The year isn’t yet halfway through, but 2019 has already been a big one for Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. The musician best known as one-third of Mountain Man, the folk trio who made their comeback with last year’s beautiful Magic Ship, announced earlier this year that her debut solo record is en route: Dawnbreaker is out June 28 on Nonesuch. It arrives less than a year after Magic Ship, Mountain Man’s second album as a trio and their first after an eight-year hiatus.
Following previously released singles “Gem” and the title track, spritely new tune “Shining Woman” arrives today (Wednesday, May 29) with a fitting video, premiering here at Paste. Documenting a chance encounter with a striking woman, the song works like folklore, as if the woman in question (portrayed in the video by one of Sauser-Monnig’s friends who donned a pair of “shining” gold pants) is so arresting she’s not even real. Was she ever really there? “She rode away into the breeze,” Sauser-Monnig sings over a quietly looping drum beat and a polite electric guitar. The video, which you can watch below, culminates in a twilight gathering of cyclists that looks like a lovely way to send off the day.
We caught up with Sauser-Monnig via phone while at home in Hillsborough, N.C., for the scoop on Dawnbreaker, tarot cards and making her way back to music after working on a goat dairy, among other places. The following has been edited for length.
Paste: What brought you back to music after such a long break?
Alexandra Sauser-Monnig: It was really kind of like following a circle, like out and away from music and then back in. When I was on tour before I stopped music, it was like the only thing I’d done since I graduated from college. And I was like, ‘I’m curious about what else is out there in the world.’ I tried a whole bunch of different other things, and kind of through everything I was doing, like a bunch of different farming, flower farming and working at a goat dairy and working at a library, I was learning so many cool things. But nothing felt right to me in the way that music felt right. And so I just gradually learned to listen to that feeling.
It sounds like you were outside a lot over those years. You live in North Carolina, too, so do you still like to spend time outdoors?
Yeah, I love it. I love to garden and bike and run and there’s a lot of that around here.
How did you come up with the name Daughter of Swords?
Sauser-Monnig: I was doing a tarot reading for myself like a year or so ago and pulled this card that’s the Daughter of Swords card, and the image in the deck I was using is like a woman standing on a cliff holding a sword and summoning all of these wild creatures out of the sky. And it’s sort of a card about not letting things that have inhibited you in the past stand in your way as you move forward into your future. And I just really needed that card at that moment. And also as I was looking at it, it was like, ‘Dang, that would be a cool band name.’ And it stuck in my brain and I sat on it for awhile and then decided that felt like the right thing to use for this project.
And what about the name Dawnbreaker?
Sauser-Monnig: The last line of the last song on the record is ‘Dawn breaking.’ And I feel like I was sitting at dinner with some friends and it was like towards the end of recording the album, and we were talking about names for the record. And ‘Dawnbreaker’ had come up for me and through talking, like maybe my friend Amelia [Meath] had also had that same thought or just confirmed the great idea. But it sort of does feel like a ship name or starting out on a new foot. There are all sorts of different images or ideas that come up with it. So it just felt right.
The songs have a more dressed-up feeling to them than those by Mountain Man. Did you write songs on the guitar and then embellish them in the studio?
Sauser-Monnig: I wrote them and had kind of entertained different ideas about how to make that record. Initially I thought that I might just record them with just my voice and guitar. But it just felt like there were some songs where that definitely was the vibe, and then there were other songs that felt like it could be unlocked in a different way with the support of a band. So I brought them in feeling pretty open to a wide variety of possibilities, but definitely thinking that I was curious about what would happen with other instrumentation and arrangement.
Tell me about “Shining Woman” specifically. What is it about, and what was the filming process like?
I had that first line of the song ‘Wind in her hair, I met a woman,’ like I’d written it down and forgotten about it and was looking through my notebook and found that and became kind of obsessed with this idea of this chance encounter with a really powerful woman alone on a bike trip and wrote that song in an afternoon. Then recording it was so fun. I have memories of different pieces of the song kind of all of a sudden clicking into place in an amazing way. Like the synthesizers on the bridge part of the song Nick [Sanborn] played and we’d sort of gone through a couple of different iterations of how the song sounded recording-wise, and there were just like things that that all of a sudden elevated different parts of the song. The Juno on the bridge was one of those moments of joy.
Making the video was really sweet. I was working with a person named D.L. Anderson who lives in Durham, and we were just throwing different ideas back and forth and it kind of felt like everything pulled together in a really serendipitous way. One of my close friends, Emily Kate, agreed to be the ‘Shining Woman’ and did such a great job. So it was just like making a video with a bunch of my friends and like going to somebody storage’s unit. And then the end of the video happens out at my roommate, Lily’s farm—her and her partner George have this farm that’s really beautiful. So it felt like a community effort and collaboration and it was so fun.
Dawnbreaker was recorded in Durham, N.C., produced by Sylvan Esso’s Nick Sanborn and is out June 28. You can preorder it right here. Again, you can watch the video for “Shining Woman” below, followed by Daughter of Swords’ Paste Studio performance from this year’s South By Southwest, further down. Keep scrolling for Daughter of Swords’ tour dates.
Daughter of Swords Tour Dates:
06 – Brooklyn, N.Y. @ Rough Trade ~
18 – Saxapahaw, N.C. @ Haw River Ballroom º
20 – Charlotte, N.C. @ Knight Theater ^
21 – Wilmington, N.C. @ Greenfield Lake Amphitheater ^
23 – Baltimore, Md. @ Rams Head Live ^
12 – Richmond, Va. @ Richmond Music Hall %
07 – Raleigh, N.C. @ Hopscotch Music Fest
17 – New York, N.Y. @ Beacon Theatre *
18 – New York, N.Y. @ Beacon Theatre *
(~ with Bedouine)
(º with Iron & Wine and Calexico)
(^ with Mandolin Orange)
(% with Andy Jenkins)
(* with Sylvan Esso)