Features Interviews

Skin Blood Women Roses: An Interview with Jarboe

With her seminal debut LP set for reissue this month, watch the video for ‘Red Rose’.

Jarboe needs no introduction. Her involvement in Swans has gone on to influence a generation, leaving an indelible mark across the haunting frontiers of experimentation.

Also an incessant collaborator, which reached its apex alongside Neurosis with 2003’s Neurosis & Jarboe and later with Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick with the 2008 release, J2, if anything these culture-defining releases have overshadowed her own body of work.

That very body of work beginning with the 1987 debut LP, Skin Blood Women Roses. A long sought after release which is set for a timely reissue under Jarboe’s own name for Record Store Day on April 23 via Consouling Sounds.

Skin Blood Women Roses is the kind of record that summons the spirits. Underpinning all the greatest aspects of Jarboe’s solo work, with cold dread, urgent power struggles and burning love, it’s astounding just how assured it is.

“Oh, I remember everything,” says Jarboe, answering a string of our questions via email in the lead-up to the video announcement for Skin Blood Women Roses’ penultimate track, Red Rose. “Highlights would be working in recording studios around London and getting to know fascinating people and places.”

Being such an integral part of Swans at the time, did this experience shape the album in any way?

“First of all, just being in a loud aggressive band like Swans at that time took considerable confidence and self-assurance. I’d say the obvious shift to more melodic components in the music happened in Swans post the exploration of melody and the focus on ‘the singer’ aspects in Skin Blood Women Roses – so the album did have an impact on Swans,” she says.

With colossal range and emotional vigour, Jarboe’s ominous grace consumed Michael Gira’s bug-eyed nihilism, to the point where her contribution to Swans was something listeners of the band’s earlier days couldn’t have envisaged in their wildest dreams. Her performances one of the most vital in the world of experimentation and noise, which took Swans into a dawn, and resulted in some of the band’s finest moments committed to tape, including the seminal Children of God released in the same year as Skin Blood Women Roses.

Jarboe - Skin Blood Women Roses

Produced by Gira, Skin Blood Women Roses proved a vital gateway, and with the likes of the tender orchestral opener, One Thousand Years, and the fractured balladry of Still A Child and The Man I Love, these songs contained an earthy locality, resonating with Jarboe’s formative years growing up in New Orleans and Atlanta. “Yes, I’d say a bluesy influence can be heard on certain songs in terms of how I approach it with regard to phrasing, voice tonality, inflection, accent,” she says.

Then there’s Come Out, which sees Jarboe etched in ’80s reverence. A song distilled in the moment and perhaps one where Jarboe hasn’t sounded so freeing.

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“There are several versions of Come Out. My favourite is the dub version featured on the CD format of Skin Blood Women Roses. The song was progressive in terms of lyric content, especially the rap. I had fun with it. When I wrote the rap, I had been paying attention to the colourful night people banter on the street as they walked by the East Village rehearsal space where we lived.”

The fun doesn’t last with the aforementioned Red Rose and Blood On Your Hands; staple doom lullabies that have permeated across today’s world of experimentation. With a voice so rich and alluring, it dilutes the bloodiness Jarboe’s themes sometimes portray.

“The album title contains the themes. The songs explore the various themes through women I ‘became’ telling the story of the song. There is also a connection to all the songs once you realise the story told in the opening song, One Thousand Years.”

Jarboe (photo credit: Jarboe)

It’s always intriguing with artists like Jarboe. Purveyors immersed in their own sound world, is it a case of disconnecting themselves in fear of contaminating their art with outside influences? “Currently, I listen primarily to jazz. John Coltrane is a favourite,” she says, and it makes sense. So sparse whilst always pushing to the dark edges, Jarboe’s music blends the hypnotic with menacing atmospheres.

And those atmospheres are set to continue. On the back of 2020 releases, Illusory and A Tulpa, Jarboe was set to tour the UK (which included a show at Liverpool’s Kazimier Stockroom), but with plans thwarted due to COVID-19, this hasn’t stopped her from working on new material.

“Yes, in two collaboration projects, as well as new solo recordings. One thing I tried on my 2020 album, Illusory and am doing again, is to reinterpret a song from my catalogue.”

Skin Blood Women Roses is out on April 23 via Consouling Sounds.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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