Writing About Swans, Jarboe and Michael Gira

I’m waiting now for the first hardcopy of “Sacrifice And Transcendence” to arrive in my hands. Swans are one of my ‘holy trinity’, the ur-texts where my taste really began: Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Swans. What spans my interests from age 18 to now, age 38, is the appeal – to me – of outsider artists, of people who chose to do something with no real hint that there was a reward beyond the experience and the self-expression. Of course, what now fascinates me is the individuals who manage to sustain their level of creativity and wide-ranging curiosity way beyond the point when most humans have given up on ‘the shock of the new’ and are, instead, mostly administering lives already set in stone.

For music famed for its use of mantras and cycles of sound, the lack of repetition across Swans’ albums draws me back to the music across all these years. From 1982-1997 – the original run of Swans prior to disbandment – the band’s sound would shift on nearly every release. EP-Filth-Young God-Cop-Greed-Holy Money-Children Of God-The Burning World-White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity-Love Of Life-The Great Annihilator-Soundtracks For The Blind: the level of evolution and growth displayed is extraordinary. More importantly, few other artists have managed to extend such a lengthy spell without going over old ground, making changes that sound gimmicky or ‘put on’, losing the sense that it truly matter in a “bet your life?” way. Even after all these years every one of their releases stands up to scrutiny.

It’s impossible to speak of ‘the Swans sound’ in many ways given that sheer variety: you might love the early Swans grind, or maybe the cinematic expanses of the early nineties is your Swans. Perhaps the in-the-room Americana of The Burning World hooks you, or you could prefer the ambient wash of Soundtracks For The Blind. Whatever. They’re all amazing albums. And what it took to bring them into this world: the era of indie labels meant no money for anyone ever – it was hard enough to get music out there in the first place and to claw one’s way up onto a respected indie…But Swans wound up fully independent: owning and paying for every aspect of the band’s music whether live or recorded. That’s no small feat: to not just stay afloat or continue to make music, but to continue to push forward, make advances, retain the level of acclaim and devotion that Swans earned.

SWANS cover only

The return of Swans in 2010 could have been a disaster – no doubt. But whatever strange alchemy exists within this entity remained. The first album, My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky, was masterful and – from any other band – would have been a career high. For Swans it feels, in retrospect, like a throat clearing (albeit an impressive one) prior to the absolute statement that was The Seer and the subsequent two volumes – To Be Kind and The Glowing Man – that make up an unofficial but acknowledged trilogy. It’s the first period of Swans’ entire career where a certain unified sound stuck around long enough to be honed, perfected and taken to it’s limits.

I’m simply stunned no one chose to wrote about this band before. Music that stands the test of time. A commitment to the art that goes far beyond normal drive and determination. A sound that has influenced or ignited numerous sub-genres of rock and metal that we take for granted today – while remaining a singular and solitary entity, never part of a scene. To even be one of the few bands that returned in the mid-to-late-2000s without milking nostalgia and/or disappointing on record would have been exceptional enough – but Swans went to create music that stands shoulder to shoulder with earlier peaks. I wouldn’t want to devote nights and weekends to work without passion…It requires a subject worth being passionate about. Swans is a unique concept and a singular entity in the world of music. How could I not want the people who were part of the band to tell me how it all came about and how it felt to make it?





One thought on “Writing About Swans, Jarboe and Michael Gira”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s