We started off talking about The Coral Reef, a lesbian bar in Ottawa that opened in the late 60s and closed in the year 2000, and a space where Ember went when she was a student in the city. As is the way with most of my interviews, though, the conversation morphed to discussing, in a broader context, what community means, and the sense of abandonment Ember felt from her own community after she fell in love with a man in the late 00s.
Find out more about Ember at her website.Transcript
Ember Swift 0:00
I didn’t know that it was jokingly called the oral grief. But that’s really funny.
K Anderson 0:07
Hello, I am K Anderson and you are listening to the Lost Spaces, a podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories that are created there, and the people that they used to know. This week we are joined by Canadian singer songwriter amber Swift, known for her unique jazz influenced guitar playing and elastic vocals. Amber has released a whopping 12 albums since her first release, way back in 1996. We started off talking about The Coral Reef, a lesbian bar in Ottawa that opened in the late 60s and closed in the year 2000. And a space where amber went when she was a student in this city. As is the way with most of my interviews, though, the conversation morphed to discussing in a broader context, what community means and the sense of abandonment that amber felt from our own community after she fell in love with a man in the late 2000s.
Is it O-to-win? Or-to-wait-eight Wayne, Ian?
Ember Swift 1:47
What are you talking about?
K Anderson 1:48
What’s the name of a person from Ottawa? Oh,
Ember Swift 1:52
yeah. What is it? Um, I don’t know. I don’t remember, I’m not from that city. I’ve never had to answer that. I don’t know. That is hilarious.
K Anderson 2:05
So you’re not an Ottawa, Nian.
Ember Swift 2:07
I’m not an Otto-weenie. And I’ll call in I don’t know, I’m not I went to university there. And it’s really the place I came out. And I spent a couple of years living in that region, before moving to Toronto. And moving back to Toronto is kind of the area where I’m from.
K Anderson 2:27
And and so when you went to university, this was the first time you visited The Coral Reef.
Ember Swift 2:33
Yes, I came out at 19. And I was at university at the time and my first year of university. And it was during that year that I got involved with the women’s community and got to know people. And that was considered a hotspot.
K Anderson 2:47
So I did a little bit of research and opened in 1968, and ran until the year 2000, which is quite incredible. Yeah, so amazing. Do you remember your first time there?
Ember Swift 2:59
Yes, I remember really distinctly because I felt like I was doing something very in this set. The Coral Reef was situated in a parking garage. And at the time, it was for the Rideau Center, which is still there, it’s a big mall complex right downtown in Ottawa. And to enter The Coral Reef, you had to go into the parking garage, through the same archway that cars would go through, it really didn’t appear to be a place that a person was even permitted to walk, or should walk, like almost, you’re putting yourself in harm’s way of a car just popping up and running you over it to walk through this archway. And then there was this strange door that you then knocked on, and someone would open it for you, and was present at the top of the stairs to be sure that you were in the right place. And then you had to descend a long staircase that was rather precarious. And once you got to the bottom, you were in this divey kitschy basement bar. That was one of the oldest queer bars in the country at the time.
K Anderson 4:00
And so this the person that let you in, it wasn’t like this little ice law or anything was
Ember Swift 4:05
no, no, it wasn’t. But it felt that way. And at that time in my life, I sort of slightly after I went to a lot of queer bars around the country, as a touring musician, you know, sometimes we would be there on a Friday night, the gig would be over and we think, hey, well, where’s the gay bar? And sometimes they were like that where you had to almost have a secret handshake or a secret knock is very interesting. But that wasn’t the case at The Coral Reef. We were able to get it
K Anderson 4:33
rented. But did you have to answer questions that proved your queerness? No.
Ember Swift 4:39
I think we had to just verify that we were going, you’re intentionally going in there. Anyway, the bar was a dive it was falling apart. It was old school that were mirrors on the dance floor, on the floor of the dance floor, sort of a mirrored a mirror type of tin that was shiny enough that you could dance on it and see your Horrible reflection if you looked at your feet, and then there were mirrors on the ceiling of the dance floor and along the walls and, you know, is the kind of place that was, unfortunately, carpeted in sections, you know, you see some carpet you think you in there was a touch bar, it was really, really held a lot of history and its decor.
