Few bands have had as wide-ranging and unlikely an influence as Swans. Starting in 1982 with an early incarnation that included Thurston Moore, the band created music that was like the perfect evocation of anguish and desperate release, with brutally pounding rhythms and seething, atonal sounds to accompany singer Michael Gira's tortured vocal delivery. Swans went through various changes before breaking up in 1998, with later albums characterized by an often raw, melodic beauty coupled with the emotional intensity heard on earlier efforts.
In 2010, Gira announced he would be putting his storied band back together and subsequently funded the recording of a new album, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, through sales of a handmade album from his post-Swans band, Angels of Light. We had a chat with the drily witty and frank Gira about the latest release and the experiential quality of a Swans live show.
Westword: The color red can be found in some songs on the album, when you talk of "the scarlet breeze," "red mouth," "the red leper" and stardust being yellow and red. Does that color hold a special significance for this album?
Michael Gira: I wasn't aware of that until you just mentioned it, but I suppose it must. Oddly, I'm reading an annotated version of the Brothers Grimm stories right now, and the color red occurs a lot in those: the redness of the snow, red blood on the handkerchief. I guess it's the color of regeneration and fecundity. So I don't know, maybe that's how I mean it.
When you spoke with Kayla Guthrie of Interview magazine, it was interesting that you said the music you're making now isn't really songs so much as some other kind of experience. Could you elaborate on that?
Some of the songs on the record are songs, per se, but live, it's really something else. It's more of a physical/spiritual experience. The songs are the vehicle, and we're expanding them and making them into a physically arduous and demanding event to perform. I think the same goes for the audience in the way they experience them. It's really trying to both bring out the violence in the moments and erase the moments. It's kind of a jazz notion, isn't it? You try to destroy yourself with the sound and be consumed by it and allow yourself to follow it rather than the other way around.
Have you ever heard of this great improv group called the Necks? They're opening for us in Australia. They had a really great quote which kind of describes how I feel about my music, too. "Try to find a way to let the music take over and not impose your will on it." Or at least your immediate prejudices. That actually happens a lot, particularly for a lowly rock band like Swans. That's what it's about, really. I think that's what audiences often want — the transcendence that implies.