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10 Questions for Musician Jarboe | reviews, news & interviews

10 Questions for Musician Jarboe

10 Questions for Musician Jarboe

'skin blood women roses', collaboration and the secret to excellent hearing

Still evolving: JarboeJ Williams

Jarboe is a singer and musician who first rose to prominence as a member of Swans from 1985 to 1997. During this time, she and her then partner and fellow Swan, Michael Gira, also released three albums as Skin (known as World of Skin in the USA).

The first of these, Blood Women Roses, a disc of gothic torch songs, jazz and electronic experimentation, has been remastered and is to be rereleased as skin blood women roses on 23 April 2022 for Record Store Day by Belgian label Consoling Sounds, under her own name.

GUY ODDY: It is really exciting to hear a new take on your first Skin album with the rerelease of Blood Women Roses. However, why has the newly remastered version of the record been issued under your own name rather than as the work of Skin and how is your relationship with Michael Gira these days?

JARBOE: Quite simply, Michael Gira suggested I put it out on my own. I’d say our relationship is amicable and, as of now, it looks we could be at the same event in Berlin in November 2022.

The opening track on the album, "One Thousand Years" was quite a stand-out tune when it was first released, and I remember being particularly impressed by its video (see below) when it was broadcast on UK TV's The Tube. What are your memories of recording it and the rest of the album?

There are so many memories of the album recording. I will highlight the wonderful studios. Blackwing, for example, was an inspiring place to record. Also, the lead vocal on “One Thousand Years” was not intended as the actual take. It is a recording of me standing at the desk with microphone in hand in the control room just doing a run through as a test for the engineer. We decided to keep that “test” recording. We experimented with gathering sounds and manipulating them on this album. The boom sound on "Still A Child" is Michael slamming the door to the studio.

"Cry Me a River" also appears on the album and is an interesting reinterpretation of the famous Julie London tune. What made you think of covering that track?

The idea was to reinterpret a classic and make it my own. It was always an emotional song for me not a coy one and I wanted to express a ferocity and intensity – I ad-libbed the ending line “part of me died over you”. You hear me moaning in the background vocals throughout and the piano is treated to sound icy and foreboding.

Blood Women Roses got quite a lot of positive coverage in relatively mainstream UK media when it was first released. Did that come as a surprise to you, given that it is quite an experimental recording?

I remember the UK music journalist Jack Barron entitled his review Birth of a Singer and seeing this, I absolutely did experience warm light in my heart and yes, tears of joy in my eyes.


You were born and raised in the southern part of the USA. Do you think that this has influenced your work and, if so, how?

The street musicians of New Orleans fascinated me as a child, so I’d say there is an influence. You can for one example, hear it in my interpretation of Nick Drake’s “Black Eyed Dog” deliberately sung with a strong Southern accent. "Mother Father” also uses the Southern voice, as does “My Buried Child.”

You've also been interested in Buddhism for many years. How has this manifested itself in your music?

In my solo albums, beginning with Thirteen Masks and Sacrificial Cake, there is dharma or Tibetan Buddhist symbolism in a lyric or imagery in the song. On the album Alchemic: “nothing is here to stay; pain is not punishment. Pleasure is not reward. Nothing is here to stay” and “You are not your emotions”. Illusory is an album exploring karma and The Cut of the Warrior has an image of a Buddhist nun on the cover with her metaphorical skin cuts representing repeated efforts to "cut the ego”.

It's 25 years since you left Swans and became a solo artist. Do you miss being in a band or do you value the freedom of being your own boss more?

Swans was an education. I got my degree.

Swans' gigs in the '80s were notoriously loud – much more so than modern health and safety legislation in the UK would allow. How's your hearing these days?

I sent a deliberate message on stage in Swans by taking out my earplugs and inserting them in my ears before the band started.  I wanted the audience to see that I wore earplugs. I have excellent hearing.

As well as a fair few solo albums, you've also made several collaborative records with a number of artists, such as Neurosis, Justin Broadrick, Father Murphy and Helen Money. Which was your favourite of these projects and why?

Performing with Neurosis, even with doing all that panting on “Within” live and without getting dizzy was a pleasure and I love the album we made together. It was good to say “hello” to the creative and personable Justin Broadrick when Godflesh performed at the Necronomicon Convention in Rhode Island in August 2019 – on the same night as me. My show was created just for that event. I had Brett Robinson hit a gong on stage that night and he also played a brain wave modulator. Kris Force played viola and P. Emerson Williams was on electric guitar. I played iPad as well as doing live narration. Helen Money does gorgeous cello on stage and is an excellent musician. I also toured with my friends, Chiara and Federico (Father Murphy) in Europe and the US and we also did Dark Mofo in Tasmania together. They are angels. I enjoyed those shows so very much.

Finally, with you bringing all kinds of interesting sounds to the recordings in which you have participated throughout your career, have you ever considered producing any other artists? If so, with whom would you most like to work?

Collaboration with other musicians involves the production aspect of something other than one’s own work and has been and continues to be part of my experience. As for naming an artist I’d enjoy working with in any capacity? Warren Ellis. 

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