I DON'T KNOW if it's a shooting star, four-leaf clover, or some kind of fucking purple horseshoe, but something out there is watching over Swallows. And whatever it is, the force that brought together singer and guitarist Em Brownlowe and drummer Jon Miller has been working some seriously long hours. Years really.
When it all began, Em was on one coast with Jon on the other. They didn't know each other, but in their respective homes, they both met Sarah Dougher (Cadallaca). At the time neither could have imagined that the singer they came to see would eventually release their first real album.
"I snuck into a bar to see Sarah and her band play in New York," Jon tells me. "We talked about a song I thought meant one thing and Sarah laughed and told me that wasn't it at all." The experience tickled Dougher, and when Jon saw Cadallaca again, a year later, the band had written a song about that conversation.
Em saw Sarah and Cadallaca in San Diego. "I was 14 and got my picture taken with each member of the band," she admits. "It was all very nerdy, but kind of inspiring too."
Eventually the two would be drawn to Portland.
"I felt like there was a convergence of all types of artists going on and it seemed like the place to be," Jon says. "My boyfriend and I sold everything we owned, stuffed our clothes inside my drum set and drove out here."
Em was on the same track. "A lot of the bands that I listened to, a lot of riot grrrl-oriented bands, came from Portland or Olympia. I saw a good music scene for women."
The two met on a message board looking for band-mates a week before moving to Portland. They arrived the very same day.
"We got away with one practice in my apartment before they threatened to kick us out," Em says.
At a coffee shop on Division, Em found a flyer seeking local artists and musicians for collaboration. She knew little about the label, but sent a demo anyway. The package was addressed to Cherchez la Femme Projects, the label of Sarah Dougher.
Liking what she heard, Sarah eventually arranged to produce and release Swallows' debut album, Me with Trees Towering. At its best the disc recalls early Sleater-Kinney, with a more flighty and experimental Janet Weiss and without too much Carrie Brownstein. And maybe a pinch of Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth if Kim played Thurston's guitar while he mashed the drums.
Dougher enlisted producer Radio Sloan (the Need, Peaches, Courtney Love's band the Chelsea, and others), Having two such experienced women involved impacted Em heavily. "There was one song, 'All the Wind in the World,' that Sarah challenged me to redevelop the vocal parts to, and because of that, it became such a better pop song."
The album's opening track, "Flight," with its layered and more fully realized vocal and guitar melodies is easily the apex of Trees Tlowering. And even though they can't recreate all those overdubs live, Swallows remain equally committed to their live performance.
"Our live show and the album are two very different experiences," Em explains. "We hope you'll like them both."