K Anderson 5:23
And so happycow said, like, what kind of size? How many people would fit?
Ember Swift 5:28
I don’t remember. To be honest. I remember just it being large enough, I suppose. Think about it. My brain puts it at about 100 capacity. But I don’t know. I don’t remember really distinctly. Like, as a historical venue. My experience of it is pretty limited. I mean, I may have gone there less than five times maybe five. I didn’t go there all the time. At the time, there were other bars that were just as active if not more active, because it had become a bit. Well, there it was, what what year was that? Maybe 93 and four. And those were must have been the years when it was declining in popularity and was considered more kitschy less cool. Because it really wasn’t the place we hung out the most in. But I do, I do feel grateful that I got to experience it, because it’s the one that stands out, isn’t that interesting? I went to many other bars. And I do there was a bar in hell cabac. across the water, hell had a different drinking age as well, it was 1819. So some of my friends who hadn’t turned 19 yet could drink in hell, but not in Ontario, right in Quebec, but not Ontario. So it was a very big thing to go across the, to the across the provincial border across the river, and party in hell. And there was a bar there called the clubhouse, which was more of our haunt after a while, and was, you know, full of loss of drama. I remember bar fights and and breakups and broken glass. And I remember just craziness that was also back in the days, you could smoke in the bars, and there was just going into these cloudy environments where everything was cloudy. Also, the people’s perception of reality was cloudy, not just from the alcohol, but from the actual lack of visibility in the space itself, because of the smoke. And yeah, the clubhouse is really more of the bar that I associate with, where I experienced the nightlife of gay culture for the first time. And The Coral Reef was more of an occasional place that we went to. But it was less crazy, therefore less interesting to us young people. And when I remember going down to The Coral Reef, and feeling like it was a place for the older lesbians, it was a slightly less less happening, you know, a little less cool. And so I must have had a and must have had kind of like a downgrade opinion of it. Then, as opposed to where we were partying more often slumming
K Anderson 8:21
it for the evening.
Ember Swift 8:23
Yeah, sort of like, Okay, so we’re not going across the water. So maybe we’ll go here on Friday, since it’s right. And I but of course, when you’re 19, you have to go out every weekend night. So you had to also go out on Saturday. So Saturday would have been across the water going across the Gatineau river to hell, Quebec, where we would go to the clubhouse, which was a different experience again. Yeah, it’s, it’s a foggy time in my memory, but I have fond memories of those days.
K Anderson 8:53
And so so you have to say you have a memory of a place where there was drama and drinking and bar fights. And we’re talking about somewhere else?
Ember Swift 9:03
Because The Coral Reef, which to me is more visible to my mind I mind’s eye in terms of its decor, because those things stuck with me, seeing the way I was decorated and where we situated and the kind of the mystique of it being in a parking garage. But the clubhouse which was just a standalone bar upstairs bar, which eventually burned down it burned to the ground, I’m sure because of some drama,
I don’t know the details of that. But when I heard it burned to the ground, I thought, Hmm, well, that’s fitting. That was really the place where there was, yeah, there was more action. It’s The Coral Reef just had all this history in in the mirrored dance floor, you know?
K Anderson 9:50
Just not for you.
Ember Swift 9:52
Yes, for me, because I came I came out at a time when it was already in its decline, when not very many people would go They’re
K Anderson 10:01
just just older, older women in cardigans. Yes. So let’s talk about you at that age, then you just moved for university. And you said that you would kind of just coming out at that point as well. That’s right. Yeah. What was that process like?
