The legendary musical outfit Swans—a revolving cast of inspired players centered around Michael Gira—has resurfaced with a new album, Leaving Meaning, and an upcoming 2020 tour. In his conversation with Amanda Sheppard, Gira covers much of the ground of his career, from art school in LA with Kim Gordon, living on nothing in ‘Alphabet City,’ sharing rehearsal space with Madonna and his eclectic influences like J.G. Ballard, Glenn Branca and Nico. 

Throughout the 1980s, Swans pummeled audiences into submission with dangerously high volume and steam-room conditions. Singer and band leader Michael Gira choreographed their sonic death and rebirth ritual and derided audience members who dared to disrupt the proceedings with dancing or headbanging. With its lumbering atonal bass, shrieking saw-blade guitar, thunderous percussions, proto-industrial loops, and Gira’s deep, demonic vocals, Swans took the experimental noise of No Wave bandleaders Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham to its most dangerous conclusion and influenced the evolution of sludge metal, industrial, and death metal along the way.

Swans Live at The Kitchen, NYC, 1982 – 1983:

 

Musically, Swans, too, have died and been reincarnated as a bludgeoning performance art ship on a voyage of the damned (Cop, Greed, Holy Money) to a snake-handling revivalist sect with singer/keyboard player Jarboe (Children of God, White Light From the Mouth of Infinity) to Swans’ most recent incarnation as the Large Hadron Collider smashing together the sub-atomic particles of its previous efforts to reveal the truth of its own being (The Seer, To Be Kind, The Glowing Man).

Swans – The Glowing Man:

 

Now Swans lives again, in 2019, according to Michael Gira, as a “revolving cast of musicians selected for both their musical and personal character, chosen according to what I intuit best suits the atmosphere in which I’d like to see the songs I’ve written presented” for the band’s fifteenth studio album, Leaving Meaning, as well as its upcoming 2020 tour of North America and Europe.

Swans – Leaving Meaning:

 

PKM: First off, I have to say, I’ve been reading [Swans: Sacrifice and Transcendence] the Oral History of Swans and I was really excited to see that you mention JG Ballard’s “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan.” I actually did a piece on him [and V. Vale] not too long ago.

Michael Gira by Lino Brunetti

Michael Gira: (Laughs) That’s one of his more obscure pieces, actually, but the title, itself, says it all. Six months ago, I just read most of his big, fat tome of collected short stories, as well as re-read Concrete Island and High-Rise, just tremendous books. And then I read a couple later ones, too, they’re just great! I think his perception of media and technology and how it affects our consciousness is really spot on.

PKM: Absolutely. And I noticed a lot of parallels between you two. High-Rise was terrific!

Michael Gira: There’s a movie, too, which is pretty terrible.

PKM: Yeah, I heard about that. I haven’t checked it out, good to know. I did see – I know it’s not based on the book, but they’re really similar––Shivers––the Cronenberg film. It’s not based on High-Rise but they are very similar.

Michael Gira: They have a similar sensibility, too.

PKM: Right, David Cronenberg!

Michael Gira: His take on technology is very similar, as well. His view of media and television, at the time. You know, before the internet. What’s that movie where the hand reaches out of the television? Videodrome! That was a tremendous movie.

PKM: I downloaded some of the early No Mag issues and I noticed that some of those have an Atrocity Exhibition feel. Were you getting into Ballard around that time?

Michael Gira: (Laughs) No.

PKM: That was just a happy coincidence, then?

Kristof Hahn by Lino Brunetti

Michael Gira: No, my friend, Bruce Kalberg and I, we published the first two issues [of No Mag] together. We were art students who were quickly converted to punk rock and the L.A. punk scene was pretty conservative. It was kind of our way of throwing shit at the local punk rock groups, actually! (Laughs) Yeah, and it was a fun thing to do, to publish that. It was a long time ago, I hardly remember it.

 


Now we’re in a situation where everything you could possibly imagine is now available on the internet, which is equally horrifying.


