Kissy Sell Out Interviews Michael Gira of Swans
Sometimes life introduces us to someone and we make an instant connection. This introduction can be so powerful that it can play a role in shaping the rest of your life. This is what happened to our guest editor Kissy Sell Out when he discovered acclaimed post-punk band Swans during his youth. Led by sonic visionary Michael Gira, the Swans' groundbreaking mixture of industrial, noise, spoken word and art rock made an indelible impression on Kissy — one which led him to scour early Swans releases on eBay and snap them up.
Société Perrier connected the two via Skype for an interesting chat where Kissy got to ask one of his musical influences all sorts of interesting questions.
I’m a fan! I’m sure you’ve got some more hardcore fans than me…
I got into your music in my late teenage years, which meant I had to do a lot of studying up by hunting around for your vinyl albums on eBay.
By the looks of it that looks like it was just yesterday.
Oh, bless you. What a charmer! This is great. We’re going to get along famously. This is wonderful. I’m a big fan of the new album [The Seer]; I think it’s fantastic. I waited a long time for it. I was a big fan of the Body Lovers/Body Haters album. Would I be right in saying that the new album consolidates a lot of past adventures that you’ve had as Swans?
It seems to do so. I mean, I’m the person I am, and I am the product of my experience. Obviously I don’t want to downplay the input of the musicians I work with because they have a tremendous influence on how things sound as far as the way they play, but as a producer — which is what you would call me — I incorporate a lot of the different ways I’ve worked with sound in the past.
I’ve heard a lot of people inspired by you subsequently, which I’m sure you must’ve noticed.
[Laughs] I dunno.
What does the new album mean to you on a personal level?
Is that an ambulance I hear going by?
Yes, I live in East London.
[Laughs] I’m sure there are a lot of lots of ambulances there, I’m sure. I can’t think about things in a bigger context other than the quotidian fact of working; I just make the music and put it out there. Thinking about what you mean culturally or looking for kudos or thinking oh, I’m really going to affect people or anything like that infects the work. You’re a musician/DJ, right? The best thing you can do is…
I’ve got albums out. I was going to ask you about that later on. [Laughs]
You know, you just immerse yourself in it. I don’t sit around acting like a critic when I’m working or even thing about the aesthetics. I just work with the material at hand and try to make something that satisfies my imagination, really.
There’s a sample of something on fire on the new album — something is in flames.
That’s Ben Frost. He’s an experimental musician — he does electronic music and orchestrated music as well. He just did a project with Brian Eno, too, recently. He’s pretty good; you should check him out. I came across his music and he opened for Swans on the last tour on one show. I was thinking on that song “A Piece of the Sky” that it needed some type of intro. I didn’t have he wherewithal to it and I thought that he would do a great job. So I asked him to record fire and he did it through synthasizers and found sounds as well.
I looked at your touring schedule… and you’re on the road until the 10th of October to the 9th of December, then you get one month off and you’re back in February. Are you looking forward to that?!
[Laughs] No, I want to commit suicide!
Is it kind of like a family when you’re touring?
Yeah, very much so. This is the most cohesive group that Swans has ever had. I won’t say it’s the best because I can’t make that judgment, but as far as six people together we get along the best and musically we get along great, too. There are days off in there, I hope. I never look at my tour schedule; I just want to go like a little child in a stroller, you know? Do what they say.
It’s great to see so many people rejoicing in Swans’ essential comeback. I hope you take that as a compliment.
Thanks. I don’t really look at it as a comeback, though. I rejuvenated the project. We’re not playing the old music and it’s a way to move forward in a creative way rather than recounting the past somehow. It has been encouraging, if not daunting, to have such attention paid to it. But it’s welcome.
On that note, I’ve got one last serious question. As someone who’s been doing his own thing and getting away with it for so many years there must be some things over the decades that you’ve lost enthusiasm for. When you look in the mirror, do you see a significant part of you that has kind of died or been lost along the way?
That’s a very interesting question. It hasn’t entirely died, but the kind of seemingly — at least in my own mind — invincible young man has certainly gone. I push myself pretty hard still, but I did have a kind of arrogance that if I inflicted my will on something I would eventually make it happen. Maybe the kind of whittling away that time has on one has humbled me a bit. That kind of superhuman effort I used to put into things is no longer possible. For instance, I used to work in construction and do things like demolition, tearing down walls and ceilings as well as hanging sheet rock, painting, taping…really hard, physical work. I would do that all day and then we would rehearse for like six or eight hours at night and we did that constantly. I can’t imagine where I got the energy. It’s unbelievable. That ability no longer exists although our shows are two or two and a half hours long and they’re pretty intense physically. But I look at that like a happy accident in that I get some physical exercise once and a while.
I think I’ve used up enough of your time. This has been absolutely great. Thanks for speaking with me. I hope my questions were okay.
They were great! Very casual.