Ember Swift 10:21
Um, well, I met my first girlfriend when I was 18. And we were sort of in the closet for a chunk of that year, we were the same age. And when we both moved to Ottawa, for university, it felt very liberating, that there, we were finally able to express that we were a couple, and we were wanting to explore a bigger community, because in the early days of your first romantic relationship, as a queer person, it feels like you live in a bubble until your, your visibility is established with within a small community. So I do remember that feeling. And
definitely was a part of that experience, because I was part of a coming out group with other youth like myself, and like my girlfriend at the time. And together, we all as a gang went and explored the bar scene. And this was one of those nights of exploration. But I thought of since living in Asia, and now I’m, I’m here in Beijing, right. And I’ve thought of The Coral Reef since as this nostalgic memory, because several of the rehearsal spaces that I’ve had to rent and go into, as with my band, and my players here, have been situated in parking garages, like as well, very hard to find, and around corners and pass this dusty cement pillar, and then there’s unmarked door. And there, there is this rehearsal studio in what looks like it should just be a pipe room, you know, you know, when you’re not, you think you just want to walk in and see all the the water pressure systems of the of the structure of the building. But it’s just it, but it there it is, there’s this music studio. And it’s kind of it’s made me think of The Coral Reef, in the years that I’ve been here in Beijing. And I think part of it is around sound for rehearsal studios, because if you’re in the basement, where cars are parked, you’re not disturbing neighbors, you’re not disturbing office, an office place. And in some cases, I think that’s why a bar would have been set up in the basement of a parking garage, not just for discretion, but also for sound, they would have been completely muffled by by all the cement, no one
K Anderson 12:38
would have heard and all these fumes were
Ember Swift 12:42
also from the parking garage. But at that time bars were running at night, and I suppose not very many people were parking in that garage at night. Yeah, fascinating. What were things get set up and hidden.
K Anderson 12:55
So I wanted to ask, you just said you were part of a coming out group. Do you just mean that that was like a loose group of friends that were coming out at the same time? Or is there like an actual specific group,
Ember Swift 13:05
there was a group there was an Ottawa GLBT center, as their I’m sure still is. And they offered coming out counseling group that, you know, was headed by. And someone who was more of an adult who had been out for longer, but not much older, maybe 10 years older, and they were counselors, it was a weekly meetup and chat session, and then there were social things was a way to make friends and not feel so alone. This isn’t a this is in the early 90s. So this is a long time ago, I imagine that these groups still exist, but there’s certainly much less of a need for them now with so much more greater acceptance for non hetero sexual identity
K Anderson 13:51
life. Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, absolutely. And but it was like, kind of like a peer support group. Exactly. Okay. Um, okay, so let’s go back to the bar. Are there any particular nights that you remember being there?
Ember Swift 14:06
My memories really stomp at the decor? Honestly, I don’t remember much. I don’t remember dancing on that dance floor. I just remember that there were, there were ways to see your face in the floor. And, you know, sitting I remember sitting at a table and chatting with people and looking around, but that’s where my memories really stop. I don’t have any grand dramas that happened in this bar. But I am grateful to have experienced it. I came out and I’m of the age where I have watched a real transition in society towards you know, in terms of attitudes towards GLBT Q, identity and visibility. So I’m not surprised the bar closed in 2000. And, you know, what a wonderful run it had 32 years.
K Anderson 14:59
Yeah, me thing
Ember Swift 15:00
Oh, but I think there’s less than less need for separate bars for queer people, less and less requirement for that.
K Anderson 15:12
And and you think that because it there’s like a wider societal acceptance?
Ember Swift 15:17
Yes. And you know much more, it’s much easier to be out and not need the protective physical spaces of community that in which community can gather this. And really, that’s what it was you needed, actually, you needed four walls and a person standing at the top of the stairs to verify that you are going to the right place for the right reasons. Because at that time being out, and you know, being queer was a much more vulnerable. It was a much more vulnerable stage to be in
K Anderson 15:57
this this kind of perception of Canada as being far more kind of accepting and liberal. That’s true. Yeah, yeah. Well, Am I bad? Yeah, I was about to, like, give illustrations of that, because like, equal marriage was legal in Canada Far, far earlier than most countries. And I couldn’t think of any other examples Other than that, but yeah, so is that true?
