See Jack Latimer’s photo essay of the concert and interview HERE.
Exclusive Swans Interview
ZT’s Jack Latimer speaks to Michael Gira.
JL: How’re things with your label Young God Records?
MG: The label is pretty much non-extant now. It’s entirely for Swans and
keeping the back-catalogue of everyone else in print. I don’t have time, money
or energy to put out other people’s music right now. In the future I don’t know
what’ll happen but, as you might have read, the music business isn’t exactly
remunerative right now, so for me to spend thousands of dollars and hundreds
of hours on someone else’s record, and then not get a cent from it doesn’t make
sense because I’m not independently wealthy. As much as I like and love the
people I’ve worked with it doesn’t make sense any more as people don’t find it
necessary to purchase music.
JL: Are you bitter at that?
MG: No, I was angry for a while, but I’ve given that up. In a way its time had
come. I’d begun to feel like a babysitter, or reluctant mentor, but I like producing
other people’s music quite a bit so I hope to have another chance to do that in
another form somewhere.
JL: Anything on the horizon in that respect?
MG: Yeah – Radiohead. I’m starting work on their next album tomorrow.
JL: Uhhh. Right. That’s fair. So was it the state of the music industry that
compelled you guys back out on the road?
MG: No, I had come to a stopping point with my group Angels of Light, and
wanted a way forward in every aspect of my life; economically I suppose, but
also aesthetically and just personally. I wanted something new, and to me the
prospect of renewing Swans after 13 years was new, but I wanted to treat it as an
adventure, not some sort of re-capitulation, so I just took some strands of thread
that had ended up on Soundtracks For The Blind and tried to extend them. I
think the first album we released, My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky,
was a tentative venture in that regard but The Seer is a real statement on the
future direction of Swans and it being a living, vital entity.
JL: There’s no denying that on the evidence presented in The Seer.
MG: Thanks, there’s a lot of ways forward for us now. Mainly funk. There’ll be
some songs tonight that have these awesome grooves, but we need some time in
the rehearsal studio to work them all out, but really I just want to emulate Fela
Ransome Kuti as much as possible.
JL: This is an evening full of revelations already. Speaking of artists you respect I
saw a quote of yours recently where you expressed admiration for the way that
Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P Orridge “Lives his life as an act of magic”. Would
you apply that phrase to yourself at all?
MG: No, I’m much more quotidian. He probably has more courage than I do.
I think that he’s willing to go over the edge, to go to a new place. I’m more
pragmatic, slower. Genesis is to me a combination of a butterfly and a flying
dragon. I think he’s a spectacular person. He’s had his troubles recently, as
everyone knows, but if you view his history from Coum Transmissions onwards
it’s really quite a statement on the possibilities of art, imagination and life.
One time I offered to help edit his biography, he’s called me on it a couple of
times, but I have no time. But his biography and a compendium of his audio and
visual work –and his life work- would definitley be an amazing document for the
20th and 21st centuries.
JL: But it’s the stories of your own early life that certainly seem to read like an
exercise in extremities…
MG: Yeah, but I was like a piece of fluff on the tides, I just went where experience
led me, I guess I still do. It wasn’t an act of will, it was just an act of being in the
tides of life or chance and figuring out how to survive there.
JL: How did or do those experiences feed into your work?
MG: A couple of experiences inform me whenever I find myself becoming shallow
or false. One is being in a jail cell in Jerusalem when I was fourteen or fifteen,
a little blonde haired kid from California, on his own. Gradually, as one does in
jail, you begin to understand the urgency of time. You feel it like a stranglehold
around your neck.
I also read in jail, they had quite a good collection as the hippies they would
arrest left books behind. I think it was 120 Days of Sodom and James Joyce I read
at an age where I really didn’t have the background to understand them, but it
got me reading.
Another thing is, having taken a very large amount of L. S. D. at a young age, I
took to the practice of just lying down and looking up at the stars and basically
flying up into the universe. That’s the kind of total, cosmic connection with
reality that I think it’s very important to keep in your hand when you’re living
in a city where everything is segmented in quadrants, where experience can
seem really small and boredom can become crushing. There it’s important to
remember our little place in the vast swirling sea of possibility.
JL: A lot of those themes come bounding out of The Seer. What correlation does
the artwork bear to the content?
MG: It’s tangential, it wasn’t conceived as some sort of explication or illustration
of the music, I just thought the images worked as a nice point of friction with the
sound. My friend Simon Henwood, who drew it, had it as a little sketch hanging
in his house and I asked him to develop it. As it turns out the creature’s teeth are
actually my teeth, which relates to Filth, and then I asked him to paint the cosmic
asshole for the back, but I don’t know how they specifically relate to the music.
They’re just the bumpers that the music lands up against, same with the words
JL: Do narcotics play any part in your creative process?
MG: No, I haven’t used drugs in 30 years. In fact in the early days of Swans me and
another member of the band were very much into Meth Anphetamine, speed.
I guess it was a romantic reference to the Beat Writers who were supposed to
have used it to create all these amazing works, but anytime I ingested those
substances I would just clean my house endlessly. The last time I did speed -this
is a story I probably shouldn’t tell- I bought it from a very famous San Fransisco
punk band, who used to be my dealer. I lived in a storefront on the Lower East
Side that had no windows; it was a hermetically sealed place. I had enough speed
to last… well, forever basically, and an endless supply of beer. Then I used it all.
By the time the whole episode was done I hadn’t slept in 48 hours, and I became
obsessed with something living in my gums. I had a lot of special toothpicks that,
by the end of the 48 hours, were all lying in a large bloody pile in the sink, my
mouth was a swollen mess, I was a wreck. I passed out for two days and then
never did speed again.
JL: Well, that’s a nice cautionay tale. One last question, are you aware of the influence
you hold over parts of the underground Metal scene?
JL: Do you get a kick out of it?
MG: No. Our music has influenced a lot of people. I don’t want to be egotistical
but we did the records The Great Annihilator, Swans Are Dead and Soundtracks
For The Blind, and if you listen to them then listen to a band like Godspeed You!
Black Emperor I don’t think they would have a career without us having done
that. There are certain influences we’ve had over people that haven’t been
acknowledged, it doesn’t matter as they do their own thing and they’re great, but
it does become pretty obvious when you begin to look.