When I first met Melissa Ann Sweat, better known as Lady Lazarus, she was quite enigmatic, with little available biographical information and very few photographic representations, yet she was very willing to open up to me in our chat which appeared on PHILTHY in September of 2013. She’d recently released her sophomore album, All My Love in Half Light, and also relatively recently began dating the man who has essentially become her other half. I’d characterized her current sonic output as embodying, “an aesthetic at the intersection of traditional folk and composers of postmodern minimalism.” She’d also recently relocated back to LA, where she remained for the recording of her follow-up, third LP, Miracles, which is set to drop next Tuesday, March 3rd, on her very own new label, Queen’s Ransom. The album boasts uplifting piano pop that is also profoundly sincere and often times ineffably poignant, inspired by some of the most impressive singer/songwriters of the twentieth century. It’s her most pop record yet, but also arguably her most intense. Since recording the album, more than a year ago, Melissa and her boyfriend relocated to Joshua Tree, which seems to have spawned a further evolution in her, as an artist. I recently had an extensive and exceptionally lovely conversation with Melissa about her current artistic state, the things that have most inspired it, and where she hopes her present and future sounds might take her.
*Although this piece was originally intended to be a “profile”, and not a “Q&A”, Melissa offered so many thorough and intriguing explanations of her recent history that I thought it would do it more justice to simply allow her to do the majority of the “speaking,” without interrupting with commentary of my own. That being said, this transcription of our latest chat is not entirely unabridged, as my hand, jotting notes, was unable to accurately capture the conversation in its entirety. There were also certain portions left out because they simply did not wind up “fitting” the discussion in a larger sense. So I do apologize to readers and Melissa herself, for anything I may have left out, whether intentionally or not (The vast majority of my flubs can be chalked up to my horrid shortcomings as a stenographer.)
Izzy Cihak: You’re about to release your third LP, Miracles, which is out on March 3rd. How do you feel like you have changed since your 2011 debut, Mantic?
Melissa Ann Sweat: I’ve definitely changed, certainly in my life and that is sort of the basis of my songwriting, so that’s led to a lot of changes. The first record was a lot more insular than this one. It felt like a very powerful, private thing artistically, but the evolution seemed pretty natural. I mean, you want to get your music out to the world, so you start thinking about things like that and things like what photos you want to use to represent yourself. Originally, I didn’t want a glossy press shot and that has obviously changed and the music I’m writing does seem like it wants to be out there more and have the photos to go along with it and have a more complete presentation.
Izzy: For you, what have been the highlights of the past half-decade of Lady Lazarus?
Melissa: I feel like the whole thing has been a bizarre string of highlights and I have to remind myself that the attention I get isn’t something that everyone gets. One of the big highlights has been getting into publications like Pitchfork and having my sister, my cousin, or whoever be like, “Wow, she’s in Pitchfork.” That’s so cool. Also, getting a video premiere on NPR, which I always thought was sort of out of reach, was really great, and getting to do these music videos with female directors that are so good and have such strong visions has been really satisfying. I also got to open for Youth Lagoon on a few dates. And playing the El Rey Theatre, which was so surreal. I mean, it’s so historical.
Izzy: I understand you recently relocated from LA to Joshua Tree with your boyfriend. How has that transition impacted you as an artist, or just on an everyday basis?
Melissa: We relocated last February and it’s just so different from where I was in Koreatown in LA. There’s just a big, open space. I mean, it’s out in the wilderness and I’ve been really appreciating that. The distractions are taken away. It’s been really refreshing and enabled me to focus on things. It’s really simple here but it’s so beautiful that people wanna come out here and make videos and things, so our friends are always wanting to visit us.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the most significant influences behind Miracles, both musical and otherwise?
Melissa: I’m definitely a polycreative person. Musically, my favorite person is Tom Waits and I can’t see anyone dethroning him. He has the right vibe on so many levels. For Miracles I was thinking about John Lennon’s Imagine, especially the lead/title track, and I was also revisiting Carole King’s Tapestry. As for the non-musical influences, I think I’d have to go back to Joseph Campbell. When I view my music, I view it kind of as a hero’s journey myself. You get over things and heal and grow and this project enabled me to do that and I view it as a journey and it’s my life. It’s my journey. For the last record I had consciously decided to be very careful in my romantic life and guard myself and I was going to wait until I found the right person to put myself out there more, but I met my boyfriend around that time and it’s wonderful. We’ve been together for over two years now. It felt like a miracle that this person came into my life and gave me hope and love that I maybe hadn’t gotten before. The healing power of this love in my life led me to feel really grateful. I’m just at a more hopeful direction in my life, which probably shows in my music.
Izzy: Do you have a particular favorite track on the album?
Melissa: I’m really proud of “Miracles.” I feel like it’s one of the better songs I’ve ever written. Sometimes when I write a song I cry when I write it and I remember that happening with this song.
Izzy: You recently founded your own label, Queen’s Ransom. What led to that and how has that been so far?
Melissa: I’ve self released the last two records. I’ve tried to get them on labels, but I don’t know if it was the right fit. I wanted it to be legit, so I made it a business and, I mean, I love music and maybe I’ll release someone else at some point. The name, Ransom, was my grandfather’s middle name. He was the entrepreneur in our family; he owned a tire store. He was kind of quirky and really smart and it feels really great to honor him.
Izzy: And finally, what are your plans for 2015?
Melissa: I would love to play live; I’m maybe booking some shows in May. I would love to do the whole country; I’ll be digging into the logistics of that in the near future. But I would really like one of the music videos I do to go viral and have a bunch of people love it.