Ember Swift 16:28
Well, that example is pretty relevant. So usually, that’s the example that’s used to suggest that it’s true. Yes, I think it’s true. But I also think there are always going there is always a segment of society that is more conservative, less accepting, and more resistant to this kind of diversity within society. So I think that exists in Canada as well. And to this day, we still don’t live a fully 100% safe existence as queer people out in the world. But it’s much more visible, much more, much more accepting throughout the media. And these days, as I said, I’m not even sure that these youth coming out groups are as plentiful as they once were, on perhaps the end, perhaps that’s an indication that they’re less than necessary. But I don’t know, because I’m not a spokesperson for this community anymore. I don’t feel that I, I used to be more of a poster girl. And my queer identity was very front and center. And I was a public figure, as a musician, and a traveling musician at that. But I experienced a huge shift when I came to China, and a huge difference in the support that I had felt and the role that I had played in the queer community, particularly when I fell in love with a man in China. And my identity as queer always included sort of an occasional attraction to men, which you know, queer as the overarching term that includes bisexuality and trans identity and all these different identities with under the queer umbrella. But it was amazing what happened for me when I came to China, and I felt very alienated by the queer community at that time. So you know, this can become a much deeper discussion about what queer space really means. And what queer, you know, this is a last queer spaces. But queer space is not just a physical space. It’s a psychological space where you feel safe and supported and loved and visible. But my visibility went here, because I was therefore in a heterosexual relationship and assumed to be heterosexual while people looked at me from the outside looking in. So my visibility disappeared. Even though my queerness did not, I’m still very queer identified, I just happen to fall in love with a man on that occasion. And, and when that happened, I had a lot of backlash from my queer community, and even some of my queer friends, my queer fan community, my music community, and some of my queer friends really turned their backs. And that was a time when that was, so I moved to. I moved to China in 2008. But I fell in love in 2007. And really waffle on moving, took a leap of faith, you know, followed my heart. I’m very grateful I did that. I have no regrets. But when I look back at how that shifted my role as a spokesperson for the LGBT community, it was massive that shift. So let’s
K Anderson 19:49
say you’ve talked about the backlash from friends and fans. Can we talk about fans first, what did that look like?
Ember Swift 19:56
Well, it took the form of Have a lot of email delete requests, I had a real barrage of abuse by email at that time, email was the way that musicians let people know about their shows, there was still a big mailing list culture. I joined Facebook in 2007. It wasn’t a very big forum, then social media was just beginning. So the email method of getting news out about shows was the way that fans communicated with me and I communicated with fans. So I experienced several years, but especially that first year of angry diatribes from people, feeling that I had betrayed them. Because my decision to follow my heart and go to China and pursue that love, is Love is love. Right? Was was some, somehow tantamount to me being a traitor to the Kol queer community and the queer the queer movement. And that was very heartbreaking. I just had to set up a system where I just categorically adhere to every delete request, and sometimes responded in kind and sometimes didn’t respond at all, never became adversarial with those people and ever tried to fight back. But was shocked, was really shocked by that. I’m not sure that that would happen. Now another, you know, 15 years later, or, you know, 13 years later, I’m not sure that that kind of response would be felt, because it would it would have happened more publicly, or it wasn’t as private where someone could privately send an mean evil message to the artists they saw as the the poster poster girl for their, their career coming out or their career liberation. And they could get away with that, because it wasn’t so visible here. And nowadays, it would be social media, that would create that shift. So if I if I were in that role, and then I fell in love with a man, that would be very public socially through the media sites. And then if anybody were to, you know, troll, that news, there would be people that would defend me, you know, yeah, and it would become a public discourse. But that’s not what the way it was at that time. That was one way that it manifested. Another way was simply in the absence, the lower numbers at my shows. And in the in sometimes, to some degrees, the absence of bookings. There were several queer presenters or venue, owners that just stopped booking me.
K Anderson 22:39
Oh, wow, like that extreme. And so yeah, so the reason that they knew is because you were open about it, or because it was, they’d heard rumors?
Ember Swift 22:49
Well, at first, it was a very big shift in my life that included breaking up with my ex partner who was one of my band members, we had a long term relationship. And the breakup occurred really over China less so over the love I hadn’t we had an open relationship. So a lot of that those details were missed by people on the outside. But the the general negative understanding was that I had left my lesbian partner for a man in China. And you can imagine how that goes in the rumor mill, what an evil woman I am, right? abandon her, and then you’re abandoned. At ninth that she had to abandon. I was abandoning her livelihood as well. The truth is, is that that all happened in 2007. And we split up in 2007. But we didn’t stop playing together until 2008. Many, many months later, more than half a year later. And it was her decision to stop working with me and which led to me deciding to just move to China and try it out. Just take a leap of faith, see how the relationship went, see if I could rebuild a music career in China. And you know, I don’t look back. I don’t regret those decisions. I think they were the the right decisions to make. They were the honest, brave decisions to make. But as a result, I don’t. I don’t feel that I can. I can talk about my queer identity. I can talk about my queer journey in Canada. But my queer journey has taken many turns. And though, though that man in China is my ex husband. Now, I recognize that my sexuality is a much broader, a much broader story than it was before I met him. And I am grateful for all those experiences.
