Fallen angel Swans leader Michael Gira returns with a new project"I'm happy to put Swans behind me." It's practically the first sentence out of the mouth of the iconoclastic Michael Gira as he shakes off the weariness of his recent trip overseas. Happy? It's hard to believe. The image of the angry young man of the early/mid-'s80 ripping himself apart at the seams as the rest of the Swans slave away at their instruments is so deeply ingrained it's hard to imagine Mr. Gira being jubilant about anything. Yet with the release of New Mother, by his latest project Angels of Light (on his own Young God Records no less), it's easy to see that the albatross of his former band has been fully loosed from his neck. Quite successfully, one might add.
Sure, since Swans' demise in 1997 Gira has released a couple of formidable discs under his Body Lovers/Body Haters umbrella. But those were obviously projects; sounds and textures endlessly looped and manipulated via the trusty computer. Angels of Light, though, marks the re-emergence the legions have been waiting for. It is, for lack of a better term, a band, albeit one of a dramatically different nature. Gira, guitar in hand, is - up front where he belongs, a la "Failure" from Swans' Â“White Light From the Mouth of Infinity.Â”
Accompanying him is a trove of musicians -including Rasputina's Julia Kent, longtime Swans producer Martin Bisi and Atlanta's own Chris Griffin - playing an endless list of uncommon instruments: Mandolin, flugelhorn, numerous organs, glockenspiel, hammer dulcimer, Irish harp and countless others help create New Mother's exotic, pastoral sound. It's sure to please later-period Swans fans - particularly those fond of the White Light and The Burning World discs. "It's very unusual instrumentation. Very organic," says Gira. "I think it's equally intense, but in a different way than Swans."
The artistic path has always been a murky hike for Gira. In Swan's early years in the 80's - during which time Georgia native Jarboe became an increasingly prominent member (leading Swans to base themselves in Atlanta for part of the '90s) - the band seemed to be as much at war with itself as it was with the rest of the world. The band's transformation around the turn of the decade was no easier. "When I started to change the sound of Swans," Gira says, "I was learning to write songs and make music in a different way, and it was a hard thing to \ do. I think I succeeded in a lot of instances but in a lot I didn't."
Success or failure, it's obvious New ': Mother couldn't have happened without those various turning points. In fact, the record almost didn't happen. "We ran out money," says. Gira. "I went into the studio and recorded most of the songs on my acoustic guitar with my vocal. Then I started to think about how I could orchestrate them - I started calling musicians I like and had them play on it. I'd get to a certain stage and run out of money and beg, borrow or steal for it. In fact, a lot of the money came from fans on the website."
What you get for his troubles is over 70 minutes of floral dementia on a grand scale. It's much more subtly unsettling than Swans, due in part to its complete lack of - among other things - his former group's heavy percussion. The rich, , upfront vocals put it in the singer/song-writer category, while the music, by turns serene and bizarre, push the proceedings into worlds beyond. "Writing songs these days, I sit down with my acoustic guitar when I wake up and am kind of connected to my Subconscious from just waking up from dreams. I just have a memory or an image or a notion and just start chip-ping away at it. It takes a really long time; words never come easy for me. Nothing ever just flows."
Judging by some of the lyrics on New Mother, these dreams are the type that make most people toss, turn and sweat at night. "A lot of the songs are hagiographies," he explains. '"The Man with the Silver Tongue' is about Viennese performance artist Rudolph Schwartzkoggler and Herman Nitsch, his buddy, who crucified animals and released their intestines on young boys. It's just this beautiful-pagan/catholic imagery. 'The Garden Hides the Jewel' is about Marcel Duchamp - this construction he built for the last 20 years of his life. Then there're some songs where I glorify some women I've known, especially the most violent, and vengeful ones.
"And then there's the unfortunate drunken confessions as well," he laughs. "I tried to deal with what I guess you could call the inherent evil I've discovered in myself; excise that, use it as material."
When pushed to further illuminate the nature of this "evil." he remains elusive, offering, "It's just a kind of horrible behavior one might be capable of." Given the nature of his work and the general air of mystery surrounding its creator, I have to ask him about a recent interview in which he proclaimed he had no soul. "Did I really say that?" he replies with a laugh. "God, these interviews I've been doing are way too personal I'm actually not a completely morose or introverted person. I try to enjoy life a bit."