Interview with Jarboe: True Nature

I was talking to Justin a few months back for the Lifeline EP, and he was most impressed with what he called an instinctive approach that you have. Is that something that you’ve tried to cultivate or try to strive for?

Yeah, I’ve heard that before. I’ve heard it from Bill Laswell, when Swans did the Burning World album, he said that about working with me, that I was performance based, working from instinct. I’d have to agree with that. I think the shows that I do, even in Swans as they morphed, and I became more and more my own persona in the shows and then in my solo shows and albums, that it’s definitely an instinctive approach.

Kris Force, my friend who is in Amber Asylum, she calls it being an oracle, being a seer, channeling, and she’s done shows with me where she says she watches me channel. She thinks that it’s this energy that’s out there that comes down through me and it’s not like I feel like I’m overtaken without any control, I don’t think I would go that far. I would just say that it’s being really open to your gut, to your instinct. Nothing’s ever really calculated, it always announces itself to me. Like how you’re going to sing something, how you’re going to perform something.

There’s no intellectual approach to it, it’s just very instinctive, very raw, almost animalistic. Gut instincts.

Even the project with Justin and other collaborations that you do though, the odds of you doing it live, especially Justin doesn’t really like touring a lot or performing, things like that. You may never do this song live, for instance. Does that factor in your consideration of the material?

No, no it doesn’t. I like performing my material live. In terms of the collaborations, it just depends, you know. Neurosis and I did some of the songs live, and I could have done the entire album live with them, and I think that in terms of that 2005 tour that I did in Europe doing songs like ‘Feral’ that kind of the thing, even the tour that I did with Larsen in 2005 doing another version of the song ‘Feral.’ I think they all have their different flavors. One thing I don’t personally like or just something I can’t understand is when a band or performer, they’re performing live on stage and it sounds like the CD it sounds like everything is a CD (laughs). You wonder, ‘Are the musicians really playing? Is the singer really singing?’ That’s something that I can’t understand. I think there should be a new element to something live. You hear even mistakes, or you hear the actual sound of the voice. You hear the human quality in music. That’s the whole point of live performance to me.

I was at that Neurosis show in Brooklyn at the North Six.

Unfortunately, North Six, we collectively agreed, that was the show that we least enjoyed, and it was because the stage was too small and the venue wasn’t right. I think they did it correctly [this time], because I was in New York when they did the two nights at Brooklyn Masonic Temple. That’s the kind of stage they need, and the other stages that we did were in places like that for the most part. I think the London Forum was a great show. My personal show of the six shows was the one at Philadelphia, the Theater of the Living Arts. They’re not really in my opinion appropriate for clubs, they need a theater to do what they do with the films and all that stuff. There are too many members of the band for one thing, and they like to move around a lot, banging their heads and that kind of thing, and they really couldn’t do it there (laughs).

Also, that show had a weird curse on it, because I was wearing a dress that I bought specifically for those shows, that dress was stolen in the dressing room and I was heartbroken that it was stolen. So there was some weird energy in that place (laughs). I still don’t understand how somebody went down into that dressing room and stole that.

It seems that a lot of your dates sort of pop up sometimes by surprise too, you did play, if I’m not mistaken, at the Pussycat Lounge with Scott Kelly right after those two Masonic Temple shows.

That was weird because the whole point of that was I was going to do a reading of Thunder Perfect mind, which is the ancient Gnostic text, and what was weird was the men that had worked for six weeks or something, on shaping the music for that on their laptops and all their outboard effects, I thought it was ironic because one of these men, Lee, of Navicon Torture Technologies, I think is his group, he was the main organizer of the event, and I think that it was odd that when they went up there, none of their stuff was working through the PA, so I consider that show one of the main disasters of any time I had to play live (laughs), I was up there thinking, ‘Where is the music?’ (laughs).

For some reason, the music didn’t go through the PA and everything went wrong, and Scott was going on next, and Dave, who’s been Neurosis’ soundman for nearly a decade and a half, and he was there for Scott’s sound, and he said ‘I’m putting him through a different channel, there’s something wrong with the one they put you through.’ So when Scott was on, he was in a different situation, a different channel through the PA, and he didn’t have a problem. My question when I left was, ‘Why didn’t the organizers sort that out before?’ (laughs). I am so happy that a lot of my friends, my people, didn’t even come to that, because I was beyond upset. They treated me really nicely, they were very nice to me, they were very polite, they were good people, but that sound system at that place was appalling. I was horrified, I was like, ‘That’s not the show.’

But no one knew that was going to happen. It was supposed to be a loud amazing barrage of audio and the voice kind of coming and going inside that barrage, and that didn’t happen. So I really, getting up there with that situation, I think when you’ve done this for years, something goes wrong, you just kind of, ‘OK, I’m going to blast through this like I’m in a war zone. I know there’s something wrong, but what can I do?’ You can’t just say ‘Stop, there’s something wrong.’ Hindsight, I should have said, ‘OK, we’ve got to sort that out, I’m not going to perform until this is fixed.’

I’ve been in that space though, the lounge itself, trying to do a light show and things like that, sort of a very weird setup, I didn’t really like it.

I know, and here’s another thing I didn’t really understand. Seldon Hunt was showing his posters that night. The main point of the event, with the artwork for Isis and Neurosis and all of it, he had a film that he had made and that was to be our light show. He had created a film so when we took the stage, one of the men on the stage whispered in my ear, ‘The DVD is not playing in the club’s DVD player.’ And I was like, ‘What?! Why wasn’t this taken care of during the club’s soundcheck.’