Lady Lazarus

Impossible Journey Of My Soul Tonight

October 18, 2019

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Lady Lazarus is the solo project of Melissa Ann Sweat, a California-based singer-songwriter, artist, and creative writer who has received significant attention from The New York Times, NPR, Pitchfork, SPIN, Consequence of Sound, and many more for her singular brand of spirited and enchanting “dream folk-pop,” composed for mainly voice and keyboard/piano. 

Her thoughtful, almost existentialist lyrics and intimate confessions are sung in a lovely mezzosoprano that is alternatingly delicate and commanding. Combined with her uniquely elegant, powerful, yet winsome playing on piano/keys, makes for a listening experience that is at once movingly heartfelt while at the same time mysterious and filled with artful grandeur. Her songwriting comes in several modes:  from the ephemeral and dreamy to more earthy, folky tunes, to dramatic ballads and near minimalist-classical pieces. And somehow all resolve and revolve beautifully in the mastery of her own particular craft, straddling the lines of timeless singer-songwriters, dream pop, folk, folk rock, classical, and outsider music. Her work is one of contrasts:  both dark and light, vulnerable and strong, quiet and thundering.

Among Lady Lazarus’ influences are Tom Waits, Joanna Newsom, Sparklehorse, Cat Power, Bill Callahan, and Vashti Bunyan, to name a few, as well as more outsider artists like Connie Converse and Ed Askew. She has also garnered comparisons to Grouper, Regina Spektor, Daniel Johnston, Erik Satie, and Philip Glass, among others. 

In February 2009, Lady Lazarus rose to the attention of Pitchfork writer Brian Howe, who wrote a highly favorable track review of, “The Eye In The Eye of the Storm,” while Sweat was in the early stages of writing songs for her first full-length record and starting to perform live throughout the Bay Area, Pacific Northwest, and Southwestern U.S. 

Her first album, Mantic, in 2011—released just three years after Sweat started teaching herself to play keyboard and write her own songs for the first time—was a breakout for Lady Lazarus, earning accolades from Pitchfork, Stereogum, and many more. This led to an extensive period of touring throughout the Southeastern U.S. and East Coast while living in Savannah, Ga., as well as playing a few dates back in her native California. The word “mantic,” means having powers of divination, which for Sweat reflects the profound power and mystery she felt with her newfound craft of songwriting. Existential themes, heartache, actual and spiritual travel, as well as innocence and an “old soul”-like wisdom pervade the record’s lo-fi, raw yet beautiful, reverb-drenched recordings. During this time, Lady Lazarus also contributed vocals to The Marshmallow Ghosts self-titled album on Graveface Records, comprised of Black Moth Super Rainbow, Casket Girls, Dreamend, and Hospital Ships, and performed at the first-ever Savannah Stopover Music Festival. 

In 2012, Lady Lazarus released a 7” single, The Old Manse, on Graveface Records Charity Series, partnering with her brother Matthew Sweat’s project, Inner City Cruiser, on the album’s four songs. She also finished recording her second full-length album, All My Love In Half Light, in San Francisco with Papercut’s Jason Quever serving as Producer. She moved to Los Angeles later that year to prepare for the release of the album, and during that time was chosen to play the CMJ Festival in New York City. In January of 2013, Lady Lazarus released All My Love In Half Light, which was met with wide acclaim, including an LA Weekly feature, 7.8 album review from Pitchfork, NPR music video premiere, and more. A highlight of the year was opening for Youth Lagoon on two nights—one at the historic El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, and another at the Irenic in San Diego. The album focuses on Sweat’s extensive travels throughout the U.S., as well as re-claiming her own self-possession, worth, and power as a woman after failed romances. After the tragic death of singer-songwriter Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Co., Songs: Ohia) in March of that year, Lady Lazarus was asked to contribute a cover of his song, “Don’t It Look Like Rain” to Weary Engine Blues: A Tribute to Jason Molina, along with Will Oldham, Scout Niblett, Mark Kozelek, Damien Jurado, Phil Elverum, and other notable artists.

