See also: Swans Reboot Sinister Grandeur with The Seer
Swans frontman Michael Gira is an underappreciated impresario. He led one of the most pioneering acts of the early '80s until their initial dissolution in 1997. Their early grim, repetitive throb had the same menacing quality as the factory in David Lynch's Eraserhead. Their music was an important touchstone for later industrial, noise, and post-rock acts, without ever truly fitting in any of those categories.
After Swans breakup, Gira started sweeter, more melodic act, Angels of Light. He ran the Young God label that would produce breakthrough artists Akron/Family and Devendra Banhart. Over the years he's also published short stories. In 2010, he reconvened Swans and recently released their second album since that time, the double disc, The Seer.
We caught up with Gira on tour, and asked a few questions.
Up on the Sun: Should we see Angels of Light as a kind of Pynchon-ian digression in the history of the Swans?
Michael Gira: It was just a chapter in my life and something I felt I had to do. And once it seemed less compelling less vital, I had to move on and Swans offered a lot of opportunities to explore different things that I didn't think worked under the moniker of Angels of Light. So, I just called the work I'm doing Swans again.
What were some of Swans early inspirations? Was Can an influence?
I didn't know about Can until Thurston played me an album probably in '83 or something. So I didn't know about Can but music I would've been listening to in those days would've been Throbbing Gristle, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, The Stooges.
The sheer volume of those shows - I understand the intent was sort of like a sweatlodge - opening the mind by pummeling the senses.
That's all after the fact, that kind of description. We didn't really set out with a theory to explicate. It was more that we were involved in making this music and we made the music we had to make at the time. The kind of descriptions of it and justifications for it, if any were necessary, came later.
It was more about experience than ideas. I really just wanted to experience that sound. I suppose it was liberating some of the music I mentioned that it eschewed regular rock or pop chord structures and dealt mostly with sound. It was liberating to think you could make an emotional piece of music without having to revert to three-chord punk rock or other kinds of tropes. So it was just making shapes on a fretboard and finding what sounded right really.
It didn't come from a theory, it came from wanting to experience something and once we started making it, it led to other things. It was kind of discarding any kind of rock references.Jarboe contributes to a track on the new album, how'd that come about?
There was a song that was developing and I needed what we call drone vocals - and there was no better person in the world to ask then her and she has a beautiful voice.
I didn't feel comfortable introducing her in a more specific song at this point, so I just asked her to do these series of notes and bend them a little bit and put her own personality in them and so that's how she was added. We've been in sort of a little more contact than we were the last 15 years and I was happy to have her involved.
Swans are scheduled to perform Wednesday, September 12, at Crescent Ballroom.