[ there's no place like home ]
by Mark Teppo

There are few experimental and independent bands who won't say yes when asked if the Swans were an influential part of their upbringing. Formed in 1982 by Michael Gira, the aural tornado of the band's sound was refined by the addition of Jarboe in 1986. Until their dissolution in 1997, the Swans' performances were visceral displays of raw emotional content and pure sonic fury. Both Gira and Jarboe have remained busy since the separation of their sonic thunderhead, channeling that same fury and intensity into solo projects.

Jarboe has released five solo records, a quintet which includes the gut-wrenching and emotionally naked Anhedonic, a record which lays bare a great deal of Jarboe's innermost expressions. A consummate performer (as well as a perfectly refined Southern lady), Jarboe has used the Internet as a direct link between herself -- the artist, the performer -- and her audience since the late 1990s. Her website, www.thelivingjarboe.com, is more than just a comprehensive examination of her solo career. It is an unflinching examination of the artistic process as she allows access to her personal journal, her works-in-progress, and a number of other aspects of the creative process.

As a vocalist, Jarboe is equally comfortable with the crooning lullaby and the shriek of an enraged banshee. She uses her voice not only as a vehicle for her stark and brutal lyrics, but as an additional layer of interpretation to her music. The little girl voices, the gutteral weeping of a wounded animal, the soft lament of a woman bereft of hope, the seductive whisper of a hungry succubus, the exaltation of a heaven-bound choir: these are all characters at her disposal and she has no qualms about giving you the voice most likely to break your heart.

Following a widely successful show in Poland with the Italy-based Larsen providing backup, she embarked on a US tour in 2003, and eP's Mark Teppo and Craig Young caught up with her before her recent performance in Seattle. The release of Dissected -- a remix collection of material from her previous solo collection -- heralded a surge in new records for Jarboe. Close on the heels of her intimate cabaret-style tour is the release of her collaborative record with San Francisco-based Neurosis. Neurosis & Jarboe drives together her trademark choral oscillations and emotionally naked voices with their monolithic sound. The record is more than one providing material for the other; Neurosis & Jarboe is an explosive mix of elements already too volatile for safe transport.

photo 2000 Erica George Dines

Mark Teppo: Your bio states that your performances are an attempt to close the gap between the performer and the audience. Since the inception of your website, I was wondering how the Internet has closed that gap between you and your audience.

Jarboe: Oh, definitely. I have my diary right off the home page, and it has been very -- absolutely -- revealing, depending on what has been going on in my life. That's one way; another is that I am directly accessible, and have been since 1996 when I started the Swans website. Before that, I did everything through the mail.

When I started the Swans website I realized that I could reach directly -- in a very efficient manner -- the people who cared about the music. I can advance that more with my site: through the feedback on the discussion boards, the comments about the journal entries -- the Artery entries -- and by having personal snapshots and a great deal of stuff. When I'm working on a lot of projects, that's when I have less intimate input to the degree which I normally do because I am just so swamped with work. But, generally, it is just part of my life -- the communication that I have through the site.

Three nights ago, I think it was, I spent the evening over at Blixa Bargeld's house in Menlo Park and he and I talked about this. [Einstürzende] Neubauten has taken this even a step further. If you are a subscriber to a special part of their website, you can see them working in the studio, developing material -- lyrics and the music -- and there are monitors in the studio where you can -- in real time -- give them feedback on what they are doing. It's very interesting. It's not that they are being dictated to by people, but that they are listening to what people say. They're considering it as part of the process of their work. That's taking the issue of accessibility even further, and integrating the people who really love what you do into the creative process. Neubauten has really become an important band now with that step, and it has reached a point where the subscribers are raising the funds for the recording of their albums now. It's pretty experimental and pretty progressive, and I only see it as what's coming for more and more people.

