For our latest music feature, we profile L.A.-based experimental dream pop singer/songwriter Lady Lazarus, nee Melissa Sweat. Although still relatively unknown, Sweat's recently-released sophomore LP All My Love in Half Light has received glowing reviews.
We kicked it with her a few times, including last month at the HMS Bounty in Koreatown. In a back booth, over glasses of red wine, she talked art, life, romance and her creative process. Here are some outtakes that didn't make the story.
On her influences:
“I've really come to love Tom Waits so much, his style and songwriting. I really admire him. Also Bill Callahan. I really appreciate his lo-fi aesthetic. Also a lot of early Pavement and Guided By Voices too. But especially as a woman, Cat Power and Joanna Newsom were examples, in a way, of how a contemporary female singer/songwriter and artist could be.”
On first performing live:
“I started performing because I thought that if I was going to write songs, it was the next step. Most everyone tries their hand at songwriting and learning an instrument at some point, and I think the reason I didn't go into it earlier, despite all of my interest in the art form, is because I didn't see myself as a performer type. Getting to the point where I wanted to perform was less of, 'I really want to do this' than it was 'I need to do this because it's going to help me grow and I like them enough that I think I should share them.'
“I don't have [stage fright] that bad, but it is an effort for me. But there is a moment onstage where I feel like, 'Oh I'm so happy to be here and to be doing this,' and I relax and then afterwards it's a huge high. That's how it should be. It should be difficult.”
On her time living in Savannah, Georgia:
“It's absolutely beautiful and very much mysterious. I was just about to release [debut album] Mantic and wanted to move to the east coast to try and tour because you can hit up more towns touring on the east coast.
“I was drawn to Savannah and it seemed like a wonderfully creative town. It was really kind of magical. I met lots of amazing friends and really the town as a whole kind of embraced me. I played out so much and was involved with so many people creatively and the local press gave me such love. It was kind of a dream scenario for a new artist.”
On moving back to Los Angeles:
“I had lived in San Francisco before and really love it, but it's also sort of a difficult city to live in. It's cold and moody and very expensive, and I had already kind of done that. It was a great experience but it was also sort of a struggle financially. L.A., when I went to school here, always had sort of a crazy wild part in my heart. Even though there's wonderful art and cultural stuff happening in S.F., I felt that L.A. is a bit more wild, and you can be more anonymous.”
On her current relationship:
“It was very strange for me to write this album about healing from past love, and then I moved to L.A. and had no romantic interests on the horizon. Sort of being a new girl in the city you kind of want to keep things open and focus on what you're doing and maybe making friends first, but I wanted to meet up with my friend who I went to UCLA with, and totally hit it off again so we've been dating since [the fall]. The album was written well before this happened. I just think it's so funny in the strange ways of the universe to deal with all of those past relationships and then have someone really amazing come along. I was like, “Okay thank you universe!” It's been very lovely.”
On the concept of femininity in her music:
“It is difficult to be strong and yet feminine. That's definitely something very central to [the Lazarus project]. I hope that it comes out. I feel like women sometimes feel like they have to negate their feminity or suppress it whether at work or going about their day. That's what's lovely about art. You don't have to suppress anything.
“There's definitely the quality of a woman, as Lady Lazarus, embracing the vicissitudes of her emotions and her feelings, but she's also learning to control and channel them. Articulating and expressing them is powerful and exciting. That's definitely what this process has been for me.”
On where she likes to hang in L.A.:
“I really like the Chateau Marmont, I know that's so cheesy. That's probably also partly why I moved to Los Angeles. I really love that romantic but also dark seedy underbelly side of the city. Plus I feel like I can sort of pretend at the Chateau. It's easy to feel fancy.”
On the music video for “Lapsarian,” part of the series she's working on in conjunction with Half Light:
“It's especially Hollywood-centric, as it was greatly inspired by filmmaker Kenneth Anger's experimental short Puce Moment, and Man Ray's “Tears,” among other things. Also it was directed by June Zandona, an amazing young director based in L.A., and we had an all female crew. We shot it in my apartment here in Koreatown.”
On developing her public image:
When I released Mantic in 2011, I was a little timid to put out photos and a public image. I felt in a way that the music should speak for itself and retain its mystery. It was very “of the spirit” and private and I wanted to protect it. I also didn't want to come across as too sexed up; I think I was afraid of it at the time.
“It's hard to say exactly what changed, maybe just getting older, or performing a lot in public, but I definitely felt more ready on this new album to play with images. I felt free in a way to do that, and in some ways the music and subject matter dictated that choice. It made me want to be bolder.
On the cover art for All my Love in Half Light:
I chose the album cover photo because I love it. It seemed like something an ancestor would be proud of, slightly Old Hollywood, a little bad ass and yet I'm wearing almost princess- like crystal armor. What I love most about it is that it screams, 'Don't fuck with me.' That form of tough self-love is something I've learned after many falls and scrapes.”