 

Michael Gira and Bruce Kalberg met while studying at Otis Art Institute, a progressive school where creativity and ideas were nurtured in a pressure-free 1970s environment and were similarly unimpressed with the L.A. punk scene. No Mag features autopsy photo collages (featuring Gira’s dad), hermaphrodite genitalia, twisted erotica parodies, and Gira’s black humor illustrations of happy couples ingesting their own bodily fluids, as well each other’s, through strategically placed tubes alongside interviews with L.A. punk luminaries, (X, The Go-Go’s, The Bags, The Plugz, and the Controllers, to name a few) and L.A. performance artists Gina Payne and Kim Jones.

PKM: Excellent! They’re available online to download from Circulation Zero and what Ryan Richardson wants people to do, is to donate to Doctors Without Borders or Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Michael Gira: That sounds cool.

PKM: So, I made my donation so I could check those out.

Shortly after arriving in New York, Gira formed Circus Mort with L.A. guitarist Rick Oller, and twins Josh and Dan Braun. The band soon made a name for themselves with gigs at Hurrahs and Danceteria opening for Bauhaus and A Certain Ratio despite lacking a consistent drummer (Angelo Pudignano and Michael Pedulla, respectively) before ultimately hitting it off with future Swans drummer Jonathan Kane.

Michael Gira: Yeah, that was kind of a silly group I was in for a while trying to find my footing in New York.

Circus Mort – S/T (Full EP):

Circus Mort soon split over the widening artistic divide between Gira and Kane and Oller and the Braun twins. Gira and Kane began working on Swans material while the others reformed the band as Deep Six, shortly after.

PKM: And you shared a rehearsal space with Madonna, I understand.

Michael Gira: Yeah, that was at The Music Building which was on 8th Avenue and 36th. Everybody rehearsed there. I knew her in those days, she was quite something. She was a really vibrant person and very good at getting her way (laughs) as she was pretty interesting.

PKM: Yeah, I can imagine.

Michael Gira: And smart.

PKM: Yeah, she seems like she’s really clever. It’s such a trip that she was part of the No Wave scene.

Michael Gira: No, I wouldn’t say she was part of the No Wave scene. She had her own goals. And rightly so. Good for her!

PKM: You also knew Kim Gordon from Otis, I understand, just before you moved to NYC?

Michael Gira: Yeah, we were friends at Otis and then we hooked up, again. Not in the modern term of “hookup”. We ran across each other in New York and you know, renewed our friendship and then, of course, I met Thurston (Moore) through her very quickly, and then Thurston and I were really good friends for a couple of years there. And then we, Sonic Youth and the Swans, supported each other in the early days because there really wasn’t anybody else around like us. There wasn’t much opportunity in New York City, at the time. We just kind of created our own situation. Toured together, helped each other.

Michael Gira by Lino Brunetti

Swans shared a rehearsal room with Sonic Youth, whose guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo carried musical influences over from their own stints with Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham. Sonic Youth also recorded “The World Looks Red” for their 1983 LP Confusion Is Sex based on song lyrics Gira had written and left sitting out at the rehearsal room—with his blessing, of course. Swans later recorded their own rendition “The World Looks Red/The World Looks Black” for their 2017 album, The Glowing Man.

Swans – The World Looks Red/The World Looks Black:

 

Sonic Youth also joined Swans on the road for the band’s two-week “Savage Blunder” tour in November of 1982. The shows were sparsely attended with heckling cowboys in Chapel Hill, pogoing new wavers in Athens, and lots of in-fighting between Gira and his bandmates, most notably, Jonathan Kane, who according to Michael Azzerad’s 2001 book Our Band Could Be Your Life, “got into a huge fight in the crowded van and after some preliminary name-calling (‘Dickhead!’ ‘Asshole!’) began strangling each other.”

PKM: Yeah, the tour sounded intense!

Michael Gira: (laughs) Oh yeah!

PKM: I imagine Southern audiences didn’t know what hit ‘em.

Michael Gira: No. There was usually one or two people there who had a clue and the rest were pretty hostile, but that sort of describes the first ten years of Swans’ career, as well.

Left to Right: Kristof Hahn, Michael Gira, Thor Harris by Lino Brunetti

PKM: Right, I was thinking New York City didn’t know what hit ‘em, for that matter, from the sound of it.

