How does it feel to be doing Swans again?
It feels great. I feel cleansed. I also feel pretty.
You've said that part of doing Swans again was wanting to do it while you still physically can, so how's the experience of the live show been for you?
Oh the energy is incredibly intense right now. It's pretty overwhelming. As it should be, it's soul-uplifting and body-destroying, so I'm really enjoying it. It's physically exhausting but it feels great, and I hope it's the same for the audience.
What is Swans like for you as a personal experience and what is it like sharing it with those guys now? How has the dynamic changed?
It was a decision that was a long time coming to revivify Swans. I had been doing this band Angels of Light for thirteen years, and I had reached a kind of impassivity with that, sorta like I had reached an impassivity with Swans when I initially stopped it. I had written a series of songs over the last three years and I was getting ready to record them and was thinking about how to orchestrate them, and how to record them in the way that I do with Angels of Light. I was pointedly underwhelmed by the process. You know, with Angels of Light I would go in with an acoustic guitar and record these basic songs and then I would orchestrate on top of that, and it just didn't really excite me. So I kinda looked at the songs and I thought 'Well I have these songs and I've been thinking about wanting to do very, kinda grand, large sounds again that overwhelmed you and lead you to another place, like Swans.'
So why not just start Swans? So I took these songs, and I sent them to my cohorts. They learnt the basic structure, and then we went into a studio for twelve hours a day and played one song per day. It just grew slowly into something that I feel merits the name Swans. Some of them are, you know, obviously intense, others are more subtle. But I feel it works as a Swans record. It's also a transitional record if you look at it from Angels into Swans.
The next Swans record I think will focus more on what I discovered in this record that seems interesting to me, which is the long instrumental sections. I think I'm gonna start the next record with that idea in mind, rather than a series of discrete songs.
On how it is to play with these people: this is a really, really great band. Just a fantastic band and group of people to play with. Live, it's a formidable beast. It's certainly bigger than ourselves, it leaves us spent at the end of the evening, as well as the audience I think. Which is how it should be.
You said that you're not that bothered about what people expect from a Swans record, or what they expected from you reviving the project. But, what do you expect from Swans?
Well, the only thing I look for is something that is true, authentic and penetrating. I don't have any particular allegiance to a style or sound. It's more to do with the thread of probing, of looking for what's inside. I think that's about as specific as I can be. I mentioned the stylistic intent for the next record, which of course could change entirely when I start doing it [laughs]. But right now we're developing it live: some of the songs that were on the album, live they're about twenty minutes long. There's like three twenty-minute long songs and then another three or four shorter songs. Some of these sections, I think are gonna be fodder, something in our minds for the future record.
You mentioned that what's really interesting you now is the long instrumental sections, is there maybe a frustration with the vocal or the lyric now?
Well yeah, I am definitely reaching a point where writer's block is a big problem. But it's also a matter of time, you know: I run a record label; I produce other people's music; I try to write songs; I tour. I do all these things, and to be a successful writer you really need to be able to sit down and have time by yourself, which I almost never have now. That's not an excuse, I'm just saying that's one reason why words have become more and more difficult for me to come up with. Also, when I write something I realise that it's kinda often something I've said before, or that I've said in a similar way. So you have to excise that and make a breakthrough. I don't know, maybe I need a religious experience or something. Whereas the music itself to me is, like I say, a sort of religious experience. It's really all consuming, and it kinda reaches an epiphany at times, and it's what I live for. So I'm happy to do that.
You mention repeating yourself with words, but that's interesting, because, for me, I think with some aspects of Swans repetition instrumentally is actually where some of the power comes from. Repetition, but with a modulation on the intensity or whatever.
Oh yeah! Well, of course. When you sit down to try to write and you realise that you've said that before - that's obviously no good. Repetition of sound, now that's something that I find utterly invigorating. But it doesn't mean that it stays exactly the same. It shifts over time. We find that when we play live, for instance, we may be playing the same chord or two chords over and over. But you find life in it in different ways every time we pound it down and new overtones are created. Just the experience of the physicality of making it happen feeds into it. Often, with how hot it is inside the room, and with the humidity in the room, it just continues to grow and expand. I've been doing this thing right now, where I have the club turn off the air-conditioner so it gets very, very hot in the room [laughs]. Much to the alarm of the audience members sometimes. It gets very hot, really sweaty. But it's almost like being in a kind of ritual Indian sweat-lodge or something, you know. Just working it out. For me it's very pleasurable. I mean, our clothes are completely soaked by the second song, but I enjoy it.
Is it ever difficult to translate one from the studio to the stage or from the stage to the studio?
We don't translate, I don't worry about translating. Every iteration of a song is different, it has to be. I mean, the recorded version is just one version. It's the version that you ended up with after working on recording it and overdubbing it and singing it and then mixing it. That's one version. Then the live version becomes something else completely - it has to. Otherwise it would just be like you were up there just like a parrot. So you gotta wring the blood out of it and find new life in it. We try to do that every night, so that already the songs have changed from how they were when we did our first show. They're already growing and expanding into something new from when we started the first show, like seven days ago.