FADER Five: Swans’ Drummer Thor Harris Picks Songs to Expand Your Mind

In advance of his band’s Basilica Sound Scape set on Saturday, the percussionist picks five tracks that mean a lot to him.

September 10, 2014

In our newly minted FADER Five column, we ask the artists and producers orbiting our universe to riff on a theme and serve up five gems of their choosing. 

Thor Harris—the current drummer of twisted, torturous experimental rock legends Swans—has performed and recorded music with an eclectic circle of artists: Bill CallahanBen FrostDevendra Banhart, among others. His personal taste and listening habits are as scattered and off-kilter as his career. "It is important to my education to consume huge amounts of music constantly," Harris writes over e-mail. "I not only need to practice, I also need to expand my lexicon by listening to any and all the music I can get my hands on. Did I mention my love for Hall and Oates?" For this edition of FADER Five, Harris hand-picked songs that will expand your own mind and musical lexicon. There's no Hall and Oates, but there are post-jazz improvisations, Vaudeville-inspired pianists, and the kinds of outsider songs you can only usually find by steadfastly digging through crates of vinyl. Harris and the rest of Swans will play a two-hour headlining set this Saturday at BasilicaSoundScape, a two-day festival held in a 19th century factory on the waterfront in Hudson, New York. The weekend lineup also includes artists like Tim HeckerDeafheavenWhite LungEmily Reo, and Julia Holter

Gordon Thomas, "Brown Baby" and "It's You"

"Gordon Thomas is an amazing singer and composer from New York. He handed a friend of mine a cassette of his music in the late 1980s. I spent years looking for more. So, then we played at CBGB and I was digging through their vinyl and found another one of his records. Then just last year I Googled him, and holy shit. Someone had the good sense to make this little doc." 

The Necks, "Sex"

"The Necks opened for Swans in Australia . They are mesmerizing. It's just drums, bass and piano. They're three very nice men. Every piece is a one-hour improvisation. Now I'm just making this up, but it seems like they were a jazz group that got into 20 century minimalist stuff like Cage, Reich & Riley and they turned into this awesome spontaneous composing machine."

Steve Reich, "Music for 18 Musicians"

"If you ask me, not that you did or even would, classical music from the 17th century through the 19th century is all about virtuoso. It's really fucking boring and uptight. The 20th century minimalists were really punk rock. They scrapped that pursuit. They were not making this music for the royals either. This is my all time favorite piece of music. It seems to alter me neurologically."

Glen Campbell, "Galveston" 

"Did you know he used to sub in The Beach Boys? I'm a sucker for a great singer, and Glen Campbell is one. Speaking of, have y'all heard John Jacob Niles? Look him up! Heather and Jeremy from Hawk and a Hacksaw reissued some of his stuff."

Daniel Knox, "What Have They Done To You Now"

"I heard this amazing young songwriter first a couple years ago opening for Swans. Have stalked him ever since. He's influenced by Vaudeville but completely original. His songs are mood pieces written from the perspective of an unlikable loner."

FADER Five: Swans’ Drummer Thor Harris Picks Songs to Expand Your Mind