Weekly Dig August 14th 2002: Future Sound of London, Long Live the Machines, Destroy the Machines
by Craig Kapilow
Interviewer: You switched directions after failing to get the clearances for a few tracks on the DJ-mixed album. What steps did you take to transform this disappointment into the creation of The Isness?
Garry Cobain: There’s a slight misunderstanding, as the DJ album was part of the direction of this album. It was called A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble and was the beginning of our new direction after Dead Cities. I think the way we’ve changed is that we’ve been seeking a balance between technology, heart, mind and spirit. Around the time we released Dead Cities, there was a very optimistic mindset towards technology, a bit like Timothy Leary and his revolution with LSD and computers. But after we released that album, I wanted to inject a little more tactile spirit, soul and spirituality. Over the last five years, I’ve sought to get in balance, so I’ve gone on an Indian/Eastern mysticism trek based on healing, meditation and purification. I’m much more into nature and organic whole foods, basically rediscovering the child within.
Interviewer: You’ve become a very spiritual person. Would you say you are more into spirituality or modern religion, and what is your view of Eastern religions?
Garry Cobain: Oooh. The word religion normally refers to organized religion and I don’t have time for that. Organized religion has resulted in barbarity and wars for thousands of years and has killed thousands of human beings. Religion, for me, is more of a fundamental word. It means a balanced, joyful, creative life. As soon as you get in balance with nature and life, you uncover a natural religiousness. What I’m interested in and have discovered is ancient mysticism. This album is about uncovering ancient things, right down to the artwork. We chose pinhole photography, the most basic form you can get, because it still has something to offer to the modern day. I think the modern day has gotten a little bit out of balance with science. Everyone is a walking library and we analyze everything from the mind. It’s become very scientific. Life is very much out of balance. There are very few enlightened beings leading us to a greater sort of understanding, and that’s why I think the world is in a chemicalized, dark, corporate place. That’s not to say that it’s totally dark because I believe it’s also a very beautiful place, which is why I believe this album is like a rebirth. I view it like farmers. We’ve realized that the food chain is chemicalized; we’ve realized that we are poisoning people with chemicals and can’t continue to do this, which means that we have to start again and grow new seeds. We’ve started growing new food and right now, most of the supermarkets don’t understand it, but, hopefully, it might just help the world in some way. It might sound naïve, but I do believe that music has a great potential to travel like a seed and unlock and activate certain ideas in people. There’s no real sect I’m particularly in line with, but someone who's been very important to me is Osho Rajinish, a mystic who was murdered in 1990, which was a shame because he was a modern enlightened master, and there isn’t anybody in the world like him. We very much need these people now.
Interviewer: I agree in that I am very much a believer in spirituality, the principles of religion, and vehemently oppose the way it’s been interpreted in modern times. Religious leaders cite God to make money and use the name of a higher being to carry out a political agenda. You state that becoming one with nature is a better option. Would the concepts of the Druids resonate with you? When I think of Druidic culture, it was almost similar to paganism in that a lot of the spiritual beliefs were based on things in nature.
Garry Cobain: There’s obviously a huge part of paganism that I resonate with, but on a fundamental level. What we are talking about is god energy, whatever you call it. There is energy in the universe, which underpins all of us. It flows through animals, flows through trees and every living thing. There are different states of consciousness within these creatures. I don’t really know much about paganism, but the one thing I do appreciate is that there is god energy everywhere. You don’t have to call that God; you can call that nature, you can call that the universe, if you like. The idea is that God isn’t a creature that judges you from the sky. God energy is within us all because we are all part of the universal energy. In the ‘70s, they called it cosmic consciousness – it’s a beautiful couple of words.
Interviewer: Dead Cities and your ISDN shows appeared to be FSOL’s opus in terms of acclimation to technology. It also seemed like this was the point in dance culture where the machines had become the new god for a lot of people, with the drugs being the great aid. I’d like to compare this time period and your work, in particular, to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The concepts in Huxley’s book, especially John Savage’s swearing off soma in order to purify his mind, body and soul, seem shockingly similar to FSOL going organic. Did this influence your move to create music with a partial goal of alerting people to the danger of being sucked into the machines?
