Interview with Jarboe: True Nature

Again, you’re performing in Barcelona, and I know you’re doing more in Europe, you’ve got some dates here and there. Do you find it easier, necessarily to play in any particular country or area, or anything like that?

It changes, you know, it keeps changing, I think the climate changes, it just depends on the promoter and all the work that’s done before the show, I think, is the main thing and when a promoter does his job really well it can be great. Like in 2005, who would know that the Portugal show was incredible, it was one of the highlights of that whole tour, the promoter had worked really hard, it was a nice theatre, it was sold out, people had been informed, there was press, people knew what they were in for, so that made it a positive experience.

All the building blocks have to go into place, and in 2005 I’d been to places I’d never been to before, like Moscow, and the problem with going into Moscow, all the band members, everybody has to have a visa, so there’s a lot of paperwork involved, getting into Russia, but that was an amazing show. People were excited and happy we were there. And it’s kind of awe-inspiring, because after the show I couldn’t even get off the stage, it was like this mob scene. Something like what The Monkees or The Beatles may have experienced (laughs) when they tried to leave the stage. People trying to rip off your clothes, that kind of excitement. So that was kind of interesting, but things are so uneven.

I never met indifference on that tour, Hungary, Budapest, I’d never been there, Swans were supposed to tour there a couple times, but all these disasters happened. One time the club burned down… (laughs), before we were supposed to play there. So that was a first time, and that was very positive. I feel like Eastern Europe is a wonderful place to play. They love music over there, and they’re very appreciative, warm audiences, and that’s a good thing. I always refuse to accept indifference. I always try to work and try to give and be completely vulnerable, try to place myself in complete vulnerable positions. I think if you show that to people, that you’re that way, then you’re going to win ‘em over. That’s the way I’ve always been, even going back to Swans, I was kind of a sacrifice. When we were being dubbed the loudest band in the world, I would be on my knees opening with ‘Blackmail.’ And I would be this sacrifice on the edge of the stage with my arms out, ‘Go ahead, do what you will. Here I am.’

Are you looking to tour this new material at all?

Yeah, it really depends on when The End Records receives the master from me. Right now where it stands is I want to tweak some of the mixes with little things and then I want to adjust and then mastering of course, and the artwork. That was a big part of the discussions with that label, that I would get out there and support it and do what was necessary, and of course I love doing that.

I think what will happen when it comes out, I will probably be in a support situation, or a co-situation with someone else, and go out there as a package kind of a tour. I think that’s probably what I’ll do. That’s just for North America. And then of course, with Europe, that contract is now in negotiation for Season Of Mist, so they’re putting out the same album in Europe. So I’ll go over there and tour it too, with probably most of the people that are on the album. I think all the people involved expressed interest in going out and touring with it.

Has it been a while since you’ve done a long extended tour cycle?

Yeah, the last longest one I did was the autumn into the end of November in Europe, and that was in 2005 and that was one that went to Russia and Hungary and Spain and Portugal, as well as Europe. And that was the one where I performed in London with Justin when we first met each other at that show. That was the last long one. I know how to do it, it’s grueling, but as you know, it develops a momentum and an energy level that you do have to take care of yourself. I’ve met people that go on these extensive tours and talked to them about things that they do and it’s really interesting that the artists that are so famous and so well-known and they go on these tours, what they personally do. Again, back to Phillip, he works out like Rollins does, works out before he goes on stage, doesn’t do drugs and doesn’t have excessive amounts of drinking. There’s an amount of discipline involved in doing it obviously, especially taking care of your voice. One of the things you have to do too I think is you can’t do a lot of interviews when you’re on tour because your voice will be shot, you know (laughs).

So I would say just in terms of business things, and artistic development, does it feel like you’re moving into a new chapter, a new phase of your development?

Definitely, definitely I am. It’s kind of interesting. I can’t really explain it or understand it, but things just sort of fell into place. I think things have a latent result, you know, when you do things, you won’t see the results until you least expect it. In terms of the business stuff and opportunities—the thing with Swans was getting so disillusioned with record labels, Michael got so disillusioned that he started his own, we never felt like we got the push, the publicity that we should have received.