Michael Gira: I guess not.

PKM: I can see where a lot of those early experiences shaped those early Swans sounds and New York City would’ve appealed to you.

Michael Gira: You know, New York then was––it was cheap! (Laughs) It’s hard to imagine, but I had about an 800 or 900 square foot space that was on the corner of 6th street and Avenue B. Which was just a concrete box, basically, with no windows but I gutted it and built a sleeping area and living area on one side and a rehearsal space on the other side and the rent was a $100 a month. So, you know, then, I could work construction, say, a week or ten days or months, then have enough money to make music and get by, so it was conducive to making stuff. There was a lot of great art around at the time and music. It was a pretty fertile place, at the time.


There was usually one or two people there who had a clue and the rest were pretty hostile, but that sort of describes the first ten years of Swans’ career, as well.



PKM:
 New York City back then blows my mind. It reminds me of when you read about post-war Europe.

Michael Gira: Oh yeah, there’s a book out by an ex-cop, narcotics division person, about right where I lived, and it’s about the area. I think it’s called Alphabet City, something like that. It’s good to get a flavor of what was going on then. Most buildings, at least half, seemed to be abandoned and there was drug-dealing going on in them, burnt-out cars on the street, gunfire at night. I heard machine-gun fire a couple of times. Used needles, works, on the street, it was just, you know. The lines for dope were all from Avenue C to Avenue B, where I lived. I’d open my door and there’d be this line of junkies and the police would just kinda lookout and drive by and keep going because they were paid off.

PKM: Wow! Very different from nowadays.

Michael Gira: Yeah, I can’t even go in the area, I don’t recognize it. I mean, I’m not nostalgic for those days. There was a period in the late 1980s where it was a nice mix. It was a little safer but it wasn’t completely yuppified, but now it’s not really a place of any interest.

PKM: Let me dip into Leaving Meaning really fast and then we can jump back and forth into Swans. I’ve really been enjoying this album.

Swans – Hums:

Michael Gira: Oh, I’m very happy to hear that! I have no idea how it sounds now. I’ve heard it so many times, it’s just like someone coughing, or something. It just has no resonance to me, now. So, I’m happy it has some effect on other people.

Norman Westberg by Lino Brunetti

PKM: Absolutely. I imagine you get fatigued from hearing it so much, from working on it and everything.

Michael Gira: Yeah. To me, the best part of working on a record is after you’ve recorded it all the numerous, and in my case, way too numerous, tracks, and it’s in complete chaos and you put your head in your hands and you wanna blow your brains out. And then you kind of figure out a way to make things happen and you’re playing it loud in the speakers and it’s just suddenly transporting. And then you go through the tedium of mixing and mastering and then, by that time, all the juice has been squeezed out.

PKM: So, you’ve got Norman Westberg on this and you’ve got Christopher Pravdica and Phil Puleo, and Thor Harris on this.

Michael Gira: Yeah, all the guys who were in the band from 2010 to 2017, I guess it was, are on the record. There are also a lot of other contributors, of course. The difference in personnel is that this is not a band now; it’s a project and I gathered a lot of different musicians that I’ve met over the years. People I like, which is very important to that I like them, enjoy their presence. I gathered those people and I made a record.

PKM: Yeah, I’ve been having fun checking out all the other collaborators on this. I’m learning about some really amazing people I previously wasn’t aware of.

Michael Gira: Oh, right!

PKM: Like A Hawk and a Hacksaw.

Michael Gira: Oh yeah, they’re fantastic!

PKM: I had no idea, they do kind of a gypsy style.

Michael Gira: They’re really great musicians and they’re also very intrepid and they travel around on no budget whatsoever and to various––in the Balkans, Turkey, different places, and just kind of meet local––what should I call them? Master musicians and befriend them and play with them, record them. And they make their own music, of course, which is heavily influenced by that region’s music and to watch Jeremy, for instance, play this––what’s it called––the Zontar. It’s like a hammer dulcimer except with about ten times as many strings. To watch him play it so melodically is really something! Heather plays it and she’s a classically trained violinist and they play all kinds of different instruments and write books and music and just sort of endless curiosity.

