No one does self-deconstruction quite like Matthew Swann. In 2015, Swann tore apart his musical project Extra Happy Ghost!!! and re-emerged, phoenix-like, as Astral Swans with the brilliantly titled All My Favourite Singers Are WIllie Nelson. While the album revolved around carefully crafted musical arrangements, they also resonated with anyone who saw themselves in songs with titles like “What Calms You Down, Freaks Me Out” and “My Conscience Don’t Work In The New World”.
“What Are You Gonna Do With Yourself” finds Swann continuing to craft finely drawn character studies for his next album, Strange Prison, due out later this year. “At one point, I wanted to call this album Fear Myself,” he shared with me via email last week, “I used to have a Daniel Johnston t-shirt that said ‘fear yourself/love your enemy’, which was from the record Fear Thyself that he did with Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse). I always thought that was solid advice.”
“What Are You Gonna Do With Yourself” offers us a glimpse into a mind consumed with FOMO and an artist fighting to hold onto relevancy. “This song is sort of about looking inwardly with disdain, confusion, and dread before surrendering to the realization of your own beautiful insignificance (perhaps non-significance is closer). It’s like a weird koan for an aging artist coming to terms with poor mental health, regret, and the feeling of increasing irrelevance. It’s about that, only more hopeful.”
Whether writing about Swann’s own personal experiences or channeling his inner storyteller to tell the tales of those around him, Astral Swans finds the richness of human connections and mines our individual stories to to find the common threads that bind us together. Agony, isolation, and failure are all non-negotiable parts of the human condition; it’s what we do with them that differentiates our individual journeys.