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"Pursuit Of": Cisco Swank on His New EP, Spirituality and the Search for Meaning

"Pursuit Of": Cisco Swank on His New EP, Spirituality and the Search for Meaning

Fransisco Haye, who goes by the pseudonym Cisco Swank, is a 20-year-old multi-instrumentalist, rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. With the piano skills of Robert Glasper and the smooth composition of a new-age George Gershwin, Cisco Swank is a young artist who knows where he comes from and where he’s trying to be. Based on the few singles Cisco has released so far, the multi-talented artist has already been compared to some of the greats–a young Stevie Wonder, Frank Ocean, Anderson .Paak–and his new genre-bending EP may solidify him as a future giant in the music industry.

Cisco’s debut EP, “Pursuit Of“, was released on all streaming platforms on August 28, 2020–mere weeks before Cisco even begins his junior year at Berklee College of Music. Cisco revealed the intensive process of creating his EP–which sprang from his time in quarantine–and the inspiration behind his sound. ‘Pursuit of’ represents his reckoning with moving forward, while searching for a future that may be uncertain, but never lonely.

An Interview With Cisco

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Cisco Swank by Andrew Dziuba

Would you say that music runs in your family, or are you more of an outlier?

Both my parents are musicians. My mom is a singer-songwriter, and my dad is a multi-instrumentalist and a choir director. He’s a voice teacher too. Both of my parents are educators, so I was actually homeschooled until I was in the 5th or 6th grade. Now, I’m at Berklee. I’m a Contemporary Writing and Production major. So it’s a lot of arranging and composing in addition to the production side [of music], so it’s really well-rounded.

You’re also a multi-instrumentalist, a singer, rapper, songwriter, as well as being a producer. What instruments do you play? 

Primarily piano. I started playing piano and drums when I was really young. I also play the bass guitar [and] regular guitar. Those are the main ones. 

Did you go the classical route with piano or did you start with another genre? 

My dad is really into Baroque classical music, so he made me and my sister play Beethoven and Bach when we were younger. I think it really helped that I developed that classical base at a young age. Having that base helps what I’m doing now, which is experimenting with different genres. 

Who are your favorite composers? 

That’s really hard because I like so many! I’d say Gershwin because he was a bridge between classical and jazz. I like Chopin too. 

I love Chopin! I really love Chopin because of his Nocturnes. And I love Liszt

Liszt is my dad’s favorite composer, that’s crazy. I also love Debussy too. 

So out of those five different art forms–multi-instrumentalist, rapper, singer, songwriter, producer–which one of those would you say was the hardest to master?

The newest thing that I’ve had to master is production. [Producing] is just a whole different dimension of music. It’s looking at music from a different perspective than just playing. And once I started [producing], I started listening to music not just from the composition point of view, but from the production point of view as well.

So, you basically write and produce all of your own music yourself. At what age did you begin to make music of your own? 

I also started that really young, probably when I was around 9 or 10 years old. I got bored practicing and would [experiment] by adding a new chord or looping and changing a certain phrase. It made me want to write my own music.

Around what age did you decide that you want to make a career out of being a musician?

I think I decided that when I was really young, too. I can’t even remember, that’s how young I was. I also thought about sports and being a magician [sometimes], but growing up and seeing my parents doing great things with music, I knew I also wanted to make a career out of being a musician. So in high school, I went to LaGuardia, and my focus was instrumental. Playing piano primarily. And that’s when I really started getting into experimenting with other genres of music, not just straight jazz or classical, but getting into hip-hop and neo-soul.

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Cisco Swank by Kevon Long

When I was watching your Tiny Dorm Sessions, and your Lockdown Session with Nord, both of them featured your 2019 single ‘Home.’ Prior to COVID-19, were you performing your songs at live venues as well?

Yeah, I’ve done a lot of performances. Especially during high school, that’s when I started playing at different clubs and live venues. A lot of places in Lower Manhattan, like The Bitter End and Nublu. Spots in Brooklyn too, like The Knitting Factory. In Boston, I played at The Middle East, The Red Room, Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club. They’re all great spots. Boston is like a boneless Brooklyn, just without the delis. It’s a cool city.

Your music is a mix of jazz, R&B, soul and hip-hop. Who influenced you and your music the most?

Definitely, Robert Glasper, he was such a big influence on me. In high school, everyone would be like, ‘You sound exactly like Robert Glasper!’ I’m like his biggest fan. J Dilla too! One of the best hip-hop producers ever. A lot of other producers too, like Knxwledge. I’m really into Anderson .Paak, Earl Sweatshirt–especially his progression musically and artistically. And other cats like Iman Omari. I also think it really depends, different genres influence different parts of my music.

So your debut EP ‘Pursuit Of’ is being released on August 28th. What can people expect to hear from this EP?

