Last week, the album To Be Kind by the band Swans debuted at No. 37 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. It's a dense album — layered, sprawling, and grandiose. Some might call the music difficult, which makes its placement on the top album charts significant. But for those who have followed the band throughout its 30-plus-year career, it sort of makes sense. Bandleader Michael Gira has been one of the hardest working men in independent music since the very early days of Swans. The band's early sound could be described as brutally loud, confrontational, and disturbing. In the mid-'80s they became a gentler Swans, creating beautifully lush masterpieces that wouldn't be too weird to find alongside an Enya track on any goth's mixtape. Gira made a return to the noisy and the experimental before declaring Swans over in 1996.
Settling in Texas, Gira continued to work while the cult of Swans fans grew, releasing groundbreaking solo albums and exceptional work with his outfit the Angels of Light, discovering artists like Devendra Banhart and Akron Family, and maintaining his Young God record label before resurrecting Swans in 2010. Since then, the world of the underground has welcomed Swans back with loving, open arms — so their breach into the mainstream album charts does make some sort of sense. We spoke with Gira earlier this month about the new album and how things are holding up four years into the band's reunion.