After establishing her own rhythms, Pander Sera is ready to shake everything up again. Last spring, the Los Angeles noise artist, also known as Swan, released Bothy, a raucous explosion of percussion and wit. The sound of that record was unified and relentless—ambitious enough to leave a distinct mark, though not quite the breadth of musicality that Pander Sera is capable of. On Errant, she rights the ship by sinking it. Listen to an exclusive stream of the album’s lead single, “Con Past Young,” below.
Swan joined me for a conversation about the new record where she revealed all that went into it: from tales of knight-errants to dirty paintings to Sasquatch. Read what she had to say below. Follow Pander Sera on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Pick up a copy of Errant on Bandcamp.
Did you make the art for this record? Tell me about it.
SWAN: Yes! A couple years ago I was at some party on a rooftop, the sun was going down, and people were looking for something to do. Someone pulled me aside and said, “I have painting supplies in my apartment, here are the keys,” so I snuck off and took a bunch of the canvases and other supplies and brought them back. A lot of people at the party wouldn’t describe themselves as creatives, but I was trying to get people to be as creative as possible and that was the vibe. Everyone was so concerned with what was going on in their paintings so—I was smoking tobacco at the time—I started ashing in my painting and smearing it around. And I made it into this little forest spirit-looking thing. I had been getting very into the forest and these sorts of presences and spirits of the forest, very Princess Mononoke themes and vibes and such. It now lives in the apartment where I live and every time someone comes over usually someone remarks on it in some fashion. And someone mentioned that it should be the next album cover.
You have described Errant as “an album about veering from a course.” Are you referencing a specific course that you have veered from?
SWAN: Several specific ones! And then so many [less specific courses] that it becomes general again. Before Bothy, all of my music was made in bedrooms and released haphazardly on Soundcloud or Bandcamp, all mixed and mastered by myself. Non-traditional studio spaces, that sort of thing. Then Bothy had an intention from the get-go; it was all very self-contained. All the songs have a very similar sonic palette. With Errant, it was like, I wanna return to my original eclecticism. I found myself back in enclosed residential spaces. Right now I’m living in a condo in West LA and pretty much all of the music was made in here. I was so inundated by the sound of Bothy that I wanted to do a completely different thing.
But yeah, a lot of the themes have to do with either artistically veering off of a course, but also, in the grander schehumanity and earth and the popular paradigms of the last eon have not been working. And we’re finally admitting it from many more levels than we’re typically comfortable doing so, in terms of social hierarchies and things like that. [I wanted to create] this general spiritual encouragement to try something new. If you see that you’ve been on a certain track your whole life, then take…not a shortcut but go off the beaten path. Just walk off! Go somewhere else for a second. And if you don’t like it, try something else.
You describe how Bothy had this particular sound, which differed from what you were doing in your music career before that record. So in a way do you think that on Errant you’ve returned back to what you were doing in the pre-Bothy era?
SWAN: In some ways yes and some ways no. I have more skills now as an independent bedroom producer, if you will. With Bothy, there was so much intention, so much work and time went into making it sound professional and packaging it in a way that led a lot of people to believe ‘oh this is the kind of artist that you’re gonna be’ or ‘this is the kind of music that you’re gonna make for the rest of your life.’ And while that’s really fun music to play and make… no. I don’t ever want to limit myself in such a way.
On Errant, it feels difficult to separate the lyrics from the music. But thinking back, when I asked you about your songwriting process on Bothy, you said that some songs started as poems and others were simultaneous. How would you describe the process for Errant?
SWAN: Yesterday I was actually talking to a friend who’s working on his own music about this very thing: the insecurity that comes with songwriting and putting words to the music that you’ve been working on. On Errant, a lot of these actually were lyrics first, and some of them were the music first and then I’d realize oh I’d love to get vocals on this and then oh, this really goes well with this poem I wrote the other day or this really goes well with what I’m feeling right now in the moment—and then I will try to work something out on the spot.
I’ve always had an interest in the paranormal and recently I’ve been getting a lot more into these sort of positive representations of aliens and sasquatches and things like that. I found out about this Sasquatch celebratory ceremony where they throw around dead tree trunks. Then I sat down at the drumset and thought, ‘I really want to channel that energy.’ And that’s where “Tree Toss” came from. It was one live take. And that’s why there’s no lyrics or anything, it’s just very… human! Very from the heart center. Just pure expression.
I feel there is a very clear force that moves through the record, starting with that ambient-like first track, and then the guitar-based songs, followed by the energy of the drums on the back half of the record. Was that an intentional decision with the tracklist?
SWAN: Very much so, yes. As I was building these songs, I realized some of these have a very clear aesthetic or thematic throughlines. I made these songs for a reason and it’s sort of up to me in the last stretch before presenting it to other people to consider how they are supposed to be ordered. It became so clear when I realized, not only have I been wanting to call my next album Errant since before Bothy was even out, but also my love for mythologies and legends, like the knight-errant, the wandering loner, very Yojimbo, very Wuxia cinema. Gorgeous stories centered around female knight-errants instead of what we’ve become accustomed to, which is like a gruff, grisled man against the elements.
You mentioned that you’d wanted to use the title Errant before Bothy came out. Why didn’t you just use it on your last record?
SWAN: It could have been, but I knew “Bothy” was more what I was trying to get across. Because I had spent so many years and so much time on this one singular thing with Bothy, I kind of had Errant as a title in the back of my mind, and I was like oh gosh! that will be really perfect for when you go back to more eclectic songwriting and more varied tracklists.
You were thinking three steps ahead!
SWAN: It’s a blessing and a curse. [laughs] Sometimes little ideas like that will stick around and those are the ones I hang onto. Like if I have an idea that presents itself more than once then I think, oh actually that’s probably a good idea instead of a fleeting fancy. I’ve been having to remind myself lately, and some of this comes across in Errant a little bit: there is an inherent trust you put in yourself and your intuition and learning how to discern when your inner voice is trying to hold you back or when it’s trying to guide you forward.