Jarboe – Swan moves on
By Trevor J Wallace   

For nearly two decades, Michael Gira's Swans were a sonic force to be reckoned with. Critically acclaimed but never really gaining much more than cult status, they constantly pushed the boundaries of noise, whether through sheer volume or by combining such disparate elements of folk, pop, ambient electro and world beat.

The latter elements would come a few years into the bands existence – initially Swans were about noise and anger, with songs like "Freak" ("You're gonna murder someone weak') and "Time is Money (Bastard)" ("You should be violated/You should be raped"). Cheery.

But after a few records, Southern belle Jarboe came along, moving from Atlanta to "NYC specifically to be in Swans," she says from somewhere on the road. Jarboe stays busy.

"I am on Holy Money and Greed and A Screw and Time Is Money [anyone sensing a trend?] and began playing live in Swans in 1985. At that time we were dubbed "the loudest band in the world" by European press. We played hardcore clubs and it was indeed a very brutal show.

"I do feel that the recording of the Skin albums in 1986 and afterwards, Children Of God in 1987 did introduce melody and expand the sound of Swans and I actually do feel responsible for that expansion. I am a trained musician and I brought my training to the band."

Swans lost none of it's intensity, but it traded brutality and anger for a sort of spirituality and melancholia. To put it in Kabbalistic terms Jarboe brought Mercy to Gira's Severity.

In 1988, Swans released two 12" singles of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," a Black and a Red version, one sung by Gira and the other by Jarboe. The Gira version is more straightforward and his Ian Curtis through a Leonard Cohen baritone fits the song well. The Jarboe version, however, is nothing short of haunting.

It was during this time that the Gira/Jarboe collaboration expanded, and the Skin project became more prominent, though it was sometimes hard to tell why one record had the Swans name and not Skin and vice versa, many times because the atmospheres of the records were so similar.

"The Skin project was originally intended to be about the voice, the singer," Jarboe explains. "Swans was about the wall of sound. The projects merged in my opinion as time went by. I do believe that Skin greatly influenced the direction of Swans."

Since the demise of Swans in the late 90s, Jarboe has kept herself extremely busy. Since 2000, she has released ten solo albums and been involved in dozens of projects, from outright collaborations to in-and-out guest appearances.

"I collaborate and contribute to selective albums of other artists all the time and even I cannot keep up with it all. Once I work on something, I let it go. I don't even have copies of everything I have worked on in my career. It is truly just too vast," she says, and somehow it doesn't seem like bragging, That's just not her style. She's just straightforward.

And the work she's done is as eclectic as here solo albums. She did the soundtrack for a horror PC game called the Path, kind of a modern day "Little Red Riding Hood." It was a new experience for her, but she dove in with aplomb.

"I have worked on soundtracks for film before but a game was a new experience," she says The developers contacted me and I then contacted Kris Force [of San Francisco's Amber Asylum] to do it with me. The developers knew what they wanted and I tried to deliver that to them and in the end everyone was pleased. The soundtrack has won an award in Europe.

Then there's the "Devil in Love" project, a double album based on the 1772 occult novel of the same name by Jacques Cazzote. Jarboe produced one song for the project, alongside a diverse group of international musicians.
Go here to learn more: http://malortforlag.se/english.php

As I speak with Jarboe, she is in NYC, recording some vocals with Milosz
Gassan of Morne, one of the heaviest bands on the planet right now, although they do have their ambient moments.

"It is a new song for their next album and I am the lead singer on this particular track.
It also features Kris Force on violin."

She is also working with Philippe Petit, an ambient artist who produces lush, sci-fi soundscapes (and is not, I assume the same Philippe Petit famous for doing his high-wire act between the twin towers).

"Philippe has worked with Lydia Lunch and yes, this project is quite experimental in nature. I wrote and performed lyrics," Jarboe says. Yeah, probably not the tightrope walker.

As for collaboration, to her, work is work and she says it's, "Not easier or harder. It is all working and coming from the same place. I am comfortable in any genre of music as I can find my own path within any audio field. In 2009 and 2010, I played intense metal festivals in Europe such as Hellfest, Inferno, Roadburn as well as the goth fest Wave Gotik Treffen and the experimental fest SuperSonic. I am able to tour with Vampillia and do shows with Merzbow in Japan as well as tour Europe with Nachtmystium and duet with Attila Csihar or Phil Anselmo. Again, diversification and flexibility are inherent."

She adds, "To me, an artist is a light."

As was stated earlier, Jarboe is a busy woman. Probably too busy to commit to a full Swans tour, which will kick off in Austin on the 18th of this month. But that's just speculation on my part. What isn't speculation is the fact that she was not even asked. A core member of the band for well over a decade and it was an utter shock to learn of the new band.

"I admit I was stunned when I learned about the current Swans album and tour. I was not told about the reunion in advance and learned of it from fans who wrote to me and assumed I was involved. All I know is that Michael has stated that he did not want to do a 'nostalgic' reunion and that it is a new band. I do not see my inclusion as nostalgic especially when 3 musicians in the current Swans were in Swans at various times
whereas I was the only person involved from the time I arrived in 1984 until Michael decided to 'kill' Swans and stated 'Swans are dead.' I never agreed with the decision to kill Swans either. I tell people my education was Swans and indeed it formed the core of my identity as an artist. I believe my contributions were essential and I am very proud of all that I did even if I was not publicly given credit for my work."

We know all that you've done, Jarboe, we know.

As of deadline, Michael Gira was not available for interview or comment.



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