MICHAEL GIRA (SWANS) - interview by Peek-A-Boo magazine (2022)

It is quite a difficult task writing about Swans. Of course, there are always certain moments when you, as writer, can mark. Clichés and tags that characterize a certain stage of their career. Since the early 80’s Michael Gira and Swans established a new standard for experimental music. Inspired by the music of Public Image Ltd and Einstürzende Neubauten, Swans created a whole new musical standard. But they were never the same. Of course, thinking about them now you’d imagine noisy guitars, a wall of distortion and slaveship-like drum-beats. And that would be right. But with this, Michael Gira also proved that he could step outside of a certain standard. And it seems that their new album “Leaving Meaning” serves as a proof: acoustic sounds mixed with bluesy chords and certain elements they you wouldn’t expect to hear from Swans. But with all the changes it sounds very organic. As always.

In the interview for Peek-A-Boo magazine, Michael Gira told us about songwriting and artistic evolution, about “Leaving Meaning” and performing live, about his cooperation with The Necks and death.

You've always been saying that you "have a sound" in your head. If we’d speak about the current stage of your career and your upcoming album - what were the factors that influenced the sound of Swans now and your new album “Leaving Meaning” ?

The orchestrations were dictated by the songs. On this album, I had songs completely finished, written on acoustic guitar before orchestrating them.

I thought of little cinematic pictures that I’d like to make for the words and the melodies. On the last ten years of Swans with this specific group of people with whom I was working, the sound was more dictated by how we played as a band. And then I would maybe orchestrate as producer on top of that. But on this I wanted to go back towards the idea of having the specific songs finished and orchestrating them with whomever I worked with. And see how it developed from there.

There are some artists who primarily work trying to capture the atmosphere of time and space. Do you write all the time, or for you, is music a fixation or a capture of a certain moment ?

It’s very ordinary and banal! I sit down with the acoustic guitar and start playing and something happens. And then words appear. I don’t sit down with the idea: “Yes! Now I want to express anger or love!” – I just start playing and see what happens.

After years and evolution, in what ways did you change your approaches to creating music ?

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Over the years ?


I could write a book on that (laughs)! Now I write on acoustic guitar. And I think about colors and space and what world these words should live in. I suppose…Some decades of working changed the whole way so much!

The opposition between creation and destruction has always been presented in your music. On second thought these are two basic concepts of our life. We were all born. We all gonna die. Just as our universe will explode and will emerge again – another big bang. But what helps you to find the balance between those two ?

Well, I would say that the bigger question is: “Am I really sure that I actually exist ?” (laughs)

One of the things that made Swans a very successful band are your incredible live-shows. Sometimes it seems that you're getting to a certain state of mind, getting to trans-state. What do you feel being on stage?

At the best times, I feel nothing. When the music is…everything. Then I’m nothing. And that’s kind of the point. Hopefully it’s the same point for the audience.

Despite your well-known sound there are some new elements you added to the music of Swans with “Leaving Meaning”. Like “Annaline” with its Italian or Spanish musical traditions sound. Or “Sunfucker” which starts following the well-known vibes of Swans and then gets to a certain bluesy point. Could you please tell me how it feels to explore something you didn’t really touch upon before ?

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Well, the record…It’s like a painful surgery. It has to cut away expectations. And the process of making that happen both esthetic and very painful. It can also be very tedious and boring. So much work involved in making it! But traditionally with me, someone’s on the line, making a record. The both best and the worst points is when it’s completely collapsing and I just think it’s a complete piece of SHIT. And then I have to fight my way out of it and making it happen, nevertheless.

Like most of your works the album is a result of work with different people, musicians and individuals. Is there a certain secret, how to achieve intergrity when each person you work with brings something personal and dear to him of her?

I work with lots of musicians. And I choose the people with whom I work based not only on their musical skill. But on who they are as people. Their personalities and what they can bring to the music I’ve written as a human. Not just as musician playing a line. So it's the best instance on this record, there was a great rapport between myself and the other musicians. And we just kind of arrived at the common goal. Through working and playing songs together.

Your lyrics on the record are abstract, as always. And there are always metaphysical topics on the basis of things you speak about. In the lyrics for “Annaline” there’s a line: “Pushing us through / A window in time / Slipping into / A spiraling line” which may be regarded as a reference to a certain transitional phase. From one thing to another. So can you say that with “Leaving Meaning” you got a certain perspective on things you’d like to try later ?

Well, you just brought to mind something. I’ve always thought about this quote by conceptual artist – Bruce Nauman, where he said about feeling and what he wanted to achieve with his work. And there was that moment where you’re walking down some stairs and you think there’s another stair. And then you put your foot down and there isn’t another stair. And for a second there your expectations are completely araised. And you’re in this uncomfortable second. And that to me kind of applies to the way I think about it too. It’s like where you’re uncertain of your position…(laughs).

You once said that as an artist you work through “trial and error” and I guess it’s a primary methodology when you write experimental and abstract music. But “Leaving Meaning” doesn’t really sound so. There are not so many distorted guitars or some other elements that characterize your music….

Let me interact you and say that distorted guitars and ugly noisy sounds would be opposite of experiment at this point. It would be something that’s very expected and ordinary.

So in what way did your creative tasks and objectives differ in the case of “Leaving Meaning” ?


Well, rather than having a band of specific people played in a certain way, rather than having a sound we had as a band, in this case I had these songs. And then I had a wide variety of people, I could choose from to help orchestrate the songs. So it’s completely different way of working. It’s not how I record this band and maybe orchestrate it. It’s how do I build these songs using whatever instruments are appropriate with whatever musicians are appropriate. And so it’s much different in that way. It’s like try to make a soundtrack for each song rather then having a band playing.

