bar. "I don't think, 'Oh, I'll write a song in the key of D today.' Or 'I'll use minor chords on this one.' I have to let it happen magically and then it's extra-special."