K Anderson 24:40
And what sir, sorry, what do you mean by much broader?
Ember Swift 24:44
Well, before I used to think of myself as an 8020, queer, I sort of had this tagline It’s funny how we, we, we define ourselves and then we live within the boundaries of definition, rather than the other way around, like to live and then have the life itself. Become That which defines us. It’s when we’re young, we tend to box ourselves up before we’ve had a chance to discover who we are. And my 8020 box was that of, of every 10. You know, every 10 people that walked along that I found attractive, generally, maybe two were male. So I considered myself to be an 8020 queer, where I was 80% attracted to women and 20% attracted to men, and I just locked into that that little term woman at 23.
K Anderson 25:33
And there was specific scientific experiments you did to determine this figure.
Ember Swift 25:38
Yeah, it’s so funny, hey, oh, there were as though there were that I could come up with that statistic about myself. And it could hold, it’s very useful to have that view. But, you know, then I fell in love with a man and it was just as legitimate a love as any other love I’d have had with women, but I was in my 30s, then. So it forced me to really examine my identity and what, what love really meant and what what sexual attraction was for me, and you know, all that stuff. And now I consider myself not locked into a definition that that includes these falsified statistics, right. And I just say, you know, I’m, I’m open, I am capable of love with either gender, that means I’m technically bisexual. But I really love the term queer, it’s been the, the word I’ve used for myself my whole life, it feels much more fluid and open as a word. And I am always open about my queer identity. And therefore I feel much less boxed it boxed in than I was before, thanks to this experience of pursuing the love that came into my life, even though at the time you know, as queer people, we are often afraid to do things that are considered conventional, because we already feel we live on the outskirts, we are, we are the fringe, and we must maintain the fringe at all times in all choices. So everything we do ends up being fringe like, like our relationship style, there’s many more poly and non monogamous and open relationships in the queer community than there are in the straight community, for instance, or our diets, so many more vegetarian, so many more, you know, your raw foodists in the queer world than there are per capita in the straight world, you know, I find that very interesting. We have to be so different all the time about everything. And so when we find something that makes us more conventional, like, suddenly, my love with a man who was heterosexual is still heterosexual. And therefore, they put me in in view of everyone else’s being in a heterosexual relationship assumed to be a heterosexual myself. It’s very disconcerting. It’s very, it threw me off, I had to spend a lot of time many years really grappling with my identity. After that,
K Anderson 27:59
yeah. And next to how much of that was about that, coming to terms with the way you’d self identified for so long, and how much of that was about the way other people were responding to their relationship within that that you were in at that time?
Ember Swift 28:17
I’m sure that it was interconnected. I’m not sure I can separate those two things. Because how we are perceived ends up being how we perceive ourselves, or how we perceive and present ourselves ends up determining how we are perceived. I’m not sure we can separate those two things.
K Anderson 28:32
But let’s say we were looking at this 8020 rule that that that you did self defined. Had you been in relationships with men before?
Ember Swift 28:44
I have not been in love with a man. Well, I had I had a boyfriend in high school that, you know, I had teenage love with. But I’m not sure that I had had adult love with a man before I fell in love with my ex husband in my 30s. But I had had little things and experiences. Yeah, which I knew that I had the capacity to be sexually attracted to men just much more rarely than I was with women, for women.
K Anderson 29:12
So I said that in itself wasn’t kind of a strange thing for you. Falling in Love
Ember Swift 29:19
is a falling in love with a man was strange, because as an adult, I hadn’t fallen in love with another man until my 30s with this Chinese guy across the world who couldn’t speak English, who was heterosexual, you know, it was very weird Connect collection of data about him. But there was, it was a new adventure. Off I went.
