Anyone who knows me knows that I enjoy ambiguity, both in my personal identity and that of those that I admire. Melissa Ann Sweat, better known as Lady Lazarus, certainly embodies such ambiguity. The sound of L.A.-based singer/songwriter (in addition to artist and creative writer) embodies an aesthetic at the intersection of traditional folk and composers of postmodern minimalism. Her sound is more than a bit haunting. It’s subtle, yet profound, something that could soundtrack the moments of your personal history that will likely pass before your eyes as you leave life behind. This February she released her All My Love in Half Light LP. She’s been talked about in Pitchfork, NPR, and Spin, yet I was a bit surprised at her willingness to be interviewed, as her media presence seems to be quite minimal and smoky… No, “cloudy,” seems far more accurate [Her music has been described as dream pop, although it rings as far heavier (existentially, speaking) than most who don that moniker.] But, alas, Ms. Sweat recently took some time to tell me about the history and mindset behind the project.
Izzy Cihak: So this project has been around for a while now, yet there’s still relatively little information available about it. What do you think is most important to know about Lady Lazarus?
Melissa Ann Sweat: I’m a self-made woman — as much as one can be, I believe. Trying for the kingdom. Happier now than I ever have been.
I always wanted to make art of my life. And I’m so glad I decided to let music sweep me away and take me on an adventure I did not imagine.
I started this project at 25, when I began teaching myself keyboard for the first time. Favorite artists include Joanna Newsom, Bill Callahan, Gillian Welch, Tom Waits, and Neil Young. I’m a poet and writer and the lyrics/songs just flooded out. I quit my job. Moved to Savannah. Self-released my first full-length record. Traveled. Toured. DIY’d the thing with the help of lovely friends and musicians and supporters along the way. Moved back to Cali. Made a new record. Healed. Revealed some secrets to the L.A. Weekly I thought I’d never tell; almost feels like a different person now. Produced some music videos here with some wonderfully creative directors. Played on my biggest stage yet, and survived with a smile.
Maybe it’s the L.A. sunshine, but I feel very, very good. Always planning for the next thing. Always making things, and trying to make something big of this life. Becoming a better me, and trying to give.
IC: What have been your highlights of 2013, whether in relation to your music, or not?
MAS: Playing the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles was an epic experience. And being in love with my boyfriend now of ten months has been nothing short of life-changing.
IC: So you would seem to have a lot of non-musical influences. Any particularly significant ones… aside from Sylvia Plath?
MAS: Joseph Campbell. Joan Didion. Krzysztof Kieslowski. Steinbeck. Theodore Roethke. Raymond Carver. Paul Bowles. Garrison Keillor. Werner Herzog. James Turrell.
IC: I’m quite a cinephile and I really love your music videos, so I have to ask what or who is it that they draw inspiration from?
MAS: Thank you, glad you like them! Maya Deren has been a big influence, as well as Akira Kurosawa. We referenced Kenneth Anger’s Puce Moment in the “Lapsarian” video, as I’ve been obsessed with it for a few years now. Dream states, the surreal, art and beautiful forms/images in general, and what I call the “holy mundane,” are things that inspire me.
IC: What are your plans for the immediate future? Should we expect new music in the near future, or possibly some lives dates?
MAS: Will definitely be playing shows into the fall and winter. About new music… let’s just say, I’m inspired.