Defining the musical act that is Swans is no easy task: moreFormed in 1982, the legendary New York post-punk band went in and out of a sea of genres including no wave (Filth, 1983 –which is getting a rerelease next month), gothic rock (Love of Life, 1992), and ambient (Soundtracks for the Blind, 1996) before disbanding in 1997. After the founder and frontman Michael Gira reformed the band in 2010, their state-of-the-art acoustic and atmospheric sound was also reintroduced to a new fan base: Millennials who didn’t even crawl on the surface of earth when Swans first came out of the downtown scene in New York in early ‘80s.
If their latest album, the multilayered, blues-inspired To Be Kind is bringing over one element from the past, it is the dark, spiritual maze that is in the center of Gira’s entire cosmology. At the eve of the upcoming Swans’ show at Basilica SoundScape in Hudson this Saturday, we caught up with the ringleader Gira and talked about life after To Be Kind, what inspires him, and what’s on the horizon for his band.
Swan’s first LP, Filth is getting re-released next month. What was revisiting these songs like after 31 years?It was like this: I called my friend who is a master engineer and asked him to make it sound good, he sent me a list of the three or four songs that had sounded good. And I didn’t listen to it anymore (laughs). I can’t even listen to the most recent album, To Be Kind. A finished piece of music or record is dead matter: I’ve worked through the songs so many times that the magic is squeezed out of it for me; it is left for other people to discover it.
With To be Kind, you reached to a younger fan base. Do you feel some kind of generational difference when you play shows?It might be that the human race is basically bodies with interchangeable souls, so I don’t really mind if the crowd is younger or older. But it’s nice to not see the same people in the audience that might have been there twenty years ago. We’re certainly not trendy, so I think the people that come to see the shows want to have a true experience with the music. We try to make an environment that is kind of urgent and has a reason for existing in the moment, and people seem to get something true from it so, I like that.
You’re heading to Basilica SoundScape right now. What was the most memorable show you’ve ever played?In 2012, we played at OFF Festival in Poland, and it was something like 40,000 people. When we finished our set, and the crowd stood there and roared for about half an hour. While we were packing up, the crowd was getting smaller and smaller, but it took half an hour for people to leave. It was really a kind of a validation after so many years of struggle.
What are you currently working on?We’ll be touring for another year, which means we will be just touring and not sleeping. Right now I’m playing new material and developing in front of people, and we will record a new album after, which won’t be similar to To Be Kind. There will be a lot more pastoral, orchestrated tunes –what they used to call “art songs” where the music is more of an evocative piece of cinema, more narrative based. The new project will be more similar to Angels of Light, which was my project after Swans ended around 1997.
What was the last thing or event you were inspired by?It’s always inspirational to me when I’m deeply connected to my breathing and I’m completely in the moment. I’m inspired by the strangeness and underlying sacredness of being alive.
WORDS AND INTERVIEW BY BUSRA ERKARA