Gladden House Sessions 2018 II A Hawk and a Hacksaw:

 

PKM: That’s amazing that they do all that. Also, The Necks!

Michael Gira: Oh yeah! So, you didn’t know them before this?

PKM: No, and it’s funny, they’re from Australia and they played on Swans Australian tour dates in 2011 and I actually have a friend who had written a live review. It was initially supposed to be about the existence of the “brown note” but what it turned into was a live show review of Swans that blew him away, but he knew what he was going into, and The Necks opened for Swans at The Forum Theatre in Melbourne.

THE NECKS (Excerpt from Forum Theatre show):

 

Michael Gira: Yeah, I saw them [The Necks] at a music festival called Big Ears, in Knoxville, Tennessee, and I had no idea who they were and I just wandered into the theater because I heard some sound or something and I sat down just mesmerized by their set, you know what I mean? They just start playing! They have no set thing that they’re going to do and they just gel as a group. It’s not like jazz where they’re soloists or just kind of ego-driven virtuosity. They create these continuing, renewing, swelling, sheets of sound and groove and it’s just almost like church music, in a way to me, when you experience it live. And their records are tremendous, their most recent is really great, they’re all great, but the most recent is called Bodyyou should listen to that.

PKM: So, much of that is improvised?

Michael Gira: Yeah it’s improvised, but it’s different. In a way, it’s similar to what Swans has been doing live these last eight years.

Beginning with Swans’ 2014 album, The Seer, Gira decided the album was to be a culmination of Swans’ previous work and that of his post-Swans output with Angels of Light. According to Swans drummer Phil Puleo in Nick Soulsby’s 2018 Swans oral history, Swans: Sacrifice And Transcendence, “The Seer was written, in part, on the road, while we were touring. We would branch out some pieces from My Father, and they would develop into new songs. As that set grew, we would drop some of the older songs. Then we did a pretty long tour where we did barely anything from My Father—we just did the material that we were going to go on to record as The Seer. That set up the whole cycle of writing the next record on the previous tour.”

Swans – The Seer:

 

Michael Gira: You have to figure that you’re playing and you just hammer away at it and gruffly it morphs and changes and keeps burgeoning and growing just through persistence and slight bits of improvisation and variance within the context that you’re playing. And it results in like, for instance, Chris Abrahams piano playing is just unbelievable –– actually, it reminds me of Charlemagne Palestine in the sense that there’s these repeating figures that suddenly, you’re hearing choirs of angels with all these overtones happening and it’s just really beautiful.

PKM: Yeah, I’ve just been learning all of this through you and working on this post. Getting back to Swans for a second and then back to the album. It kind of surprised me – well, it didn’t surprise me, after it just kinda sunk in that Howlin’ Wolf––I read that he was a bit of a––I don’t know if inspiration is the right word?

Michael Gira: Sure, yeah!

PKM I’m a big fan of his but it makes total sense. I don’t know if primal is the right word.

Michael Gira: It’s a bit demeaning, isn’t it?

PKM: Yeah, because it’s so much more refined than that.

Michael Gira: [Jonathan] Kane introduced me to Howlin’ Wolf, at the time. I was playing bass, then, and I came up with these similar rhythm figures that played with these atonal chords I was using at the time. And we felt grooves like that and eventually things just got slower and slower so, I don’t think it had much resemblance to Mr. Wolf’s (laughs) at that point, but it was a good inspiration. And early on, another inspiration, a big inspiration, was The Stooges, of course, but we didn’t wanna sound anything like either of those people or groups. It’s just that the kind of the thread was the sex thread running through it was attractive.

SWANS A Long Slow Screw UK 1986:

 

PKM: Right! I’ve just been enjoying everything I’ve heard, it’s just otherworldly and beautiful and dark.

Swans “Half Life”:

 

Michael Gira: That’s great! The music’s changed since those days, measurably, but if it hadn’t changed, I’d be kind of an idiot. I don’t think I am.

PKM: No, absolutely not! I can see where it’s a journey, nothing like that you could just stay locked into.

