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Meet Christiane Swenson

You might recognize the surname via South by Southwest

By William Harries Graham, 3:00PM, Thu. Mar. 20

Meet Christiane Swenson
photo by William Harries Graham

Saturday, Christiane Swenson hosts a party at Maria’s Taco Xpress for debut EP Sleeping Aid, available now on Bandcamp. She and Nicole Bennett perform as the Tiny Bees, the forming revealing, “It was recorded at the Khabele school in a small room on an 8-track.”

When it came time to put together the Youngbloods Choir for Margaret Moser’s last Austin Music Awards show, Swenson was one of the first people I asked. After last week’s show at South by Southwest, she’s proved herself more than ready. And to think it’s only been a year since SXSW head Roland Swenson introduced me to his daughter.

The younger Swenson stands out because she’s not putting on a fake show full of pure ego dressed up with obvious adult instruction that runs rampant among young bands and singers in this town. I’ve seen her start and stop a song if she feels she flubbed it. She’s got it more than she knows.

She’s honest, genuine, and seriously talented. I started playing with her after I heard her sing “Silent Sea”:

”On a silent sea, you come to me. I’ve been waiting for your call. So we sit and think. Our lips are moving but we don’t hear anything at all. If I had the time to tell you how I feel. My words are swallowed by the sea, but it’s alright if I can spend the time with you.”

Christiane’s an old soul and I assumed she was far older than she is. She’s not a typical teen, in other words. In fact, a few months ago I asked her which college she was headed to next year. To which she replied, “Dude, I’m a high school sophomore.”

We’ve grown up on similar paths. My dad, Jon Dee Graham, has played every single SXSW since the first year that her dad founded it. While I travel with a guitar case from late SXSW Music head Brent Grulke, she performs with a guitar gifted by his widow Kristen.

I spend Wednesdays with my grandfather, she spends Sundays with her grandmother. She says that growing up in Austin has, “Given me a lot of exposure to live music and I don’t think I would be where I am now if I grew up somewhere else.”

Austin Chronicle: When did you start performing?

Christiane Swenson: I went to Girls Rock Camp when I was 8, and at least once every summer it gave me an opportunity to play a gig. Ever since then I’ve just been trying to incorporate it in regularly.

AC: What are some of the best experiences you’ve had playing so far?

CS: Getting in and playing at Strange Brew has been pretty rewarding. When I was little, Girls Rock Camp had a show at the Parish and it’s neat to have that kind of credit so early on. And of course playing the Austin Music Awards last week was a highlight.

AC: Who are your favorite bands?

CS: When I was really little, my parents loaded the Beatles onto my iPod and I’ve never looked back. Since then I’ve added Green Day, Sex Pistols, Weezer. You know, all those classic bands. People are surprised that I play acoustic music because I listen more to punk grunge.

AC: Whose music has influenced you the most?

CS: I like music that has energy and that’s raw. Elvis Costello has been a huge influence.

AC: Tell me about the new songs and your partner in Tiny Bees?

CS: It’s a collaboration between the two of us. Bennett leads the way in songwriting. I help with my own suggestions and add my own touch to the songs along with accompanying her on guitar and singing. We have a similar approach to how we write songs and how we play and sing. A lot of the time what we write about are just things that we talk about together, like teenage feelings. Lyrically, a lot of my songs are really personal.

AC: What’s it been like growing up with the your dad, the head of South by Southwest, Roland Swenson?

CS: Well, it hasn’t been as big a part of my life as some people might think. People ask me things like, “Can you get me into this or that show? What is it like to meet all these celebrities?” Things like that. A lot of the time I can’t get into something myself. The biggest thing about growing up with him has had a lot to do with my interest in media.

AC: What’s your dad like?

CS: A lot of people are intimidated by him, but he’s a teddy bear. He’s just a good person and a good influence. I think you really have to know him to know what he’s like. And seeing my dad hang out with his friends has always been enlightening in that respect.

AC: What’s your favorite thing about South by Southwest?

CS: I love being able to be out downtown for the week, being able to have access to see different shows, and sometimes getting these totally random experiences. My least favorite part is that it’s pretty grueling on the family, especially in the weeks leading up to it. I’m always afraid that people are going to write me off because of who my dad is, saying that I just got there because of him. That’s not true. He’s been very minimal in my music.

AC: Do you plan on showcasing in the future?

CS: Yes, actually I played the Girls Rock Camp day party at South by Southwest this year and I’m going to apply next year.

AC: Thoughts on the music industry?

CS: A lot of people are quick to write music off because of pop music, but I think that pop music is important as well. I think that it’s just easy for people to say that music from the Nineties was superior to music now, but I think it’s better than ever, especially with the Internet being a really great source.

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