Michael Gira details Swans’ “valedictory” new album

"It sounds like the musical equivalent of Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur coupled with Kursawa's Ran"


Photo by Philip Cosores

Michael Gira has promised that the next album from Swans will be their last, though he qualified that statement by saying it’s only the end “for this version/iteration” of the band. In a new interview, Gira has detailed how progress on the record is coming, and what fans can expect from the sound.

“It is epic,” he said of the album he described as “Ben-Hur coupled with Kurosawa’s Ran.” “One piece has 240 separate tracks. But there are also a lot of delicate moments. There’s a lot of orchestration — strings, horns, female singers. But no bagpipes this time [as there were on 2012 album The Seer]. The longest pieces is 28 minutes, and there are a couple that are 22, 23.”

Speaking of female singers, the new record doesn’t feature guests of the stature of The Seer’s Karen O or To Be Kind’s St. Vincent, but there is at least one unexpected female voice. “My wife Jennifer sings one of the central tracks,” Gira revealed. “She’s not an aspiring musician but she happens to be able to sing well and I wrote a song specifically for her.”

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The album began much like it predecessor, 2014’s To Be Kind, with producer/engineer John Congleton working with the band at Texas’ Sonic Ranch studio. Gira then put in some work in Dallas before going to Soundgarden’s studio in Seattle with Bill Rieflin. Rieflin is known for playing drums in bands like Revolting Cocks, R.E.M., and King Crimson, as well as contributing to Swans since 1996. “Bill played pretty much any instrument you can imagine — piano, mellotron, drums, bass, singing.”

All that work has led to an album that is, in Gira’s words, “more detailed and nuanced” than Swans’ recent output. “There are some very pretty, idyllic things, in among the cataclysm. I invest everything I have in trying to make sure it’s the best record ever made,” he said with a laugh. “Then it takes time later to realize if I’ve failed.”

Whether or not he succeeds in his mission, this “final” album isn’t really the end of Swans. Gira will continue to occasionally use the Swans name and plans on working with members of the current lineup in the future. “The album is valedictory just because the music itself is valedictory,” he explained. “Every album is kind of always the last one. It’s always the most important thing you could ever do.”

Currently untitled, the record is set for a June 17th release.