What helps to figure out new ways for things to happen to implement your ideas and after all these years – is it hard for you ? I mean, when you search for something and finally you get to the destination extremely happy with it.

Well, I’m never extremely happy with it, in fact. Generally, I’m disgusted with myself at the end of the record (laughs). And can’t wait to do something new because I don’t feel I achieved what I wanted. But I guess there’s some good moments of this record. And, I think it works. But to me it’s lost. It’s blood. Because, I’m so familiar with every second of the music. That gives me a time to just moving to something else. I would say that I’m very-very honored and happy to have had all the contributors worked. Particularly, to have the group – The Necks contributed to my music. It’s just to me it’s sort of a dream come true…Do you know The Necks ?

Yes, I do.

Yeah, to me to have them playing on the record it’s just amazing…And I was very happy with what they did, of course.

You just said that you’re disgusted with the end result of your work. But what did you feel at the moment of creation and are there any favorite parts of yours on “Leaving Meaning” ?

My favorite part of the experience of making a record is when it sort of starts getting orchestrated. And we put it out loud in the speakers in the studio. And there’s four or five people standing around who contributed to the sound. And it just feels like some kind of symphony of sound going on. And you can’t believe that it’s there. It’s just amazing! And you work on it and work on it. And before you get it you know that you’d straggled a cat.

While playing live you also focus your attention on the flexibility of forms you’re working on. There is also an aspect of communication present in your work. When you are on stage you’re quite focused on each others’ individual work getting to this flow. Sometimes changing the general shape of the songs you’d written. Do you feel the same at the moment of creation ?

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Well, that’s always the goal. Uncertainty.

You once said that the fear of death pushes you working forward. Is it still a strong motivator ?

Of course. I mean, having a strong presence of death in your mind all the time is a very healthy thing. Because it focuses you on the urgency of what you’re doing in each moment.

With Angels of Light, your lyrics were inspired by real people and events. Listening to the lyrics of “Leaving Meaning”, I found that among all the feelings and thoughts there’s only one reference to real-life – “The President’s mouth is a whore”. As lyricist you’re still true to yourself. But how does everything usually come to the place and where do your lyrics come from ? Or is it always a stream of consciousness ?

Oh, no! It’s not a stream of consciousness. It’s very slow process of accumulating words. They follow a trajectory. Very deliberate trajectory. But it’s not a stream of consciousness.

When I usually write something, I follow a certain “ritual” containing the things I should do…Are there any important conditions for you ?

Oh yes! It’s the same! I need a complete privacy. I can never write on tour, for instance. Never. I have to be alone in my office. And in the morning usually…It’s best to write in the morning because your mind is still connected to your dreams. So yes, these are my conditions to writing. But usually, once I find a phrase…One phrase leads slowly to another. And then a narrative develops. Phrase or image.

Do your lyrics always represent your thoughts and feelings or you’re always writing from characters’ perspective ?

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Well, I’m not writing as me, Michael Gira, ever. I think that would be horribly juvenile and stupid (laughs). So I write from a point of view of a narrator. Then the narrator sings the songs. And I take on the character of that narrator performing it.



Is Swans the loudest band? ›

Swans have been called the loudest band in the world.

What kind of band is swans? ›

Swans is an American experimental rock band formed in 1982 by singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira.

Who is the loudest concert ever? ›

Today in 1976, The Who entered the Guinness Book of World Records for performing the loudest concert in history at the time during their concert at England's Charlton Athletic Grounds with 76,000 watts at 120 decibels.

Who is the loudest rock band of all time? ›

Deep Purple Concert – 117 dB

This 70s hard rock quintet can really blow the roof off a venue with its chunky guitar riffs and thunderous drum beats. At one point, it was recognized as the loudest band of all time by the Guinness Book of World Records after playing a famously noisy show at the Rainbow Theater in London.

What does a swan symbolize? ›

The meaning of a swan is grace, beauty, love, trust, and loyalty. Swan symbolism is also linked to inner beauty and self love.

Are swans friendly? ›

Swans are naturally gentle creatures but that doesn't mean they won't stand up for themselves when crossed! They have been known to act aggressively when they come across threatening behaviour and may even be able to break a human arm with their powerful wings.

Is a swan male or female? ›

The male swan is called the Cob. He typically weighs more and looks slightly larger than the female (the Pen), although it is often difficult to tell the male and female apart. The female swan will incubate the eggs and both parents will take care of the young once they are hatched.

How loud can a human yell? ›

Human screams can be quite loud, possibly exceeding 100 dB (as of March 2019, the world record is 129 dB!) —but you probably want to avoid that because screams that loud can hurt your ears! You should also have found sound levels drop off quickly as you get farther from the source.

Who is the loudest singer? ›

Irish teacher Annalisa Flanagan holds the world's loudest shouting record with 121 decibels (dB), but there was no previous singing record. The lively Bulgarian from the southern city of Plovdiv faced a series of tough requirements.

What was the loudest recorded sound on earth? ›

But what about the loudest sound ever heard? On the morning of 27 August 1883, on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa, a volcanic eruption produced what scientists believe to be the loudest sound produced on the surface of the planet, estimated at 310 decibels (dB).

