Swans | ArticleTime and Vision: Swans spring Eternal. Michael Gira and Jarboe, the creative force of Swans, took to the road again after a three-year respite. They've reemerged in huge form with the Young God/Invisible release The Great Annihilator, and two separate solo records, Jarboe's Sacrificial Cake and Gira's Drainland, released domestically on Alternative Tentacles. For their recent international tour, Swans have recruited new players—drummer Larry Mullins whose musical experiences include the Tennessee Symphony Orchestra and six years with Iggy Pop's group, bassist Carl Goldring (from San Francisco's Toiling Midgets) and former American Music Club guitarist Vudi.
"This is the best line-up we've had in years," says Gira. "Vudi's the first guy in the band who is smarter than me. He's incredibly literate. He's not into rock attitudes and getting drunk all the time, or repetitious bon mots. We all read all the time."
"I shouldn't say what I'm reading because it's what everyone would expect," Jarboe laughs, "but it's the new Anne Rice novel. I chant in the van too, but I think I've been abusing it as an escape. We've been listening to Conway Twitty, sitar music, and George Jones."
"You can put us on the record as hating rock culture and alternative music," announces Gira.
From a band so instrumental in changing the face of the post-punk landscape, that seems a fitting and ironic comment. But like everything Swans do, it is contrast and juxtaposition that defines their oeuvre, thematically and musically. Those hints of iconoclasm haven't tarnished during the group's thirteen years. Their recent sold-out Chicago show was full of their renowned, towering hush and hurl, and new arrangements for songs from the three new records proved the muscle was still behind their sublime take on crunch and grind. You wouldn't call it rock or industrial either. In fact, no one knows what to call it. Between Swans, World of Skin (Gira and Jarboe's side project), and now their concurrently released solo albums, one finds ballads, noise and deconstructed rock, and still none of those pigeonholes accurately describe the breadth of sound Swans incorporate as they evolve.
"We just try to keep working," say Gira, explaining the diversity of the various projects.
"Since we're not on any label we can do whatever the hell we want. Swans has more breadth to it, it's an epic undertaking...getting all the musicians and money together in a big studio, lying, cheating and begging to get it released. The solo records cost almost nothing. I recorded mine at (former Ministry drummer) Bill Reiflin's home studio. I wanted to do something personal, simple and narrative, and that didn't fit into Swans."
"I played almost all the instruments on Sacrificial Cake," Jarboe adds. "It has spoken word and atmospheric things. All the songs deal with the female realm. Erotic fantasies, affairs.
'Lavender Girl' is about sexual preference."
"Isn't there one where you use all these Victorian terms for orgasm!" Gira asks.
"Yeah," answers Jarboe. "In 'Ode to V,' Things like 'purgatory's caress' and 'terrible joy.'"
"We've been clawing and scraping for thirteen years as Swans," reminds Gira. "In the early days I guess we were just too heavy, too in-your-face and violent. But...that was in the days of new wave and disco! We played all those shows with Sonic Youth and they'd always have us go on first. If we'd played second no one would've been there. When that kind of music became trendy we just rejected it and changed. We don't want to be stuck in some idiotic genre. We were so linked with Sonic Youth at one time. That's why next year we're headlining Lollapalooza," he jokes.
"In a traditional career it's as if you're building up momentum, preparing a history," observes Jarboe.
"We don't play the rock game," reveals Gira. "I think we're more like groups from the '60s, like Neu, Can, Eno...fuck, even Pink Floyd, they were more iconoclastic rather than personal," Gira chokes on the word. "We've transcended worrying about being on a major label. I've got five dollars, I'm living on TV dinners, I'm over it."