disappearing now, into silence and solitude and secret places, and to finish writing the new album.
thank you for the warm and constructive support following my last post. it’s been a catch-22 for many years now – with no record label or publicist or future interviews to set things straight, the only option i’ve had to correct misinformation about raised by swans has been to create new references to the truth through the updates i write now and then. but it’s always felt terribly uncomfortable turning a light on over myself. mostly i’ve just neglected it completely.
thankfully, what i wrote a few weeks ago morphed into something definitive, and final. and now i can turn that light off for good. thanks for your patience.
thank you also to the kind youtube channel owners who have corrected ancient errors on my behalf.
take care of yourselves. proper updates once i reconnect, about the upcoming album, shows, and other things.
if i could only share my new songs with you somehow right now, i would. in my head they are nearly fully formed, and so lovely and powerful that i feel like even in their unfinished states they could carry me in a swoon across the ocean to Iceland.
not many who listen to raised by swans know this, but i’ve only ever written my songs alone – every part for every instrument, every word, every beat, every note and chord and sound. from Codes and Secret Longing to No Ghostless Place to ‘sightings’ to Öxnadalur, everything you hear when you listen to those recordings – everything, spanning 17 years now, and 41 released songs thus far – is only mine. not because raised by swans is or ever was a band with one person dominating the songwriting and decision-making, but because raised by swans is and always has been a solo artist, as both lonely and pompous as that term somehow sounds all at once. because raised by swans is me.
as outside of the internet as i live my life, i’m still haunted by the pronoun choices i made in the midst of a couple of manic interviews many years ago, and a few early bios as well, about raised by swans – things i said out of feeling not much love or appreciation for myself, and a sort of crazed, ultra-gratitude towards the people who accompanied me during live shows back then, and here and there on my first two albums, playing parts they’d learned from recordings i’d made. i deeply appreciate everyone who plays with me onstage, always have, and andy continues to be a dear friend and vital partner in terms of helping me get what’s in my brain on tape. but this is about my songs, and the fact that before ‘sightings’ in 2013, and a post i wrote to accompany its release, i didn’t ever take proper credit for all i’d done, for how much i’d fucking bled for every moment of every song, the agonies and ecstasies and thousands of hours of hard work and sleepless nights. being as private and hidden away as possible has always tended to be my default setting.
and now, those errors i made feel immoveable and eternal, as if they’re fixed to the ether simply by virtue of how long they’ve been there, and can therefore only be true. in the rare instance that i’m directed through a notification to a song of mine on a seemingly disowned youtube channel that confidently defines raised by swans as an “indie band”, or as a “they” and not a “he”, when each of my albums has nearly killed me to create over years of effort and sacrifice and constant obsession, i feel a kind of helpless sorrow, shocking in its intensity. this is usually followed by a ferocious, mother bear-like protective instinct, that probably means something is very wrong with me. but i’d rather people think i’m deranged or falling apart than have the truth held under any longer by too much humility or the weight of too many years. if i disappear forever, all of sudden, all i want is to have my songs’ births curled up tightly against my chest, where they belong.
of course i know and hold the truth already in my heart, and of course that should be all that matters, and when i’m climbing mountains in Iceland, or pushing my face into Number Six’s fur, it is. but raised by swans is also what tethers me to the rest of the world, earns me a warm little hollowed out spot in the universe where i feel like i’ve truly given everything i have, contributed something that’s perhaps even valuable and beautiful and brave in its way. it feels like it’s why i’m here. it’s certainly what’s keeping me alive.
a sentimental sort of night provoked this. last night i was working on my upcoming album, and as i was recording a raw version of one of the new songs, i realized with a sudden surge of affection that the entirety of the guitar and drum parts – everything you hear on all three albums and ‘sightings’ – was originally written and recorded using only two cheap and decidedly unassuming instruments: a dented Japanese telecaster with three holes drilled into its body, and an early 90’s drum machine that’s somehow survived hot candle wax, two minor floods, and so many spilled drinks that i’m surprised it hasn’t died from alcohol poisoning. sitting there on the floor, bare feet tangled up in cords for the billionth time with these lovely, flawed things that have been with me from the start, my heart went out to them, and to all the years i have spent bent over them, ears ringing, heart racing or breaking or both. and i felt the weight and lightness of all those thousands and thousands of hours at once, and broke down. and decided i needed to write this.