What is the loudest instrument in a band? ›

For reference, here is a list of the loudest musical instruments and their decibel levels:
  • Trombone: 85 – 114 dB.
  • Clarinet: 85 – 114 dB.
  • Oboe: 95 – 112 dB.
  • Cello: 85 – 111 dB.
  • Trumpet: 80 – 110 dB.
  • French Horn: 90 – 106 dB.
  • Piccolo: 90 – 106 dB.
  • Flute: 92 – 103 dB.
Oct 1, 2021

Which bands have the loudest concerts? ›

Deep Purple was recognised by The Guinness Book of World Records as the "globe's loudest band" for a concert at the London Rainbow Theatre, during which the sound reached 117 dB and three members of the audience fell unconscious.

How many decibels is a jet engine? ›

Source of soundSound pressure level (dB)
Jet engine at 30 m150 dB
Threshold of pain130 dB
Vuvuzela horn at 1 m120 dB
Hearing damage (possible)approx. 120 dB
20 more rows

How do swans say thank you? ›

Snorting “Thank YOU” for Food and Treats. The Three Quick Snorts with their Heads in the Air is “Thank You.” Swans May Nap Floating Upright in the Water.

Do swans mate for life? ›

Swan Facts: Mute Swans Mate for Life

Pairs usually don't break up, often only seeking a new partner if their mate dies. Learn more about sweet bird courtship rituals.

Do swans fall in love? ›

Swans. Swans form monogamous pair bonds that last for many years, and in some cases these bonds can last for life. Their loyalty to their mates is so storied that the image of two swans swimming with their necks entwined in the shape of a heart has become a nearly universal symbol of love.

Can you touch swans? ›

Yes, but only in exceptional cases. If a wing in full span and velocity were to hit a weak-boned person (such as a child or an elderly person) then it is theoretically possible. In reality it is almost unheard of and is never used as a form of attack as swans are a defensive bird.

Do swans sleep? ›

Fun Facts about Swans. Swans can sleep on either land or the water. They have the option of sleeping while standing on one leg or while floating in the water.

Does swan eat Pearl? ›

Hamsa, the swan, is part of the mythical love story of Nala and Damayanti, where it carries the stories, historical information and messages between the two strangers. In Indian mythology, it is said to eat pearls and separate milk from water from a mixture of the two.

Do swans have teeth? ›

Although birds do not have teeth, swans, like other Anatidae, have beaks with serrated edges that look like small jagged 'teeth' as part of their beaks used for catching and eating aquatic plants and algae, but also molluscs, small fish, frogs, and worms.

What is a female swan called? ›

What are male, female, and young swans called? A male swan is called a Cob. The female is called a Pen and the young of the year are called cygnets (pronounced 'sig-nets').

What is the loudest sound ever recorded? ›

The loudest sound in recorded history came from the volcanic eruption on the Indonesian island Krakatoa at 10.02 a.m. on August 27, 1883. The explosion caused two thirds of the island to collapse and formed tsunami waves as high as 46 m (151 ft) rocking ships as far away as South Africa.

Who is the loudest person in the world? ›

Stan Lemkuil could have been interviewed simply by sticking his head out of the kitchen window and talking to Los Angeles. Lemkuil is the World's Loudest Man. How loud is loud? Lemkuil tops out at 117 decibels, measured at a distance of 8 feet, 2 inches, and has his Guinness certificate to prove it.

How loud is ACDC? ›

AC/DC have previously been registered as one of the world's loudest bands, reaching 132dB. That volume is an 'honour' shared by The Rolling Stones, Motörhead and My Bloody Valentine.

How loud is a band? ›

Most live amplified rock & pop gigs register at between 100 and 115db. Acoustic drums kits alone can easily register 105 – 110db. 80-90db might not sound like much less than 100dB, but in fact the decibel scale isn't a straight line. For example 110db actually sounds almost twice as loud as 100db, NOT a “tenth” louder.

What is the quietest sound ever recorded? ›

Astonishingly, Microsoft's anechoic chamber inside building 87 recorded the quietest sound in history of an unbelievable -20.6dBA- many magnitudes lower than anticipated.

What is the quietest sound in the world? ›

Microsoft's main anechoic chamber has the lowest sound level ever recorded. It is just a few decibels off of the lowest sound theorized by scientists.

How loud can a human yell? ›

Human screams can be quite loud, possibly exceeding 100 dB (as of March 2019, the world record is 129 dB!) —but you probably want to avoid that because screams that loud can hurt your ears! You should also have found sound levels drop off quickly as you get farther from the source.

What is the loudest word ever yelled? ›

The Belfast primary school teacher bellowed her way into the world record books in 1994 with a thunderous bellow of the word (what else?) 'quiet! '. The shout clocked up an earth-shattering 121.7 decibels, setting a world record and potentially damaging the hearing of anyone within earshot.

What animal screams loudest? ›

Howler Monkey- 140 Decibels. Howler Monkeys are the loudest animal in the New World with screams that can reach 140 decibels.

What is the loudest animal? ›

The loudest animal of all

Not only can baleen whales emit calls that travel farther than any other voice in the animal kingdom, these giants of the deep also create the loudest vocalisations of any creature on earth: the call of a blue whale can reach 180 decibels – as loud as a jet plane, a world record.

Which bands have the loudest concerts? ›

Deep Purple was recognised by The Guinness Book of World Records as the "globe's loudest band" for a concert at the London Rainbow Theatre, during which the sound reached 117 dB and three members of the audience fell unconscious.

How loud is too loud? ›

Common Sources of Noise and Decibel Levels

Noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing. Loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate harm to your ears.

How long can you listen to 100 dB? ›

At 85 decibels, the maximum recommended exposure time is 8 hours. By 100 decibels, the noise exposure limit drops to 15 minutes, and at 10 decibels more (110 dB), the risk exposure time plummets to just one minute. Exposure to sound levels for longer than that could result in permanent hearing loss.

