Interview with Jarboe: True Nature

JarboeA common turn of phrase is that people operate on different (or similar) wavelengths, the idea being that there are innately stronger links between certain individuals. More instinctive connections are made and the friction that can exist in communication abates.

In the case of Jarboe, after talking with her for over an hour, I’m still not sure which wavelength she is on. I’d actually venture to guess that she’s found a way to change hers at will. From her work in the seminal rock band, Swans, which I mistakenly referred to in print as being from Brooklyn rather than their home of the East Village (apologies to all involved), to her subsequent catalogue of solo work and collaborations, the sheer weight of her material is staggering, let alone the material itself.

It may be that’s she’s been able to turn the signal- to-noise ratio up to infinity. Possessing an agile mind but nevertheless preferring her art to stem from the stomach, her towering influence from the Swans and her solo work can be heard in underground (and no so underground) music the world over.

With two releases already planned for 2008—a collaboration with Justin Broadrick (of Godflesh and Jesu) out this week and a forthcoming solo album—as well as a tour on the horizon, one-off dates across Europe, the singer has far more on her plate at any given time than most do in a career.

It’s hard enough as a listener or critic to keep up with all the different projects and releases. How do you keep up with it?

At this stage of my career, I know so many musicians and so many people and I keep meeting people and I keep getting invited to do collaboratives that are so interesting and intriguing to me that it’s really hard to turn them down so they’re always a backup of projects. Then, when it comes time to do my own project, like the album that I just did for the whole month of January in New York, I get in the position of trying to finish that before moving onto more. So it’s basically multitasking.

This time I wanted to work with a lot of people and I wanted to record in an organic manner, meaning to go into a studio that uses to reels of tape in addition to the ProTools and to have musicians that I’ve worked with before as well as musicians that I’ve just known for years come in and be part of the band. That was a very ambitious undertaking, which was extremely stressful, I did up in Queens, New York, with people coming and going, and staying focused as the producer, working with the engineer and getting everything where I wanted it to be. But also [to keep it] expansive, because to me, the only reason you’re working with live musicians is to bring their particular finesse to what they do, so you have to be open to their style and their approach, otherwise you might as well just do it all yourself on a computer.

All that, and then on top of that, completing and ongoing with collaboratives, and you’re asked to do one-off performances, not a proper tour, but like one-off, special events, and I can’t say no to those, because they’re always fabulous, because they’re not your work-a-day, they’re unusual. One for example, I got invited to the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, and that’s a very prestigious and wonderful type of show, and then there’s all these things that follow through and it really gets kind of insane, where people will want you to be doing all these shows and doing all this stuff. You have to learn to say no to things and decide what’s the best to do and what’s not the best to do. Basically what a manager does. And so I do that myself, for the most part, and it gets really involved and detailed.

My office, my tables that I use as desks are always full of projects and discs and papers and so it begins to take over the floor (laughs). And it’s just organized, this project, this project. Right now I’m looking at my office floor, and there’s like twelve different categories of ongoing things that I’ve got to see to. That kind of thing.

Just twelve categories, not twelve projects.

Twelve different categories of different projects. Some of them are very important, like a contract from Season Of Mist to take my album in Europe, and that’s a great big long contract. And then there’s a DVD that’s finally coming out from a show that I did in New York, and that was in 2000.

The reason I’m putting out this DVD is because it was my very first show in Manhattan post-Swans, and to me that’s kind of a personal history thing, and I had it professionally filmed and recorded in the studio underneath the stage in the Knitting Factory in New York, and it’s been sitting here because they recorded it on a system that was not that easy to find, and I just kind of put it on a backburner as a result. And it got to the point where I was about to buy the damn machine from eBay (laughs), because no studio had it. And finally I found that the UCLA sound labs has the machine and I met some people that were going to UCLA, and I worked out a deal doing foley work with my voice for a film project and in exchange to have this machine, the people accessing the machine at UCLA, and mixing the audio portion of the show. So now that’s finally coming together.

And then I have this another group, which is about 20 people involved now, called the Sweet Meat Love and Holy Cult, and that’s an ongoing process with people all around the world at the point, and that keeps getting more and more extreme and that’s a pure labor of love. I want it to be a double disc, a document of researching an actual cult that started in the late ‘60s and I am tracking down all of the children and children of children of members of that cult and documenting them in an audio manner. That’s just a little tip of the iceberg of my life.