Angels Of Light is the main musical project of Michael Gira (pronounced ‘jee-ra’), ex-Swans front-man and owner of Young God records, who, since its inception in 2000 has released albums by Swans, Devendra Banhart, Mi & L’au and Gira’s sometimes band-mates, Akron/Family. Angels of Light are also, of course, on the label’s roster, and have released 5 albums and a split EP with Akron/Family to date.

The latest of these five albums is 'We Are Him', which was released in August. Alongside Gira on the record are Akron/Family (acting as his backing band), Christopher Hahn (Les Hommes Sauvage), Bill Rieflin (has drummed for Ministry, current drummer for REM), Julia Kent (Anthony and the Johnsons), Paul Cantelon (composer for films such as 'Everything is Illuminated' and 'Year of the Fish'), and many, many others. The resulting album is a powerful and beautifully dense collection of folk/rock compositions.

Before the start of his European tour throughout October, Pennyblackmusic caught up with Michael Gira to talk about 'We Are Him', the fate of Young God and his love of music.


PB : Before you start writing/recording an Angels of Light record, do you have an idea of how you’d like it to sound?

MG : I always have a very definite idea, but it never turns out how I’d planned, which is fine by me. I think if things went exactly according to my expectations I’d be completely bored. The best part of recording is always accidents or mistakes. In fact those incidents often turn out to be what the final thing you hear is based on. I guess what I enjoy is to fight my way out of the chaos I forced upon myself in the first place.

PB : How do recording sessions with Angels of Light vary when you work with different people, and how does it feel to see your songs taken in different directions by other artists?

MG : That’s the main reason to work with other people – they bring their own history, and they adjust their imagination to augment the song in either a way they’d like, or what they imagine I might like. I’m a fairly isolated person, so recording is one way I get to see my favourite people in the world. Basically, we’re like a bunch of monkeys in a cage. I’m the oldest monkey, so it’s my job to pick the lice off the other monkeys, put them in a bowl, and the sound the lice rustling in the bowl makes music.

PB : With your recordings with Akron/Family, the records seemed to be more of a straight collaboration. How did the writing/recording of this new record differ, if at all, from previous Angels of Light albums?

MG : Akron/Family played a more limited role on this record. Their career as a band has exploded to such a degree that they weren’t able to devote the time or concentration as on the last album, 'The Angels of Light Sing Other People'. They did play a crucial role though, in that they helped set the base to build on. They’re outstanding people and musicians, so that was a great start. They built the bed. Everyone else had sex on it.

PB : The artwork for your latest record, 'We Are Him', is very unconventional ; can you tell us a little about it?

MG : It’s by Deryk Thomas (www.derykthomas.com). Deryk did art for a few Swans albums in the ancient past. He is a fantastic painter and teaches art in what one would have in the past been called an insane asylum. It’s a wonderful blend of Turner, Bosch, and Walt Disney. I was completely flummoxed as to what the art for this record was going to be and happened to randomly come across his website, not having been in touch with him in a long while. The images don’t fit at all in my opinion, but I like the tension that creates. I’m still trying to figure out what the images have to do with the music.

PB : Why and how did you start Young God Records?

MG : I started the label because I’d never once had a good experience as an artist on someone else’s label and I was sick of it.

PB : Was it difficult to get the label up and running?

MG : It’s been a long process, learning from mistakes and losing money all the time – until the appearance of the lovely Devendra Banhart, who changed everything. Things were humming along just fine until recently when I realized people are not buying CDs any more. We put a lot of work and money into the music, then someone just takes it. It’s astonishing. But it is as it is, so we’ll have to figure out how to deal with it. Perhaps the label won’t last too much longer. We’ll see.

PB : Where did the name “Young God” come from?

MG : It’s a song I wrote in Swans way back in 1984. It was actually loosely based on the serial killer Ed Gein, dancing in the moonlight wearing the skin of his victims.

PB: If a band wanted to be signed to Young God Records, what qualities would they need to get your interest?

MG : I realized lately that I look for good singers, a distinct voice. I don’t really care about the particular genre of music, so long as it’s original and powerful in its own way. But then, I’ve stopped thinking about signing people to the label. As I say, I’m not sure it’s going to be around much longer, given the current environment in the “music business.”

I’m working with two recent signings right now, and we’ll see how that goes. I love the music, so I’m hoping for the best. The group Fire On Fire make what sounds like backwoods old timey fiercely played expressionist renditions of Mamas and Papas songs – ha ha! I don’t know how to particularly describe them. It’s all acoustic, but not in the least folky. Very American, raw and real. Great lyrics and great vocals. Also there’s the wild-ass mountain woman self-styled vagabond she-shaman Larkin Grimm. She has a fantastic voice and range and grew up in the North Georgia mountains. Somehow she got a scholarship to Yale. When she finished that she took up a life of travel, just wandering about by herself, playing shows here and there. She seems to be a magnet for chaos and magic. I admire her music but also her adamant self reliance and fearlessness.

PB : After you disbanded Swans, you released 'The Body Lovers/Body Haters', which has been called a “soundtrack without a film”. What was your motivation to make these instrumental recordings, and do you think you will do something similar in the future?

MG : For a long time in Swans I was obsessed with the idea of creating a world through sound, making a place you could fall into and disappear, so when I finished Swans it was a natural avenue to pursue. I’ve lost interest in the purely “sonic” aspect of things, though when I make a record the notion is still the same, that it should be its own world, not a depiction of some musicians in a room playing.

PB : You seem to have travelled a lot as a child and young man; having lived in various areas within the US, as well as France, Germany, Greece and Israel, where you spent some time in prison. How do you think these experiences influenced you, both as a person and musically?

MG : I’m sure they influenced me tremendously, but I’d prefer not to think about it. Everyone’s given a set of circumstances in their life, early experiences that possibly define them, but I’m more interested in working and making things than analyzing how or why I am who I am.

PB : You produce the majority, if not all, of the records released on Young God. How much of an influence do you have on how the songs will sound when they are recorded?

MG : I usually work with people long before we go in the studio – choosing the songs, talking about orchestration and so on and I try to bring out what I see as the real strength in the band or singer. We don’t always agree on everything of course. In the studio I leave the technical aspects up to an engineer, though I have certain notions about how things will sound. Everything goes back and forth with the artist though. I’m a very traditional producer, more like an overseer, or some might say “puppeteer”.

PB : Of all of your achievements over the years, what sticks out that you are particularly proud of?

MG : I’m not sure what I’ve “achieved” other than survival, really. I don’t have any perspective on the subject. I suppose it’s a good thing that I’ve been able to bring other people’s music to the world to a certain extent, to provide them an opportunity to make music, and maybe learn how to make a living at the thing they love to do.

PB : What plans do you have for Young God Records and Angels of Light in the future?

MG : Two years ago, I would have had a very long list in answer to this question. Now that the survival of the label is in question, I have no idea. As for Angels of Light, I have no songs written at all, though I do have a vague notion of how a new album might sound. Something will happen, probably against my will, I’m sure.

PB: Thank you.
















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