K Anderson 29:43
And until we talked about the backlash from fans, what was like What were some of the things that were happening with friends and colleagues.
Ember Swift 29:52
There was a division that happened as often happens with breakups, where mutual friends of ex partners end up Choosing sides and some sort. That’s tragic but predictable. It’s tragically predictable, I’d say. But that’s okay to you. Because I often see friendships in the same light. As I see partnerships, sometimes they just run their course, you just have to move on. And I came to understand that those who were supportive of my decisions to go across the world and, and pursue this connection and take a leap of faith, I had to really begin my life again. Those who supported that, and who stood by me, were the real friends. And those who did not, were not worth my despair. Really? Right.
K Anderson 30:45
Yeah. Yeah. But was it just like that they started ghosting you? Or was it?
Ember Swift 30:51
Oh, yeah. Yeah, I suppose that happened or that there were some real distinct divisions that happen with with correspondence, lots. Yeah, people fell out of touch. It’s not easy to stay in touch with community actually. And I, I really appreciate the idea of, you know, back to the notion of your podcast, right? It is about lost spaces. But I have experienced a lot of lost spaces in my life, not just the physical queer spaces, like The Coral Reef, that is no longer open. But I’ve experienced the last geographic National Space of my country choosing to live overseas for so long. And now that I go, now, when I go back to Canada, I sometimes don’t feel that I’m even of Canada anymore. I’m not, not entirely sure I’m comfortable in Canada. And then as I just spoke about the last psychological space, the community space of, of the queer community, when I experienced the backlash, but I’m happy to report that after so many years, I still feel that I have a solid core base group of friends both overseas back in Canada, and that I’ve developed since being here in this country, that is both queer and not queer, but very solid. And, you know, that’s, I feel really grateful for the opportunity to rebuild. It was good.
K Anderson 32:18
This this thing about belonging is really interesting. Like I said, I was born in Scotland, my family emigrated to Australia, and I moved back to the UK as an adult. And like what you’ve just said about when you go back to Canada, and not necessarily feeling like you belong anymore. really resonates in it’s this. Yeah, this weird thing when you’re when you’ve lived somewhere else, you don’t belong in either place. You’re an outsider in both but but you do belong in both as well. Yeah, I
Ember Swift 32:50
think there’s a belonging that’s an indisputable in both, but from whose perception from whose perspective, I should say, the belonging is, is a historical belonging in some ways. And perhaps we always are tied to the places or the spaces that have held us safe. But sometimes there are those who believe we don’t belong, and who take possession of that space. And I think ultimately, it really depends on perspective. And it. And in the end, when you have all these debates as to who belongs where, whether you yourself belong. In the end, I think it becomes this giant knotted thing, like a ball of yarn that’s been knotted too much. And then you might as well just throw it in the garbage, like, it just doesn’t matter. Doesn’t really matter where I’m from, or where I belong, or it doesn’t really matter. That’s where that’s what I’ve come to in my, in my more mature years.
K Anderson 33:45
No errors. Yeah, yeah. But there is still this, there’s this thing isn’t there of like, I understand everything that’s happening here culturally, and I was part of this, but this isn’t me anymore. And it’s not necessarily like that you are bothered or care about that. But it’s just this kind of weird thing to experience, I suppose when you go to a country that you grew up in when you go to a country that you identify with? And you’re suddenly like, Oh, this is familiar about foreign.
Ember Swift 34:19
Yeah. Well, do you feel that, within that experience, that do you fight with the notion of entitlement within that experience, that you ought to be entitled to an opinion of that space? Because you were once of that space? Or the flip that you You are no longer entitled to have a view or a or a say in that space? Because you’re no longer have that space?