Michael Gira: Well, I always like to be in an uncomfortable place, so, I think that’s the best program for me.

Xiu Xiu Feat. Michael Gira – Under Pressure:

 

PKM: You worked with Xiu Xiu back in 2008 and also some of the guys, can you tell me a little about that “Under Pressure” duet you did?

Michael Gira: (Laughs) Well, Jamie [Stewart] sent me the tracks and asked me to sing on them, so I did. I love Jamie! He toured with Swans a couple of times solo and he’s a great artist and person, so I did it. That’s not one of my favorite Bowie songs, I know that Freddie Mercury’s on it, too, but, that’s just not one of my favorite efforts by them but I did it for Jamie because I like Jamie.

PKM: I’ve been listening to Angels Of Light, as well. I noticed that some of the guys who were on Angels Of Light are also on Leaving Meaning and I felt some of that vibe on Leaving Meaning, as well.

Swans – The Glowing Man:

 

Michael Gira: Yeah, I don’t know if it’s similar. Maybe there’s some of it, yeah? I don’t know. With this record, I just had these songs and produced them how I thought they should sound. I don’t quite know how it fits in the catalog and I don’t frankly think about that at all. I just make a record. But I think it moves forward from the last one [The Glowing Man] and that’s what I wanted to do.

Swans – Cloud of Unknowing:

 

PKM: It has some of that haunting quality.

Swans – It’s Coming It’s Real (Official Audio):

 

Michael Gira: Yeah. The thing that it doesn’t have that I deliberately eschewed was it doesn’t have the multiple layers of electric guitars. It doesn’t have the apocalyptic exploding downbeat. It doesn’t have the caterwauling tornadoes of sound. It’s more based around the songs, orchestrating the songs as –– they’re kind of like art songs. You know, in the sense that Nico, that her songs might’ve been arranged by John Cale or something more in that vein.

Michael Gira of Swans and Angels of Light, July 29, 2010. By Beowulf Sheehan

Swans – Sunfucker:

 

PKM: I love Nico.

Michael Gira: She’s an absolute hero of mine.

Swans – The Nub:

 

PKM: I’ve been listening to Chelsea Girls a lot.

Michael Gira: Oh, you’ve gotta go to The Marble Index and Desertshore and The End, those are fantastic records! They’re just utterly fierce and super uncompromised and really dry and intellectual [and] at the same time, they’re searingly emotional. They’re just incredible records! I think that in Chelsea Girls she was still in that kinda ingénue thing that she was still saddled with in the Velvet Underground, but once she started making records that were entirely written by her and she came into herself as an artist, [those records] are just fantastic!

Fun Fact: Nico hated Chelsea Girls! She did, however, hit her artistic stride with John Cale’s artful production on the course-correcting trilogy as she paired her powerful Germanic vocals with a rudimentary grasp of the harmonium to hypnotic effect.

Swans – The Hanging Man (Official Audio):

 

PKM: I’m very excited to check those out. Leaving Meaning has a very cinematic quality and your recent albums all really have a cinematic quality. I noticed some of the personnel on these albums actually work on film scores…

Michael Gira: You mean like Ben Frost?

PKM: And Paul Wallfisch, too, I understand. Do I have that right?

Michael Gira: Yeah. Ben, his soundtrack to [the Netflix series] Dark is really great. Ben’s a tremendous musician and composer I met on tour sometime back and we shared some bills and stayed in touch. And when it came time to do this record, I thought of him, of course, because I was just drawing from people that I’ve known along the way whom I like, as I say, and whose music I admire. So, I called Ben and I’m really happy he contributed.

PKM: There’s a very stark, atmospheric beauty. I’ve been checking out a lot of your collaborators’ solo work away from this, I can see where you knew exactly what you needed for this and you knew exactly who to go to, but It sounds like Swans all the way.

Michael Gira: That’s good, I don’t know exactly what Swans sounds like, but I guess there’s some kind of undercurrent that unites the records, even though they are so disparate, but I hope there is.

PKM: It’s not any one thing

Michael Gira: I know what it is! It’s this grumbling guy who can’t really sing, that’s what ties it all together! (laughs)

PKM: So, Swans will be touring in the Spring of 2020, will that include North America?