How loud is a bullet? ›

Depending on the caliber of the firearm, most gunshots will register around 150-170 dB. At these levels, hearing damage can occur quickly. It's also worth pointing out the proximity to our ears when shooting. Shouldering up against a shotgun or rifle places these ultra-loud noises very close to our ears.

How many decibels is a gunshot? ›

How loud is a gunshot? Decibel levels for firearms average between 140 and 165 dB.

Why is live music so loud? ›

Stadiums are designed to give you a good view of the sport being played, but the design that optimizes that tends to create a lot of reverb. When artists are performing in stadiums, they want to make sure they aren't drowned out by their own reverb, and that requires turning the volume up quite loud.

Leading the world’s loudest experimental rock band for 33 years has been a ‘total psychic commitment’, as well as tough on the ears. But are there signs the musician is mellowing?

33 years after you started Swans, you’ve signed up to your two biggest ever UK headline shows at London Roundhouse and Liverpool Sound City (1).. Say we’ll play Primavera where there’s 30,000 people in the audience and the next night we’ll play to 500, I think we give the same performance.. Swans must be among the few bands still experimenting live, playing swaths of new material at each gig.. Things start happening because the force of the sound pushes us in new directions, and I encourage that.. That requires a total physical and psychic commitment from the band, but I don’t completely lose it like I used to do.. Are the stories about your early gigs – people vomiting because of the volume, audiences fleeing, the police being called – all true?. It was not in the usual menu, so a lot of audiences did flee, and we’d be left playing to 10 people.. I guess we take it to an extreme [laughs].. [Laughs] I don’t know.. Gradually I found it in my music and it’s the closest I get to God.. When I moved to New York that was a way to survive until I started making money in music.. I have to do that too, but fortunately the music’s working and there are people in the audience.. I’d been working for a long fucking time, because I started supporting myself when I was 15.. I wouldn’t think there’s anything wrong with Katy Perry.

Posted May 10th, 2011 / By Antonio Diaz in Features, Interviews, Music

After 14 years having parked the cult rock band Swans , he announced months ago in Internet that the band was alive again and ready to tour, releasing a new album My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky on September 2010.. And actually for gathering the money to record this new record, you had the idea to sell a 1.000 copies limited edition of the album I am Insane.. It starts when I pick up my acoustic guitar and I start to play thinking about chores and songs and imaging all the people playing and how it would sound, how to make it electric, and finally becomes a song or a template for a song and I send that to my friends, and they have ideas, and we get in the studio.. I produced Devendra´s first 2 albums, and released 3 or 4 of his records on my label Young God Records.. We are working on new material as we tour, so we almost have the whole record.. In the set we are playing now, there are 2 new songs, one about 15 minutes long and one about 30 minutes long, and there is a couple of instrumental things which I think they are really good and they will be in the record.. I remember once we got upstate, I think somewhere in Sweden, and in the dressing room there were all these people from the press, from big publications because Swans was flying high at that time, and I was just telling about changing a part of a song when she walked into the dressing room, and she was went “You fucking bastard!” and picked up a big bottle of wine and threw it as hard as she could to me!

"Certainly, we are not Kanye West."

During a swift 20 minutes we talked about the idea of darkness, Spanish art and losing oneself in performance.. I don’t know why, but the music has reached a lot of people, particularly young people, to the extent that a lot of our live audiences, especially in large urban centers, are three-quarters young people.. It seems to reach a lot of people who have a proclivity for this kind of thing which is not exactly easy.. They have these huge collections of music and it’s just like, “Oh yeah, I heard that.. Yeah, but we attract the “other” people ( laughs ).. I’ve seen this new iteration of Swans live a few times and there is definitely a euphoria that you reach.. But the experience of the work itself is transcendent and beautiful.. Some people would consider them dark, but I think they are more beautiful than his airier, early work.. Yeah, the Prado is an amazing experience.. It’s so harrowing but I find the act of the film and the beauty of the film itself to be transcendent.. Speaking of film, you mentioned that when you were making To Be Kind, movies like Melancholia were on your mind.. Well, I don’t know if you call it a song.. It’s a thing ( laughs ).. As I mentioned, a lot of the interviews I have read with you recently are about the band’s upcoming dissolution.

Swans are an evergreen, diverse band. In the 1980s they created brutal industrial rock, attracting fans ranging from heavy metal bros to friggin’ Kurt Cobain (he listed 1984’s Young God …

Check out Scene Point Blank’s recent interview with Swans’ head muchacho Michael Gira:. Scene Point Blank: Since Swans’ regrouping in 2010, you’ve released My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky , The Seer , and To Be Kind .. Scene Point Blank: Karen O and St. Vincent—two of the biggest artists on the indie scene—have worked with Swans.. Annie Clark [St. Vincent], I had her sing on several songs [on To Be Kind ] and I used her vocals in a way I’ve used female vocals for a long time, which is kind of like and organ or strings—like long sustaining notes—which blend in with the guitars and add sustain and some sense of harmonics.. Michael Gira: Well, it had different music at that point and I didn’t like the music with Swans playing it.. Scene Point Blank: In a 1996 interview with Seconds , you talked about your dismay towards Swans’ audience members, like headbangers and people who spat at Jarboe.. Scene Point Blank: Over the course of Swans career, you guys have gradually been recording more and more songs over 10 minutes long.. Michael Gira: Swans?. Scene Point Blank: Do you know of any celebrities who are Swans fans?. Michael Gira: That doesn’t make sense because Swans is itself.

