Swans formed in New York’s early 1980s’ post-punk scene, and until their original disbanding in 1997 were renowned for their consistent, uncompromising originality. In January of this year, their singer and songwriter Michael Gira announced that Swans would be re-forming for a new album, released September 23, called My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. The Daily spoke with Gira on the phone about Swans’ past, present, and future.
The McGill Daily: What made you decide to reform Swans?
Michael Gira: What made me decide? It was time. I had been making these highly orchestrated, more gentle cinematic records under the guise of Angels of Light for about 15 years, and I had been wanting to participate in or be enveloped by or engulfed by louder, more physically brutalizing music for a number of years. When I came to begin recording these recent songs, I was thinking I was going to record them as Angels of Light, but as I began to do so I sort of lost interest, so I just thought, “Why don’t I restart Swans?” So that’s what I did, because I wanted to make something that was physically demanding and something that was sort of monumental sonically.
MD: Are you planning to return to the Angels of Light moniker, or have you discontinued that?
MG: I don’t have any spare time right now. I want to pursue Swans, for the foreseeable future, so that’s what I’m doing.
MD: So there will be more albums and more tours coming from Swans?
MG: Yes, this is not a one-off nostalgic reunion clown-act tour.
MD: What motivates you to write your music, what is the drive or impulse behind it?
MG: The way I used to answer that question, which I think is still apt, is that nobody asks a butcher why he cuts meat. So I dunno, it’s what I am, it’s what I was made to do. You know, I did a lot of years of working in construction jobs and doing some pretty awful work, and I was, you know, either an artist or a musician and so I just pursued that in a headstrong way so that I could make a living out of it. That’s just what I’m meant to do, I don’t know what motivates me.
MD: What are your lyrical inspirations for the current album, what are your themes?
MG: Oh I don’t know…I guess the main theme is the desire to dissolve, like putting a spoonful of sugar in water and stirring it, that’s what I’d like to be. So, I guess that’s what [my themes] are about – they’re about the desire to atomize, to dissolve, to rise up to heaven in a cloud of diamond dust.
MD: In the early 1980s, how did you see Swans and yourself as fitting into the New York downtown art/music scene?
MG: I didn’t really see us fitting. I don’t think we fit at all.
MD: Were you popular among that crowd?
MG: I think we were sort of a phenomenon. It was like we were roadkill that people came to look at. The only band that we really had any affinity with was Sonic Youth, and that was mostly because we were friends and we toured together just to help each other. …The whole great “No New York” moment had ended, and New York was comprised of these fake jazz bands and a lot of really trendy music, and the most popular stuff was this horrible English dance pop that was coming in. We were just the underbelly, the underside of that sort of thing, really divorced from it really. Sonic Youth and us didn’t really have much in common musically, but we were protective of each other for a while. But that didn’t really last long and I didn’t see Swans as being any part of the New York scene or anything. I’m not a very outgoing, social person anyway. …What Swans is is its own thing, it really doesn’t relate to other people very much.
MD: One final question, what should we expect from your shows?
MG: I suppose that you should expect to feel like a fly inside a washing machine.
MD: So it’s going to be loud, then.
MG: Yeah, I suppose.