Michael Gira: Yes, ma’am. We’re doing Europe and North America. What happens after that, I don’t know. I guess I’m not supposed to announce the group, yet. It’s six people on stage and we’ll all be sitting. It won’t be as extreme sonically as the previous incarnation of Swans, but it will hopefully have its own inner power and it won’t sound anything like this record, I can say. (Laughs)

PKM: Wow! It almost sounds, I don’t want to say, orchestral?

Michael Gira: Yeah, the instrumentation is going to be kind of strange but you’ll see.

At press time, Gira announced his touring lineup as Kristof Hahn, Dana Schecter, Ben Frost, Phil Puleo, and Christopher Pravdica along with special guest Anna Von Hausswolff. She, as well as her sister, Swedish cinematographer/director of photography, Maria Von Hausswolff, also appears on Leaving Meaning. As Michael recalls in the Leaving Meaning press release, “In 2017, I heard Anna and Maria singing together at a [sic] sound check for a special song they were doing in Anna’s set, was instantly enthralled, and resolved at that moment to ask them to participate together on a Swans recording.”

Swans 2020 Tour Promo

[Tickets are on sale now]

Spring 2020 North American Tour 2020 w/Anna Von Hausswolff:

6/5/20 – Dallas, TX  Granada Theater

6/6/20 – Austin, TX  Oblivion Access Festival at Empire Garage

6/9/20 – Los Angeles, CA  Regent Theater

6/10/20 – San Francisco, CA The Fillmore

6/12/20 – Portland, OR  Revolution Hall

6/13/20 – Seattle, WA  The Neptune

6/16/20 – Minneapolis, MN  Varsity Theater

6/19/20 – Detroit, MI  El Club

6/20/20 – Toronto, ON  Lee’s Palace

6/21/20 – Montreal, QC Theatre National

6/24/20 – Boston, MA  Brighton Music Hall

6/25/20 – Philadelphia, PA  Underground Arts

6/26/20 – Brooklyn, NY  Warsaw

6/27/20 – Brooklyn, NY  Warsaw

PKM: Cool, I’m very excited about that and intrigued. So, if we could rewind back for a sec to the “Children of God” era, that was the “Kings of Independence” tour?

Kings of Independence:

Michael Gira: Oh yeah, that was the “Magical Misery” tour!

PKM: It sounded intense, so, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and the Butthole Surfers were on some of those dates or were they there for the whole tour?

Michael Gira: Butthole Surfers quit after one show (laughs) because it was so disorganized and shambolic. The first night, I was at some hall in Hamburg or something and the promoter – I don’t know how many people it held, say 1,000 people – and the promoter sold 2,000 tickets and didn’t honor or something and there was a riot and it was just a mess. And in the end, I don’t think we got paid, ever, either. It was part of a tour that we had arranged through the same promoter and once we got to Europe, we discovered that there were only like three shows booked and we didn’t have the money to get home or continue. It was a disaster.

It’s just sorta how the whole thing went in the early days.

PKM: You really had to fight hard just to get the sound right at the shows from what I’ve read.

Michael Gira: Always.

PKM: So, you guys played East Berlin? Was that at that time on that tour?

Michael Gira: No, we never played East Berlin, no we played Berlin, but we did travel into Eastern Europe, I don’t think that was that tour. I think that was a little bit later. Yeah, we traveled into Czechoslovakia, then it was known as Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Yugoslavia. We were there for two weeks, I think. And that was, again, no money and just barely getting to the next show. We were playing illegally in Czechoslovakia and so the promoters had to kind of hide, kind of keep the shows underground. And one time, the police showed up and they (the promoters) admonished us to not speak any English, just to be quiet because if the police found out that we were an American group playing there, they would go to jail. (laughs)

PKM:  I can’t even imagine!

Michael Gira: But it was an interesting view of seeing communism and its effects on people. It’s all dolorous and pretty gray and people were pretty unhappy with the situation, not that I’m touting the benefits of consumer capitalism, which I think is a nightmare beyond description.

PKM: It just goes to show ideologies in the wrong hands, then again, ideologies are what they are, I guess.