In January 2014, Lady Lazarus recorded her third album, Miracles, in Los Angeles before moving to the remote desert town of Joshua Tree, Calif. to live, work, and create with her former partner. The album was the first of hers to be recorded in a professional studio and featured instrumentation by Producer/Engineer and award-winning songwriter John Keller, along with orchestral percussion by Gary Mallaber (Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Miller Band). Later that year, Lady Lazarus’ previous album, All My Love In Half Light, received a worldwide re-release by LebensStrasse Records on vinyl, CD, and digital, and garnered new praise from Fader, Clash, BBC Radio 6, and Impose Magazine

Miracles was released on March 3, 2015 and received a full-stream album premiere from The New York Times, along with accolades from Consequence of Sound, Magnet Magazine, Diffuser, and many more. The album focuses on uncovering past trauma, overcoming depression, addiction, and embracing the miracle of life. The success of the Miracles release, however, was short-lived after Sweat suffered a breakup from her partner and chose to relocate on her own to Austin, Texas. Though Sweat had intentions to continue performing live with her move to Austin, she felt she had to take a step back from the years of music-making and touring, and to focus instead on healing her heart and long-held wounds. And there she was able to do so, while also taking time off to travel, make art, write, and complete her first book, while also continuing to craft songs.  

After two-and-a-half years in Austin—the longest she had lived anywhere at a stretch since turning 18—Sweat moved back to her home state of California, wanting to be closer to family. Lady Lazarus also made her return to playing live in the summer of 2018, opening for Brigid Mae Power and Aisha Burns at San Francisco’s Café du Nord, and playing a string of dates throughout the Bay Area. In early 2019, Lady Lazarus continued live performances, singing duets with The Posies when they came to perform in Felton, Calif., and playing San Francisco’s famed Noise Pop Festival for the first time, opening for Hillary Woods, and Marissa Nadler.

Lady Lazarus is now currently living in Santa Cruz County, just a few blocks from the ocean, where she completed a suite of songs for her latest album to come, Impossible Journey Of My Soul Tonight. The album was recorded in March of 2019 at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone Studios in Oakland with Producer Beau Sorenson (Death Cab For Cutie, Tuneyards, Sparklehorse, Bob Mould). On it, Sweat plays grand piano, upright piano, keyboard, Rhodes, electric strings, electric vibraphone, and Moog, along with singing vocal overlays and managing overall Executive Production. Sorenson’s delicate and highly-skilled production adds gorgeous and moody atmosphere to Sweat’s songs in the form of synths, pads, and subtle and surprising sonic textures. Along with Sorenson’s artful work, Sweat collaborated with her friend, saxophonist Tony Devincentis, on his both smoky and powerful contributions to the album, recording with Engineer Barry Tanner in Boulder Creek, Calif. Sorenson and Sweat later completed final production touches and mixing of the record in late March at Sorenson’s former home studio in Berkeley. 

Lady Lazarus’ Impossible Journey Of My Soul Tonight is the culmination Sweat’s long personal, creative, and spiritual journey. Here, her songwriting is its most refined and actualized, while still bearing the unique signature and humanity of her former works. Influences for the album include songwriting heavyweights such as (her favorite) Tom Waits, Van Morrison (particularly Beautiful Vision), Nick Cave, Stevie Nicks, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Joanna Newsom, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen, with some more modern references to Lana Del Rey, and Grimes. But the album is entirely her own, as is her journey. Through Sweat’s personal “shadow work,” she has succeeded at depth to reveal, shed light upon, and work to heal her darkest wounds, and turn them into mysterious, insightful, gorgeous, determined, and, even hopeful, songs. Vulnerability, power, beauty, and courage abound on this record… and it is Sweat’s intention for these songs and music to not only provide comfort from her own “dark night of the soul,” but to comfort those listeners, too, who are also suffering through dark times, or who are struggling, fighting, and working today to heal their own trauma, hearts, and souls on their journey through life.