On April 29, 2015, Portland-based band, Sophont, played their first show at PICA (the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art) as part of the BACKWORDS Press Inaugural Launch Party. Sophont, which describes itself as a "Post-trip hop/electronic duo,” features music by Mike Sieviec and vocals by Dustin Michael Swinney. Sophont combines darkly-honest melancholic lyrics with a vibey mood in tone.
BACKWORDS first encountered Sophont's Dustin Michael Swinney at Portland State University, in November of 2012—when guest curator, Matthew D. Kulisch took a job with a nonprofit where Dustin works. Matt and Dustin connected quickly, sensing in each other kindred sensibilities. Nowadays, they can often be found huddled over the reception desk bantering about photography or discussing little-known B-movies. Between this and the occasional lament over how hard it is to break into Portland's insular art scenes, Dustin talked about getting back into music after a long fallow period. Interview below:
BACKWORDS Blog: When did you start playing music?
Dustin Michael Swinney: I have been making music since I was very young. I remember recording songs with my cousins on a little plastic Fisher Price recorder when we were about 8 or 9; the songs were usually odd covers or repeated words but they were songs nonetheless. Looking back I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t making music in some way. My dad had a stint as a tour manager in the late 70’s, so I’ve always been around music and musicians in some form or fashion.
BACKWORDS Blog: Why'd you leave it for a while? What brought you back?
Dustin Michael Swinney: I never really left music behind per se; music has always been something I did to some degree. However, after living in Nashville, TN for 7 years and seeing a lot of my friends literally bleed for their music, I wasn’t sure it was for me. Deep down it was something I was beyond passionate about, but I don’t think I was ready to put myself out there and accept the failures and rejections that inevitably come with putting your art out into world. Now I am more confident with myself and my art. I’m proud of the work I’m doing and can’t wait to share it!
BACKWORDS Blog: People have described your vocals as a bit unexpected. One might say, much in the same vein as Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons. Do you like the comparison?
Dustin Michael Swinney: I appreciate that comparison. I think people might come to that conclusion because both Antony Hegarty and I sing with soul. As a kid, my dad was constantly playing Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Al Green and Aretha Franklin. Those sounds were often mixed with Fleetwood Mac, Bob Seger, and Led Zeppelin—music that comes from a very soulful place. Then conversely, my maternal grandmother was always listening to jazz and blues: Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, John Coltrane and things of that nature. Growing up with those sounds, it would have been impossible not to be influenced by them and their music in my own work.
BACKWORDS Blog: How did you meet Mike? How was Sophont born?
Dustin Michael Swinney: Mike and I actually met via Craigslist. I had reached my wits end with not finding like-minded musicians/artists to work with. So I posted an ad: it was my last resort. I have a deep love for electronic music, specifically trip-hop sounds from the early 90’s ala Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky, DJ Krush, DJ Shadow, etc. It’s always been my ultimate music goal to combine my soulful vocals with a nice electronic groove. Luckily Mike answered the ad and didn’t flake out on me. The first time Mike played me his music, I knew it would be a perfect match. I’ve been in and out of many bands and music projects, this is one of the few times were everything has melded together seamlessly.
BACKWORDS Blog: A couple rapid-fire questions, to finish up. Why the name, Sophont?
Dustin Michael Swinney: After searching high and low for a cool band name (all the good ones are already taken) we stumbled upon Sophont. Mike and I are sci-fi fans, so I started looking for terminology within that world. Sophont was one of the terms I really liked the sound of, so we went with it. The term “sophont” was created by sci-fi writer Poul Anderson; it means an intelligent being not necessarily human; a being with a base reasoning capacity greater than that of normal humans.
BACKWORDS Blog: What do you think of the music scene in Portland? What's unique about it?
Dustin Michael Swinney: The music scene in Portland is interesting to navigate, especially as an electronic band. Portland is saturated with musicians, primarily of an indie rock nature. We’ve really had to search for like-minded artists making electronic music. However, it does seem that Portland has a pretty decent electronic scene. It’s just tricky trying to penetrate.
BACKWORDS Blog: How was your first show? Why partner with a literary t-shirt press like ours?
Dustin Michael Swinney: Aside from playing music in a space not necessarily set up for live music, our first show was great! Sound issues aside, it felt amazing playing music for people again, and the response has been even more positive than we expected. We were also excited to play our music at PICA, as I find the work they do to be exactly what Portland needs right now.
Partnering with BACKWORDS was a no-brainer for us. Matthew and I have spent many hours talking about carving out our own artistic niche in Portland, and the BACKWORDS Press launch seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to join forces. It also allowed us the opportunity to celebrate and support something we find innovative and interesting in a community where everything has been done before.
BACKWORDS Blog: Any shows coming up? Album releases?
Dustin Michael Swinney: We have a show coming up at Jade Lounge on June 6th at 8pm and we’ll be opening for L.A.-based band HEXES at The Lovecraft on June 18th also at 8pm. We will be releasing another “single” before the end of the month, and you can expect an EP or full album by the end of summer/beginning of fall.
BACKWORDS Blog: Finally, where can readers find out more information?
Dustin Michael Swinney was born in Muscle Shoals, AL, and raised in a small town just outside Nashville, TN. Dustin is a mixed-media artist who works predominantly in the medium of painting, but incorporates found images, sound, and video into his work. Dustin is currently working on his BFA from Portland State University where he focuses on explorations of gender inequality in pop culture. Dustin's work has been featured at the Lewis & Clark Gender Studies Symposium and the Arlene Schnitzer Arts Foundation where he was a 2014 recipient of Arlene Schnitzer Visual Arts Scholarship. Sophont is Dustin’s first musical endeavor in Portland, OR.
Matthew is a graduate of the MFA in Writing program at University of San Francisco and holds a BA in English from University of Utah. He has published writing in Switchback, the online literary journal at USF, and with Enormous Rooms, a journal in Salt Lake City; his photography has been published by the online magazine, Spit & Spirit, and in print by Gorgeous Freaks, as well as the forthcoming issue of Brooklyn-based magazine, Hypnopompia. He lives in Portland, OR.