Sunday, December 18, 2022

Artist Spotlight: Mackenna Swann

Sometimes, you are just wowed by a new artist.  Something about hearing them sing penetrates you through to your soul.  It's a rare experience, but one you never forget.  For a musician to do that with their first single, their first song released to the world, is even more extraordinary.

Mackenna Swann, with her debut single, made for that "Wow!" experience for me.  "Christmas Together" was included in the New Music Roundup Part II post a few days back.  But, Mackenna's talent and her original song made her more than worthy of a breakout from the Roundup into an Artist Spotlight, so I can share more about her and "Christmas Together".

Mackenna, a recent graduate from Belmont University, has an incredibly mature voice for such a young artist.  To complement her vocal depth are qualities of effortlessness and ease that combine for a richness that is inspiring.  Rhiannon Giddens and Karen Carpenter were blessed with such distinctively natural, effortless singing talents, and while I'm hard pressed to place anyone into their echelon, they were the first singers to come to mind when I listened to Mackenna.  She sounds like neither Ms. Giddens nor Ms. Carpenter, but the grace of her vocal gifts earn her a mention alongside those two legends.

As a student at Belmont, Mackenna's focus was on songwriting.  "Christmas Together", a song first imagined in 2019 and evolved through subsequent years, is a gorgeous work.  You'll learn more about her inspiration and story of creating it below.  As a debut, and especially as a Christmas song, it's breathtaking.  One can only hope for many more Christmas originals from Mackenna in the near future.

Mackenna has a pretty amazing backstory worth your time.  At age eleven, discovering some physical limitations in her knees, she was diagnosed with a rare bone disorder.  She has had three surgeries and lengthy rehabilitation therapy, including three years of non weight bearing recovery.  It was during this time that she became inspired by music, and began writing songs and discovering her skills as a musician.  A link to a Belmont University article about Mackenna's journey is below.

And now for a real treat - Mackenna graciously spent some of her busy holiday time to answer a few questions from Merry & Bright about herself, her career hopes and plans, and "Christmas Together".  I hope you enjoy this brief Q&A with Mackenna Swann.


Merry & Bright: Your first single is “Christmas Together”. Why did you choose to write and record a Christmas song as your initial release?

Mackenna Swann: I have been waiting a long time to release my first single. I recently graduated from Belmont University in 2022 and have written many songs, but never recorded them. After graduation, a lot of things opened up for me; I had a life changing knee surgery that has taken away the majority of the pain that I was facing due to my knee condition and I had a lot more time to focus on my music career. I wanted to put out my first single and I had written this one in 2020 so it was completed. Since August is usually a great time to start the recording process for Christmas songs, I decided to go for it!

MB:  What can we expect to hear and see from Mackenna Swann in the near future? More singles? An album? A tour?

MS: I will be moving to Nashville in the near future to further my music career and perform in Nashville. I am currently an independent artist so I'm seeing where God leads me in terms of what I'm meant to do. I have a lot of unreleased songs and I will definitely release more; hopefully this year. "Christmas Together" was a really great way for me to learn about the release process so I can apply it to future releases! My goal is to put an album out as well, and I'm hoping that with the songs that I currently have and the future songs that have yet to be written, one will be coming in the near future!

MB:  Do you believe that music can have a positive impact on people and society? How so?

MS: One of the most amazing and humbling things to me is when people listen; when they completely soak up something with open ears. That is something I don't think I'll ever get over. I believe that the arts directly influence people more than any other form of media or societal influence. Music, especially, cuts straight to the heart of people. This is why it's so incredibly important for artists to understand that they have a responsibility when they create and put out music. Music influences so many young people and can shape the culture of a generation. I am constantly aware of this when writing music and message is one of my main priorities over any other songwriting element.

MB:  What is one of your favorite Christmas traditions?

MS: At Christmas, I love driving around with my family and looking at the Christmas lights. We usually do this every New Year's Eve. I also love decorating the tree with my family and seeing all of the decorations we've collected over the years. It's so nostalgic!

MB:  What experience do you hope listeners will have when they listen to “Christmas Together”?

MS: When I wrote "Christmas Together," I thought about the features that make up a great Christmas song that is played over and over through the years. One of the concepts that I thought of was timelessness in terms of melody. Christmas songs usually have a large range; this was something I kept in mind. When writing the lyrics, I thought of the song "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon & Yoko Ono. When listening to this song, I imagined Christmastime being a time of peace where everything kind of slows down and wars end. In 2019, I came home from college and sat by the fire and watched the Christmas tree; something that was so peaceful in that moment. I thought of the chorus; "logs on the fireplace, hope for the human race, sit back and watch it glow, darlin' it will be better if we spend Christmas together..." I recorded it on my phone and there it sat for a year. It was still one of the songs that had been at the forefront of my catalog and in 2020, the lyrics really started to connect with what was going on globally & socially. I was then able to put real meaning to my lyrics and form the rest of the song around the chorus. In the quarantine, the song really fell out of me; I wrote the verses which were really kind of me dreaming about a time of peace and togetherness. 2022 is now a perfect time for the song to be released because we are able to be together and have found more peace as a country than in 2020. I hope that this is a song of healing and makes people understand what Christmastime is about; a time to be at peace, connect with loved ones, and reflect on the birth of Jesus.

MB:  Who are the musicians that inspire you?

MS: I absolutely love Sara Bareilles and Tori Kelly. Sara has taught me almost everything I know about songwriting and playing piano from listening to her throughout the years. Her passion & zest for life as a recording artist has inspired me so much. I love Tori Kelly because of her character and how much love and positivity she brings to the music industry (and her incredible voice!).


Mackenna Swann performing "O Come All Ye Faithful"


Mackenna Swann website

And one more time, Mackenna Swann's "Christmas Together"

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