In addition, Gira pulled in The Necks, who played some shows with Swans when they toured Australia, for more ambient jazz vibrations. “They create these amazing fields of sound that’s tremendous improvisational music,” he says. “It’s not like the herky-jerky improv you would expect with some jazz. It’s very trance … To me, it’s like having The Beatles on my record. I mean, of contemporary musicians, they are definitely my favorites.”
To help fund the album, Gira produced an alternate version of the songs on acoustic guitar. They were released through the independent record label he formed in 1990, Young God Records, which also houses Swans, his solo projects and indie artists like Devendra Banhart and Windsor for the Derby. When people aren’t buying music like they used to, he says bands need to figure out ways to survive. “I come from a punk rock background, which to me doesn’t mean the music,” says Gira. “It’s more about the attitude and doing things for yourself. So I started making handmade CDs and started doing fundraisers so I could have a music budget to record the way I wanted.”
Leaving Meaning is a cacophony of filth, beauty, lust, disgust, the spiritual and everything in between, drifting open with instrumental “Hums” and a more monotone “Annaline” before all hell breaks loose in the 10-minute twisted, mystical diatribe “The Hanging Man,” where Gira prods, “Healer, heal my lust … Write it on the sky/These stars reveal the lie,” and fills it in with sporadic barks of “I am not!”
Swans rarely revisits past songs, yet “Amnesia,” which was first released on 1992’s Love of Life, reappears on Leaving Meaning. Far from the levitous tone of the original, this iteration goes deeper, becoming a near-Gregorian chant, while still preserving lyrics like “There’s no room here left for the strong/And everything human is necessarily wrong” and “The president’s mouth is a whore.”
There’s additional chanting on “Sunfucker,” backed with sinister chiming and both the von Hausswolffs’ shrieks, plus more doom and gloom on “Cathedrals of Heaven” and 12 minutes of dismal piano and creepy crooning by guest vocalist Baby Dee in “The Nub.” “My Phantom Limb,” an obsessive diatribe of love, sex (and perhaps something murkier), is one of the longer tracks; Gira says it will make the live set. “It’s almost kind of like one of those super-long Dylan songs where there’s like 2 million words,” he observes. “I’m going to persist with it, and maybe midway through the next tour I’ll get it right.
Speaking of live, Gira is incorporating unrecorded material and only a handful of Leaving Meaning’s 12 tracks -- only they won’t sound anything like the album. Onstage, the band (comprising former Swans Pravdica, Phil Puleo and Kristof Hahn, along with Frost and Angels of Light’s Dana Schechter) also will be seated. “It’s going to be long, involving sounds, not much crashing and bashing,” says Gira, who admits that he’s hard of hearing from decades of performing without earplugs. “I’m kind of done with that. I don’t know how to describe it, but this new mutation is kind of unique.”
And he’s already thinking ahead to a 16th Swans album. When he plays a song on acoustic and the choruses resonate against his belly, it evokes something, a color. “It’s just intuitive,” says Gira. “That’s just the way I am. I’m not a trained musician, so I work by intuition.” He adds, “I actually have a sound in my head for the next version. It’s just a color or something. I’m not sure who’s going to fill that in yet.”