California-based singer-songwriter, artist and creative writer Melissa Ann Sweat, who records under the moniker of Lady Lazarus, inhabits a world of ethereal folk-pop which she mostly arranges to suit her mesmerizing voice and accompanying keyboard/piano. Her songs possess an immediate intimacy, the kind of earnest emotional relevance which so few musicians approach and fewer still succeed at developing with any sense of authenticity. Filled with existential narratives and confessional conversations, her work is framed by a genuine melodic splendor and offers welcome divergences into her many influences and inspirations.
Self-tasked with adapting and deconstructing the sounds of artists such as Tom Waits, Joanna Newsom and Sparklehorse (among countless others who have played an important role in her own path as a musician), she deftly combines their specific rhythmic qualities with her own inimitable musical instincts, forging an innovative and unique sound that’s free of emotional superficiality. She works in musical and experiential gradations, shifting perspectives between heavier themes and lighter melodies, opting to explore a wide range of sounds instead of limiting her wildly imaginative rhythmic impulses.
Sweat released her debut record, “Mantic,” as Lady Lazarus in 2011 – and this was only 3 years after she first started writing songs and playing the keyboard. Lo-fi, soaked in reverb and acclaimed by countless review outlets, the record offered a glimpse into her fascination with physical and spiritual travel, existentialism and complex emotional turmoil. After two more records, 2013’s “All My Love in Half Light” and 2014’s “Miracles,” she had refined her creativities and musical compulsions to a fine edge but had suffered some terrible personal hurt and had changed geographies more than once.
Now living in Santa Cruz County in California, she spends her downtime (when she has it) just a few blocks from the ocean. And it was here that she completed the songs which make up the body of her upcoming album, “Impossible Journey of My Soul Tonight” (due out Oct. 18), which feels like the record she has been building to since the beginning. There’s a natural balance between the inherent humanism of her words and the emotional complexity which has been characteristic of her work since “Mantic.” Through her own ache and struggle, she hopes to provide some measure of hope and light for those enduring their own troubles.
Lady Lazarus recently sat down with The Southern Sounding to discuss some of the records which have influenced her trajectory as an artist and how those same records have inspired the creation and tone of her forthcoming record, “Impossible Journey of My Soul Tonight.” Check out her picks and thoughts below.
Tom Waits - “Closing Time”
Closing Time is Tom Waits' first album, the first one of his I owned, and it's since become one of my favorites in his incredible catalog. The album is a beautiful blend of folk, jazz, and Tom's more classic, tender songwriting with piano ballads like, "Martha," "Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wing of Your Love)," and the sparse "Lonely." Many tones, moods, and lessons in songwriting were drawn from this album for my own.
Joanna Newsom - “Have One On Me”
Joanna Newsom has been an inspiration for me ever since she came out with The Milk-Eyed Mender, but this album is my favorite of hers. From the songwriting and brilliant lyrics, to Joanna's lovely singing and delicate orchestration, to the overall California-nature of the record (particularly Northern California), everything about this album just feels like "home" to me, and is a masterwork in indie-folk music.
Van Morrison - “Beautiful Vision”
Beautiful Vision was a big touchstone for my new album. I was inspired by Van's use of saxophone and jazzier elements in his music, as well as his overall earthly mysticism that I relate to a lot as a musician and person. "Dweller on the Threshold" is my favorite track, and I played it over and over again on many long walks on the beach near my home (my own mystic threshold) during the making the new album.
Joni Mitchell - “Hejira”
This is one of Joni's darker and deeper folk albums, with more of an infusion of jazz than previous albums, and is among her best songwriting in my opinion, "Coyote" being one of my favorite tracks. Hejira means an exodus or migration, and I greatly related to this sentiment on the album as a woman taking flight from a past lover and moving myself halfway across the country a few years back. Flight is one of the themes of the album, and so many women can relate to this, I feel - fleeing a negative situation, learning to grow our own wings and take spiritual/artistic flights of our own making.
Mary-Chapin Carpenter - “Come On, Come On”
This album has been with me for a long time, growing up as a pre-teen we had this on repeat in the car driving around with my Mom and brothers to and from school. Everyone had it back then, and there are just so many hits. There's a darkness, fire, strength, earthy femininity, and keenness of perception and observation that I relate to on this record. Mary-Chapin is one of our greatest living American singer-songwriters, and this album is a lesson from a true master.