It’s different from what I’ve been posting on Instagram. It’s a change of pace from other songs like ‘Home’ or ‘Could’ve Been’, songs that I’ve dropped in the past. [The EP] is definitely more experimental hip-hop jazz. Morgan Guerin, who was featured on [the song] ‘Internal/Eternal,’ did a great job about bringing in Black American jazz. And Declan Miers played bass on two songs, ‘What Was’ and ‘Washington’, and he really added to both. And the EP was solely produced by my friend Tobias Kelly. We both went to Berklee, and I was a big fan of his work in high school, even before I got to Berklee. I think the type of music that we make really complements each other, [we both make] genre-bending music.

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Album Cover Art by Cisco Swank

I was lucky enough to listen to your EP before the release. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of making ‘Pursuit Of’? 

Tobias sent me a bunch of beats, and they were just sitting in my email for mad long because I was in school. And then finally, I was ready to rap and sing over them. So I listened to them, and a lot of what I felt–when I hear music, I normally think of feelings or colors–was related to searching and longing. And that became the vibe of the project: looking for something more, or longing for something more; this is where I came from, but this is where I’m trying to be. So that’s really the main theme of the project, which is why it’s called ‘Pursuit Of’–what’s next, what are we all trying to get to? And that’s also why it’s kind of short, and each song is only one or two minutes because I wanted to just touch on these big ideas. 

Did you do a lot of stream of consciousness writing?

Yeah, often the first one or two ideas that come to mind are the ones that I try to use. Those are the most authentic. The process itself was me replaying a song over and over. I just recorded myself saying stuff, not even real words, just playing around with ideas. Then I’d record and send it to Tobias, and he added [or tweaked some] things, and we’d go back and forth. 

When did you start working on this EP?

Tobias sent me ‘Burbank,’ the first song [off of the EP] back in mid-2019. I listened to it, but I couldn’t think of anything until a year later. I recorded it in just a couple of days, and then we released it in February of 2020. And then the rest of the EP was all recorded in June. I think that it’s best that way, recording in that one moment as quick as you can so that it’s fresh. I try not to overthink it. 

I think The Beatles used to write their songs in one sitting because they were in a certain mindset that they wouldn’t be able to replicate. They didn’t want to come back to the song later because they would be different. Is that how you feel, that you’re in a certain headspace and you’re like, ‘I need to get these ideas out now or they won’t be the same’?

Yeah, I always do that with music, I just overthink everything. So this time, I tried to do something different. I wanted that spontaneous creation and experience. 

I think my favorite songs off of the EP are ‘What Was’ and ‘Internal/External’, because I love that jazzy instrumental break. So for new listeners, what song would you want them to listen to first?

I think ‘Burbank’. It encompasses everything that’s in the EP. And it’s a pretty uplifting song. I also really like ‘What Was’, it was really cool to make because it’s a more mellow song. Everything else is more intense and in your face. But I think the order of the tracklist is how it should be heard, that’s where the journey is. 

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Cisco Swank by Jules Olson

 

What do you think really inspired you to create this EP–because you mentioned you made this all back in June, during quarantine–and what really excites you about the release? 

I think being in quarantine, being uninspired, and having a lot of time to think made me want to use this time to be creative. I thought, ‘You should take advantage of this and create something!’ 

You’ve already been compared to a young Stevie Wonder, Frank Ocean, and Anderson .Paak. I feel like ‘Burbank’ feels especially reminiscent of ‘Ventura’ era .Paak. How do you feel about these comparisons, and did you listen to these artists or others when creating your EP?

Those are top-tier artists. Frank Ocean, he’s the GOAT, especially when it comes to production and singing, his inflections, how he goes about writing melodies and lyrics. I listened to him heavily. And I used to [basically] only listen to Stevie Wonder when I was younger. My dad would play ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ and other albums when I was growing up. So I feel like that music is ingrained in me. 

Your ability to meld different genres into something that is recognizable, yet something still very unique to you, that’s what most artists strive to do: create something that is them. And you already seem to be really confident in the music you make. How did you find your sound?

I think that came from listening to a lot of music, [all types of] music, even really [obscure] music. And then I just blended everything that I wanted to hear. Sometimes I just want to listen to straight jazz, like Miles Davis or Herbie [Hancock], and sometimes I want to listen to Travis Scott. So I wanted to create music for when people want to listen to an all-in-one blend.  

In your lyrics, you often bring up themes of home, of being lost, of finding yourself either through God or through home. You bring up ideas about life and how you’re always trying to move forward. What do you think led you to want to write about these themes? And are there any overarching messages or a story that you hope to convey in your music and especially in ‘Pursuit Of’? 

I think that in every song I make a Biblical reference. And that really comes from my upbringing; I was raised in Church. And I think these themes relate to everyone. Just believing that there is something that is bigger than us, something that we are moving toward. And the concept of searching is a central theme in my music. Why are we all here? What’s our purpose? I hope I can help [people] move forward. Do you, find what you’re looking for–whether that be art or any medium to express yourself through, through family and friends–find that thing that encourages you to keep going. For me, that’s music. Definitely God, anything spiritual. And definitely music. 

 

‘Pursuit Of’ is now available on all streaming platforms. 

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Album Cover Art by Cisco Swank

Tags: jazz, culture