I started Swans in 1982 in NYC. At the time, I had no musical skills whatsoever, just instinct and a need to make something happen. The music changed constantly over the years, and I'm gratified it reached, and continues to reach, a fair number of people. After 15 years, I decided to end Swans, as the name had become a burden and the associations no longer fit with what I wanted to do into the future. I started Angels of Light in 1999, and that's my main musical focus now. I also run Young God Records and release (and sometimes produce) music by people whose music I enjoy.
Dozens of people came and went through the 15 years of Swans existence. These are the people that spring immediately to mind: Michael Gira, Norman Westberg, Roli Mossiman, Harry Crosby, Sue Hanel, Jonathan Kane, Algis Kizys, Jarboe, Ted Parsons, Steve Mcallister, Larry Mullins, Virgil Moorefield, Vudi, Joe Goldring, Ronaldo Gonzales, Vinnie Signorelli, Christoph Hahn, Ivan Nahem, Bill Rieflin, Bill Bronson, Phil Puleo, Anton Fier, Jenny Wade, Clinton Steele...and more...
PS - Jarboe was the longest-lasting Swans contributor of those listed above and contributed more than can be mentioned here. To learn more about her, go here: thelivingjarboe.com
Here's some of the music that I enjoyed during the time of Swans: Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, The Stooges, Brian Eno, Teenage Jesus And The Jerks, DNA, The Contortions, Glenn Branca, Black Flag, early Pink Floyd, This Heat, Kraftwerk, Herman Nitsch, Cabaret Voltaire, Can, Public Image LTD., SPK, Ennio Morricone, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, and always, always Bob Dylan and The Beatles...ha ha! I'm sure there's 100s more, but who cares and I can't remember anyway... - Michael Gira / Young God Records 2008
Here’s 2 reviews/articles written at the time of Swans’ demise in 1997 (for more press CLICK HERE or just look on google or another search engine)
TOUR'S THE SWANSONG FOR GIRA
Text from Denver Post Jan. 16, 1997
By David Thomas
Bursting from the NY scene in the early 80's, the Swans' sound was so heavy, so threatening that listeners either fled in fear or joined the throng. There was never a middle ground. And there still isn't. Over time, Gira's sense of darkness deepened and in the process the songs turned into something delicate and beautiful while remaining frightening.
SWANS | 1/1/97 In the life cycle of rock music, most bands suffer endings poorly. Either they disappear suddenly under the force of a lost record deal or bleed out their musical force slowly in the public eye through endless reunion concerts and rehashed compilations.
Michael Gira will have none of that. At the beginning of the final tour of his band Swans, Gira took the time to discuss the end of a 15 year odyssey as one of contemporary music's most highly regarded and overlooked bands. "I just want to have it discreet, finished and over, and I can move on. I have other ideas I want to do. I think it's necessary," he said by phone from Florida.
Bursting from the NY scene in the early 80's, the Swans' sound was so heavy, so threatening that listeners either fled in fear or joined the throng. There was never a middle ground. And there still isn't.
Over time, Gira's sense of darkness deepened and in the process the songs turned into something delicate and beautiful while remaining frightening. Like a slow-motion plane disaster, a lyricism emerged from the chaos.
New listeners and old discovered a rock band with as much richness and subtlety as a classical symphony orchestra.
Still, even with 15 years, 15 albums and mountains of gushing praise from fans and critics alike, Gira saw that it was time to write the final coda for his band.
"After 15 years of this grueling struggle with really no reward to show for it, the intelligent thing to do would be to move on," he said.
Artistic triumph and personal despair mark the Swans. Claiming he would do and has done just about anything to record his creative vision, Gira found an enemy where you might expect an ally - the music industry.
"I loathe it entirely. We found our own little niche now, with our own business and good distribution system, so we're able to survive on our own, I just can't deal with it. I don't go out to clubs. I don't talk to A&R people; I don't schmooze; I don't do anything to try to advance myself in that way. I just can't stand it anymore. I tried in the early days. Of course I was always pounding away. But there's only so much you can take."
