Why should I care? Swans were early contemporaries of Sonic Youth, and it's unlikely that bands like Slint, Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Mogwai would have appeared were it not for Swans' career-long search for "the never-ending crescendo". Many industrial bands have also cited Swans as an important influence.
What's their story? The first version of the band appeared in 1982 and has operated sporadically ever since. The only constant member has been Michael Gira, who has spent much of the last decade and a half concentrating on his other band, Angels of Light – but lin 2010 the new-look Swans (a combination of members from both of Gira's bands) created the majestic My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. This year they released The Seer.
So Michael, what made you reactivate the name? "Angels of Light is more of an orchestrated singer/songwriter type of thing, and recently I'd been thinking that I wanted to experience music as bigger than myself, music that could subsume my body and kind of obliterate the listener. I wanted to enter that again before I got too old and I thought ‘well, naturally I have to call [frequent Swans guitarist] Norman Westberg', so I did. We decided to re-invent it and it's been exhilarating."
How is Swans different from your other projects? "You have to feel the sound. The sound has to engulf you. I want it to be like ten church choirs all at once, singing different hymns, in the same cathedral, at full volume. I want it to be like you can't escape it and so finally you just give up and your body atomises and you kind of lose yourself in the sound and rise up to heaven. Cause we don't have a religion anymore so maybe this is our religion now, or something like that."
Well, presumably Swans audiences know what they're in for – they're not thinking "I'm gonna hear me some toe-tappin' hits!" "Yeah. Besides, we don't have any hits anyway so it doesn't fuckin' matter."