In depth interview with Michael Gira about Swans

I just follow the music and the music itself is the message, you know.. LTW: They did.. Michael Gira: ‘Those all sound good to me.. LTW: These were people with a vision that did not follow other people’s paths, is that part of the inspiration for you?. Michael Gira: ‘That’s a whole different thing.. LTW: Do you like that feeling?. Michael Gira: ‘I’m very nice to people.

Swans are one of these those bands you just can’t put labels on. Their mixture of post-punk, No Wave, noise rock and something so specific and unique – like the human soul – and their ever-changing and evolving nature can…Read more →

Can you tell me something more about the new music you’re making?. Except developing compositions through live performances, what other inspirations you had behind what else inspired The Seer ?. I listened to her solo work and I thought that she had a very beautiful, tender, kind of compassionate voice that fit perfectly with the words for the song, which are sort of country lullaby and were written to my six and a half years old daughter.. The Seer is one of these songs that developed live and I was singing whatever phrases came to mind for quite some time.. What kind of music were you listening to growing up?

Michael Gira firmly believes that Swans music is experiential and not meant to be repeated or recreated. .

Part of that was how we performed it on tour, but the whole first part, with that great groove…that was developed in the studio because the way we did it live didn’t translate.. ‘Kirsten Supine’ is an entirely acoustic guitar song developed in the studio.’Oxygen’—the groove for that was written on acoustic guitar—but of course we played that live for a year and that’s why we sound so cognizant of each other’s presence as we play it.. ‘Nathalie Neal’ is an acoustic guitar song which we did perform live for a little bit, but dropped it because it didn’t really fit with the set.. We’ve been doing this kind of thing since 2000, with Angels of Light at Young God Records.. Our music has reached a lot of people, particularly the young people, which is very encouraging to me.. It seems that a lot of them have discovered the band in the last few years, but they’ve also gone back and looked at the history and hopefully they’ve looked into Angels of Light, too.. “Well, sometimes it will be in a nascent stages, like right now I’m working on a couple of things on acoustic guitar.. It starts out one way on acoustic guitar, then I’ll go into the rehearsal space with the band and we’ll start going back and forth with it, and work on it until it feels like it has something undeniable in it so it needs to be performed.. There are also different tropes and things that Swans is perhaps known for, that carried through into the new thing.. There are a few things, really nice sonic passages that we built up in the studio, one thing was about 30 tracks of different types of arpeggiated guitar lines varispeeded on the multitrack.. So since I don’t work at home on Pro Tools, for instance, I’m in a studio where I’m paying a lot of money.. When he comes into the studio things are at their first recorded stage.. He comes and I put the song up and I may have an idea of something for him to do that I’ll suggest, or he’s just say ‘no, let’s just try this’ And he’ll go and do something superb that always brings tremendous personality to the song.. I love Annie, she’s a really really sweet person, and I was thinking about voices for this song ‘Some Things We Do.’ I just thought of Annie because she’s got a lot of experience in her voice.

Ahead of the release of magnificent new Swans album To Be Kind, Michael Gira speaks to John Doran about that LP's ferocious grooves, his role as band leader, Haitian history, the early days of the group, and his terror at the ever-increasing commercialisation of our society. Photography by Jennifer Church, Sebastien Sighell and Matias Coral

I don't remember that… I guess sometimes things happen, I don't know [laughs]. MG: Sun Ra's music I don't know that well.. MG: Yeah, and certainly when we're good the music becomes bigger than us, and we're inside it, and it is like the music is playing us.. She doesn't make the kind of music I'd normally listen to, I have to say, but since meeting her and finding a context, I can really appreciate her music.. Now, I was wondering whether to ask this question or not, but seeing as you brought up the word gospel, I was going to ask - 'She Loves Us' and several other songs that you've done since the reconfiguration of Swans, they do kind of scream out spiritual music to me.. I'm not necessarily talking about any kind of formal religious beliefs, but do you understand that people are starting to get more of a spiritual feeling from Swans music?. Something that I think is really interesting about Swans, is that you clearly came out of New York City, but if you asked most music fans, 99 out of 100 to talk about the continuum of New York groups, people would say Velvet Underground, Television, Modern Lovers, Suicide, Sonic Youth, maybe Glenn Branca, maybe Philip Glass, people usually wouldn't say Swans.. I'm guessing, given the sort of music you made, it wasn't necessarily money or chasing girls or any of the normal kind of rock band stuff…. MG: I don't know, and I still don't know, but I know I need to make things happen, and that's, you know, what I wanted to make happen.. I'm not happy unless I'm making art or music or something, and I don't have any current sense of being a whole human being unless I'm actively involved in making something.. Certainly I don't know that it was a mass conspiracy, but this kind of web did not exist until directly after the Second World War, when Madison Avenue and all those things started really looking into how to mind control people.. So if the critics say one thing I don't respond to that and make something else, or make the same thing, or make anything because of that - I just try to shut that shit out, because I believe it's a false voice in your head when you're trying to make good work.. So I don't know why my music has done that for people, but it's certainly great when you hear that.

As he approaches his 60th birthday, we talk love, death & gospel with the inimitable Michael Gira - still refusing to pander to any constraints on the 13th Swans studio record, To Be Kind.

