Sunday, December 28, 2014

Trickling back into perception | An interview with Thor Harris of SWANS

Who is Thor Harris?

Hi . My name is Thor Harris. I play on a lot of great records . I listen to a lot of music , and if I find a band I really like and think I could help make them better, I write them a letter and offer my services. In the mid 90s I wrote Swans a letter . The next time they came through town I met them. 

You have played with some incredibly talented artists throughout your music career not to mention you are a talented multi-instrumentalist yourself. You joined SWANS in 2010. Can you tell us a little about how that came about?

  I have gotten most of my jobs by simply asking. People are usually pretty nice and receptive to this. Now that my resume has gotten bigger and full of respected artists I feel more confident approaching my heroes. I recently wrote to Timber Timbre. I love that band. 

You’re currently on tour with SWANS. How has that been going and what is the experience like playing in a group that’s so multi-faceted?

 Touring w Swans is an amazing creative opportunity because I don't really play drums much . Drums are my main instrument and what I am most proficient at. I have had to learn a lot of new instruments and have even built instruments especially for Swans. When a musician picks up an instrument that (s)he plays well , there are a lot of predictable tried and true tropes that will ensue . With a less familiar instrument the results will vary wildly. 

Photo © Anna Hanks

I’ve read that you are skilled at many things; in fact you are a carpenter, artist and even more recently a writer. Are there any new projects you are working on that you can tell us about?

    I made a video for The Mental Health Channel in which I describe my experience w clinical depression . This video got blogged and re blogged and bounced around the globe a few times. 

Recently, you teamed up with the Mental Health channel to tell your own very personal struggle with severe depression with essentially the world. Were you approached for that project or was it something you sort out?

 The Mental Health Channel approached me about doing the film. They knew I had written a book about depression and that I was outspoken about it. 

Deciding to open up to the world and even to yourself publicly about a disease most people are too afraid to admit they have or talk about is a huge thing. What was the response like from friends and fans alike?

  As with anything that goes kind of viral on line , I am surprised at the speed and enormity of range.

   Within weeks of that video coming out and only a month after Robin Williams killed himself I was on tour again with Swans. Fans came up to me after the show and told me they had seen the video and that it helped them. It seems it helps people feel less alone in depression. Feelings of isolation are a common symptom of the disease.

One of the things I love about the documentary piece was that it showed that you cannot only be a creative and successful person but a functional one with depression. It’s an on going battle with yourself but it’s an almost liberating experience when you can through to the other side. Have you watched the video and what do you think looking at it now?

   This connection with people feels like the best thing I have done in my life. To make people know that they are not alone and not to blame .

Watching the piece, one of the things that resonated so much with me was your discussion about having to take medication. Over the years I myself have struggled to accept that medication is the answer for me.  I have asthma and I take a preventive inhaler how is that any different than taking a pill to prevent your brain chemistry from going topsy-turvy? Hearing you talk about that stigma really made me feel in a way validated or even connected.  How did you first come to terms with the idea that something wasn’t feeling right and you need to see someone and seek out help?

    I do not want pity . I have a disease that is very treatable . I am a rock star and I live a charmed life full of friends. The reason I talk about it is to build a community of support . I don't want anyone going thru that shit to feel alone. William Styron's Darkness Visible provided me with the solace of a shared experience . I hope my little 7 minute video does that for some people. My tiny graphic novel about depression is called An Ocean of Despair . It is usually for sale at Swans merch booth . It can be got at Monofonus Press' website .     

So many creative people suffer from depression and other disorders . People expect us to be kind of nuts. I hope people in other social circles get the support they need . And I doubt it.

You have also written a book about your experience with major depression called “The Ocean of Despair”.  You talk about everything from the struggle with meds to suicidal thoughts. What made you decide to write the book? Could you almost say it was a sort of ink letting?

I explained why I speak and write about it. I had told the story of my descent a lot of times and wanted to refine the story. 

Have has being a part of SWANS helped keep you positive and keep your depression in check? I feel like creativity is one of the best gifts of the depressed.

Those guys are all really understanding and supportive. I have used creativity as a coping mechanism all of my life.

Photo © Anna Hanks

I think for a lot of fans they saw you as this metal kind of drum warrior and this personal part of your life has in a sense cemented the you are human and that everyone has their own demons whether they appear to or not. I read so many positive things about the documentary from fans particularly males. If you were to give any advise to your fans, male of female about dealing with depression what would it be?

 Let your friends help you. Treat yourself like you would treat a friend going through hell.

Photo © Fionn Reilly

Lastly, we will be seeing you here in Australia with SWANS in January. What can we expect from the shows this time around? 

This show is my favorite set of music we have played since we got back together in 2010. It is more spacious with deeper grooves.