Michael Gira takes exception to some of the things written about his music with the group Swans.
"The typical writer says it's dark or somehow depressing," says Gira. "But I don't look at it that way. It's just the work I do. I look at the whole experience as being quite elevating and joyous. It's not Lady Gaga, not that I would disparage her. She's great. But it has a lot of different aspects to it. There's just a knee-jerk reaction from what people have read. But I look at the concerts as ecstasy."
Swans' new album, "The Seer," is a two-disc opus. In all honesty, "dark," "murky" and "brutal" are pretty natural adjectives for some of the music on it. However, tracks including the title cut (which stretches 32 minutes) are filled with a sense of adventurousness and odd beauty that they're hard to dismiss as "depressing."
Gira says he didn't put time restraints on songs on the new album.
"I had no idea what the format would be. Whether it would be digital-only or six LPs. I wasn't going to pay any attention to that. Songs like 'The Seer,' it just felt right. I was tempted to cut it short, but I'm glad I didn't."
Gira grew up in Los Angeles and was a teenager during one of the most fertile periods of rock music. He says he was sucked in by the sounds of Phil Spector's early productions and the Beach Boys.
"But when I really started to get lost in music was with Cream, those two first albums are beautiful, and The Doors' 'When the Music's Over' and that stuff. I was doing the nefarious things that teenagers do to that music and it led me to new places. It's pretty immersive. And the Mothers of Invention. I listened to 'Freak Out,' 'Absolutely Free' and 'We're Only In It for the Money' constantly. (Mothers' leader Frank Zappa) was pretty illuminated back then. It was more or at least as upsetting as punk rock was later. It was really an affront to people. I thought their social commentary was great."
Gira started Swans in the early 1980s after performing with a number of other groups. Swans' music has been called "metal in slow motion" and, in concert, was delivered at a deafening volume. The band members changed often through the years with Gira always at the group's core.
The band recorded 10 albums before Gira halted the act in 1997. In the following years, he formed the mostly acoustic act Angels of Light and worked at producing acts for his own label, Young God Records. In 2010, he revived Swans, recorded the album "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky" and took the group on an international tour. When the tour reached Berlin, the band took 10 days to record songs that had been composed on tour, which would become core tracks on "The Seer."
"I would give rhythms to the band and basic chord structure and we'd just start hashing it out, generally in front of audiences," says Gira. "We'd just play and see what happened. We'd play them and then go into other songs. By the time we reached Berlin they were in such a state that I felt they were ready to record. "
The rest of the songs were written on acoustic guitar and Gira began recording them at a studio in upstate New York the day after the tour ended.
"The songs that we're playing live now, they're changing quite a bit. They're not replications of what we've recorded. They're starting to morph. It's just kind of necessary for us to feel connected to the music we make ... I can't imagine Miles Davis trying to replicate his records. That would be absurd."
Three new pieces have been added to the current show. Concerts are typically running more than two hours.
"We aren't doing encores for that reason," says Gira. "It's quite a work-out. Everybody is pretty much spent afterwards."
With: A Hawk and a Hacksaw
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Valarium, 112 Ramsey St.
Tickets: $15, advance, $20, at the door, available at www.thepilotlight.com
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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