i’ve never liked interviews. i consistently fuck them up in all sorts of silly embarrassing ways. but i was asked a simple question recently by an Italian music journalist and found myself compelled to answer more honestly and bluntly than i have in the past. the full interview will be translated and posted at some point in the future, but i wanted to share just one of my answers with all of you, right now. partly to clear up some misinformation, partly to explain why i have obstinately begun using ‘i’ instead of ‘we’ when talking about raised by swans, partly because my answer might possibly be interesting to a few of you, and partly because the truth has been burning inside of me for years now and i may not ever be asked to do another interview where i can clear things up before i die on a mountain somewhere.
my own attempts at being modest and inclusive to people i care deeply about (namely the wonderful guys who play concerts with me but aren’t involved in the creation of my music) have led to raised by swans being perceived as something different to what it actually is. which is purely a solo project. it’s my fault that this has happened. but being so close to releasing my newest album and knowing how many thousands of hours i’ve devoted already to it, the tenderness and pain and ferociously hard work i’ve put into every last detail of its creation, and how much pride i feel towards its every nuance, from guitar and bass parts to beats to words to pianos and keyboards to collected sounds and moments of silence – the very same burning pride i felt for my previous two albums, but never properly expressed – the space i’m in has made me feel a peculiar urgency to clarify things once and for all. so please indulge me. or if you’re not interested, which is perfectly understandable, you can stop reading now. note: i probably won’t do many more interviews. too painful. love, eric.
the question i was asked was:
how and when was Raised By Swans born?
and my answer was/is:
First of all – and I’ve never said it this bluntly before, but I feel it’s important to clarify – Raised By Swans is and always has been a solo project, not a band. That fact hasn’t been made clear in the past, which is totally my fault; well-meaning but misguided attempts at modesty and inclusion have clouded the truth. Modesty is certainly preferable to arrogance, at least to me, but in some ways it can be just as deceptive and self-serving, and over time it can lead to a buildup of misinformation about oneself or others. These days, especially in the last months of putting together my newest album, I’m more concerned with the truth than anything else. I can’t help but be fiercely proud of the exhausting amounts of work I’ve put into writing and recording my songs over the years; every note and word and sound and moment of silence that you hear (or don’t hear) on the albums is my own. Plus it’s important to me that anyone reading this who is just starting out writing music and is nervous about going it completely alone knows that it’s possible.
I just wanted to define what Raised By Swans is before answering the rest of this question. More about the excellent and decidedly rare gentlemen who currently play live concerts with me in a moment.
Raised By Swans was born in 1997 or so. I played bass guitar in a pretty popular Canadian band for a few years when I was very young. We had some good times, but in that particular band I had almost no creative input, which led to an alarming feeling of dissatisfaction and boredom with music, a feeling I’d never had, that I became obsessed with fixing. I started writing my own songs in a much more personal and concentrated way than I ever had before, in a small attic apartment with crooked floors and blankets hung at the windows, broke and hungry all the time, but wildly alive. I’d sit there with headphones on in the middle of the night and work with my old four track machine, layering parts excitedly until I passed out from exhaustion. It was as if I’d finally come to life, and I did everything I could (still do) to nurture and protect that feeling. I quit the band I was in and chose to strike out on my own. That was when I became Raised By Swans, though the name was not there yet. All I knew, finally, was that I needed complete freedom, to write and create alone, to make music of my own without having to pass ideas or feelings through other people first. Before I did anything else I wrote an entire album all by myself, using a drum machine for beats, guitars, a bass, and a cheap keyboard – even made a cassette tape cover for it when it was done – before I began looking for people who might want to play the songs live with me.
The guys who play live shows with me today, by far the best line-up I or anyone else could ever imagine or hope to be a part of, each joined up with me at different times to help me bring the recorded songs to life in a live setting, and because they enjoy playing music. We’re friends as well as bandmates. But they don’t depend on Raised By Swans in any way creatively; they have outlets and projects of their own, each of them. Or families. Or both. For me it’s only this music. I’m honoured to have such gifted musicians alongside me onstage, but when it comes to writing and recording, it’s always only been me, with Andy of course capturing everything on tape so sensitively and brilliantly. If someone else happens to play a part on an album of mine, for instance, they’re playing a part I’ve written. Control is terribly important when it comes to one’s art, at least to me.
So that’s what it is, and how it started. In a tiny apartment in the middle of the night. Nothing’s really changed. I still work and write exactly the same way. The name itself was born when I had a very special dream that seemed to sum up that whole period of transition for me.