The above lyrics start and end the thirteenth studio album by Swans, the band that Michael Gira first brought to us in 1983, terrorising audiences with his confrontational brand of minimal blues, rock and noise, coupled with lyrics that could often be ugly and violent and visceral.. From the moment the bass and drums of opening track “Screen Shot” kicks off the record and develops into a maelstrom of guitars and repetitive chanting (something that happens often on this record), through the 30-minute glory of “Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture” and the almost-conventional guitar rock of “She Loves Us” to the closing title track which veers from soft atmospheres to terrifying crescendos, it’s two hours of some of the best music you’ll hear in 2014.. “I would say “She Loves Us” is pretty much a sex love song, “To Be Kind” is a love song…that’s more of a gentle love song.. There’s all kinds of different ways of looking at it, but I didn’t start out writing about being in love or something – that’s just coincidental about where I am as a human being at this point.” I ask Gira if he would consider this to be his most personal record as Swans so far: “No!” is the confident response.. I ask Michael if that was the case, that To Be Kind is something of a labour of love: “Yes,” he confirms, “some of them I wrote on acoustic guitar and then brought them into the studio, and that was the first time we played them.. Others, they developed over the course of touring for a year and a half, and they grew as I’ve mentioned in interviews – excuse me if I hate myself talking about myself all the time – out of performing live and changing things bit by bit every night, or even during shows, finding new avenues to explore within the piece and I guess they grew organically like that.” Some of the edges found on Not Here/Not Now have been polished slightly, the grooves deepened and the rhythms enhanced in the studio: “The most salient efforts like that on the record are “She Loves Us” and “Bring the Sun”,” says Gira.. So I wonder if this is the best bunch of guys Gira has played with, and how that affects the music Swans makes now: “Well of course, they figure greatly into how things sound,” he confirms.. “They’re great players; I’ll start playing with them, usually with an indication of where I’d like to see things go, and they’ll play and come up with whatever the hell they want and it sounds great.. He is a tremendously versatile musician but he’s also a good friend so I bring him into the studio once things are in a basic state, and we just sit down and listen to the tracks.” Rieflin is something of a trouble-shooter it seems, and he has the implicit trust of his band leader: “I’ll have a suggestion or he’ll think of something and he just brings his personality into it, no matter what instrument he plays, and raises things up to a different level.” Rieflin is not the only guest on To Be Kind.. Gira’s tender duet with Little Annie on “Some Things We Do” is the calm centre of To Be Kind – it’s barely even a duet, as Gira and Bandez’s voice become one dark whole.. Somehow female voices mix with the guitars perfectly.” After years of absorbing his influence and genuflecting at the altar of his blues, Gira has also finally placed on record his love for Howlin’ Wolf with “Just A Little Boy (for Chester Burnett)”; as befits the imposing presence of the Wolf, not just in stature but in his booming voice, the track is a heavy and slow-moving blues jam, with Gira in his best crooning mode.. But it turns out this wasn’t an intentional tribute: “Well it didn’t start out that way,” explains Gira, “but I realised upon singing it – which was very impromptu or improvised, I had the words, I’d just written the words – and playing the song live in the studio…I sang it live with the band in the studio, not in isolation booths - we’re all just in a room together playing, and I just realised that afterwards that the Wolf was kind of speaking through me in that song.. You’re kind of led through different worlds…if it was all the same kind of sound all the time it’d be tedious but I think I’ve done a good job in varying the textures and surfaces of things.”. It strikes me as sharing a lot with religious or gospel music; even from the way opening track “Screen Shot” builds from a skeleton of percussion to a raging hail of guitars at its close, or the way the St. Vincent-featuring “Kirsten Supine” has this kind of beautiful reverence at its centre and I say to Michael that Swans has often had this effect on me: “I’ve heard that, and I guess I feel that when we’re performing it live,” he agrees.. We end on a question about touring, and I guess it also relates to what makes Gira want to keep making music this physical and visceral as he approaches his 60th birthday.

Catching up with one of alternative music's most constant forces.

The mastermind behind SWANS , Michael Gira is a true musical chameleon.. From the early days of the outfit, which moved between the noise rock and no wave scene and were angry outbursts of musical cacophony, to the more stripped back and acoustic takes of later records.. To avoid confusion for the younger crowd who might not be familiar with the band; SWANS is the name of Michael Gira’s bands consisting of a fluctuating line-up of different artists throughout the years.. So starting listening to the SWANS , where do you begin, was the first question I asked singer and songwriter behind the band, Michael Gira, when I caught him on the telephone while jet-setting across the globe.. The latest SWANS record Leaving Meaning will be released this week and sees Michael Gira pursue a different vision once again.. I did not take Gira’s advice and started with the very early SWANS records.. Michael Gira laughs about the drastic changes of musical style ‘ it is probably surprising the change from the beginning to now.. For the newest album, Gira changed the set up again and invited several musicians to participate and play on the songs he wrote, some former members joined in as well.. Then, of course, I wrote some songs and gathered people who I enjoy working with to make this record.’. Maybe not silver lining in its traditional meaning, since the music changes with every album but the urge to try new things is what makes the SWANS come together.. I don’t want to know how music is supposed to work, instead, I make sounds and I arrange sounds.. All of the songs on Leaving Meaning originated from an acoustic guitar melody, yet the artist got engineers on board to add another layer to the music.. When playing live, Gira does not want to work closely to the record.. We reflect the chaos of the surrounding world into the creative outlet of music, finding solace in the noisiness, which makes the sounds of the crazy world evolving at horrendous speed, a little easier to bear.. Like Gira said, he is making sounds, not music.

Photograph by Hayley Hatton To see Samuel Beckett’s face on the computer screen, but hear the voice of Michael Gira of Swans — who has cho...