Closing out the Swans' catalog is "Soundtracks For The Blind." If Gira has been seeking a high point on which to end the Swans, then this is it. Two CDs, packed with nearly 2 1/2 hours of music, the album is a scorching journey through passion and pain. The discs combine music with sounds and sonic interludes into something that strikes you as an actual sound track for an unmade movie. Highly experimental without ever becoming cerebral, "Soundtracks" works from the ambiguous emotional source where fear and excitement, love and lust, tears of happiness, and tears of sorrow mingle.
"I had recorded these songs from the last group from last year's tour. And I had a lot of backlog of sound-track-like things, as well as boxes full of sounds, cassette loops and vocal loops from Jarboe, and all these narrative things that we have from very personal sources. And I decided that I wanted to pursue a direction that has sort of intrigued me after the last couple of albums. I made the whole album into a segue feeling, where everything bleeds from one unrelated sound to another," he explained.
"The thing that interested me most about this album - not that I'm not interested in songs - but it's more interesting to me to look at the way one thing works against something else than how they do individually. So it's a process of listening to how it feels, what the experience is like going from something that is incredibly intense to something very gentle. Those juxtapositions interest me more than the things themselves."
Once the tour is completed, Gira intends to release a summary set of Swans music in Double-CD sets, putting only the best of the band's work into an accessible package for present and future fans. In addition, his label will issue experimental soundscapes by Gira under the name Body Lovers and another project of what Gira calls "long narrative songs" as the Angels of Light.
The re-issues and the new projects will continue to sustain both Gira's voracious artistic appetite as well as reward those lucky enough to seek out his work or lucky enough to stumble upon it.
And as the Swans legacy fades into history, Gira can look back and see he did what he set out to do.
"I never had an aim except to make music, not to convince people of anything. I just had certain sounds I wanted to hear. I made them. Certain sounds, certain ways of performing them that would cause a certain experience to occur, in myself and/or the listener. And I made those things happen."
15 Baleful Years, Then Goodbye Cruel World
By JON PARELES
Published: January 27, 1997
''I love/hate you,'' Michael Gira, Swans' main songwriter and singer, told the crowd at Irving Plaza on Friday night. The sold-out audience had mustered for Swans' last concert in of New York City, its hometown, somberly saying goodbye to the band after 15 years.
From the beginning, Swans have played stately, desolate, implacable songs that slammed home the certainty of suffering and death. Mr. Gira and Jarboe, the group's keyboardist and alternate singer and songwriter, write about blood and pain, domination and corruption, God and the void. Through the years, they have set their lyrics to dissonant, gargantuan hard rock; to grim, machine-driven dance rhythms, and, most recently, to resonant drones. Although they anticipated the likes of Tool and Nine Inch Nails, Swans were never quite in sync with the pop market; they stood adamantly apart.
The sense of finality gave Friday's concert even more bleak majesty. It was not a retrospective; the material was 1990's Swans, a set of slow drones and primal utterances. For the first 15 minutes, there were no words at all, just tolling bass lines, sustained guitar chords and very gradual crescendos, heaving like tectonic plates. Eventually Mr. Gira began singing. ''I forgive you for your indifference,'' he intoned. ''I wish you happiness.''
SThe songs were usually little more than a single slow riff, perhaps a chord or two, with steadily strummed guitar and unswerving drumbeats. There was some variety; one riff had the blunt thump of heavy metal, another was a waltz. Mr. Gira sang with sepulchral calm, while in her three songs, Jarboe was bluesy, breathy, then baleful.
The repetition held a sense of ritual as the band bore down, building and building the songs, filling the room with invisible waves of overtones from the unchanging chords. In some ways, the songs harked back to the late 1960's, with echoes of Jim Morrison in Mr. Gira's death-haunted baritone and the resonances of Pink Floyd in the music. But 1960's rock was rarely so single-minded or so dire.
''This will be the last thing you ever see us play,'' Mr. Gira announced, and the band began ''Blood Promise,'' a song about eternity and separation. The music took its time, nearly 20 minutes, evolving from shimmering contemplation to majestic, triumphal chords and a pounding climax, followed by a hushed epilogue. It was a final stoic dirge, this time for the band itself.
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