Swanning About

Published

Swans by Beowulf Sheehan

When Swans disbanded in 1997, they left the world with the two-disc epic ‘Soundtracks for the Blind’, a collection of dark soundscapes, found sound and field recordings, and ambitious post-rock explorations. The parting gift was a testament to just how much the bands sound has developed since emerging from that short lived hipster wet-dream otherwise known as the no-wave scene.

Central member Michael Gira has remained active since then, playing with the more melodically inclined Angels of Light, but now, 13 years later, Swans have returned with their 12th studio album ‘My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky’. The forty five minute record is a dense, unsettling and often beautiful accomplishment – a vicious collection of sharp dynamic variance and entirely unconventional songwriting.

Having just started their world tour, Michael seems in high spirits when I talk to him. ‘We’re travelling through the mountains right now, it’s pretty special’.

You’ve been keen to point out that you don’t view the band’s reformation as a re-union, why is that? Is this part of a move to escape the sound associated with the band?
We’re not revisiting the old Swans. This is a way for me to push forward and develop, and make some good music in the process, we just happened to decide to release it under the name of Swans. The last thing I would want is for what we’re doing now to turn into an exercise in nostalgia.

The new record sounds huge, how much continuity do you see between it and say Angels of Light, or Soundtracks for the Blind?
Certainly there is continuity between from Soundtracks from the Blind, in fact they all figure in the new album, these elements all contribute, but there’s also a key difference. I don’t know what, but it makes perfect sense to me because I’m the same person (laughs). But yeah, the touring we’re doing now really brings out the difference.

Good! Tell us about the tour.
It’s going extremely well, we are all transforming around it.

Do you detect a new dynamic in the new arrangement?
Well I mean, me and the band get along incredibly well, there’s no bickering or drama. One thing about this tour is that it’s a real physical commitment, some of the songs we’re playing are like twenty minutes long, it’s a real ordeal getting through them without having a heart attack! But at the same time, it’s a lot like say going to church, you get lost in something bigger then yourself.

Many of our readers will know Devendera Banhart, who features on the album track ‘You People Make Me Fucking Sick’, how was it working with him?
Well Devendera’s a great guy, we’re good friends, maybe you don’t know about it in the UK but it was my label (Young God) that put out ‘Oh Me Oh My’ (2002) as well as ‘Rejoicing in the Hands’ (2004) and ‘Niño Rojo’ (2004) which I actually produced, so yeah we’re very close. I came to recording that particular song in a very odd way, and when I started singing it I realised I was singing exactly like Devendera, so I figured it’d make perfect sense to include him on the album.

You also included your daughter’s voice on the track which sounds quite childish and sing-song-esque, don’t get me wrong because I mean this in an entirely positive way but she transforms the track into something all together terrifying, what was behind that decision?
Well yeah exactly! I just felt it needed a little something else so we decided to overdub her onto the track, it just made sense to me, it adds a certain implication to the lyrics I feel.

A twisted childhood innocence say.
Sure, yeah. I mean I wrote this song while I was absent-mindedly whipping around on some music website, looking at pictures of stylish young people full of violent sexual urges, and so I decided to write a love song from the point of view of a stalker.

Jean-Xavier Boucherat