Gira interview September 22, 1999
I guess pretty much everyone that’s ever read an issue of QRD knows that Michael Gira is essentially the artist I admire most. I guess he’s most famous for his band Swans, but he also writes & paints & he has two new musical projects called The Angels of Light & The Bodylovers. I was supposed to do this interview before a show, but there wasn’t time so this interview ended up being conducted by mail; which maybe makes it feel a little more formal & less in depth than a normal QRD interview....
QRD – would you say Swans accomplished what you wanted it to & what did you want it to?
Michael – I never had a concept I wanted to elucidate, just a sound I wanted to hear at a particular time & a series of images or stories I was obsessed with over the years (always changing); so I’d say it did accomplish what I wanted, which was to work.
QRD – how important do you think personal honesty is in art?
Michael – There are different types of honesty. Probably the most enduring is to excise comfort or habit.
QRD – which artform (music/visual/words) would you most like to be remembered for?
Michael – I have no delusions about being remembered for anything.
QRD – are there any myths about yourself that you’d like to put an end to or spread?
Michael – No.
QRD – what years of your life do you consider your glory days?
Michael – Probably the early days in NYC when, blissfully naive, I was superhuman.
QRD – if someone calls your music dark or sad, do you feel it’s a slanderous remark?
Michael – I suppose it is sad, but for different reasons than you’d expect.
QRD – is “Real Love” a true story?
Michael – No. A fantasy.
QRD – what’s the longest period of time to pass for you from a song’s conception/inspiration to composition musically & lyrically & which pieces were they?
Michael – Most of the songs & stories take forever. Nothing ever flows. Two exceptions, where the songs just wrote themselves without real effort, are “Failure” & recently, “My Suicide.”
QRD – where does your dissatisfaction with The Burning World come from – the performance, engineering, or just the promotion?
Michael – There’s a few good songs on it, but basically everything is wrong with it.
QRD – what was behind you writing “Confusion is Next” for Sonic Youth?
Michael – I wrote the words to “The World Looks Red,” not “Confusion is Next.” Sonic Youth was rehearsing at my place & Thurston saw them sitting on my desk & asked if he could use them. Since I couldn’t see myself singing those words, I said yes.
QRD – if you could play all the instruments you use in your recordings proficiently, would you still want to use other musicians in the studio?
Michael – No. I rely on the personal nuance that the other musicians bring to my songs.
QRD – what instrument would you most like to learn to play?
Michael – I don’t really care about mastering any instrument. I just play guitar, a little, as a convenience, a way to make something else happen.
QRD – do you think early Swans was a continuation of the no-wave movement?
Michael – In a way, yes, in that Swans used sound & rhythm as raw material; though I saw it more related to the Stooges, but equally to Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, & early Pink Floyd, at the time.
QRD – what musicians would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?
Michael – Leonard Cohen, I’d love to produce an album of his.
QRD – do you think television has destroyed or created american culture?
Michael – Television’s just the first step towards our living completely in the abstract, completely ersatz.
QRD – was the Angels of Light tank top a reference to the domestic violence issues in some of the songs?
Michael – None of my songs have “issues” -- I’m not a school teacher.
QRD – what would have to happen for you to become more prolific?
Michael – I work too hard already.
QRD – you’ve recently started releasing material by other bands on Young God Records, how large would you like Young God Records to be?
Michael – This year we’re starting to release a lot more music. You’ll see it as it comes out. I just choose music that has a personal urgency (& originality), that has a commitment & resonance. If the label succeeds because of that, fine.
QRD – when & why did you start using alternative tunings for guitar?
Michael – A long time ago, because it’s easier to play with an open tuning.
QRD – anything else you’d like people to know?
Michael – No.
QRD – what are some bands you think are under appreciated?
Michael – Low. Their music is utterly,