May 24, 2016

Diary: Drawing Down the Moon

Cynthia Ann Schemmer of Swanning documents Drawing Down the Moon.

Documentation, archiving, and a slight hoarding of objects that hold any semblance of memory or meaning have always been a part of meI write in my notebook every day of tour so that I don’t forget a single thing, and I pick and press flowers into my notebook from moments I want to remember, and I have a shoebox of brochures from almost every state park, campsite, or landmark I’ve ever visited. And so on and so forth. To curate a visual experience of writing Drawing Down the Moon for The Le Sigh was so much funnot only because of my penchant for documenting, but also because I was once their Zine Editor. To write for them again is a treat!

There was a long and fearful road to Swanning and writing Drawing Down the Moonin the end, I realized that fear was a pulsating need in disguise. Below are a few of my favorite images from the process.

Here I am playing my second show ever in ‘01 at a local bar in my hometown on Long Island. An old friend texted me this photograph two weeks ago on my birthday, and it was my first time ever seeing it. My mom bought me that guitar for Christmas in ‘97 without me even asking for itshe just knew me that well. It came in a Fender starter pack with a gig bag, a tuner, a strap, and a few free lessons at Sam Ash. I would go on to take lessons with a local independent music school where I forced my teacher show me how to play Ani Difranco songs (which I definitely covered at this show). I made a cassette tape demo (which I think is gone forever) in 2002 under my name, and then I started a solo project called Jettison Sister—there’s a demo out there somewhere. I wouldn’t play electric guitar in a band until 2010 with Very Okay, and all of this brought me to now.

In ‘05, when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I found a cassette tape in my brother’s old tape deck (along with other gems like Pearl Jam’s Vitality and a Metallica hits mix tape) and it felt like finding gold. The entire tape, front and back, is my mother and I singing songs and telling stories together in ‘88. We sang nursery rhymes like Diddle, Diddle, Dumpling, My Son John and Little Miss Muffet, and to be honest, my New York accent was truly the most lit it would ever be at four years old. I told a lot of stories about witches killing bad men, and apparently not much has changed!

The sound clip that opens up Drawing Down the Moon is the first few seconds of this cassette tape. While finishing up recording with my friend and roommate Kyle Gilbride (of Wherever Audio) in the basement of our house, he asked me if there was anything else I wanted to include on the recordings. It feels so special to have that sound clip on there, as if my mother and I were given a second chance to record together.

I always carry a notebook to jot down ideas, observations, and daily doings. I’ve been trying to spend more time in my notebook as a writer, because the cleanliness of writing on the computer has taken over my life and I don’t much care for it. The pages shown are for the songs Downtown and Drawing Down the Moon. The pressed flowers are from Durham, England, when Radiator Hospital went on tour with Martha (the best people and an incredible band) in 2015.

I couldn’t resist! This is my cat Frankie, my creative mews, posting up in my guitar case while I worked on the record last year.

A notebook planner is something I absolutely can not live without. I don’t use my iPhone or Google calendar because, as far as I’m concerned, if it’s not in the planner it’s not happening. I recently switched over to a Passion Planner, which has been the most perfect setup for me so far (and believe me, I’ve tried a lot of planners). The pages shown are from the week I recorded Drawing Down the Moon. I had a lot going on, including finalizing songs, working at the library, writing and editing for She Shreds, freelance work, and a wedding on Long Island. I color-coordinate my planner, so yellow is for my dayjob, pink is for creative projects or self-care, and orange is for special occasions and appointments. I’d be lost without it.

The record cover of Drawing Down the Moon is a photograph my father took of my mother before they were married. She’s smoking a cigarette, a habit she kicked 14 years before I was born, but I felt like portraying her in this way was crucial to the record. She died of lung cancer with very little explanation, and the unknown will forever plague me. On the backside of the record cover is a stack of photos, with the one on top of me recreating that photograph. I felt odd portraying myself smoking a cigarette because I don’t (a hint and a wink: if you look close enough, that’s not a cigarette), but I wanted to stay as true to the original photograph as possible. It felt really powerful to recreate the photograph, and really warming to truly see the physical similarities between my mother and I.

There were two shoots to recreate the original photograph. The one that gave way to the photograph used on the record was taken by my partner Jeff Bolt. We got Dottie’s Donuts and hiked through the Belmont Plateau in Philadelphia until we found the perfect backdrop that replicated the one my mother posed in. Jeff has a great eye for design, and really helped me a lot with the layout of the record. However, the day before a few of my best girlfriends (Katie Crutchfield, Allison Crutchfield, Krista Ciminera, and Katherine “Kush” Simonetti) and I went into the woods with herbal cigarettes, makeup, and a portable speaker playing Jenny Lewis to have a photoshoot. While I didn’t end up using any of the photos from that day, we had such a fun time together. I have some of the most amazing and supportive women in my life, who have helped me overcome so much (and vice versa) and that’s what the title track, “Drawing Down the Moon” is all about.

Cynthia Ann Schemmer is a writer, editor, book devourer, and musician. She currently lives in Philadelphia where she freelances and works remotely as the managing editor of She Shreds Magazine. She plays guitar in Radiator Hospital, and her solo project Swanning is releasing a debut EP Drawing Down the Moon on Salinas Records on May 27th, 2016.