Last year, two of the country's premiere noise acts—Yellow Swans and Mouthus—pulled into the Triangle for a show on the same night as Wolf Eyes, one of the very few American noise bands with a bigger draw. Still, ending their first U.S. tour together in Durham, the pair of duos persevered, playing separate sets before combining for a viscous, ferocious, four-piece tour closer. This year, they're both supporting new releases on Load Records that happen to be some of their best work to date. After an early show in Albuquerque, N.M., Swan Pete Swanson spoke about tour sound and the synesthetic experience of music.
INDEPENDENT: You've said that Yellow Swans approaches noise from a rock perspective and Mouthus doesn't, though you arrive at similar places. Given the drone stuff Yellow Swans has done as Descension Yellow Swans, that's surprising to hear.
PETE SWANSON: Gabe [Saloman, the other half of Yellow Swans] and I are much more restrained players than they are, which is kind of strange because we're basically just playing a lot of feedback and oscillators and tapes and stuff like that. What we're doing tends to be a little more dynamic than what they do, but what they're doing is extremely complex in terms of the sounds that make up what they're doing. We're on tour with a sound engineer [Bennett Yankey] right now, and he's been spending all of this time doing sound for them with earphones on so he can determine what's making a sound. It's really hard for him to differentiate from what Brian [Sullivan], the guitar player, and Nate [Nelson], the drummer, is doing because they occupy a lot of the same spaces.
Is this the first time you've toured with a sound engineer?
Yeah. He's a friend of ours, and he's toured with LCD Soundsystem and stuff like that. He runs a couple of all-ages clubs in Portland, and he's doing us a favor. He's a really big fan of both of the bands.
What does having a sound guy you can trust add to your set?
It adds a certain level of confidence, and he's coming at it from a professional standpoint. At the degree we're touring, we're not playing extremely large venues with excellent PAs every night, so he's having to be very creative [laughs] some nights. Having him around has been great for us and Mouthus, just making sure we sound as good as possible in any sort of circumstance. ... Both bands have had a lot of run-ins with sound guys because we both deal with unknown music to a lot of people. Both of us like to be extremely loud, and I'm sure a lot of sound guys have dealt with bands that are a little reckless and aren't concerned with the types of sounds they're sending through systems. We have a lot of experience with that sort of thing because we have our own PA. But we've had tons of terrible problems with sound guys being unwilling to do what we need to be able to do.
I was recently at a show where the promoter asked the soundman to turn the sound off. The musician was on stage playing, but she thought the equipment was just failing during soundcheck.
It definitely happens more than you would expect. We just had a gig a little while ago where we were opening up in Seattle, and it was the first time we had Bennett doing sound for us. We had him come up because we had played this club [Neumo's] before with Xiu Xiu, and we'd had a lot of problems. ... We brought Bennett with us, and we did a soundcheck and it sounded great. When it was time for us to come on and play, it was really quiet. It turns out [the club management] had turned the volume all the way down in one of the most obscure places of their audio set-up, trying to make it so Bennett wouldn't be able to make us as loud as we needed to be.
What did they turn down?
They turned down the volume level in the crossover, so it was a pretty deliberate attempt to sabotage us. They didn't want us to do what we do. A big part of our music is the physicality of the sound, and that's something we share with Mouthus—this need for sound to go beyond auditory perception to the point where it's actually physical and it becomes more sensory and sensual than just sitting around and watching someone do their thing. Or not.
Yellow Swans and Mouthus play Duke Coffeehouse Monday, Oct. 15, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $7. Look for two Yellow Swans/Mouthus collaborations later this year on Weird Forest and No Fi.