It would be 13 years before they’d release another record.. “We’re not playing dance music or anything, but I am a big fan of Can and Miles Davis’s album On The Corner.. I was just trying to find the right place inside it [the groove] and then build things from there.”. Whereas My Father… was based on defined songs written on acoustic guitar by Gira and recorded by the band in a disused factory building in Brooklyn, The Seer is a more varied exploration of the potential of Swans mark II, complete with gargantuan, 32-minute title track, and the closing two songs, ‘A Piece Of The Sky’ and ‘The Apostate’, that together clock in at 42 minutes.. This time, the band recorded for 10 days in Berlin during their last tour and for a few weeks in New York after that.. A case in point of this approach is ‘A Piece Of The Sky’, which includes a snooze-and-you’ll-miss-it return of Jarboe, member of Swans from 1986 until the band split, and Gira’s partner during that time.. “She sent me a bunch of takes with a note or two notes, and I put them into this sound collage — and it worked.”. “She would always be by herself — just one of those punk chicks you see who is oblivious to their surroundings; who was completely immersed in the music and didn’t give a shit who she bumped into.”. Rock music, or amplified music, has the ability to provide a certain experience that nothing else can achieve.”. After briefly writing for cult LA zine Slash, he attended a Suicide gig in LA, during which Alan Vega repeatedly hit himself in the face with a microphone while being covered in the spit and sputum of the crowd.. “But still, looking for some higher state in the sound was pretty much what it was [all about].. The band stands out starkly on today’s circuit because each band member really does give it everything.. And the amount of younger people attending Swans gigs pleases Gira.. “I think the internet certainly has enabled the music to reach more people who are likely to enjoy the experience.

Michael Gira discusses Swans, his solo career, the impact of social media and more.

“I have a sound in my head,” Gira says of new Swans music that could appear as early as March of next year.. What are some of the challenges when you go to from playing live shows with a band to playing an acoustic set?. When I initially stopped Swans in 1997, I had already been writing many songs on acoustic guitar.. The thing about the last version of Swans is that it was so overwhelming that the sound played us.. It can be frustrating for more skilled musicians to work with me because I can’t explain things in musical terms or don’t even know what I want until I hear it played.. The most disquieting thing in culture is the colonization of our minds by the media and the Internet, and it’s happening faster and faster.. I don’t know if I can do that.

In 2008 and 2009, a decade on from announcing the death of the band he had led since the early 80s, Michael Gira was finally able to envisage the

On conceptual art, the idea of transcendence, and enacting change.... Now, four studio albums deep into a revelatory and expansive new era, the band are concluding their journey together after which Gira, and Swans, will move on with new collaborators and a new line-up.. At what point in 2007-2008 did you realise that Swans might be an identity that had a place in your future not just your past?. The band came together, it’s all people I had worked with — with the exception of Christopher Pravdica, our bass player, but I’d known him a very long time and had seen him play — so it was just a matter of choosing personalities more than specific musical skills.. We assembled in the recording studio and began to work on the material I’d created, developing it in a Swans-ish way.. 2012-2014-2016 you’ve unleashed three albums in a row of that same scope and scale, all channelling what feels like the energy of that final live album… When I restarted Swans I pictured that era as the starting point, not going back to the brutal stuff, or repeating ourselves, just taking that as the start.. Usually what happens with each record is I find new things within what I’ve just done and then I pursue those while discarding the things that have become too familiar or predictable.. We discussed it together around the middle of last year, if 'The Glowing Man' should be the last one, that we would tour for it then that’d be it.. I think that’s a good thing.. That comes from an approach in language that I recall from my early days in art school where there would be these very strong statements maybe by conceptual artists.. I’ve also been noticing a distinct unity across your recent records in terms of packaging, art, sound, approach… It’s all connected across the entirety of the last four albums, but particularly the last three albums — 'The Seer', 'To Be Kind', 'The Glowing Man'.. That’s been the gratifying thing with this group — the performance aspect of it is so strong.. I made a decision a long time ago that I’m an artist with a small ‘a’ and that’s what I have to do: it’s where I put all my energy and I don’t know how I could exist otherwise.. I long ago accepted that it’s been a process, from the early 80s up to now, just a process of becoming.

“I’m on a cliff that is crumbling”, a dogged voice recounts from an earlier conversation....

Michael Gira, world-weary impetus behind Swans, may not have the most sanguine of mindsets, but the gristly wit is instantly discernible.. Physically wrecked from incalculable tour dates and the impending release of their 13th studio album, To Be Kind , he’s still laughing – despite how fearsome it sounds.. Two years in the wake of The Seer , a monolithic sprawl of a record, Gira and his amassed gathering of instrumentalists are rehearsing set ideas for their upcoming tour.. “I actually managed to listen through The Seer recently”, Gira gingerly reveals, “I was thinking about what to do on the next tour in terms of soundscapes.. The looming release of To Be Kind will see the gentlemen in Swans once again rag- dolled from country to country shepherding rooms of adoring apostles through an ear- defiling, quasi-religious bulwark of sound and strain.. Gira frequently loses himself to the milieu of the performance; seemingly inoculated by ‘the moment’.. “I’ve done all kinds of hard jobs and Swans doesn’t compare to that kind of shit.” His burnt-black jeering fails to affirm whether his current vocation is actually a blessing or a burden.. I think Swans is a never-ending process, but that’s the point of life.. On Swans’ state of eternal evolution, Gira details his complex with change.. To Be Kind sees the ‘core’ Swans group return, including Christoph Hahn, Thor Harris, Phil Puleo and Norman Westberg.. Gira confesses much of Swans’ improvisation is totally irretrievable “That happens all the time.. "I think Swans is a never-ending process, but that’s the point of life.. Even To Be Kind will seem like a relic to Gira before they embark on tour.. Like, there’s this one passage in the set that we did, pairing Bring The Sun and Toussaint L’Overture together, which was one of my favourite pieces to perform (they form a single, 34-minute track on To Be Kind ).

