News Column

Swans Frontman: 'I'm Just a Guy Who Makes Noise'

May 31, 2013

Edwin Gilson

By Michael GIRA

ith his oftdonned WStetson, rugged features and thousand-yard stare, Swans frontman Michael Gira resembles the haunted protagonist of a typical Western film. He looks like he's seen things. That Swans have albums grimly entitled 'The Burning World' and 'The Great Annihilator' would appear to support this sentiment.

For this New York art-rock group, formed in 1983, intensity is the key. Loudness is simply vital to their live shows, a factor that shocked and even appalled some punters in the 80s, before audiences wised up. Thirty years on, we know what to expect; a ferocious, ambitious collective that makes My Bloody Valentine sound like Two Door Cinema Club.

Rumour has it the band used to play at such an unbearable volume in their early days that members would regularly vomit and police intervene, though Gira denies this.

"That's just a myth fabricated by the British press, with all due respect," says the 59 year-old. "I mean sure, the show is loud, but it has to be loud for the music to work."

Despite being bracketed in with the short-lived New York 'No Wave' cultural scene, a rebellious reaction against the perceived commercialism of the original 'new wave' music movement, Gira insists Swans, whilst "heavily influenced by that whole thing" are, and have always been, simply a 'rock band'. His next statement though reflects both the fact that Swans are no average guitar group, and that the singer knows it.

"I think of our music as a religious experience. I wouldn't say it was aggressive like punk rock is though."

It undoubtedly takes a certain type of music lover to appreciate a Swans performance, given that their sets can last up to three hours with only a few songs being played. Attendees of their gig at Limelight 2 in Belfast on August 14 must display great patience as well as an appreciation of the kind of relentless, unforgiving soundscapes mastered by other 80s groups with noise-rock tendencies, like Sonic Youth, whose singer Thurston Moore Swans have previously played with. Moore's gang never reached the downright terrifying level of Swans' lengthy last album 'The Seer' though; at times it feels as though the repetitive, sledgehammer grooves are on the verge of inflicting physical pain. Fittingly, the band's drummer is called Thor.

Gira however, in typically forward thinking (or perverse) fashion, claims that that record is far behind him despite it being less than a year old.

"I'm not concerned about past albums, I'm always looking ahead," he asserts. "Our set-list for the next tour comprises all new songs; nobody's heard them yet."

Perhaps the band haven't even heard them yet; improvisation is an integral part of Swans' manifesto and Gira is fond of dropping lines into interviews like: "it's more like the music is playing us than us playing it".

"I do everything in music, whether it be performing with the band or running my record label," says Gira, "the same way as I did my old construction job."

Not many people can legitimately claim to have been a builder and a record label boss in a lifetime, but the singer is evidently the type of character that puts his heart and soul into every venture he embarks on, no matter what end of the professional scale. There is a hint of weariness in his voice though when he dwells on the threat of illegal downloading to the wellbeing of his label, Young God Records. "Obviously it's hard when you have things like file- sharing about, but we get by."

Weirdly though, Swans may be one of the few bands not to be overly affected by online piracy. The group's followers are an immensely loyal bunch, willingly buying records and trawling to gigs.

Swans have lived through too many fleeting movements, scenes and crazes to be deterred from their overriding mission; to challenge listeners by pushing sonic boundaries.

"I don't know if I'm a musician or an artist or anything like that.

I'm just a guy that makes noise."

Swans play at Limelight 2 in Belfast on August 14

Originally published by Michael GIRA.

(c) 2013 Belfast Telegraph. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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