Boise musician Sammi releases ‘Silver’ commemorative album

Sammi Swenson, from Boise, will make his album debut

Sammi Swenson, from Boise, will debut her album “Silver” at JUMP on Thursday, February 17. The album was inspired by the death of Swenson’s friend Ava Sawyer when they were hit by a drunk driver in 2020.

Courtesy of Next Records

When Sammi Swenson signed a record deal in late 2019, her life was about to change. But not in the way she expected.

Swenson, then a high school student, intended to hit the studio in early 2020 to record an album full of songs she had written. The coronavirus pandemic put those plans on hold, but Swenson still hoped he could start recording soon. In May 2020, COVID-19 cases were declining in Idaho, and Swenson was also taking small steps toward normality.

She and her younger sister, Maddi, had spent the day with a friend, and Swenson was driving the younger girls home on the evening of May 7. At the intersection of Five Mile and McMillan Roads, a drunk driver ran through a red light and crashed into Swenson’s car. Maddi was seriously injured and their friend, 15-year-old Ava Sawyer, died.

After the accident, Swenson struggled with trauma and grief, struggling to process Ava’s death and the gruesome accident. Music was the furthest thing from her mind – until she started writing songs for Ava. On Thursday, Swenson will release an entire album — ‘Silver,’ which she recorded as Sammi — inspired by her friend and her heartbreak, with a Thursday launch party in Boise that will benefit victims of drunk driving .

Music helped a Boise woman recover from an accident

Swenson said it’s difficult to determine how she got her start in music. Both of his parents are musicians (his father, Matt Swenson, taught choir at Boise High School) and Swenson began learning to play piano and guitar at an early age. Singing and songwriting also came naturally.

“High school was tough for me and I found it was a great way for me to communicate through writing music,” Swenson told the Idaho Statesman.

In 2019, Next Music Company offered a record deal. The company, which was founded in Boise by musician and music teacher Jeff Baker, is part of a group of labels under Origin Records, a Seattle-based jazz label.

“The initial album was supposed to be R&B, which is completely different than it is now,” Swenson said.

When Swenson wrote the initial album, the songs felt meaningful, personal. After the car accident, they felt insignificant.

“I got pretty bitter about it because I was like, ‘This stuff feels so superficial now that I’ve been through something with a lot of depth and a lot of layers,'” she said.

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Sammi Swenson recorded an album with songs dedicated to her friend killed in a drunk driving accident in Boise in 2020. Courtesy of Sammi Swenson

Swenson was the only person in the accident who remained conscious at the scene, and she struggled to understand what she had witnessed and the grief that followed Ava’s death and Maddi’s injuries. Swenson felt disconnected and began isolating herself at home. His dreams of recording an album began to disintegrate.

About a month after the accident, Swenson was still keeping his distance from music when a song came to mind.

“It was the weirdest thing,” Swenson said. “In one day, I had an entire song written and recorded.”

She posted the song on SoundCloud, a music-sharing site, with a photo of sunflowers and three words: Dedicated to Ava. Soon, she noticed other users commenting on the song, telling Swenson that her music eased their grief as well. The track has been played 40,000 times.

It was an epiphany for Swenson. Rather than writing music just for herself, she wanted to write songs that other people could connect with and find comfort in. Ava’s first song turned into many more, and last summer Swenson traveled to Seattle to record her album at Studio X. She described the album “Silver” as a record indie-pop.

“What I like to tell people is that it’s almost a mix of Billie Eilish and Adele,” Swenson said.

Album release will benefit victims of drunk drivers

Swenson’s album features 11 songs, many of which are interconnected reflections on Ava Sawyer and the crash that changed Swenson’s life. She named it “Silver” as a nod to a silver liner.

“I was able to take something that was just awful and really hard and painful and turn it into something beautiful and potentially something that can help other people heal from things that hurt them,” Swenson said.

For his debut album, Swenson originally planned a small reunion with his family, friends and collaborators who had worked on the record. Instead, she decided to honor Ava’s memory once more.

Swenson and his family had been in contact with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, since the crash, and Swenson wanted to use his album launch as an opportunity to amplify the organization’s message.

The “Silver” album release party will take place Thursday at 6 p.m. at JUMP. The free event will be the first time Swenson’s album has been released publicly, and a portion of the proceeds from the limited-edition merchandise will go to the Idaho Chapter of MADD.

“His words are so impressive,” said Miren Aburusa, program manager for MADD Idaho. “What particularly amazed me was the maturity of his words, and I think that can only come from the tragedy.”

Aburusa said she hoped Swenson’s album would bring MADD’s message—”Ride, Don’t Drive”—to younger audiences.

“Too often with MADD, people in their 30s, 40s, 50s may know our message, but the majority of DUIs are people in their 20s and 30s,” Aburusa said. The drunk driver who hit Swenson was 19 years old. He also died.

Swenson has already planned to perform at MADD events later this year, including a tribute to victims of drunk driving accidents.

“Silver” will be available to stream on February 18 on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and other online platforms. Listeners can also pre-order copies of the album at nextmusiccompany.com.

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Nicole Blanchard is the outdoor journalist for the Idaho Statesman. She grew up in Idaho, graduated from Idaho State University and Northwestern University, and hits the trails around Boise as much as she can.
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