Jarboe Devereaux, professionally known simply as Jarboe is an American singer and musician who came to prominence with her involvement in the avant-garde band Swans. After joining the band in 1985 Jarboe and Michael Gira would remain the two constant members until their break up in 1997.
Michael Gira reformed Swans in 2010 without her, though she did appear as a guest on their 2012 album ‘The Seer.’

Jarboe has released numerous solo and collaborative albums over the years, including an album with the Doom Metal band Neurosis in 2003. Highly regarded for her distinctive voice, she remains an active figure in the experimental music scene. Continuing to perform live around the world and release albums to an appreciative audience.

Jarboe as photographed by the legendary Richard Kern.

Though I have not yet had the privilege of seeing Jarboe perform live and in person, I have fond memories of playing the Swans and World of Skin/Skin records and cassettes at the time of their original release and her contributions were certainly influential to my own developing artistic aesthetic.

I am honoured that she should take the time to answer my questions and I trust that many should be enthusiastic to read what she might have to say.
Without further ado, I present The Living Jarboe!

I understand that both of your parents worked for the FBI and you had a Roman Catholic upbringing. That sounds like it could have been a very conservative household.
What was that like for you as a child and an adolescent?
Were they overly concerned about your exposure to any kind of “corrupting influences” or illicit substances that kids tend to experiment with?

Yes, I’d say it was primarily conservative yet there were aspects that were not suffocating. My father was also a talented artist and musician with a beautiful singing voice and he encouraged me in art and music.
This encouragement at a very early age most likely contributed to me becoming a musician.

He was also at one point interested in Buddhism and this also had an impact on my direction.

Photo by Jill Williams.

You had studied opera from a young age and were trained in traditional choral singing.
What music were you listening to as a teenager?
Was there a specific record that inspired you to become interested in more experimental music?

As a teenager, I discovered music from England like Pink Floyd yet I didn’t truly feel I could create music myself until later when I began listening to artists such as Einstürzende Neubauten, Nurse With Wound, and Cabaret Voltaire etc.

Are you the type of artist who feels compelled to put in some creative work daily or do you wait for your muse to inspire you?

I think the creative drive is always working in the background no matter the daily activities.

I must admit that my favourite era of Swans is the one which included your participation.
As I understand it, you were a fan of Swans before becoming involved in the band and eventually you and Michael Gira, both encouraged each other to change your styles of singing within the project.
Can you discuss how that came about?
Did you feel that there was anything like antipathy from the other members of the band at the time toward your initial involvement?

Michael and I had a deep connection and he did shape the way I approached vocalizing as I did to his way of vocalizing. He was only shouting phrases and I suggested he hold long notes and sing from his chest.

In terms of how I developed insight into what style of voice I would use when recording a song, Michael would push me to keep intensifying the voice I thought was the character in the song.
It could get very emotional in the studio.

However, my interpretation of the several voices I brought forth in “I Crawled” on the last tour I did in Swans, was at that point developed on my own without him. This to me was the culmination of my years of hard work and I do consider it my greatest “voices” performance in Swans.
I go from breathy to little girl to demon.

Jarboe circa 1987.
Photo by R Collins.

A couple of years back we saw the reissue of the excellent SKIN album, ‘Blood Women Roses‘, as ‘Jarboe – Skin Blood Women Roses.’
Assuming that you still have some amicable contact with Michael Gira after your last involvement with Swans; is there any chance that you might work together again in some form or another?

On my 2022 UK/EU tour, Michael and I were on the same bill for a show in Berlin in December and we had some time talking to each other.
It was friendly.
However there hasn’t been a discussion about working together.

The cover to Jarboe’s LP ‘Skin Blood Women Roses’

I have read accounts from other female musicians who were active in the ‘70s and ‘80s discussing sexism that they experienced from men running record labels, performance venues, and even other bands – from a dismissive attitude to predatory behaviour.
Did you encounter much of that?
If so, do you think it is less pervasive now than it was in decades past?

I will say that I have observed that engineers and sound technicians in venues are still primarily male.

In some of your recent social media posts you’ve shared images of books you’ve been reading – I’ve seen ‘The Red Book‘ by Jung, works by Blavatsky, and a book on Alchemy and Mysticism in the mix. I’m elated to see this as a fellow bibliophile.
Have you always had an attraction to mysticism and the mythic?

Yes, since I was in college.
I received the Kalachakra endowment from the Dalai Lama in New York.
You may want to read this: https://thelivingjarboe.com/about/

Jarboe onstage.
Photo by Halvor Bodin.

What music have you found yourself listening to lately?
Are there any particular new releases or artists you are enjoying, or certain old records that have been inspiring some reveries?

I enjoy instrumental jazz.
Since I’m working on an album, I am primarily listening to what I’m recording.

What is a typical day like for you?
Do you have a general routine or hobbies that occupy certain hours of a day?

I read books, both physical and digital books.
I watch films weekly.
I do at least 10 miles on the bike daily.
I also do yoga and meditation.

The most recent album of yours that I’ve purchased was The Embrace which you recorded with Kris Force, Jackie Perez Gratz, and Thor Harris. I believe this was your second collaboration with Force, the first being the 2010 soundtrack you did together for the video game The Path.
I was so glad to see you collaborate with Force again as I had been a fan of her work with Amber Asylum.
The Embrace is two long soundtrack pieces which I found truly transcendental. I am curious about the album.
How did you come to meet Kris Force initially?
For The Embrace, did you meet in person to record or trade files from a distance?
Was there a theme for the record that you built upon together?

Kris Force and I also recently did the soundtrack for a new film called ‘The Passenger‘ from director Jeff Elstone. It’s being shown in various screenings currently and most recently in Japan.
I’ve known Kris for many years and we have toured together in Eastern Europe and the East Coast. I first met her when she joined a Swans show on stage in San Francisco.

The Embrace was done through audio file upload, a predominate method these days.

The cover to Force & Jarboe’s 2023 LP ‘Embrace‘, released by Diamond Cutter Records.

What projects do you have on the horizon?
Are we to see some new albums?
Perhaps more live appearances?

The most recent live show I did was in Austin in June 2023. Thor Harris and P. Emerson Williams were part of my performance.
I’m currently working on an album. I am interested in touring again (perhaps Eastern Europe) once things align.

‘Connotations’ with Brian Castillo is the latest streaming / download release on Bandcamp and streaming services. There are three albums. One and Two are currently available. Thor Harris participated on several of the songs.

Blackmouth is also available again on Bandcamp and streaming services. There will be a new album from that project in the future but under our names.

I also did music for a film short (‘Esther is Me and You are a Liar’) which is on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/884603441


All images supplied by Jarboe.