I meet all these people and talk to them on the phone and do albums with them, whether it’s Byla, Neurosis, someone like Phillip Anselmo or Attila, they all say to me from the beginning, my work and the work of Swans is in their iPod, they know all the albums, they can ask me about certain songs. The reach that the Swans had amongst musicians, in my opinion, was enormous, and I still like that it’s a legendary band. The irony is that while we were doing it, we did not see any kind of reward from doing it. It was just beating our head against the wall. So it’s rather interesting when you meet all these diverse musicians— Maynard would be another one, Justin, another one—who just say, ‘God, Swans are the reasons we’re doing this and this,’ such inspiration is legendary.

You hear stuff like this and you’re like, ‘Wow.’ (laughs). We at the time were suffering so severely with no thanks. We never toured Australia. The business stuff wasn’t there. I really find it ironic, that in our own hometown, the Village Voice never gave us acclaim, and we watched peers, people like Sonic Youth, become the darlings of the Voice, and there was always this attitude, ‘Were we too dangerous, too extreme?’ What was so intimidating? I feel like the music press kind of turned their back on us, and I also feel like things just didn’t come into play as they should have. I still feel a lot of rage over that. It’s just all the more ironic when you meet these extremely famous, extremely successful musicians, the first thing they say to you is what an impact the Swans had on their own personal productivity and creativity.

I guess what I’m saying now, for me, all of that left a really bitter taste in my mouth, I decided to DIY, be an internet pioneer, I started the Swans site, my site, took things directly to the fans, screw the fans, screw the record labels, do it myself (laughs). That is why all the albums I started doing on my own I did them myself. I didn’t even bother with a record label, I just decided I would directly reach the audience. It was only when Michael alerted me to companies in Russia, places like that, putting out bootlegs and selling them on the internet. He said to me, ‘You better get out that back catalogue, reissue that back catalogue, ASCAP, or all this stuff is going to happen.’ That’s why I went to Atavistic, bam, bam, bam, put this stuff out. That was just a way to get it into the marketplace officially, instead of a bunch of bootleg editions showing up.

So this is really the first situation I’ve had, the first real record label, proper, so-called record label that I’ve signed to and aligned myself with. I’m doing it because of the fact that the thing that record labels have, in my opinion, the power to have publicity people, to get interviews like the one I’m doing with you, send it to radio stations, to help when you go on tour. The first thing a booking agent will ask you is what record label was it on? (laughs) You still have to get involved with the machine, and the machine is changing as we all know. To me, to do it without the machine completely, I tried it, and I couldn’t even book a European tour after Swans. It was heartbreaking to me that I would come off a highly successful Swans tour in ’97 when we were playing large venues and selling out and then not being able to get a tour of my own. They would ask you, ‘Who is the distributor in this region and that territory? Who’s the publicity person for this territory?’ That’s the reality of being a musician, you have to get involved with business people, or I don’t know how you move forward.

Do you foresee anything between you and Michael, as far as a Swans tour or reunion or anything like that in the future?

Well, you know, not just from things he’s said publicly, but things that he’s said to a mutual friend, I don’t want to speak for him at all, but my impression is he’s done with that entire approach to sound. He doesn’t want anything to do with it anymore. He’s more comfortable with the acoustic guitar and keeping things kind of stripped down and simple and I think that he and I are pretty much at opposite ends of the spectrum now in terms of what we are interested in doing. I’m interested in the wall of sound, the big guitars, something very heavy, very intense, and he seems to be on the opposite end of things. For that reason alone, I don’t see that happen. I believe he’s publicly said he’s done with rock, and that’s at the very heart of who I am, so I can’t very well be done with that (laughs) because that’s my first love and that’s the reason I wanted to join Swans to begin with because I thought it was the heaviest damn thing I ever heard. I don’t think that’s going to change right now. It’s interesting and maybe sad in a lot of personal ways for me because I think he is, in my opinion, the best producer out there.

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