Gira, art rockers Swans are expansive as ever 

click to enlarge Swans
  • “To Be Kind” is the latest album from Swans, who are playing two sold-out shows at the Independent.
When it comes to his art-rock outfit Swans (which he reformed in 2010 after a 14-year hiatus), Michael Gira certainly is generous. The band’s latest release “To Be Kind” clocks in at a whopping two hours, and was issued in three-LP and two-CD formats, plus a deluxe version boasting a 111-minute concert DVD. The album features cameos from Bill Rieflin, Cold Specks, St. Vincent and string arranger Julia Kent, on moody epics such as the 12-minute “Just A Little Boy (For Chester Burnett), 17-minute “She Loves Us!” and 34-minute “Bring the Sun/ Toussaint L’Ouverture.” “But mainly I’m being generous to myself, because I get to perform all this music live afterwards,” says Gira of the recording, which cracked the Top 40 in the U.K. and the U.S.

You recorded for six weeks at Sonic Ranch, a huge residential studio outside El Paso. Was it a real Marty Robbins existence? I’m not familiar with Marty Robbins — sorry. But it is out in the country, and it’s just nice. It’s a series of small bungalows set up on this pecan farm, and it’s run by this gentleman farmer whom I presume is well-heeled. And his hobby is to record music, so he built this series of studios, and you can stay there and get fed a lot of tremendous Mexican food by local Mexican ladies. And he’s got a collection of really great vintage gear and great sound recording equipment. But it was all work, all the time, so I didn’t see much of my surroundings.

But horses somehow found their way into the mix? Yeah. I had a local horse wrangler record a performance by his horse. And it wasn’t some random sample — I had him put the horse through its paces to get what I wanted. So we recorded that and put it into music, on the “Sun/ Toussaint” thing. I had wanted to bring the horse into the studio while recording the music, and have the horse perform to it. But the studio owner put the nix on that, unfortunately.

Why was a horse important to the track? Well, the hooves were very crucial — the pounding of the hooves. And also the screams. It’s the atmosphere of the song, which is about Haiti, and the slave revolts there in the late 1700s, early 1800s. The prime mover of the revolution was Toussaint L’Ouverture, who was a fabled and tremendous horseman. That’s one of the reason they were able to win — he’d ride for 48 hours, nonstop, and show up on the French’s doorstep and surprise them.

Three horses were credited, though — Indio, Venino and Seqario. Those are the guy’s horses. But I think Indio had the best vocals!



Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Monday-Tuesday

Tickets: $30 to $35 (sold out)

Contact: (415) 771-1421,

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Tom Lanham

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