this is the printed version of the interview I did with Michael Gira about the new Swans album The Seer. We did cover a lot more ground so at some point I might post the rest…
Convinced that, even on a long distance call from New York, Michael Gira might in some way manage to smite him, Lee Fisher was more than a little nervous about interviewing Michael Gira.
He needn’t have worried… much.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Michael Gira is a serious man. Very serious. Although listening back to the tape of our telephone conversation I did notice a couple more dry chuckles than I’d realised, this is still a man who is utterly committed to his music and his vision. And when that commitment births an album as incredible as The Seer, you realise you wouldn’t want him any other way.
“I’m really happy to see people getting the music, seeing them being really kind of… enthralled along with us. I don’t see it as us playing songs to people, it’s us creating an environment that we’re all inside. It’s not transcendence – we never transcend because then you’re dead – but you reach a higher state. It’s not really through us, more just when I certain kind of sound starts to occur, you surf it, you follow it and you get inside of it. You lose yourself in it and it’s not really up to us as performers at that point, we’re just inside this event. “ See? Serious.
At two hours long, The Seer is an expansive, intense, beautiful album, the second since the Swans reconvened, and it definitely builds on the sound and style of its predecessor, My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky. At the time of the last record, Gira himself suggested that a certain lack of nerve stopped him letting some of the songs run as long he should have, but stresses that, even with the title track coming in at 30 minutes, he didn’t set out to “make songs longer just on purpose, but for some aesthetic reason. I just let the material go along the path that it dictated and for that reason some things were longer. I don’t care anymore, I have no commercial aspirations, I don’t have to answer to anyone. I’m at a certain point in life where I’ve been making music for so long that I’ll do whatever the hell I want.”
“I guess one direction that we’re moving in, even beyond the new album, is into our own particular sort of grooves, eschewing sometimes the idea of a song even. I’m interested in working with the band to develop these.. I don’t know what you’d call them.. sonic experiences, I guess, and we’re just going with that. “
A highlight of the album are the unmistakeable harmonies of Alan and Mimi from Low on the opening track, Lunacy, and I asked whether he’d written it with them in mind. “No. Once I’d written that song, I just realised in some clairvoyant way that they had to sing on it. I’m a tremendous admirer of their American prairie gospel music. They’re so authentic, their music is so heartfelt and their voices are so beautiful”. And of Karen O’s contribution, the lilting country ballad Song For The Warrior, Gira says that “… when I wrote that I was just singing it and I realised my voice just wasn’t right. It happened on the last album so I got Devendra (Banhardt) and on this one I just thought Karen’s voice would suit it particularly well because it has a sort of sentimental, country, lullaby aspect. I’d heard some of her solo things where she sings in this really unassuming way, almost like a mother singing to her child.”
Gira is frank about why, as someone almost fixated on moving forward constantly, he reconvened Swans. “The reasons for reactivating Swans were very selfish, it was a way for me to find new ways to make sound again and to push forward.” As for how long Swans might last in this incarnation, he’s a little cautious. “I don’t know, it depends on how long I have to live. I’ll probably keep doing it till I can’t. Other than that, I don’t want to think about it, it’s too depressing. And I don’t know what’s going to happen with everybody’s personal lives – I love these gentlemen and they contribute immensely to the music. I know I do all the interviews but it would be a mistaken impression to think it was only me, because I really need these fellows.”
For a band with a reputation for sonic extremes and his (mostly unfair) rep as some kind of dour biblical figure, Swans seem to be reaching a much wider audience these days. Gira doesn’t seem to care.“I’m not a publicist or music writer so I don’t know if my time has come, but I’m happy , I suppose through the facility of the internet, that our music has reached a wider audience. That doesn’t necessarily mean of course that they actually buy the music. But really, I don’t care any more. Jesus, I’ve been making music so long. But it is strange to be viewed in a certain.. usually negative context, because I look at the music as being very ecstatic and uplifiting.”
And it really, really is.
The Seer is released on Young God Records on August 27th and Swans play a small UK tour in November.
(© Narc Magazine)
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