Michael Gira: I think just by definition, ideologies are pernicious.

PKM: Right! It’s mind-blowing I can’t even imagine being in that part of the world at the time! The things we take for granted!

Michael Gira: It was really interesting!

PKM: I understand people were mimeographing books since they were illegal

Michael Gira: Oh yeah, they couldn’t get the real thing, so they did.

PKM: I imagine they must’ve had to have a similar approach for getting music in.

Michael Gira: Well, now we’re in a situation where everything you could possibly imagine is now available on the internet, which is equally horrifying.

Swans – Screen Shot:

 

Michael Gira: Sure, it has benefits, but I look at the internet as a giant human brain. It’s human consciousness and it’s like a neurotic human that’s taken too much methedrine and it’s saying, “This! This! This! Not That! This, this –– just eating itself! And I think it’s kind of terrible to get sucked into it.

PKM: I agree. Can we talk a little bit about Angels Of Light?

Michael Gira: Sure, I don’t remember everything, but we could try.

Angels Of Light – Not Here, Not Now:

 

Michael formed Angels Of Light in 1998, after ending Swans with the evocative, Terrence Malick-esque Soundtracks For The Blind and the live album, Swans Are Dead as well as the equally Malickian side project, The Body Lovers/The Body Haters. 

Angels Of Light – Forever Yours:

PKM: And that was with Kristof Hahn and Larry Mullins

Michael Gira: Yes, lots of different people. I guess the primary contributors on the first two or three were Larry, Kristof, Thor Harris, Dana Schechter, an old friend, a very good bass player. Cassis Staudt, she played accordion and keyboards.

Angels Of Light – New York Girls:

PKM: It’s all really beautiful and haunting. So, that was a bit of a – I wanna say departure, but at the same time I still pick up that Swans’ intensity because it’s still you. Can you tell me a little about how it was for you to do the Angels Of Light?

Angels Of Light – Song For My Father:

Michael Gira: Well, it was quite a departure from Swans, that’s for sure. That was when I made the decision that everything we performed was written on the acoustic guitar and the song had to stand up just on the acoustic guitar, otherwise I would reject it. And that was a huge departure from Swans which was about sound and being immersed in the sound. So, I had that goal for myself with sometimes, good results, other times, with not-so-good results, but I got better at it as I went. And after I had the song written, of course, I would work with various people and I would orchestrate them and build them up in various ways, but it was the first time I was only gonna write material that was specific to the acoustic guitar. And so that was a challenge and it kept me busy for quite some time. Angels Of Light never really took off, it was kind of a disaster financially and career-wise, but it was what I had to do at the time.

PKM: Do you find more people coming to Angels Of Light nowadays or do you see a potential for that in the future?

Michael Gira: I guess people are coming to it, now, I imagine.

PKM: There’s like an entry point to it, now. I imagine people who were following you through Swans probably just didn’t know what to make of it, fully, at the time, perhaps.

Michael Gira: I’m lucky in that the people that care about the music seem to really care about it and they search out everything. Gradually, that cadre of people has grown enough to sustain the project into the future. And I’m grateful for that. It’s good when we play shows to see really young people, y’know fifteen to sixteen and ranging all the way up to fifty and sixty, and a good mix of male and female. It’s just a wide variety of people and that’s gratifying.


Leaving Meaning
is out now on Double LP and 2-disk CD through Young God Records/Mute Records (UK) and digital download on Apple Music.

Follow Swans on Facebook and Instagram for more updates on Swans’ 2020 Spring Tour w/Very Special Guest Anna Von Hausswolff.

Where Does A Body End (Trailer):

 

Follow Marco Porsia’s Swans documentary, Where Does A Body End on Facebook for Upcoming Screenings!

http://www.pleasekillme.com

MORE FROM PKM:

JARBOE: LIFE AFTER SWIMMING WITH SWANS

JOHN CALE : THE MIDWIFE OF PUNK ROCK

PAGING V. VALE: STILL RE/SEARCHING FOR THE TRUTH

HOLIDAYS IN THE SUN: J.G. BALLARD IN THE 1970S

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