she wanted sexy, perverse, and intense.
by drew West
Saturday, June 13th, 1998. I was in Atlanta on prior engagements, but I thought, "what better way to spend an afternoon than talking with Jarboe after the end of SWANS." She is the most open and communicative person I have met in this industry in years, always responding to my letters and e-mail almost as fast as I can send them to her. We arranged to meet late in the afternoon, and I pulled up about fifteen minutes early, nervous as hell. Why? Who wouldn't be? I was at the last SWANS show in Atlanta, and there was something manifested through her that I never want to see again. I felt for certain that somehow this was not going to go well, and that "demon" was going to tear me to shreds. "Hello Drew, would you like some lemonade?" The demon was greeting me on the front lawn with a smile so sincere I felt I'd died and gone to heaven. From that moment on, I was in complete peace: Jarboe was Jarboe, and not the demon I saw on stage.
(Bottled Or Otherwise) Defined as the inability to feel pleasure, it was by far the focus of the conversation: both the idea of it and her upcoming self-released album Anhedoniac. Though filled with harsh imagery and purposefully dark sounds, Jarboe can feel pleasure. As the conversation begins to change from nervous chit-chat into a legitimate interview, Jarboe lets out one of the most boisterous and joyous laughs I can imagine. I can only compare it to my childhood hero, Santa Claus, and personally, the link is divine. As I sip my lemonade, Jarboe begins to explain the concept behind Anhedoniac.
"Anhedoniac is my commentary upon all my years in SWANS, both personally and professionally. SWANS existed for fifteen years. The album is dedicated to every musician who was in SWANS, and to Michael Gira in particular. It is self-produced, self-manufactured, and self promoted. It is only available on the Web site (http://www.swans.pair.com) and personal mail order. I wanted total control over the project and direct contact with the people who buy it. That is why I am numbering and signing this ultra-limited edition of only 1,500 worldwide."
This is no small task of a release either. Jarboe comes forward carrying a large ring that holds an extremely crude chastity belt, when compared with today's advances in bondage attire; but it holds its own for it is far more authentic and realistic than those mass-produced "advances." A perfect companion for such a limited release. I begin to wonder out loud if she made it...
No, Atlanta artist Melanie Spinks made it for me. The idea to wear a raw-looking chastity belt was mine. The final design was by Cedric DeSouza. He's the art director for the release. Here's the other one. There is a definite tension created with them.
Very fitting for the title of the album.
They're definitely going to be shocking to the unprepared.
Have you seen the images on the web site?
No, I haven't. I didn't even know there were any on the web page.
Let me show them to you. They're some of the artwork. The CD booklet also has photos only available with the CD, and are not on the site.
Now if you haven't been on the SWANS Web page recently, I must insist you drop everything and get connected. There was nothing that could have prepared me for the photos. After Jarboe showed me everything on the Web page, she grabbed the photos taken by Richard Kern for me to see. One in particular had me rather uneasy. It is a vaginal shot of Jarboe wearing the second chastity belt. "Kembra from The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black did all the make-up for the photos," she says of the horrific cuts, bruises, and blood. If they looked any closer to real I would have hunted down the perpetrator and killed them like an animal. There is something altogether strange when the person you are talking with shows you photographs of this nature. But why Richard Kern? "I wanted sexy, perverse, and intense imagery. Who else could it be?" she says. Yeah, dead on the money for certain! To say the least, the artwork is the reason for selling only to those twenty-one and over. Strangely, I find them extremely intriguing, interesting, and I am ashamed to admit it, but titillating.
Not Noah's Ark
Michael Gira. How does one tackle anything dealing with him, SWANS, and more directly, Jarboe's interaction with him? Everyone always asks and usually to no avail. We wandered onto this topic through The Consumer, Gira's book. Jarboe tells me about how it was finished in the basement. Everyday she would make a feast (and probably fit for a king from what I can gather of her cooking abilities) to feed him and then proof what he had written. This is no small task when dealing with the disturbing nature of the book, and definitely not a bedtime reader for those fearful of nightmares. In the end, Jarboe has nothing but kind words for Michael: "[He] is the person who has had the most impact on my life thus far. That is why Anhedoniac is a direct statement to him. The album has the most direct and sincere love songs I have ever written even when dealing with divorce and death." The liner notes embody it forever: "For Michael R. Gira: I will always remember. I will always love you."
