Gutter Swan (photo: Robert Alleyne)
Loryn and Steve, collectively known as Gutter Swan, are an acoustic duo who reinterpret songs into their own sound. The band is now just over a year and a half old and when together they laugh and joke around like school kids. Neither can keep a straight face for more than 10 seconds. When talking about music, however, they become very focused.
As a band, Gutter Swan search for songs they love to give them a new interpretation or perspective. “Good bones…” are what they are searching for in a song shares singer Loryn. “I’m looking for emotion, what does it bring out?” she continues. When they find songs they want to work with, the pair challenge each other creatively to make the best song they can explains Steve, “the further out she goes the more it pushes me, the further out I go the more it pushes her, and we both love that challenge.”
I use the word cover to describe their music, and Loryn quickly corrects me. “The word 'cover' bothers me. When I think cover I think [it] sounds the same,” she says. “I really like it when you see the person in the audience, they're looking, and you start a song, and it takes them like a verse to figure out that they actually know the song because it’s different enough that they’re like, Ooooh," she shares.
This choice to reinterpret others' music is not the conventional route for an acoustic duo. Steve confesses there has not always been acceptance of their music. “There have been occasional pockets of resistance to Gutter Swan because we don’t write our own material. Separate from Gutter Swan, I’m a songwriter, and I get that, but I don’t really get the resistance. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a project that says 'No, we have no interest in writing our own material at this time.'”
Loryn and Steve are longtime Bay Area residents and have seen the music scene change around them. “About 10-12 years ago, it seemed open mics was as good as it was going to get. There weren’t going to be that many gig opportunities for acoustic music, and I think there is that now.” During their first twelve months as a band, Gutter Swan have played The Fillmore Poster Room, The Lost Church, and The Lucky Horseshoe. At the start of this year, they were able to secure a residency, playing every second Saturday at PianoFight in SOMA. "I feel like we have been really welcomed with open arms by so many venues and people," says Steve.
While there are more opportunities to play acoustic music, they feel San Francisco has lost some things along the way. “There’s some things that are missing that we used to have more of many many years ago, like... The Paradise Lounge,” says Loryn. “These venues that were in SOMA, that were a little bit bigger than a big bar, but not as big as the Great American,” Loryn continues. She speaks about how those venues provided space for bands to develop before hitting the biggest stages in San Francisco. Loryn also speaks fondly of the way she used to discover music. “I remember as a kid the pink pages of The Chronicle,” she reminisces, “I would wait for it to come and my mom would put it on the table for me, and I would just start looking at all the band listings.”
These nostalgic memories of a city the way it was are intersected by perceptions of a changing mentality as the city evolves. “You read about people who don’t leave their apartment building. They work out of their apartment, they have their food and everything delivered; so how do we convince that demographic that they need to be seeing live music to feed their soul?” shares Steve.
There is a heartfelt appreciation they have for making music in the Bay Area. “The scene is very wide, from singer-songwriter, to punk, to anything. I’m thrilled that we’re in the San Francisco music scene the time we are in it,” expresses Steve. It is a scene they love, and a scene they are protective of. We discuss an article from the past 12 months which proclaimed the Bay Area music scene to be dead. While they both found it offensive, it also served as a rallying cry to better themselves as musicians. "Them's fighting words," proclaims Loryn with fervor in her eyes.
It is this passion for the city they live in, and the love for the music they make is what makes Gutter Swan a band you want to root for. Yes, being an acoustic band that does not write their own music is a little unconventional, but that desire to be different is very San Franciscan. “If we ever can't find new songs...” starts Steve before Loryn jumps in to finish off his thoughts: “That means we don't love music anymore.”
April 8, 2017