as time goes by, the more i realize that i might never get to say some of the things i wish i could about all i’ve put into raised by swans over the years. about what it is, and was, and will always be. not that i want to disclose too much; i just want to feel that the truth is out there. so maybe this one post is enough. i’ve given my whole life to music. and an extension of that commitment and its accompanying sense of utter, glorious freedom, and of all that music has given me in return, is the overwhelming love i feel for these old, wrecked instruments of mine. and in a shy, but particularly beautiful way (to me at least, and hopefully to you as well), this also extends into the love i feel for all of you. it’s because this is all so very, very personal to me that i write such intimate and emotional posts now and again, in spite of being such a private and solitary creature the majority of the time. it’s why your letters and comments and emails so often move me to tears, and why they are among the most precious gifts i’ve ever received. maybe knowing what raised by swans is makes it easier to understand just how much all of this means to me.
thank you for all of your support and love over the years.
hopefully all of you know by now that even when it seems i’ve disappeared, i’m always working on new music. i’ll never not be, actually, unless i’ve died. this i can promise you. i just prefer to stay quiet as i do.
but i’m torn, because i also want to let you know what’s happening once in a while. and what’s happening right now is that i’m very nearly ready to start recording my next album. over the past few weeks i’ve been hiding out in the basement of an empty borrowed house with a piano, like the phantom of the opera. minus the opera, and the organ, and the mask. and the kidnapping. and the songs i’ve been finishing up there and elsewhere since coming back from Europe in December feel like some of the best i’ve written. it would be pointless to try to say anything more about them, but i wish you could hear them now. they’re so lovely and cathartic to me, even in their raw and unfinished states, that i feel like i’ve been falling from a very tall building for the past several months.
needless to say, being so immersed in writing takes time and energy away from arranging shows. which hurts, because i miss playing live more than anything. but i’ll be working on booking some performances as soon as i can as well.
home, and feeling terribly disoriented and empty. not up for writing much, but want to say something important before too much time passes.
i left for my European tour in early November thinking that it would essentially be a solitary adventure. that no matter who was around me now and then, or listening to me sing each night from the darkness offstage, i would ultimately be alone in the clubs, alone in a hostel room each night, alone after it was all over. this was okay with me, as solitude is a choice i so often make. i even assumed i’d go off to Iceland for a few days after Offenbach to decompress in the mountains and snowstorms for a few days, alone.
of course i was still alone much of the time. but these periods felt like transitions more than anything else, bridges between warm places. in truth, i was surrounded by the kindest and most giving people i could ever have imagined, people who disarmed me and overrode my shyness, and made me feel like being alone was something that i should leave for another time. that i was where i belonged, even if only for a brief and wondrous few weeks. through Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Slovakia, and Czech Republic, and the incredible adventures i had in all of these magical places, people from all over Europe, and the people i travelled and shared stages with, made the past month so vivid and beautiful that as heartbroken and not at all ready to stop as i am feeling now that i am at home in Canada, i have so many lovely memories within easy reach that i feel i will get through the disorientation and pain of missing all of you, and all i went through, and emerge intact. and possibly even stronger than i already was.
still far too raw and emotional to get any of this right. to process that these connections are once again held together over thousands of miles only by words on screens and memories, not faces and voices and dim stages where i could sing to you every night, sense you standing on the outskirts of the stage lights. but before i disappear for a little while to readjust, and to try to start working on booking some new shows, writing new music, i want to say thank you to everyone who helped me, talked to me, hugged me, showed me around, fed me, kept me company, drank with me, listened to me sing, did my sound, gave me a place to sleep, shared the stage with me, shared their stories with me, and made me feel that in spite of my enduring love for solitude, and how my heart so often feels, i’m not as alone as i think i am. and that my music is not only alive, but spreading hope in all sorts of faraway places, and in all sorts of beautiful wounded hearts.
left my CDs in Zupanja, Croatia. no way to get them back before the end of the tour. bought some blanks and will madly burn and handcraft a few in Točník.
