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We chatted with local musician Angie Swan about what it's like to play with David Byrne, and what she misses most about Milwaukee.

You may not know who Angie Swan is. But you know the musicians she’s worked with: Macy Gray, will.i.am., Fifth Harmony.

On May 15th, Swan takes to the Riverside stage to back up David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) who is currently touring the country in promotion of his first solo album in 14 years, American Utopia. We spoke with her about the show and the music scene in Milwaukee.

David Byrne

David Byrne; photo by Jody Rodac

What’s David Byrne like in person?

He is hilarious. He and I have a similar sense of humor. We definitely get one another, and I feel like that translates on stage. I really love that he respects all of the band members and is open to new ideas. He is a very curious individual and loves to learn: he always has a museum or landmark to recommend in each city.  He has a blog on his website that he updates often.

Do you get nervous before shows?

No, just excited! I find that the stage is my comfort zone and I’m less nervous there than off stage.

What do you miss most about your home while you’re on tour?

I miss cooking, I really do. The simple things like being able to go grocery shopping, sleeping in or Netflix and chill! I also miss my guitar pedals and amp. [David’s] show is completely wireless. The wireless element does create greater mobility for the entire band though, which I find refreshing.

Do you have an all-time favorite song?

Several, maybe … big question.

As for this tour, one of my favorite songs to play would probably be “iZimbra.” It’s the first song in the show that you actually see me playing guitar. It has a great groove, and David and I get to play guitar together.

What about a favorite Milwaukee musician or band?

I left Milwaukee in 2001 and returned in 2016. I was very happy to see how cool the music scene had become, or had remained. I’ve performed with several artists – Lex Allen, NAN and Sista Strings – over the past year.

What do you like about the local music scene? What do you dislike about it?

There are some pretty cool venues still around Milwaukee, and some decent mid-sized ones as well. I love the fact that people are still out there starting bands and hustling to make records and play shows. I think the radio station 88Nine has done a good job of promoting local artists. This is all a good start.

However, Milwaukee is a city of pockets; it’s not as diverse or as integrated as I wish it would or could be. I grew up in the Sherman Park neighborhood and went to MPS schools. I was very fortunate to go to Lloyd Street Elementary school, Lincoln Middle School of the Arts and Milwaukee High School of the Arts. All of the schools were exceptionally diverse, and so at a young age I didn’t realize the obvious divide in the city. I say this because I feel the local music scene, though cool, is split into pockets as well (Riverwest bands, West Allis bands, Bay View …). Also, many venues on Milwaukee’s North Side that I used to frequent with my father (to see his blues band), have closed … I think that’s very unfortunate, as Milwaukee has a great history of music, and as long as some neighborhoods are ignored by officials, the entire city will never grow or flourish the way it wants to.

What advice would you give young musicians looking for their big break?

Leave Milwaukee. It’s a great place to start but if you want to grow you have to travel. Take the leap of faith. Milwaukee will always be here, and I believe you can help your community by coming back with even more experience. I’m happy that I have made Milwaukee my home base again for now but you never know what tomorrow will bring. Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes … a setback is merely a set up for a comeback. Keep an open mind. And lastly, don’t forget to vote in local elections. The term “big break” is relative.

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