Angels of Light | Live | Preview
PITTSBURGH CITY PAPER | JORDAN WEEKS
TOUCHED BY AN ANGELSince the official 1997 disbanding of Swans, the group that Michael Gira began some 20 years ago in New York's post-No Wave wake of sonic fertility, Gira has been busy with solo and other group projects, including Body Lovers and Body Haters. His most recent group project is Angels of Light, and he and his angels are hitting Pittsburgh this Friday.
New Mother, the Angels' first album, was a collection of slow, hypnotizing, acoustic-based songs drizzled with Gira's disarming baritione and signature self-depracating and self-evaluating lyrics, released a couple of years ago on Gira's own Young God Records label. (Gira runs not only the record label but also the exemplary Young God website, www.younggodrecords.com.) Their second album, How I Loved You, is equally hypnotizing, with sometimes-dense, sometimes-minimal instrumentation supporting emotionally raw, mostly easy-paced songs addressing love, life and purity.
"I really noticed after the fact these songs were love songs for the most part," says Gira via email (from New York City) of the new Angels material. "Usually I write outwards from my personal predilections or obsessions at the time, so that's how it came out. I guess a few different women, either in real time or in memory, have managed to take possession of my psyche over the last few years, so in a way, they write the songs, not me."
Gira's oft-cited heavy handed auteurism with the Swans and other earlier projects has reached almost mythical status in rock and indie circles. With the Angels, however, Gira has found a collaborative musical situation with which he's comfortable.
"I've had some terrible situations working with people in the past," he notes, "and have to admit it was probably my fault for the most part. I was extreme in all ways - controlling, dictatorial, intolerant, and drunk! I may still be one of the latter, but have learned to make sure I work only with people I like and trust personally in the first place, then allow them (as a result) to find their own way in the song. I still guide the project of course, but maybe with a little more courtesy and respect."
This relatively new collaborative outlook seems to be due, at least in part, to the folks with whom Gira's currently working in the Angels - Larry Mullins, Dana Schechter and Thor Harris, all of whom will be with him on the road.
"I first met Larry when he came back stage at a Swans show in the middle 90's," recalls Gira. "He was drumming for Iggy Pop at the time. He's a trained symphonic percussionist and one of the most talented musician with whom I've ever worked. Dana has played with Angels now for a few years; she plays bass and singsâ€¦She's coming up some great parts for the new songs we'll be playing on the tour, completely without my heckling or interference, and I feel really proud to have her in the band.
"Thor lives in Austin - he looks like a Viking. â€¦He's like Larry, in that he plays a ton of instruments. Christoph Hahn and Birgit-Cassis Staudt are the two icy Germans of the band; both have been major contributors to both Angels albums, but they won't be coming due to logistical considerations."
Gira's work with Angels seems to be an expansion of the creative catharsis that he felt with the Swans' early material, the lyrics and music of which have often been perceived by some as nihilistic. For Gira, nothing could be further from the truth.
"To me," he says, "it was a powerfully uplifting experience performing and hearing the (early Swans) music. Utterly transporting. I guess it was unrelenting and maybe severe, lyrically and sonically, but these qualities are part of what gave it a POSITIVE quality, maybe even a purity, in my opinion."
Of his ostensibly more optimistic lyrics with the Angels, he's more sardonic: "I guess lyricall I'm just a sentimental old fuddydud these days."