The Swans frontman on why performing is like long-distance running: ‘You keep pushing and pushing and finally you break through into something else’

Bordering on Wagnerian, The Seer and To Be Kind are epic explorations of belief, violence, religion, lust and desire, featuring such highlights as the 34-minute Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture, an intense ode to the leader of the 1880s Haitian revolution, nicknamed the Black Napoleon.. It can be taxing, says Gira, ahead of the band’s latest outing at Mofo festival in Tasmania , but it also feels great.. “I don’t know what interest I have in religion except the spiritual outcome of it,” says Gira, who admitted in an interview he had recently attended church.. Photograph: Jennifer GiraThe lyrics of Screen Shot, the opening track of the Swans’ latest album, seem to offer a rebuttal of existence itself: “No dream, no sleep, no suffering.” But Gira denies it’s a song about death: “I don’t write songs to explicate an idea.. Mona is currently exhibiting the work of US artist Matthew Barney , another master of endurance art and someone equally unafraid of debasement.. Gira is not a fan: “I’m not a skeptic or naysayer of his work but I read some interviews with him – or maybe some artists’ statements – and they just reminded me of why I quit art school.. For all his own gruelling soundscapes with Swans – like Ennio Morricone on lysergic acid – Gira is a distinctly literate songwriter, at turns biting and caustic, poetic and poignant.. Swans play Mofo festival, Hobart, then Corner Hotel, Melbourne, 20 Feb; Manning Bar, Sydney, 22 Feb; Sugar Mountain festival, Melbourne 24 Feb

TCD's Sahan Jayasuriya talks with Michael Gira, founder of legendary experimental music group Swans, in anticipation of their upcoming appearance at Shank Hall.

TCD’s Sahan Jayasuriya spoke with founding member Michael Gira about their new album, their upcoming tour and of course, volume.. SJ: You’ll be heading out on tour with Xiu Xiu in a bit.. SJ: What about the live shows?. I think that has a lot to do with the internet promulgating the music as well as people who have a natural affinity for this kind of music just finding us.. SJ: Your new album Seer from earlier this year is great.. They toured with Swans sometime around ’96 or ’97 after I heard their records and thought they were just fantastic.. There’s a track called “A Piece of the Sky” featuring Akron/Family, who just have this great ability to harmonize and I wanted to use that on the track.. I draw on a lot of different musicians to help color the sounds, which is something I’ve always done.. Do you find that Swans’ live show works better in a larger or smaller setting?. MG: We can play anywhere, wherever’s appropriate, really.. We had just played a larger concert hall and then we played there in front of about 200 people, and I just much preferred that show over the larger one.

Swans have gone through a fair share of personal (and personnel) upheaval since the release of acclaimed 2016 record The Glowing Man. Now returning with a new line up, a (slightly) more restrained style and yet another enormous record in the 90 minute leaving meaning, frontman and the post-rock band’s only constant member Michael Gira speaks to HARVEY RAE from Moscow, where he’s in the midst of a solo tour alongside longtime (and still occasional) bandmate Norman Westberg. They dig into the the turmoil, the tribulations and the need for change.

Now returning with a new line up, a (slightly) more restrained style and yet another enormous record in the 90 minute leaving meaning , frontman and the post-rock band’s only constant member Michael Gira speaks to HARVEY RAE from Moscow, where he’s in the midst of a solo tour alongside longtime (and still occasional) bandmate Norman Westberg.. And I had this name, this brand moniker: Swans, and I thought “well how do I continue this?” So, I wrote songs on my acoustic guitar and then I gathered people who I’ve known throughout the years, whose music I admired and who I liked, personally, and decided to orchestrate the songs with those people, (most) of whom were in the previous group, but it wasn’t approached as a band, it was approached as a kind of a production.. And I heard this recording, which was a live recording, that she did of the song Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child , and it has this gospel choir singing with her.. Well, the kind of explosive, violent, downbeat… the caterwauling, the wailing clouds of sound, persistent kind of repetition of certain beats – just those kinds of things that we had developed as a group.. Also I wanted to force myself to write more words on this record, because in the last records, for the most part, words were – not of secondary importance – but they had to be simple.. It’s also gradually more tuneful as the record progresses, and to that end I thought Some New Things must be quite pivotal for you in the back half with lyrics referencing other recent Swans albums like: “there’s a kneeling, glowing man, there’s a rope, reaching up, to a sky”.. I made a list towards the end of the last Swans episode, of people I wanted to work with, and Ben was up there.. Starting with The Seer in 2012, and its title track in particular, you started recording and producing records in a different way – they’ve all been double albums since then, and more and more frequently they’ve contained these hulking half hour exorcisms of songs, perhaps reflecting your live shows…. Again, that was talking… its like when words hang in front of you – I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at a word or even looked at your own face long enough – and it just becomes this vibrating thing that is unreal but real at the same time.

“I just do whatever I want,” says Swans frontman Michael Gira, describing his recording philosophy.

During our conversation, we spoke about recording his new album, the execrable nature of reunion tours, and the religious sensibility that guides his work.. The problem or the challenge with Swans music often, in the songs that are chunks of sound and rhythm basically, is that if the words allude to any kind of story beyond listening to the music, they detract from the experience.. Considering the album title, The Seer , it suggests a kind of religious figure, so is there a kind of persona at work with these songs?. I did notice on the last tour that you did play some songs off some of your early albums.. I don’t think we’re going to do any old songs.


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