Regarded as one of the loudest live bands ever (move over Kevin Shields), reformed American post-punks Swans are back in the UK for a series of dates, including London KOKO tonight (4 April). Their leader Michael Gira has put together a Playlist of songs that over the years have inspired him to get things done "I'm acutely aware of mortality and not wasting my time while I'm on this earth," he notes. Consider his list some motivation...
Frank Zappa, The Mother of Invention - Help I'm A Rock "I listened to Freak Out repeatedly when I was 13. It has a really wide pallet of musical approaches and it's pretty experimental and interesting. The track has a great groove that uses all of these sound collage techniques, which are almost a-musical. Then you have these almost insidious vocals that make it really haunting. Frank Zappa was such a great innovator and this is a great song."
The Stooges - Dirt "The raw, visceral sexuality of The Stooges was, for me, something I tried to strive for. Dirt is this almost salacious rock-singer song and Iggy was a true poet in his day. We used to say - to anyone who'd listen - that Swans were better than The Stooges; I kind of doubt it now."
Brian Eno - Baby's on Fire "I am a big fan of Eno. He was someone who started to use the studio as an instrument. He managed to make great music by having a finely honed sensibility and a courageous ability to shape sound, irrespective of the fact that he wasn't a trained musician. That's kind of inspirational to me. It probably had some effect on the sensibility of Swans - in the early days, anyway."
Pink Floyd - Careful With That Axe, Eugene "I heard it on Ummagumma [a Pink Floyd live album] but I think it was only available as B-Side to Point Me At The Sky. I was at a Rock Festival in Belgium when I was a kid and I saw Pink Floyd play this track, and it just had this profound effect on me: it's music that reaches a higher plain. It cinematic but also ominous: this terrifying but beautiful song.
Throbbing Gristle - Hamburger lady "Genesis and Throbbing Gristle were instrumental in bringing up this sublimated notion that we all have in us. They were able to prick the skin and aggravate things; bring them to the surface - Things that we wouldn't necessarily want to recognise in ourselves. Genesis P-orridge is someone who lived a life dedicated to the act of imagination and I admire that tremendously. I appreciate the risks he's taken as an example of how one could choose to live their life."
NB Pink Floyd, Throbbing Gristle and Popul Vuh are currently unavailable
Howlin' Wolf - Evil (Is Goin' On) "Howlin' Wolf continues to be one of my favourite artists ever. He's just an icon; a sort of holy-man, as far as I'm concerned. He would crawl around on the floor at his shows and howl like a wolf; just anything to get noticed. People like him - those who grew up in the early 1920s in such extreme poverty - ended up affecting world culture in such a major way. It's like an act of magic. So I admire him for who he was as a person as well as his saintly musical aptitude. The rhythm of this song in particular is very similar to those of early Swans songs that we developed."
Nick Drake - River Man "I was listening to Nick Drake at a time when I was trying to move Swans' music in a different direction. Jarboe [Swans' co-founder] introduced me to him in the mid-80s and I was really affected by it: this truly beautiful music. The strings on this song are out-of-this-world; they're just profoundly cinematic. I once tried to cover a Nick Drake song and it was just wretched. I definitely have the opposite of his voice."
Kraftwerk - The Model "Sonically, Kraftwerk have almost nothing to do with the sound of Swans, but it's that use of non-traditional instruments and an alternative way to approach things that I appreciate. I always think of Kraut-rock and Krafwerk as something similar to what Brian Eno was doing. I don't know if he was influence by them at that time but he seemed to have a similar sensibility towards how to make music, and I consumed it all in its day. This song is just a great pop song."
Popul Vuh - Hüter der Schwelle "There was a point in the early 90s when I was listening to a lot of Popul Vuh. I think I first heard them when I saw Werner Herzog's Heart Of Glass [the director's 1976 film, featuring a cast of hypnotised actors]. I like the way that the music soars and the cyclical nature to the guitars. The group are very soulful and this track has something hymnal about it. It's spiritually striving and is some of the most beautiful music of the era."
Bob Dylan - Simple Twist Of Fate "I remember when I was a kid, people saying how horrible his voice was, but I think Dylan is a great singer. He has this great dynamic on this track where he's singing, as he does, and then he just howls. I really admire that emotion and his ability to do that. And, of course, the words are stellar, as always. Bob Dylan is in a category all by himself." Michael Gira was talking to Shaun Grimsley
For more, including the full UK tour dates, head to Facebook.com/Swans.