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Interview
Swans

Swans

date
Tuesday 1st March, 2011 11:03AM

After several years on hiatus from Swans with other project Angels of Light, Michael Gira is back heading up one of the post punks most influential units. Miles Buckingham from Radioactive 89FM caught up with Gira to discuss both projects, how the reformed Swans differs to that of yore, and why live music is transcendental.

You’ve recently reformed Swans when your primary output of late has been through Angels of Light. Given your progression from a brutal musical assault to more delicate darkness, what made you want to reconvene Swans?

Well, after having Angels of Light for thirteen years I felt I’d wrung all the vinegar out of that washcloth, and I wanted to try something else. I’d been thinking about wanting to be involved in cyclones of sound again and I certainly couldn’t call that Angels of Light so I reconvened Swans. I also began to feel stymied creatively with the program I’d set for myself with Angels of Light and thought ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ and thought I wanted to make monolithic music again, so I reconvened Swans.

Could the current Swans exist without you having spent those years with the Angels of Light?

No of course not, both bands have been my outlook on music and I gather people around me who are sympathetic to that suit. So it all comes from one person initially and then I gather people around me to follow the lead so I am the person who existed after thirteen years of Angels of Light and I’ve learned some things (or maybe I haven’t haven’t) and I certainly have had some experiences along the way. It’s really just arbitrary, I just wanted to reconvene Swans because it felt more appropriate for what I wanted to do now.

There’s a massive sonic different between the initial Swans output and the later work. Was this purposeful and how did it sit with fans?

I’m just making music and I just want to change it up because it gets a little predictable if you follow one path for too long. If you’re repeating the same patterns over and over you’re a robot. So if something became boring to me I moved forward in a different direction. I try not to think about what an audience expects - for the first ten years of Swans people just left or stood there at live shows - you have to do what electrifies you as an artist so that’s what I do.

My Father Will Guide Me Up to a Rope in the Sky marks a return to a real intensity in your work:

Yes, that’s what I said, I wanted to revisit that and expand it forward again, so it’s a lot of very loud electric guitars. Live we have three guitar players, two drummers and it’s kind of overwhelming, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to actively destroy the air in a room when we play – just suck it out and make things charged with life. That’s kind of a mythical way of saying it but that’s what I want to experience again.

So with your live shows you’ve said you wanted to be soul uplifting and body destroying – a spiritual experience so-to-speak?

I don’t know about that but I think people will always be spritual, otherwise they’ll be hunks of meat. I don’t know about organised religion or anything but I think people want to dissolve into something bigger than themselves – that’s why we have sex. That’s why people look up to the sky and want to feel like they’re flying, you know.

Your search for this intensity has been driven by a lack of compromise?

I figure I’ve got a really short time on earth and I want to follow my imagination, that’s what we’re here for. I do it exceptionally sometimes and terribly other times but I try to keep myself in an uncomfortable place.

Does the uncomfortable place produce good art?

I don’t know, I’m not capable of making grand statements like that. I don’t know if anything I do is worth anything but I have to do it so that’s that.

Tell me about the blues element of Swans:

Sure, I think The Swans always had a heavy element of blues in it. Howlin’ Wolf being one of my idols and the relentless quality in the music and the way it reaches your innards. I find all thee things really wonderful but I don’t know about whether we follow a traditional blues format. Howlin’ Wolf is one of the most exceptional singers ever in popular music so I try to emulate him somewhat.

With My Father Will Guide Me Up to a Rope in the Sky you came together and recorded a song a day? Was that the usual way you work?

It’s new. Oftentimes what happens is you record a basic groove and you start overdubbing it but in this instance I wanted it to be a group effort a band playing that made the initial performance and then we would overdub and build upon that, so there wasn’t really time to sit around and rehearse for three months and everyone lived in different places. So we had an intense twelve hour session for each song and in those twelve hours it worked out. Later I just edited more but it was a great way to work.

Does it make it easier to play those songs live?

Live they’ve metastasized – expanded and grown and changed –and the songs that were on the record are recognisable but they’re a lot different than the recorded versions. We’re also playing early Swans that doesn’t sound like early Swans. We’re just taking it and making something new happen with it. Even though we’re doing the same set every night the set changes every night.

Before band went into hiatus in mid nineties the live experience was essential to the Swans experience, correct?

Yeah, Swans have never been about playing versions of songs you’d hear on a record. For the first eight years we never played songs that had already been recorded, so you could never see Swans and hear what you’d heard on record and I kind of liked that. I want to be on the edge of collapse live.

And on the edge of a transcendental spiritual experience?

Well that would be nice but it’s not that grandiose-a-thing. I think the Stooges were transcendent, you know. Most people wouldn’t think that but it’s very spiritual to me, it just depends how you think about it.

Miles Buckingham

links
swans.pair.com


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