K Anderson 34:44
I think it would be the latter for me. I mean, you know, I’m terribly polite and don’t want to kind of impose on anyone, so it would always be that. Oh, here I am, living up to your stereotype that outsider perspective
Ember Swift 35:00
That’s interesting. Well for me, I, I often, I often look at that sort of as as though I’m standing outside of myself think, Well, why am I here it both when I go back to Canada when I come back to China as an expat long term expat here, and I’ve made this a secondary home, you know. And also, when I’m in a queer space as well, I have that same experience. In fact, just last night, I went to a party that was hosted by a lesbian couple with brand new baby, and then sort of like 5050, in terms of in terms of the attendance to the party, maybe half were queer, and half were not. And there was just an energy there that felt very familiar. Very, they’re an American couple, by the way, their next couple, and everyone in attendance was not Chinese. So it felt like I was stepping into an overseas experience. Wow, while being in China, and then the familiarity of the queer energy was something about very nostalgic, and I feel very comfortable came of age in that community. And then the, the, the analyzing of being in an expat party, while in a foreign country. So we’re just, we’re just helicoptered, and we’re not really have this, this space, all of that, I find that all really fascinating. So I just sit back and, and check out how I feel within it. And I don’t know, the occasionally I feel quite entitled to a view. Especially that’s just, that’s just zero in on one, the queer community and the queer identity. I feel very entitled to say, you know, I’m a queer person, yes, I’m entitled to a view on these topics. And despite having been married for a long time, and being in an invisible, queer relationship, invisible for my own identity, I should say, I was a queer person in a heterosexual relationship, I still I’m even more, there’s a bit of like, I’m even more entitled to because I experienced invisibility, and there’s an A type of oppression in there. And then other times, I’m also terribly polite, and I say,
I don’t really have a voice here anymore. And I don’t need a voice anymore. I don’t, I don’t need to be on a platform or on a podium. I don’t need my my lyrics to fight this fight anymore. I, I’ll pass on the baton, or the torch. And, you know, I’ll stand on the sidelines and raise my fist with everyone else. But it’s not as pressing for me to take up that space, possess that space any longer. That could be just age. No, I became a musician. As someone who loves music. I, of course, had been writing music for a long time long before I came out as an artist. But the queer community in the early LGBTQ events and bars really helped to establish me as an artist. Without that community, I’m not sure if my career would have grown as quickly or as robustly as it did. So I’m really grateful to the queer community for all the support the community gave me. But I realized that music and sexual identity are very different. They’re separate things. But it just so happened that they were that they were co connected in that in that development stage of my life, but when I released lentic, and then really realized that I needed to continue to make music for the rest of my life, that I’m a music maker, regardless of my sexuality. And regardless of where I am positioned socially. That was a very important thing for me to come to in my life. It was very important Eureka.
K Anderson 38:53
And so you say that the kind of the, the queer community that was helped in the development of your career that was kind of more in the championing you as an artist? Yes, well, there’s
Ember Swift 39:07
a type of possessiveness that the women’s community used to have, I’m not sure how much it has it now. Perhaps that still exists. But before when queer identity was much more risky and more an identity that would that made a person more vulnerable in society, the queer community, and particularly I can speak from the perspective of the women’s community would really possess and wrap the wings of protection around the other around the lesbian artists, the queer identified female artists. So there were women’s festivals. There were women’s events that would specifically seek out the artists that were making woman music. That was music made by women, for women, in some cases, and sometimes those artists were making music that was entirely about the theme of women loving women. That wasn’t my choice. situation I was, I was an artist that was writing songs about a lot of global issues. But I was among artists who were specifically just trailblazing for female Queer Eye visibility. And I respect that that was a specific path that they chose. And I found that that whole community very fascinating because if a community wraps its arms around musicians and claims them, they then support them and they become the community becomes really essential to their survival, their sustainability, right? And then, of course, with the backlash that happened, I sustainability kind of fell apart, I realized, Oh, right, there is a possessiveness that happens to protect the queer community, and the queer, the queer musicians within the community. But there’s a flip of that, when it’s an extreme protection, there’s also an extreme rejection, that can happen as well.
K Anderson 41:00
Well, this is where we get back to entitlement, isn’t it that like, I’ve supported you said, this is how your art should be.
Ember Swift 41:08
Yes, exactly. And that was the kind of delete request messages, those were the kinds that I were that I was getting, like, how do you stop being the artist I have assumed you to be because I have supported you to maintain this identity. And this and your new your new path is in contradiction to that. So therefore, I regret having ever supported you, because you’re a traitor, to my views and to my identity.
