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The Return of Swans

Newly revived, legendary art-rockers Swans gather at London's Koko after gracing Birmingham's Supersonic Festival

Rising out of the bombardment that was New York’s no wave scene, Swans were like the dark, brooding older brother of Sonic Youth’s bratty sibling. By their break-up in 1998, the loud, clangy aggression of their early albums had taken on an almost baroque elegance, though still sonically quite ferocious. Front man Michael Gira then went on to form the Young Gods record label – who put out Akron/Family, Devendra Banhart and Mi and L'au – and set about forming and recoding with the slightly more mellow Angels of Light. Since Swans reformed earlier in the year, their first album, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, was funded by contributions made by fans after demos of a couple of songs were posted on their website. Ahead of their London and Manchester gigs, Dazed Digital managed to grab some time to Michael Gira about the joys of blasting out eardrums again.

Dazed Digital: So what prompted the decision to reform Swans?
Michael Gira: In a way I wanted to embrace my demon brother again, rather than ignore him. But it’s not going back, it’s more taking methods from Swan and pushing them in a new way. Using what I’ve learnt in Angels of Light and integrating that and also seeking the powerful body-destroying sounds that I wanted to experience again. Especially live in a concert.

DD: What did you bring from Angels of Light?
Michael Gira: The song writing aspect integrated more into the sonic aspect. This album is more of an amalgamation of AOL and Swans. Swans changed so much along the way that you can’t really say there was a sound. Certainly towards the end it was a lot more orchestral. With the next Swans record I think it’s going to start with long instrumental sections with long instrumental grooves and deal with things that go sonically rather start with a series of songs, start with the sound.

DD: You’d said before that the name Swans had become had become a noose round your neck, how have things changed?
Michael Gira: It’s black, it’s white; it’s something I want to do now. It’s a decision based on music, basically. Angels of Light, that I’ve been doing for the past 13 years, just hasn’t been holding the interest for me that it was initially. And I’ve been thinking about making loud, sonically overwhelming sounds again and it seemed only natural to use the name Swans.

DD: Is it a bizarre experience going back to the old songs after so long?
Michael Gira: Honestly, if I was the same person I was, I’d be dead. It’s enthralling, I’m enjoying it. It’s like covering someone else’s song in a way. I certainly have no recollection of writing those songs now. I don’t even know if it’s me, it’s just this figure I look at. If I listen to one of those old records, I know it’s me but it doesn’t feel like me anymore. It’s just a voice.

DD: Some of the old songs were quite lyrically violent.
Michael Gira: I don’t know that they’re violent, they seem a little more sexual actually. Maybe they’re religious. It’s nice to sing them again, I certainly enjoyed occupying them and letting them occupy me.

DD: Was the decision to get fans to fund the album motivated by ideology or necessity?
Michael Gira: No, I didn’t have any money. I don’t give a shit about the music industry, it’s sad that people can’t make a living at it, but I’m figuring out a way. I just make music, I don’t really have any ideological pre-conceptions about the music industry. A long time ago I figured out how to make the music I want with total control over it, and I’ll let other people sort out their own problems.

DD: You’re strongly associated with the post No Wave period, do you still follow what’s going on in New York’s music scenes?
Michael Gira: No, I don’t really follow music anymore. I moved out of the city, nearer Woodstock. I have lots of open space and I can breathe. Having said that, there’s this band in Brooklyn that are tremendous called Liturgy. I guess they call it black metal, but it’s really interesting. They don’t have any of the costumes or makeup and stuff. They play this super fast cascade of sound. They have this art music background and the drumming is really loose, jazzy almost. Look them up.

DD: What most excited you about reforming?
Michael Gira: It’s not reforming, it’s a new version. I wanted to experience these overwhelming sonic moments again and the only way I could do that was to gather the people and make things happen and I that’s what I associate with Swans. I wanted to feel my body dissolve in the sound, I wanted to feel my head explode.

Swans will be playing at tonight: 28th London Koko, 29th Leeds University Union, and Manchester Academy on the 30th October 2010.