Michael Gira | Interview


"I hate my guitar." - M.Gira

If you have paid any attention to QRD you know who Michael Gira is. He was the leader of Swans & now he's moved on to do new stuff which is even better than his earlier work. Nearly everyone I know & respect put his latest Angels of Light album How I Loved You in their 2001 top 10, so there you go.

QRD -- When do you plan to record the new songs you're currently touring with?

Michael -- I have no idea. Just when we get some money & time. As it turns out, we'll begin recording in mid February 2002.

QRD -- How permanent is the current Angels of Light line up live?

Michael -- I'd like to see it stay permanent. Everybody has different things they do & it's flexible in that way, but it's great & I'd like to keep it.

QRD -- Do you think you'll ever combine the elements of The Body Lovers & The Angels of Light?

Michael -- No.

QRD -- What is the current status of The Body Lovers #2 of 3?

Michael -- It's suffering from lack of money to record. As soon as money comes in, i'll begin, hopefully in the next few moths.

QRD -- & #3, the same situation or is it not planned out yet?

Michael -- I'm just so busy running the record label & trying still being a musician & doing all the stuff I’m doing has precluded that for a while & money is of course an issue as well.

QRD -- What did Tore Boe do on Bodylovers #1?

Michael -- He sent me a bunch of sounds. Most people who contributed to that outside of musicians who actually played instruments just sent me loops or sounds. Like Pansonic sent some sounds which I then reconfigured & mixed in to other stuff. Origami sent me some sounds. Bill Rieflin, I asked just to beat the hell out of a piano & that's what he sent me, that piece.

QRD --What's your favorite musical instrument to hear?

Michael -- I don't know if I can answer that. The human voice, unadorned.

QRD -- How did you get interested in Gyorgy Ligeti?

Michael -- Through Kubrick's films.

QRD -- Oh, like 2001....

Michael -- He's actually in The Shining too. Someone just sent me a cd-r of The Shining soundtrack which I've been seeking out forever. & then I got some of his other cds as well.

QRD -- Do you own most of his work then?

Michael -- No, I just have a few early ones, like Lux Aeterna. I remember hearing some stuff though years ago that Glenn Branca gave me to hear. I forget what it's called. It was obviously recorded in an unprofessional situation with some singers & maybe an instrument or two. It sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom & you can hear traffic outside & it's just amazing.

QRD -- Would you like to do a movie soundtrack again?

Michael -- Of course.

QRD -- & how did the one for Two Small Bodies come about?

Michael -- I've known Beth B for years & she just asked me to do it, so I did it.

QRD -- Is creativity more important than craft in art?

Michael -- Yeah, although craft is important too. It doesn't have to be a traditional craft, but an attention to discipline & detail is really important. On the other hand, someone puking into a microphone with finesse & confidence is always the most refreshing drink.

QRD -- Which do you find yourself more successful with?

Michael -- Art because I have my own craft. The way I play guitar is my own. Like Virgil (opening act) is a really great guitarist & I can't even approach to play the way he does. There are people like Nick Drake for instance who are so beautiful when they play, but I long ago gave up trying to be a "real musician" & just do what I can do. I am willfully ignorant.

QRD -- What's the biggest compliment & criticism "real guitarists" have of your style?

Michael -- They usually don't comment, due to their embarrassment.

QRD -- How often do you break guitar strings & do you think breaking strings is always a bad thing?

Michael -- I broke 3 or 4 strings a night towards the end of the recent tour. It meant the shows were stilted & awkward, because rather than using my back up guitar, I changed them, & it took forever onstage. I liked it. I played my guitar way too hard. It's like a physical nemesis I want to combat & test.

QRD – Do you feel more at home recording in a studio or on stage touring?

Michael -- I hate both aspects, but also crave them. The most pleasurable moments in music-making, for me, are when I've first worked out a song, & I play it for myself. as soon as it transfers from that moment, it's polluted.

QRD --How have the career possibilities of independent musicians changed over the past 20 years?

Michael -- It's an arc. It started out in the punk rock days with no possibilities of mass appeal & it's returned back to that. I remember in the punk rock days it was all do-it-yourself because nobody else would do it. & that was kind of good & healthy & that's where it is now with the music industry. Meaning, hopeless.

QRD --what are the most rewarding & aggravating things about Young God having expanded to a larger label with a band roster?

Michael -- The most rewarding is being able to hear & make available music that I really admire & like. & the most aggravating is the tremendous amount of work & pitiful hopelessness of it. But there's no reason to give up. there's no alternative.

QRD -- Are the bands actually signed to your label?

Michael -- No. I don't want to be responsible for someone else's career. If someone is unhappy they should go anyway.

QRD -- how do you decide if a band should be on Young God? Is it only to do with the music?

