Since 1982 - with a break between 1997 and 2010 - Michael Gira and his band SWANS stand for experimental noise rock at deafening volumes. But on the 15th studio album "Leaving Meaning" the 65-year-old suddenly strikes a very quiet, restrained note - a change of heart for which he has a simple explanation.
He is not an easy guy: Michael Gira was a construction worker, drug dealer, jailbird, apprentice in a German tool factory and one of the leading heads of the New York underground rock scene. While many contemporaries like Sonic Youth are now history, he is still active with his project, has made a name for himself as a producer, author and manager of his own label Young Gods Records, is still a workaholic and artist in personal union even in retirement age. One who gets up at six every morning to be as productive as possible, hates interviews and, despite an exciting CV, would never think of writing his autobiography. The latest Swans movement, with which he makes a stylistic 180-degree change, comes as a surprise to many. As Gira explains right at the beginning of the interview, this is based on a simple misunderstanding.
eclipsed: A lot of people thought you buried the Swans with the last album. This is obviously not the case. Did they misunderstand you?
Michael Gira: You could say that. (laughs) That's what happens when you just read the headlines of some Internet news stories where things are just taken out of context. My intention was to dissolve the second incarnation of the band, which had emerged from 2010 onwards, in order to turn the Swans into a pure project instead - a group that is constantly reassembling itself anew for each album, so that other musicians are constantly coming into play. On this album not only many new people but also former members join in. It's just not a tight band anymore.
eclipsed: What made you do it - did you feel restricted in your artistic freedom?
Gira: No, I was always something like the circus director at the Swans, no matter who I worked with. But in the past, the Swans were really a band, one that did a lot collectively and spent several hundred days together every year - over a period of almost eight years. As with any marriage or friendship, at some point you reach a point where you have enough of each other. I mean, it wasn't that we couldn't stand each other any more, we rather had the feeling that there wasn't much more to come. So I made the decision to put an end to it.
eclipsed: And that has given you the opportunity to work with Anna and Maria von Hausswolff, The Necks, Ben Frost or even Baby Dee.
Gira: I'm not only an artist but also a producer, and as such I gather musicians around me who can adequately realize my material. With Anna and Maria it was that I had exact ideas about what I wanted from them, namely the timbre of their voices. So they came to Berlin for a day, where I recorded, and sang for me, which I found very nice. As for Ben Frost, I flew to Iceland where he has his studio, and I asked him, "What could you do with this?" He offered me some things I didn't like. And then he tried something that worked.