[SINGER-SONGWRITER-BLEEDER] Watching footage of Michael Gira fronting the earliest incarnation of his band Swans, you almost expect him to either self-immolate onstage or spontaneously combust. Such was the fury and intensity that went into his physical performances and the crunch of his band’s industrialized minimalist rock.
While the sound of Gira’s music has changed considerably since the first Swans release back in 1982, the ferocity of his performance hasn’t disappeared. Even when it’s simply him and an acoustic guitar—as will be the case on Friday at Mississippi Studios—the effect of his resonant vocals and unflinchingly direct lyrics (“When I look in the mirror/ I feel dead, I feel cold/ I am blind,” goes the song “Blind” from his ’95 solo release Drainland) is still riveting.
“It’s just as intense for me,” Gira says from his home in upstate New York. “I throw absolutely everything into my performances. But I feel like that’s my job.”
Gira tends to approach most of his creative endeavors with that same immersive and workmanlike mentality. Once he gets off the phone with me, he says, he’s back to rehearsing the chosen set of songs for his slate of West Coast performances and an upcoming European tour. In between practice sessions, he is hand printing the artwork for a limited edition live CD/DVD documenting the recent tour by a (as he puts it) “revivified” Swans, as well as putting the finishing touches on a new Swans studio album to be released in late summer.
“I’ve learned over the years that to make a living as a working musician, I’ve got to do 20 things at once,” he says. “There’s never any time off, that’s for sure.”
To that end, this quick jaunt through the Northwest and California was booked for purely utilitarian reasons: Gira simply had a break between the Swans sessions and the European dates. Once he gets home from his last solo date in Switzerland, he’s back into rehearsals for another Swans tour.
One has to wonder just how long Gira can keep up the pace, though. He turned 58 in February and has a young daughter at home to fuss over. But in speaking to Gira, as frustrated as he gets about not being able to simply relax with a book or do some writing, there’s never a sense he regrets all the energy he is expending on his creative life. In fact, he insists that he plans to keep on making music until he physically can’t do it anymore.
“When I regrouped
Swans, I thought maybe I would keep going for five years,” he says with
some gravity. “I feel now that this is what I want to do. What I was put
on Earth to do is make this music. So, I’m going to push it until
there’s no blood left in it.”
SEE IT: Michael Gira plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., on Friday, March 23. 9 pm. $15. 21+.