100 Musicians Answer the Same 10 Questions
Part Nineteen: Michael Gira
instigated by dave heaton
Simply put, Michael Gira is a significant force in the world of independent, unconventional music. It's not only because his record label Young God Records has taken the admirable route of releasing intense, exciting music that has nothing to do with trends or fashion -- and pretty much introduced the world to Devendra Banhart, Calla, Akron/Family, Mi & L'au, and others. It's also, of course, because of the legacy of his former band Swans (1982-1997)… and ignore to your own peril the music he's making nowadays as Angels of Light, most recently on a split album with Akron/Family and on the fantastic The Angels of Light Sing 'Other People'. Much of that stark, involving, dark, haunting music is to my ears the best that he's made yet, standing out in today's musical landscape as well. Song samples can be heard on the Young God website.
What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?
It doesn't excite me at all presently. It's like wresting with a huge and overgrown, retarded child, that keeps biting my neck, trying to devour my larynx. I feel that once I kill this ugly thing, more good music will result....
What aspect of making music gets you the most discouraged?
The fact that I know that no one will listen...
What are you up to right now, music-wise? (Current or upcoming recordings, tours, extravaganzas, experiments, top-secret projects, etc).
I'm writing new songs for a new Angels of Light recording.
What's the most unusual place you've ever played a show or made a recording? How did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?
I once went to a bank, in order to try to get a loan for a house. For some reason I had my guitar with me. Everyone was embarrassed, because it was obvious my quest was futile. I was sweating, and I felt greasy and dirty in the sterile office. I took out my guitar and played a song for these horrible, puffy-haired, fake-tanned bank type people, in hopes of convincing them I was worthy of a loan. I sang completely and painfully out of tune, because I was so nervous. The words to the song were really creepy in context, anyway. Complete silence. No loan. I shuffled out of there like a wet dog.
In what ways does the place where you live (or places where you have lived), affect the music you create, or your taste in music?
I stay in my room, wherever I am, so no effect whatsoever.
When was the last time you wrote a song? What can you tell us about it?
I wrote a song today. It's about the guy that actually writes my songs. His name is Joseph. Here's how it goes:
He writes these words upon your skin, but you turn your head away from him / There's always things that can't be said, but Joseph holds the key to them
There was a place where a child did sleep, and he rose up from his bed in dreams / He drifted above the shrouded lake and he rode the sky that Joseph paints.
He writes these songs upon your tongue, but it's time to pay for what you've done / Your scattered hopes and unpaid debts are all catalogued in Joseph's head
He'll scratch upon this dusty stage the history of your wasted days / Your broken feet your crumbling teeth your greedy eyes your draining heat
Now Joseph's drugged here at your side just waiting for your breath of life / But how can you sing what you know to be fake? You will never wash Joseph's mouth off your face
Joseph lives in your hands and your eyes, Joseph writes every word every line / So where is he now that he's turned your back? Well he lives in the light that your sight now lacks
Joseph has seen what you know to be true and Joseph once taught you what to do or not do / But your face is changing from bruised to blue: Joseph's hand is on your throat: he is killing you
Sing in silence or scream alone, look in the mirror at a face that is gone / Persist or give up, go to sleep / don't wake up, climb the heap to the top, let your talent rot, start a new fight / lose your mind - none of it matters, let your eyes go blind: Joseph will be here -- til the end of time.
So let the water run cold, let it flow....
As you create more music, do you find yourself getting more or less interested in seeking out and listening to new music made by other people...and why do you think that is?
I am definitely less and less interested in music made by people that exist today, people that are living. I just see them as part of the whole stupid process of the music business, desperate (even if they feign indifference) to get noticed, trying to "make it" in the stinking music business, to become "famous" etc, and it disgusts me. I see those horrible traits in myself too, in my past life, which disgusts me even more. I know this is irrational!!!! I'm sure there's great people out there, and in fact, if I were in a generous mood, I could name several - but I'm NOT in a generous mood... I prefer to dwell on my list of "saints," like Nina Simone, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Fela Kuti, Howling Wolf, Bob Dylan, James Brown and, yes, Neil Diamond...all heroes to me...
Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener? (Old or new music? Music like yours or different from yours?)
Anything old. "Yummy Yummy Yummy I've Got Love In My Tummy" is indeed profound when compared to the latest offering from anyone contemporary I can think of...
Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What's one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?
Well, it's sad, but I have to say that Bob Dylan is the most realized, the best offering to the heavens that pop music could ever produce. On the other hand, he made some really, really TERRIBLE music too. But any young person looking for meaning in song should definitely immerse themselves in his catalog, and reject or digest what they find. In any event, there is certainly no greater source from which to begin. It leads everywhere...
What's the saddest song you've ever heard?
At this point in our history, it would have to be the national anthem...
To check out the rest of the Q&As, click here.