Sway Wild is indie-folk duo, Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer, who have been joined by longtime friend Thom Lord, and make beautiful, lush sounds formed on a small island in the Salish Sea. The trio just released their self-titled debut album worldwide on September 13. Their songs feature a variety of sounds including rock, folk, pop, jazz, prog and funk, and features themes of happiness, grief and frustration.
At the heart of Sway Wild is Mandy Fer, who uses her Fender Stratocaster to infuse and create lead guitar pyrotechnics and chordal rhythms, using both at the same time for much of her performance(s). Fer demonstrates her extraordinary talent with several electric guitar solos on the group’s new record. The self-titled album was recorded in Portland, Oregon at The Hallowed Halls, a historic Carnegie Library, and engineered by Justin Phelps (Cake, Galactic & Bob Weir), with a variety of the band’s friends, featuring Birds of Chicago and Sean Hayes providing guest vocals, members of MarchFourth with a full horn section, and cellists Skip VonKuske (Portland Cello Project) and Anna Fritz. Anna Tivel is also a guest star on violin.
Fer chatted with us about Sway Wild’s new album, its guitar-driven focus, her playing technique, guitar gear and much more.
Your guitar-focused, self-titled debut album is due out September 13. Was it intentional to have this album be guitar-focused?
This new record definitely focuses on the guitar quite a bit…we wanted the album to be a bit more groovin’/rockin’ than previous releases we’ve made, and I’ve been really enjoying digging in a bit more on the electric. I think the fact that I am a woman playing lead electric guitar is such a central part to what we’re doing with Sway Wild.
Your latest single “Chimney Fire” explores the creative spaces throughout San Juan Islands. Can you share the writing and recording process for your upcoming debut?
Many of the songs from Sway Wild were written in the middle of the woods while sitting on the ground/dancing awkwardly around/fishing for songs amidst the forests of the San Juan Islands of WA. These islands are a truly magical/gorgeous place full of lush forests and seaside trails, from which I draw a lot of inspiration for my writing. I would often go out in the morning either on my bike or out on a hike and take my journal in a backpack and record voice memos of melodies, thoughts, ideas…This has been the most prolific writing period of my life. I’ve felt more “myself” in my writing than ever before, mostly inspired by getting back to my rockin’/experimental roots. Every time a new song emerged I was so excited to try it out with the guys and to have the three of us explore the new music together.
You use your Fender Stratocaster for lead pyrotechnics and chordal rhythms at the same time. What drew you to this technique?
I’ve always been intrigued by the endless possibilities on the guitar, and trying to push the limits/boundaries. I think I am more drawn to this technique of lead and chordal rhythms in this specific setup as a power trio because there is no rhythm guitar… so it’s a way to hold down the rhythm and throw in some fun licks while doing so. I probably started doing that style when I was performing solo.
What are your earliest memories of playing guitar?
Early high school, on an overnight canoe trip in the Sylvania Wilderness Area in the UP of Michigan playing “Tangled up in Blue” (since it was the only song I knew how to play on the guitar) and singing with my fellow campers. I think at that moment I noticed how connective playing guitar and singing together with a group really is. And I’ve been diving deeper towards that connection ever since.
If you weren’t playing guitar, is there another instrument you’d be playing? Do you play other instruments as well?
I would love to learn to play the drums. I fiddle with them sometimes when Dave’s kit is set up in the living room. I also play piano and a little bit of banjo, and a tiny bit of flute.
What kind of guitar do you play?
Fender Strat (Sky Blue- Mexican)
Is there a guitar that you want to play but haven’t yet?
Oh geez, there are so many guitars I’d love to play and haven’t played yet. Specifically more Semi-hollowbody style guitars that sound super warm and delicious. I don’t spend enough time playing other guitars, thanks for the reminder. 🙂
What strings, pedals, mics and amps do you use?
Right now I’m using Ernie Ball electric strings, pedals are Holygrail Reverb, Ernie Ball VP JR Volume Pedal, Flashback Mini Delay, Boss Super Octave 0C-3, Xotic Effects BB Preamp Overdrive, and a Boss Chromatic Tuner.
Is there a guitar you prefer to play live and one that you prefer in studio?
I’m a Fender Strat gal all the way right now. I’ve had the same guitar since I was gifted it on my 16th birthday from my friends/their parents (17 years ago! I’ve toured all around the world with this guitar and I love its playability). I did play a Godin 5th Ave Archtop Guitar equipped with flatwound strings in the studio on a few of the tunes off of the new record and fell in love with it.
Who was your first concert, and do you have a favorite?
Buddy Guy at Ravinia in Chicago when I was 14 was my first concert. A favorite concert? OY. To name a few: I saw David Byrne once at Bonnaroo Music Festival I think in 2004 and he completely re-sketched in my mind what a concert has the potential to look like. I saw Anais Mitchell at an intimate venue called SPACE (near Chicago) touring her record Young Man in America a few years back and it was incredible.
What was your first album on cassette, CD and/or vinyl?
Boyz II Men’s II
Which five albums and/or artists would you not want to live without?
Too hard to choose just 5.
Led Zeppelin’s – Physical Graffiti
Ani Difranco – Evolve
John Scofield – Uberjam
Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
LCD Soundsytem – This is Happening
Black Eyed Peas – Behind the Front
Natalia Lafourcade – Musas
Ray LaMontagne – ‘Til the Sun Turns Black
Do you have a guilty music and/or entertainment pleasure?
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” show on Amazon Prime