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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Michael Gira taking reformed Swans on tour, will perform this month in Chicago


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Although Michael Gira doesn't consider himself a music pioneer, there is no debating the influence his band Swans has had.

Swans is enjoying a new life these days following its hiatus in 1997, and is touring in support of its 2010 album, "My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky."

Swans, www.younggodrecords.com, will perform Sept. 22 at the Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake St., Chicago, www.bottomlounge.com.

The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $25, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Gira about a variety of topics, including why he decided to reform Swans.


Q - I noticed that you have a lot of players from different incarnations of Swans over the years. Was everybody excited about the fact that you wanted to reform the band?

Yeah. I called the people that I wanted to be around for a long period of time, and also that I thought would contribute the most to the music. It just kind of naturally worked out.

As far as we're concerned, this is the best lineup of Swans ever.


Q - Why do you think that is?

It's the dynamics and the level of commitment to the music, the willingness to put a physical capability into the music, physical and spiritual, I guess.

Playing live is quite an ordeal for us and the audience, but in a good sense. The songs are quite long now. Some of the songs go on for 25 minutes.

They just kind of keep getting more and more intense as they progress. It's really an experience.

It's not really like watching a band play its songs. It's more like everybody's involved inside the sound, the audience included.

Q - So the audience really comes along with you on this musical journey?

Yeah, we've had the best responses that I've ever had in Swans.

Q - It's nice that people have that attention span.

You're either in it or you're not. It's sort of like you're in the whirlpool. You decided to jettison yourself, or you go with it.

The set is about 2 hours, or 2 hours, 15 minutes. Our audience is pretty committed.

Q - I understand that in deciding to reform Swans, you wanted to drive the band forward. It wasn't like a nostalgic trip at all.

Not at all. And when we play live, we only play one older song, and that's really been transformed.

Everything else is either from the current album, or from the new album we're working on. There's two or three pieces that haven't been recorded yet. 

Q - In sitting down to make "My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky," what goals did you have?

Well, you always want to push yourself physically and make something that surprises you and leads you into a different world. Finding music that seems utterly urgent and necessary.


Q - So you are working on some new songs now?

Yeah, we just recorded for a week in Berlin. While we were on tour, we had a hiatus, and we recorded some of the new songs there.

The new record will come out sometime next March or April. In the meantime, I've completed mixing a live album, and it will probably come out in October.

I'm going to make 1,000 handmade CDs initially, and sell them through the website to help raise money for this studio album, which is quite expensive.

After those are sold out, I'll release a commercial version of it.

Q - It seems that more artists are taking that route these days.

You kind of have to do anything you can right now. But I don't mind it. The music's good. The live album is called, "We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head."

Q - And by raising that money, it shows how committed the fans are to the music.

When I did 1,000 copies of demos for the first album that way, we sold out in 10 days on the website.

Q - Wow. Was that pretty gratifying?

Yeah. I had no idea what was going to happen. It was surprising to everyone.

Q - I understand the idea for reforming Swans came when you were touring with your band Angels of Light. What went through your mind in wanting to reform Swans?

I just wanted to be inside this kind of maelstrom of sound again. I was playing with Angels, and the chords were sustaining themselves in a way that I associated with Swans.

Once I found myself inside of that again, it planted the seed to reform Swans again.

Q - Swans broke up in 1997. Did you think it was the right time to break up Swans at that time?

At that point, it had been 15 years of constant struggle. It was such an undertaking to do a Swans record. Each time, we had to borrow the money, or beg to be on somebody's label and not get paid.

It was a constant ordeal, constant work, 24 hours a day, for 15 years. In the end, I just said I wanted to do something simple, so I started Angels of Light.

 
Q - And do you think Angels of Light kind of ran its course too?

Yeah. For now. 

Q - Do you see yourself as a music pioneer?

No. You can't really think that way, otherwise you'll put yourself in a corner.