Real Talk: Behind the Music with 99pi Composer Swan Real & Her New Album

Editor’s Note: Some photos reflect an old name that Swan does not use anymore, but this article has been updated to use her current and correct name.

Asked about the genesis of her new album of 99pi music, Swan Real says it started with the very first episode she worked on: “I had the idea to put out the music from the beginning” Working on Miss Manhattan in 2016, Swan already wondered: “How am I going to release this?”

Still, it would be a while before this vision started to really take shape. At some point later on, after making over 100 songs for the show, Swan thought: “Now I’ve got a good bank of songs … maybe I’ll put together a compilation.” Initially, she started to think in terms of releasing a series of albums sorted into themes. Indeed, for the sake of producers on the show, Swan’s (now 300+) tracks are already cross-sorted in all kinds of ways, making it easier for staff to peruse the library for existing tunes.

Of course, Swan’s main work as 99pi’s composer naturally pushed back the process of organizing an album. As time went on, it also became less a question of “How can I release a proper, album-length amount of music?” around themes and more a challenge of creating a “good listening experience” overall. So Swan “got up the confidence to bring it up with Roman,” and together they decided to do a vinyl release. She had “never done that before — never had the money to do it.”

The finished album would be a 7-inch — a set of greatest hits and a sampler of sorts to introduce people to Swan’s varied catalogue. In parallel, a digital version would also be made available for download.

So while Swan had started by “arranging different themes of songs for potential future albums,” for this one she ended up gravitating toward tracks that defied classification. The album thus became a collection of Swan’s favorites, including ones that didn’t fit any particular theme. It was distilled to “the ones I really wanted people to hear immediately.”

As to the crafty cover art, Swan says it was all “my partner, Courtney Riddle — that was entirely Courtney’s idea.” As to the design: “It’s like a representation of the woven fabric of the show,” Swan notes, a conceptual analog for the creative process of making 99pi layer by layer. Of the album’s popularity, she says: “I feel very seen.”

Asked the classic what-didn’t-I-ask interview question, Swan thought about it and replied: “Something that I keep thinking about that I think is really funny … is that this process took so long … my pronouns are different now than they are on the record.” Still, Swan didn’t seek to change the title, but “wanted to keep that as a document of where I was in my journey.” So while she feels good about this finished work, she wants “the next one to say ‘Swan Real & Her 99% Orchestra.'”

And yes, Swan is already thinking ahead to the next potential album. Nothing is certain at this point, but a full-length vinyl record is definitely on the (turn)table. Meanwhile, the 7-inch sold out almost instantly, but more are available for pre-order (and there’s a digital version, too)!


Special Thanks

Musician and podcast composer Swan Real would like to thank Sofia Klatzer, who managed so much of the logistics for this album, including: talking to Pirates Press and thinking through everything that needed to happen to make it happen. Also Sofia Bell, who lent Swan a cello for creating The Loom. Piper Payne mastered the album, but also taught Swan a lot about mixing, sharing expertise Swan has since applied in working on songs for the show. Thanks as well to friends and family members who took time to listen to iterations of the album and give feedback, including but not limited to Penina Eilberg-Schwartz, Lily Sloane, Martin Austwick, Devin Lane, Nina Berman, Daniel Prato, Tig Parker, Ash Clayton. And thanks, of course, to Roman Mars for helping make this vision into a reality, supporting and cheerleading the project from start to finish.

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