K Anderson 41:36
Doesn’t that just fuck with your head? Sorry, I know. I know. That’s what we’ve been talking about for the last hour. But that’s just because it is it is this, you know, when you know, when you’ve been striving to create music and connect with people and to tell your story and to be understood, when that’s in threat, when suddenly it’s like, oh, people aren’t going to be interested, if I go this way. Or if I do this, or I do this, it really makes you question everything about yourself and, and your instincts, which is horrible.
Ember Swift 42:17
Absolutely. And ultimately, at the time as an activist, part of my activist, banner, for lack of a better word, was of course visibility for the queer community. But I was also talking about a lot of environmental issues and political transparency and a bunch of different topics, I was very vocal at that time, that was, at time, an era of activism through art. And you want to be a voice for the marginalized community, communities when you are an artist and in that role, but you also don’t want to be trapped by the marginalized communities either, because who needs who needs to hear the issues, those who are not in marginalized communities, right. So you don’t want the marginalized communities to possess you to such a degree that your voice can’t be heard outside of those communities? Because then the activism is it’s just preaching to the choir, the activism isn’t actually affecting those who need there who need their minds open about certain issues, who maybe haven’t thought about those issues before. And it ends up being a catch 22. So, yeah, it just really just mess you up when you have to deal with that kind of push pole. And the entitlement, yeah, the possessive entitlement, but very eye opening. And I, as I said, I have no regrets. I really appreciate those learning experiences that I went through. And it did reshape my whole view of not just myself, but of what community means. And what marginalized community does well, and what it doesn’t do well, or, at that time, in terms of its connected ness, to the arts. And I always have held that, even though I’m very grateful for the queer community and the support that I had as an early artist, from that community. I am not just a queer person who makes music. I’m a musician first and foremost. And I want that music to reach people, period, yet not a specific type of people. It’s not just not music just for one. subculture, you know, this and moving outside of my country, living as overseas as an outsider was also very important to to really drive that point home. I want to make music for people period, not just not just expats, for instance, not just white people, not just women, not just queers.
K Anderson 44:48
Okay, so let’s go back to the bar. And if you could go back in time and meet yourself as a 19 year old at The Coral Reef, you know, having to have a drink with her. What would you say?
Ember Swift 45:00
Hmm, that’s a great question. Let me pause for a second. What I say,
the me at 19? I think if I could speak to the 19 year old me of the past or, or if, if, if it would ever get through which it wouldn’t, I would want to say to that age meet that aged me or anyone that age, that everything, everything I think about myself and the world, I am taking too seriously. I would say that to myself, I say you’re taking it all too seriously. Step back, take a break, take a breath, relax, and I would be offended, I would offend my 19 year old self because I was so righteous at 19 I was so righteous that I knew everything and knew about the world and was very adult. And I know now that I certainly wasn’t. And then I was over investing in certain self identities and certain opinions and politics and so many things that we end up as I said, latching on to when I spoke earlier about building our boxes, and then living our lives rather than allowing our lives to define us. We did it the wrong way. And I think, if any, if I could get that message through in a casual joking way that somehow resonated with the 19 year old me, that would be a victory. But I doubt I would be able to get the message through. Because you can’t You’re so rigid at that time in your life. And, and I would look at the 46 year old me and I would think Who is this old lady who thinks she knows what she’s fuckin talking about? And I would click her clink her glass, and I would say she’s just old and jaded. And I would think that under my breath, and I would roll my eyes and think hope she’s not hitting on me.
K Anderson 47:02
Did you ever go to The Coral Reef? Well, if you did, tell me all about it. Find me on Insta, Twitter and Facebook with the user name K Anderson music, and tell me all about what you’ve got up to. You can also find out more about Ember by following her on Instagram. Her username is Amber Swift. And she has a new album planned for this year. So make sure that you’re checking for that. Last basis is not only a podcast about a concept record as well. I’ve been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing songs over the next year. You can hear the first single, well groomed boys, which is also playing underneath my talking right now on all streaming platforms. If you liked this episode, I would really appreciate if you subscribed, left a review on Apple podcasts or just told people who you think might be interested in having a listen to. I am K Anderson and you have been listening to Lost Spaces.