Interview: Yellow Swans

 “We got back together because we wanted to…”

1. We are glad that you are performing together again as Yellow Swans. Can you specify the main input to restart the project?

Peter - This is an easy question, we both had done our own thing, established careers, gone to school, did our own solo music...  Ultimately we started working on our archives and wanted to play music in a collaborative way again.  We tried it out a few times between around 2018 until recently and it was always "ok."  Good enough to sound like us, not good enough for a live show.  We had a few offers here and there for a concert but really we needed time and infrastructure to rehearse since we both have lived geographically far from each other since 2008.  Oblivion Access helped us out with making that possible and we were motivated to schedule rehearsal times.  We were able to practice a good 100+ hours to get back into playing shape and I think we're playing almost as well as we left off.  It's been a lot of fun too and I think we'll keep doing it at a much slower pace for a while.  No more years of 9 months on the road.

Short answer is that we got back together because we wanted to.

Gabriel - The truth is, we still had things to say musically. If that wasn’t the case, and if we didn’t enjoy playing music together, we wouldn’t be doing this. That said, once we realized that the chemistry was still there, and that there was something exciting about the sounds that we were making together. It just came down to finding the right opportunity, which Oblivion Access provided.

2. Like Michael Gira once said, “Swans are dead” and then he was involved in the reincarnation of the project. What do you feel?

P - I can't really speak to Gira and his Swans..  but for us, it was very much more of "Going Places" being a literal thing.  We both had things we had to do with our lives that the band was getting in the way of and I think we're both at a better place to be able to do this project now than we were when we stopped.

We loved the project but we had to stop it to change personally.  

G - I think we intentionally ended the band on the best terms we possibly could. We ended it in a way, where we still respected the music, respected each other, and in terms of playing again, we never said never. We always left open the possibility of playing together again, we just didn’t take it for granted that it was inevitable. It feels great to be playing again and it doesn’t feel fake or forced. I’m honestly really happy.

3. Do you have time to listen to some other artists’ music and who would you

P - I mean, I run a label called Freedom To Spend with Matt Werth from RVNG and Jed Bindeman of Little Axe/Helen/Concentric Circles.  So I would recommend everything on the label for starters!  Newer stuff, I really love Duma, everything from the Divisi62 crew, Moin.

G - I’m constantly listening to new music. I think there’s more good music coming out right now than any time I can remember. I’ve also been going to see live and underground stuff a lot more and it keeps on blowing my mind. Duma for sure was fantastic. Everything that’s been coming out on NyegeNyege has been pretty mind blowing.

4. How the time influenced your creative views and approaches to sound?

P - Well..  we played last when we were in our 20s, now we're pretty well into our 40s and I think our tastes have become a tad more "mature."  I definitely listen to a lot more mellow music these days and I think it comes into our work.  There's a different kind of attention to sound that has been enabled by actually having regular access to good PA systems, a greater focus on dynamics on our end as well as being willing to take risks we wouldn't have taken previously.  

G - Pete and I both had a chance to go out and explore different things as solo artists, and via collaborations with other people. I think a decade or more of working out different ideas, new ideas that wouldn’t work in yellow swans, has actually given us a whole lot of new ideas and fresh approaches to this project.

5. What are your music roots and do you still like this work?

P - Foundational stuff for YS would be things like Les Rallizes Denudes, Mark Stewart "Learning To Cope With Cowardice," the first few MAIN records.  Dead C, anything on Siltbreeze really.  Growing up in the punk and hardcore scene of the west coast in the 90s so lots of Gravity Records, Slap a Ham records, etc.  

I still like a lot of this music in terms of aesthetic, but there's other things that I really appreciate about it.  There's a certain anarchic lack of adherence to genre, a fiercely DIY ethos in how the music was made, how it was performed and executed.

G - some of the original inspirations for making experimental weird music for me – Merzbow, Sonic Youth, John Coltrane, throbbing gristle - these have all been influences that just continue to show up in unexpected ways in yellow swans.

6. Do you feel any changes in the music scene of Portland over the years?

P - I'm sure it's changed.  Gabe hasn't lived there since 2008, I left in 2011.  Of Course Smegma and Daniel Menche are great OG influences of freakdom.  Ilyas Ahmed, Golden Retriever, Grouper are all peers that we played with often back in the day and are still orbiting that city but we're all older and playing less frequently anywhere and I'm certain there's a younger scene there going absolutely ballistic.  I'm not up at all on things, but Omari Jazz seems cool and I recently played with Ceremonial Abyss.

7. Are you a night owl or do you make music during the day?

P - I am not a night owl by any stretch.  I have a serious day job that I have to get up in the morning for and need to be well rested to perform ethically.  You go into medicine, the stakes are pretty high and I wouldn't risk messing anything up because of my being tired so I rarely am awake past 11PM ever. 

G - I had to make a very conscious decision to become a day jammer. I had a project called Chamber with a Dub Step DJ from Vancouver named Michael Red, and we were like a dayshift / night shift, completing other sides of the world. He would get up at two and have a coffee, I would have my afternoon cup with him as well, and we would rehearse until I couldn’t stay awake any longer. I’d wake up in the next thing I know it’s been hours later and he'd finished a project. I love making noise music during the day.

8. Are you attached to the physicality of music records or you’re more into digital


P - I don't like digital media at all.  I'm not here for it.  I'm not mad at people releasing digital things, but I think the investment of money/time/space adds to the weight of a thing.  I feel like a lot of digital music lacks the weight of a communal experience that the record store/tape trading of my youth required.  I care about both the music and everything in the orbit of the music that it serves and I'm not sure that digital communities are as effective at that as like..  Living in a place, seeing acts develop, sharing bills with bands, going to record stores, etc. 

But to be fair, I'm a gen x er and I've never been very impressed by or moved by digital communities.  I think they serve some people and some artists well, but I'd always rather have a tape.

G - I actually like live music most of all and text and printed matter, but for recorded music vinyl is the way to go. I think it’s just that feeling like it will survive the server crash that has to eventually come, or the erasure of everything that’s online and Web 2.0 at the moment.

9. Should we expect a new record from you or is it mainly a live project?

P - The music gets what it deserves.  We record everything and we haven't figured out what it is yet.  Generally we trash about 99% of what we record but we might put out a tape or some stuff we recorded 15 years ago that never came out.

Yellow Swans on Bandcamp

Questions: Jan Kruml, Ilya Kudrin