[the living jarboe - disburden discpline]
[ give a listen! ] "Bound" MP3

CMJ asked me a couple of years ago to sit on a panel about the artist and the Internet, addressing the people who came about how to do this, how to make a living through your site, how can you reach people. What we found out through this discussion and what I knew already from coming out of a band that started doing many, many tours -- long, lengthy tours -- and getting a mail list [from the tour] and doing our communication that way, was the benefit of doing it that way. I don't see any way to bypass that process right now. You can't just form a band, get a website, and [throws open her hands] "there you go." You have to get people coming to your website. That's what we tried to address at the panel.

When I talk about "bridging the gap" through the music I do and the performances I do, it is just the nature of the beast. There is a sort of person who writes the songs, and there is the person who is revealing the human emotion and experience and is trying to do a one-on-one with the people who see it or hear it. That's what I started out doing in art galleries and it is very different than from learning some songs, getting a band, and playing the songs. It is more of an experience that I try to bring to people, and I think I have a success rate with some people and not so much with others. [Shrugs] That's my idea.

Mark: With the accessibility that people have to you, is there less of a distinction between you the performer and you the person? Does the word "performer" actually start to lose its meaning when you are on display 24/7?

Jarboe: Words are so controversial. I've been talking with other people who do music -- singers and artists -- and these words are so controversial. To me, they are not, but I've come to realize how tainted these words are. If you say "performer," some people see a sort of artifice with that. Whereas I don't. I see it as a performance. To say "I am a singer, I stand here and sing" is flat for me because I don't consider myself that. But when I talk with my friend Diamanda Galas, she recoils at the word "performer" and prefers to be called a singer. Yet when I see her do her live shows, I think of it as a "performance." I don't see her as a "singer." [Laughs] There are all these words. So, for me to say that I have always looked at myself as an "artist" and I happen to use sound and music to do what I do, there is always a contigent of people that recoil hard at the use of the word "artist." [Laughs] I'm totally confused at this point.

I was talking about this with Bill Rieflin last night and he said that I should just say: [robot monotone voice] "I record CDs. I perform them live." [Laughs] Everyone is going to think that you are pompous or self-absorbed or something. There are all these words: artist, poet, performer. So I don't know what you are supposed to say anymore. I told Bill that I couldn't call myself a musician because I've got too much respect for musicians. I do something else. I use sound, but it isn't like I could sit down and, you know, be hired by the symphony. It is different.

[jarboe and bill rieflin
image courtesy thelivingjarboe.com

Mark: When I was formulated these questions, I stumbled over this word. Was it "artist" or "performer" or "musician"? Musician is the word that struck me as the least appropriate. I mean, there is the musical aspect where you go into the studio and put together a piece -- it doesn't happen in a vacuum, you have to be a musician during that part of the process. It's the physical aspect of singing. But there is so much more in what you do.

Jarboe: I consider someone like Bill to be a consummate musician. The man can play bass; he can play guitar. He is one of the world's most incredible drummers -- he's currently drumming with REM, he played with Ministry, he played with the Swans in 1995. He can do it all. He is a musician. Whereas what I do is specifically my stuff; or, in the Swans, it was our Swans stuff. People who are musicians can fit in with me, but I can't comfortably fit in to a lot of other people's stuff because it is so specifically my idea of music should be.

Craig Young: I always thought of Bill as a craftsman because he can walk into a situation and go, "Yeah, I can do that for you."

Jarboe: He can do everything. Yeah, and he has such a great ear that he can see what you and give what you want. That's the difference to me with the word "musician." But, if I'm not really worrying about being politically correct or people's reactions, then ultimately I'm most comfortable with saying: "I am an artist who works with sound. I'm a performance artist." And then everyone goes: "Oh, gag me!" [Laughs] But I feel that, without all the Saturday Night Live skits, it describes what I do best.

Mark: You've got a record coming out soon that is a collaboration between you and Neurosis. Was this a recently conceived project?

Jarboe: It was not exactly speedy! Neurosis and I have been discussing doing an album together for years.

[the living jarboe - disburden disciple]
[ give a listen! ] "Consume Me" MP3

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