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Michael 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, heartwrenchingly, beautiful.