Bazillion Points Years in…
- Posted on Jan 14th 2013 3:40PM by Rob Rubsam
Dennis Van Doorn
This live experience proves vital to the band, in many ways. It's the space where new songs are beaten out until they take their recorded forms, then twisted and stretched all over again, sometimes past the hour mark for a single song. It's where the band makes enough income to maintain itself as a self-sustaining entity. And it's the place where a newfound appreciation for Swans and its music has taken its most obvious foothold. "A lot of Swans' previous tenure was pretty confrontational with audiences," notes Gira, "but now it's almost a shared communal experience between the audience and us, it's that the music is playing us, not the reverse, and we're all inside it together." The results, in his words, are "ecstatic" and "transcendent."
And then there's The Seer itself, a nearly two-hour-long mash of drones, violent percussion, sound collages and country twang. It doesn't seem written so much as conjured, and while Gira defines his role as a bandleader, coaxing new sounds out of his bandmates, a better description would be one once applied to Townes Van Zandt: A gentleman and a shaman. Some songs "started out as grooves that developed into something else, and we just started playing them in front of an audience ... and from the beginning of the tour till the end, it's completely different, and we just recorded [The Seer] at the end of the last tour."
Others, like the more serene "Song for a Warrior" and "The Daughter Brings the Water," were written alone by Gira on acoustic guitar before Swans came in and, with his suggestions, recorded parts around him. He describes it as a "guide thing," where the band moves in certain directions, and if it doesn't quite reach the "aesthetic" of the song, however Gira defines it, he will maneuver them until the goal is reached, at least for that moment.
According to a lot of people, it works spectacularly. The Seer has been showing up on all kinds of year-end lists from indie-rock bastions like Pitchfork and the A.V. Club to magazines like Time, who don't seem to be in the market for physically upsetting music collages and pummeling drums. One reason for this is that the album works against nostalgia; you don't have to be a big fan of any previous incarnation of Swans to appreciate the violent intensity of The Seer.
This all seems to mean very little to Gira. "If you want to remain a viable artist that keeps making interesting work, you can't let that kind of thing get to your head because you become a parody of yourself," he says. So then why does he do it? "I'm an artist, I guess, but it's born from a personal necessity to make something that feels like it's ripping a hole in the sky, you know, so just go for what seems to be the most urgent sonic statement I can."
That statement can be by turns joyous, violent, bleak, ecstatic or everything all at once, but always seeking to transcend. "Music can be transcendent, it can also be just narrative or simple, but I guess I gravitate toward the transcendent."