Bratislava, Slovakia an emotional show. enjoying the whirlwind (not literally ‘limping’, for those concerned about my last update, Zupanja just a tough set), but tired of losing things, and missing the beautiful people i’ve had to leave behind, both from past gigs and back in Canada. and of course missing Number Six desperately.
but last night i sang, and the people who came out were so warm and appreciative. forgot my forgetfulness for a while, and felt like i was where i was supposed to be.
Romania was wood smoke and stray dogs, grape vine-entangled houses, horse-drawn carts, roller coaster mountain roads, cancelled shows, a drunken night off in Brașov with Midas Fall, and a ferry ride in my tiny car across the Danube under the stars after a tense border crossing, a tugboat nudging me and a few enormous trucks precariously along through the black water on a floating platform, with no clue where i really was, and no reason to care.
Saturday night a wonderful show in Cluj Napoca, at The Shelter, where i played for a small but very sweet and attentive audience before Midas Fall took the stage and destroyed the universe in the loveliest possible way.
spoke with several people in Cluj who had lost friends in the Colectiv fire. watched a Romanian band celebrate their album release. then three hours’ “sleep” as the nightclub below pounded its beats up into the ceiling, music still shaking the building at 5 am when i got up like a drugged gorilla to start driving for Sofia in the wet darkness. pulled over and fined by the Romanian police for speeding in the midst of driving 13 straight hours through rainy villages and two terrible car accidents and misty mountains to get to Sofia and my flight to Vienna, where i slept briefly before driving again for Croatia, arriving just in time to play, thanks to the best GPS available: a local man on a bicycle.
Burgas, Bulgaria feels like fifty years ago now. a metal club with interior decorating inspired by Jack Daniels, my brief set a weird and clearly somewhat unwelcome interlude wedged into a playlist of Bulgarian hardcore and Rage Against the Machine. almost didn’t find the venue in time, even locals baffled and unable to understand what i was looking for (the bar’s name, not so helpfully, translates to “bar with no name”) and then misplaced my rental car in the mayhem of dragging my gear randomly around the dark streets, listening for Midas Fall’s soundcheck. finally found it the next morning with its back wheel clamped and a ticket on the windshield.
just leaving Bratislava with Midas Fall for Czech Republic, (the show is in Točník, not Loukov), then Berlin tomorrow. very excited. i will connect with all of you properly soon, those i owe emails to, but for now i am being whisked away again, and wanted to finally post an update, as ragged as i know it is.
somehow limped my way through my set in Zupanja, Croatia just now after driving 22 hours over the past two days (and flying for two) on four hours of sleep. a lovely welcome to town when my despised but sadly necessary GPS failed me yet again and an enthusiastic older man found me looking bewildered and insisted on escorted me and my little car on his bicycle through the streets for the last kilometre or so to the club, where i was immediately offered some local moonshine and asked to start, my brain and body still going 150 km an hour on an empty highway.
a proper post about where i’ve been over the past few days tomorrow, but for now some news: Trnava has been cancelled due to a stabbing, but there is a new show tomorrow in Bratislava instead. the venue is called British Rock Stars, to the amusement/embarrassment of Midas Fall. see you there.
thank you to the Bee Bop Cafe and all who made it out to the show. it was a wonderful night; the first of nine dates with Midas Fall. Plovdiv is a lovely, mysterious place, one of the oldest cities in the world, and the people here have been welcoming, generous and thoughtful from the moment i arrived. i only wish i had more time to explore.
heading now to the coast of the Black Sea – a last-minute show has been arranged in Burgas, Bulgaria at a venue called ‘biz bize (?)’. hope to see you there.
regarding Romania: due to the terrible and heartbreaking tragedy at Colectiv, the show in Bucharest has been cancelled. the shows in Iasi (on the 20th) and Cluj Napoca (on the 21st) are still on.
eyes still burning after an extended and tremendously emotional good-bye to Moscow, where i was treated with such open love and kindness that i feel i’ve left an enormous new family behind.
so exhausted and stupid with heartache that i walked off a train without my suitcase in Austria where i’d arranged to have some more CDs delivered (please forget previous panic-stricken emergency message, now deleted – apparently someone has found my suitcase somewhere near Vienna, and i will hopefully get it back in a week or so).
as for my dear friends Kirill, Zlata, Lera and Jenya, who took such lovely care of me, i miss you terribly already. because of my missing suitcase, there will be no samogon to toast you with tonight upon my arrival in Sofia. this makes me sad. on top of being so far away from you, i also lost my beloved green journal at SVO, along with the copy of ‘The Golden Finch’ that i bought in Bamberg. clearly i’m not fit for travelling today. but in all the chaos i have been holding tightly to the memory of our last embraces. and so i am okay. i hope you are too.
