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Interview with Michael Gira of The Swans - conducted by Skot Kirkwood - Berbati's Pan, Portland, OR 1/13/97



Skot: Are you still based in New York?

Michael: No, Jarboe and I live in Atlanta now while the rest of the band lives in San Francisco.

Skot: The live line-up for this show looks very different from previous tours. I didn't know many of the people onstage.

Michael: Just about every tour is different. Our drummer, Larry, normally plays drums for Iggy Pop. He is a classically trained percussionist, although he plays rock drums for Iggy. Voudi plays with American Music Club which is a really sad, ambient, quiet project.

Skot: Over time the subject of your lyrics has changed from themes that included money, power, sex. What subjects are you writing about today?

Michael: It's hard to say although tonight I am playing a song in which I have sex with Jesus. However I tend to write about anything these days.

Skot: How did Jarboe first join the Swans?

Michael: She joined us in 1985. She was a fan who wrote me a lot of letters. Eventually she came to New York to interview me for a fan-zine in Georgia. We ended up getting along really great and she ended up touring with us as sort of a gopher/roadie type person. While on that tour she was constantly adamant about doing anything to play live with us. At the time we had just stopped using tape loops in favor of samplers which had just come onto the market so for the first year or so, she just played barrages of sound on the sampler. After I discovered that she was really trained as a vocalist, I started incorporating her voice into the Swans to help expand my own music.

Skot: How long had she been using her voice in music?

Michael: She has done everything from tape projects to choirs.

Skot: I know a Jarboe solo track appears on one of the Dry Lung compilations.

Michael: That was the kind of stuff she used to do. However she also used to sing in Holiday Inn cover bands to make money.

Skot: What is the difference between Swans, Skin, and World of Skin projects, musically speaking?

Michael: It depends, I just use other names to release a wide variety of projects that I am working on. Each project seems to carry along it's own history but I don't consciously know the difference between them.

Skot: Have you ever toured as anything but the Swans?

Michael: The tour is booked as Swans/World of Skin because we are performing music from both projects. We are thinking about doing a tour with just Larry, Voudi and I. I suppose that would be booked under the name Michael Gira for lack of a better choice.

Skot: Why did you change the name of the Skin project to World of Skin?

Michael: It was due to the fact that we got sued by a cover band in Boston that plays funk. Now, there is also another band in England to whom we sold the name Skin to in Europe. Ultimately it came down to being notified by a lawyer to change our name, so after messing around with the legal system we just decided to change the name of the project to the World of Skin.

Skot: Are there going be anymore World of Skin releases?

Michael: As of this moment, I don't know. Maybe.

Skot: Are you still having those notorious problems with record labels that you always seem to experience?

Michael: It is still going on. Every label that we have been on except Alternative Tentacles has caused problems. We really like Alternative Tentacles because they are very honest and have a great deal of integrity. I met Jello Biafra in 1978, so I trust him completely. I went with his label because he always follows through on his promises quite unlike everyone else we have dealt with. However I am not sure how well we will deal with what is effectively a punk label, and us not being a punk band.

Skot: Will "Burning World" ever be re-issued?

Michael: I hope not. However, I'd like to take a few songs from it and place them on future re-releases. It was an incredible mistake releasing that album through MCA, so we will see.

Skot: I noticed that unlike many other artists you still release your music on vinyl.

Michael: People seem to like buying our records on vinyl so as long as they continue to sell we will do so. The music does sound better in some ways on vinyl. It is definitely warmer. However as digital technology progresses, I'm sure that CD's will start to sound better.

Skot: I heard that Jarboe was a big fan of Whitehouse, is that true?

Michael: Yes she still is. I also like them.

Skot: What are you currently listening to that has influenced you?

Michael: I could not comment because I have not listened to much music outside of my own material in the past year. However there are people like PJ Harvey who have always impressed me whenever I hear their music. I also like the band who is opening for us tonight called Low. The have a very original, honest and soulful writing style that I enjoy.


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Last Modified: Monday, 24-Sep-2012 16:44:49 MST