Michael Gira rebooted New York-based experimental rock band Swans in 2010 after a 13-year hiatus
Michael Gira rebooted New York-based experimental rock band Swans in 2010 after a 13-year hiatus

When the Reader music staff heard that Swans were coming back to town—their second visit since re-forming in 2010 after a 13-year hiatus—our first thought was to set up an Artist on Artist with front man Michael Gira and local man-about-the-metal-scene Bruce Lamont, who fronts Yakuza and Bloodiest, maintains a solo project, and plays Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin 2. As Monica Kendrick put it in advance of last fall’s Swans show, Gira and his band “operate on an apocalyptic scale that’s all their own: equally huge whether they’re whispering or thundering, they sound like holy ecstasy and divine wrath, delivered in the same bolt from on high.” Yakuza likewise do distinctive things with progressive metal, adding influences like jazz and Middle Eastern music. Both Gira and Lamont balance cerebral experimentation with aggressive and even intimidating performance styles, and they share a reputation for being outspoken offstage as well.

Chicago singer/saxophonist Bruce Lamont fronts long-running avant-garde metal act Yakuza
Chicago singer/saxophonist Bruce Lamont fronts long-running avant-garde metal act YakuzaCredit: Chris Roo

The two men turned out to have met several years before we set up this interview—and then Swans and Yakuza played the same day at this year’s Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands. At the show they got into a discussion about the state of the music industry and how hard it is to sell records these days—which ended with Lamont basically telling Gira to suck it up and deal. And thus a friendship bloomed. Swans play Thu 9/22 at Bottom Lounge. —Miles Raymer

You doing some new material on this tour? Oh yeah. There’s a couple songs from the last Swans album, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, then there’s two or three . . . I don’t know if they’re songs; they’re events. They kind of last a long time, so I don’t know if I should call them songs. We’re doing this one song called “The Apostate” that’s usually 30 minutes long. They’re just waves of sound that keep growing. “Apostate” has a strange groove, actually. Anyway, [there will be] a lot of new music. We’re more interested in doing new stuff.

Have you recorded any of this new stuff? Yeah, we’re working on an album right now. We were just in Berlin, recording these songs we’ve been playing live. It’ll probably be out in March, April, something like that.

Same lineup as My Father? Same basic lineup, but lots of different guests. I just was really pleased that Al [Sparhawk] and Mimi [Parker] from Low agreed to sing on the record.

Oh, really? I love Low. Yeah, Low is my favorite rock-related group. They’re not really rock; I look at them as prairie-gospel music. I was just totally floored they agreed, I’m really inspired by that. I’ve got a lot of other guests; some of them I can’t mention yet because it’s not 100 percent confirmed. [Drummer] Bill Rieflin (R.E.M., Ministry) is playing on the record again; he’s a really great contributor.

I met a bunch of the guys at Roadburn. I ended up talking to [Swans members] Christoph [Hahn] and Thor [Harris] and playing foosball with Norman [Westberg] for a minute. They’re quite a cast of characters. You see all these different personalities come together in a band. It’s inspiring. I was really elated that it worked out. I had no idea if it was gonna, because the first time we got together in the same room was when we started recording the last album. It was a little terrifying for me, but we all got along great. The way we recorded that album was we took one song and played it over and over for like ten or twelve hours. So it’d just groove and groove and groove. It became something that was unique to that group of people. And then we recorded it once it reached a high point.

The song “Jim” is by far my favorite on the record. It’s so fuckin’ amazing. I mean the pacing of it, you just hang on every note, every word. And lyrically—”Ride your mechanical beast to heaven / Ride your beautiful bitch to the ultimate sin”—that’s just as fuckin’ powerful as punching a hole through the universe. So thanks for that. You bet. Yeah, that song came pretty natural. I did a version on this homemade CD that helped raise money for the record that didn’t have that groove—it was more like an art song. When it got a group involved, it had to have some kind of central core. A lot of the songs now are focusing on that. We try to find grooves, you know?

I was watching stuff on YouTube and saw a completely different version of “Eden Prison,” or at least the first half. Live you did it differently. I didn’t want to play it the way it was on the record. We started to, and it sounded good, but it started to sound too much like heavy rock. I want to avoid that. In the end, I stripped it down and sang the verses, just me and the guitar. The band comes in for the apocalypse in the middle.

I’ll probably get one more record out of you and then that’s it, right? I’m doing songs for the foreseeable future. As long as I don’t drop.

Well, don’t drop. I like what you’re doing. Well, it’s inevitable, isn’t it? But I’ll keep going.