спасибо, Россия. thank you to all who helped arrange this very special show, for the beautiful hugs and gifts and conversations you travelled so far to bring to me, and for the lovely moments we shared before, during and after my set. thank you ДИч for having me. the past two nights i sat in my cozy little hostel room surrounded by memories of all of you, the team translating your messages and comments from vk.com for me, and i felt like i was being held by all of you at once. i will not forget you. thank you for welcoming me, for stomping and clapping along to ‘night fighter’, for stopping my heart (and the song in its first few notes) in the most shocking and lovely way when i started singing ‘still inside you’. thank you for putting up with my awkward banter and struggles with the microphone stand.
long after the show, K, Z, L, J and i walked to Red Square in the blowing snow – the first snowfall of the year. the square was wonderfully deserted, the snow swirling kaleidoscopically about in the spotlights, the sky huge and glittering. we laughed together, and explored, and drank together, and as Lera said, it felt like our weekend had lasted a whole month. i have felt so brilliantly alive in Russia. and so loved. thank you for that.
i hope to come again next year to see you all again. possibly to St. Petersburg too. the thought of these possibilities makes being away from you all easier to bear.
before i board my plane for Bulgaria, i must also say thank you to Andria, a once-stranger who became a friend over the past two hours. in spite of all she was in the midst of herself, once she found out about my predicament(s), she drove me all over the city to track down my CDs, and back to the airport, and has even offered to hold my suitcase for me when it surfaces. i cannot thank her enough for saving me today. people are fucking awesome.
speaking of fucking awesome, much love and a good night kiss to my Russian friends. i will see you soon.
some experiences are too intimate, too fragile and beautiful, to be put into words. i don’t know what to say about last night that i didn’t already say to everyone in between songs, and after hugs, and handshakes, and the clanking of beer mugs. but i want to thank you anyway, formally, once more. thank you all so very much for coming, and for contributing your presence to such a warm and emotional night.
today i floated above the cobblestones in old Bamberg. i woke up feeling wildly alive, in spite of closing down Eckerts (and also availing myself of my excellent hotel’s after-hours beer fridge). i covered miles and miles and miles this afternoon, up staircases and steep, narrow streets, through cathedrals and parks and along the Regnitz, and only felt stronger and lighter when i returned to my hotel.
(important: when i left my hotel, i noticed right away that the Stolpersteine outside the main doors had been freshly polished; the polish still foaming on the brass. this was an impossibly moving moment to me.)
the show was sold out, and Sigurbjörg and Nora were wonderful, and the Villa Concordia staff so kind and generous that i felt i was among friends from the moment i arrived.
and then i climbed the echoey stone staircase to the concert hall, and i sang, and my heart soared to be there, so close to all of you. to have a Steinway piano for ‘depth charges’ and ‘Öxnadalur’. i was treated so well by everyone.
and then, perhaps best of all, i met the loveliest people after the show; people who had come from Ukraine (who had hitchhiked, no less(!) i hope you made it safely to your mountain today, Sofia and Nadia), Cologne, Lithuania, England, Iceland, Norway, Italy, Frankfurt, Berlin, Czech Republic, China (via Bamberg), and Rwanda (via Iceland). and of course, everyone who came from Bamberg itself.
if i have missed any locations, i apologize. i have been into the beer fridge once again.
i am humbled. but as one of the amazing young women from Ukraine said to me, in her wonderfully blunt way, “we didn’t come for you – we came for us.”
and she was absolutely right. we were all together last night. simply and beautifully. it was not my night; it was ours.
p.s. you all know that i don’t post pictures of myself really ever, unless i am a tiny blurry dot on the horizon, or have my back to the camera, or am swallowed in shadows. but Martin sent me this photo today (taken by Stephan Obel), and it sums the night up to me. and as much as i don’t care to have my face exposed so explicitly, that smile is because of all of you.