Michael -- Yeah, I don't do demographic marketing or anything. Sometimes it's people I've been associated with or whose record I produced or sometimes it's just something obscure that I really like. It's really diverse. I can see the label putting out mongolian folk music.

QRD -- Why did you decide to start Young God as a true label instead of continuing to release material with established labels?

Michael -- Because the music other people make is more interesting to me than my own.

QRD --You recently did a collaboration with Dan Matz of Windsor for the Derby, was it hard for you to give up the total control you've had over your other projects? How interested are you in doing music without being in total control?

Michael -- No, it was very easy because I really like Dan & trust him. It was very relaxed. We both went in without any kind of ego or pre-conceptions about what it was & just worked & didn't really think about it.

QRD -- Do you think you have trouble finding people you're that comfortable with?

Michael -- No, I've changed a lot in that way.

QRD --What do you feel your job is when you are acting as a producer & how do you accomplish it?

Michael -- To bring out the commitment to the performance by the artist & then to try to shape the cinematic view of the music. Even if the music is very sparse I try to get it cinematic in a way that the lyrics & sound invoke images. That's what I try to do. & the main thing I try to get at is to get people out of lazy habits & if they've been playing a piece long time & to re-examine what the material's really about. I've learned, at least a little, to not try to interject myself too much, I hope.

QRD --Which is more important, timing or tone?

Michael -- I don't know. I guess they're both important. This is a dumb question. it's like asking about the relative merits of salt & pepper.

QRD -- Do you think your art is more important than your personal happiness?

Michael -- Yeah. Of course. Anyway, they're one & the same.

QRD -- Why did you decide to do the solo cd?

Michael -- I just recorded a bunch of songs at home & I liked the way they sounded.

QRD -- So is it all 4-track?

Michael -- 4-track? It's just one microphone into a DAT machine. I just moved closer or further away to get my voice louder or quieter.

QRD -- What's your favorite effect unit?

Michael -- None. I don't use any anymore. I don't use anything. & when I'm recording I try to really avoid reverb. I make reverb by recording something & playing it back through an amp & moving a mic back away from it & it sounds like a hall or something. I don't think I've used delays or any of that shit in years.

QRD -- How has moving back to NYC helped & hurt you? It seems like it would be more financially effective to base Young God someplace less expensive.

Michael -- Yeah, but New York has this really competitive & cutthroat environment which is very healthy in certain ways. There's a lot more energy there & the quality of people you work with is more disciplined, not to say higher but more disciplined. So you get more done there because everybody is really working really hard & fighting to make things happen & I think that's good.

QRD -- Why do you do the digipaks for the first so many copies & then go to the jewel case?

Michael -- Because it's very expensive to do the digipaks. I want the music to remain available, & this is one way to do it.

QRD -- But you like the digipak that much?

Michael -- Oh, I like the digipak a lot. My first plan for how the re-issue series would be was that it would be sort of this library, a physical object with some weight to it that would last a long time & be the nail in the coffin. & then when they sell out you need to make the decision if you want to keep losing money or do you make it so you can make money.

QRD -- But then How I Loved You is just the regular digipak.

Michael -- Yeah, it's not the embossed cardboard. It's not that much more expensive to do a normal digipak. I just like the digipak; it's got more weight.

QRD --What's the first thing you look for in buying a new guitar?

Michael -- I haven't bought one in years. If they came with an instruction manual it would be a good thing. I hate my guitar. it shows me how weak I am, & it's like an emblem of my inadequacy.

QRD --What are you working on fiction wise & do you think you'll ever do another spoken word tour? Putting out the Somniliquist cd makes it seem like you might be thinking about it?

Michael -- I'd like to do it at some point, but I haven't had time to write fiction in a year because I just haven't had the time.

QRD --How do you feel zines compare to magazines & the internet? In what ways are they more & less effective?

Michael -- I think the internet is actually very much the way punk zines were in the day. That's the way I like to look at websites (our website -, they're not flashy, it's just information. It's a way to reach people without having to go through the regular music industry hype & bullshit. It's really great. That's why I put a lot of energy into it. It's a way to reach people without playing any games at all.

QRD -- Do you see any negative side to the internet versus the print zines? Michael -- No, not really.

QRD --What is your current biggest goal as a musician & songwriter & what do you feel was your last major accomplishment?

Michael -- I always think my major accomplishment is the recent songs I've been writing. What do I think is my next major goal? I really want to try to write longer narrative songs where the words are so good I can tell the story in the song for twenty minutes & it still be interesting & engaging. But words come harder & harder to me. In the end, I feel I've accomplished nothing - just an ongoing farce.

QRD -- Do you personally think How I Loved You is better than New Mother?

Michael -- I don't really compare them in that way. They're both terrible.

QRD – Anything else?

Michael – Good bye & thank you.