Michael Gira | Interview | Simon Netherwood

Michael Gira is one of music¹s true originals.

 He first surfaced as the leader of Swans, a band that started off pushing the envelope on noise and morphed into something beautiful, graceful and thoroughly dark with many disparate elements. After 15 years, he called it a day with Swans, bowing out with the final studio masterpiece ŒSoundtracks For The Blind¹. Since then, he¹s released solo acoustic albums, formed a new band Angels Of Light and delved into electronic experimentation as The Body Lovers and tapped a similar but darker vein with The Body Haters. He has also delved into book writing with the intense, mind-bending collection ŒThe Consumer¹. He also runs his own label Young God Records which he formed after Swans suffered some bad experiences with other labels. Autumn 2003 sees Michael making a rare UK appearance with a solo tour lined up with support from Devendra Banhart. We were lucky enough to get the chance to send him a few questions via e-mail. Here is the result:-

1. What can we expect at the forthcoming UK shows?

the shows are entirely solo acoustic. I¹ll be playing several new unrecorded songs, as well as material from angels of light albums already released, as well as re-worked versions of a few swans songs.

2. You've not been over for quite a while, do you like visiting England?

sure, I like England. it's cold, the people are colder, but I have a sentimental attachment to the place.

3. What are you working on at the moment? Is there an album on the way?

I¹m working on 2 new albums by Devendra Banhart. besides being one of the best songwriters I¹ve heard in years - a true original -he's also manically productive, writes one or two songs per day (on our last angels tour of the US, we were staying at a friend's house in suburban Seattle, drinking coffee on the back porch. we suddenly realized we hadn't seen Devendra in a few hours. we searched the entire house (including closets) and couldn't find him. finally, we looked out the front window, and there he was, sitting cross legged in the middle of the cul de sac in the bright sun, in a hippie poncho and wearing a headband, playing his guitar and singing, the neighbours peering fearfully out their windows in trepidation at this bizarre personage - ha ha!), he's written hundreds of songs in the past year, and in frustration we decided to record two albums simultaneously and release both next year, so it's an incredible amount of work. in between times, at my comparatively slow pace, I¹m writing new songs for an upcoming angels of light album, also to be released next year....

4. Are you going to release another book?

no plans. between trying to maintain my own musical career, running young god records, touring etc, I¹m stretched to the limit and have zero time for anything else...

5. Do you like J.G.Ballard? I think his books have an intensity that reminds me of your music.

my favourite books by him are Concrete Island and The Kindness of Women. Sure, I like him. I used to enjoy his almost clinical approach to violence. These days, I enjoy reading books by James Ellroy a little more though....

6. How much attention do you pay to popular culture?

I certainly don't study it with any seriousness, but like everyone, am bombarded with it to the point that it's inescapable, like air. various things from the media often pop up in my songs, inevitably. I recently wrote a song called "Michael¹s white hands", which was "inspired" by the Michael Jackson special on TV a while ago, wherein he unravelled publicly. somehow, I morphed him into sadam Hussein, a sort of new and terrible messiah.

7. What are your all-time favourite albums, the ones you keep coming back to?

Nick Drake - 5 leaves left; Bob Dylan - blood on the tracks; Howlin' Wolf box set; John Lennon's first plastic ono band record...

8. Who are your favourite writers?

right now, Primo Levy, Russel Banks, James Ellroy, and the American history writer Stephen Ambrose.

9. What are your present ambitions?

as always, to continue to make music.

10. What is your proudest achievement?

that I have survived