While on the final European tour for SWANS, Jarboe opted to leave the tour bus, and travel by train on her own. "Well, I went all over Europe on the best and the worst trains; sometimes both styles in the same day. I had to get up really early, averaging three to four hours of sleep after the show if I was lucky, as I had to make a lot of connections in the same day. The tour covered a lot of territory. The language would change several times also, as I might be on a French train and then an old Eastern European one, etc. in a matter of hours. The most luxurious was the one to Paris, naturally. One memorable sight was the huge station in Milan, where oblivious tourists stood directly underneath roosting pigeons and their droppings. It was very Fellini-esque, with large groups of school children wearing peculiar boxes atop their heads, etc... much cacophony."
Burnt Sacred Disciple Wannabe
Jarboe no longer has any desire to deal with record labels. Probably the wisest choice. When I ask about why, the reply is painfully obvious. Look at the choices, the pressure, the censoring, and the dirty dealings that come with them? Anhedoniac would not exist through any label. It's not going to stop her. The music speaks for itself, and SWANS have had an effect on a list of musicians and fans the world over. Jarboe tells me about how one of the members of Metallica has been a longtime fan of SWANS, and how she would love to record a song with them. Look out boys! This woman will teach you a thing or two about how to scare your audience into submission with artistic divinity. Though that is only a passing comment, and presently she is involved with enough projects to be working for a very long time.
"This summer I am involved collaboratively in ongoing projects with Lustmord. who works with Graeme Revell (The Crow soundtracks, etc), David Linton (who has worked with Diamanda Galas), Mark Spybey (dead Voices On Air, Download, Zoviet:France) for a live performance via the Chicago Lab and the Museum Of Contemporary Art Of Chicago, Brian Castillo for the initial phase of my next solo album, and preparing for the studio in Israel where I am recording the album in October/November of this year. The theme of the next work is one of recovery and rebirth. I am also involved in a new band called the Suicide Pact, which includes John Bergin and Brett Smith . That project won't come out until 1999, and will be on the Crowd Control label." Where does one get the time? It's not all she does either.
Panasonic Circles In Red Dirt
Moments later, Jarboe produces drawings of a long time "SWANS artist," Nicole Boitos from Philadelphia. One is of a rabbit, the other of a bear. On first glance they are beautiful, and fitting for a Briar Rabbit illustration, but upon closer observation, the harsh truth is exposed. The rabbit is bound and gagged; the bear wears a muzzle, imprisoned with a ball and chain. Jarboe is co-conspirator in a literary venture with her. "Nicole's coming down in July, and we are doing a book together. She wants to do it all herself. She has a printing press in her house, but it's really time-consuming, because everything has to be hand etched onto the copper plates. I'm going to do all the writings, then she is going to draw the images to go with them. She wants it to be a limited edition original printing." Somehow I bet a close watch of the Web site will guarantee information on getting this one as soon as it's made available.
As it all comes to a close, we begin the process of selecting a photo. She produces four to choose from, and two we probably can't print because of some weird "decency decree." They are her press photos, though crime scene photo seems more appropriate. How does the living look like a corpse?
It's almost like you embody a character for these photos.
I had a doctor as an advisor that told me what to do, how to position my body, and to roll my eyes back in my head.
You can be the judge, but I bet if they break down your front door and find that glossy in your possession, the questions aren't going to be easy. Bail? You must be joking!
I'm A Killer
As Jarboe walked me to my car, I could see it plain as the daylight falling on my body. Jarboe is neither evil nor brutal. She is one of today's most original and thought-provoking artists, and has done more for the "Women in Rock" than anyone gives her credit. She can work with the "big boys" as an equal. For me, the most important element comes from her heart. She is the most caring and sincere person I have ever been fortunate enough to know. Someday, if I am fortunate enough, I'm going to take this "Helen of Troy" out for dinner as a societal thank you for all that she has given us.