Garry Cobain: Yeah, that’s a very relevant point. We always used technology as a glorious opportunity to express ourselves. Quite often you start being inspired by what you are not into as much as what you are into. What we didn’t want to do was be pop people and be judged by how good-looking we were. We tried to create a world that was a bit more interesting than a person’s face. We foresaw an ability to play with technology and produce this really deep world of broadcasting with pictures, art, words and sound. I still believe it hasn’t been done particularly well. It’s still a frustration because there is so much potential within words, arts and pictures. All that’s happened, really, is that I’ve added some different things to the equation. I think with Dead Cities, I became slightly frustrated and hit the endpoint of what I could do purely with technology. I realized that technology would always be around in my life, but wanted to become a human being again. Maybe I had become a little bit lost. I personally felt that the world was beginning to hide behind technology and had become slightly scientific. There’s nothing weird at all about electronic music. All the chart music in this country is electronic music. Pop music is made using electronica. It’s no coincidence, really, that at the point where everyone has become electronic, FSOL decided to become a bit more organic. So, at the point where I’m trying to get into harmony with nature, and my own naturalness if you like, it’s no surprise that our sound sees technology being used but in a more subtle way. To be a master of technology is to realize you can’t even discern the technology. I don’t think I could play you a track that sounded like a 128-piece orchestra that you wouldn’t realize was done on a computer. If I was able to do this, I could say I was a master of using technology. A lot of electronic music sounds like it is hiding behind technology, and there’s nothing wrong with it because we are both very much into machine music. Machine music can unlock things. I just wanted to express and heal, and sound is a great way of healing. I just had to get my hands on banjos, sitars and orchestras. I wanted to produce an album that celebrated the infinite possibility of what might be. Why wear gray when you can wear colors and fabrics from all around the world? And for me, as much as Dead Cities was a very vast exploratory album, we began to hint that we’d play with words. I still think there is an immense amount of work to be done with words. I’ve succeeded to a certain degree, but I’ve only achieved a small portion of what I want to do. I’d like to work with someone who is a better vocalist because I’m limited. But for some reason, I got saddled with the job.
Interviewer: A particular composer that you referenced was Claude Debussy, which made me quite happy, as the Fin De Siecle is my favorite era of classical music. That period seemed to be of a counterculture of sorts before it got swept away by the industrial revolution. Where does that era fit in terms of an influence, and do you still view it as being relevant?
Garry Cobain: At the beginning of this album, we were rubbing peoples’ faces in things that weren’t machines. We went on peoples’ shows and DJed records that were just rock or Indian raggas or classical music and spun them through reverb. All I stand for are moments that seem like truth. Truth always shines like a very bright light, and the work of Debussy was obviously very real, as it will never go away. What I try to do when I DJ, or if I write music, is to write music that shines. I don’t try to write dance music; I just try to write great music, however I do it, whether it’s machine or not machine. Fundamentally, I ask how can I get my truth out? I traveled across India and sat with a guitar, and that’s been very genuine for me. There is a sitar player called Baluji Shrivastav, who is quite famous. I played guitar and sang a couple of songs at his daughter’s wedding. At that time, that was how I was getting my truth out. When you are finding your truth, whether it’s machine or not machine, it doesn’t matter. But it’s when the machines are beginning to lead you – I become very suspicious of that.
Interviewer: You talk about the machines leading people. It’s sad that there is such a lack of soul in modern music. You used to be able to feel what that person is feeling, but the machines have stripped that.
Garry Cobain: Male energy, which is mind energy, has begun to run the world and certainly the music industry. The female energy is intuitive, and it’s the type of energy that the world needs to get back to if it’s going to heal. In terms of music, it’s very obvious because what it [male energy] leads to is a lack of individuality. The music industry has become full of fear and very corporate, so, therefore, they sell only what sells. I think it’s a good time because a lot of the industries are getting it wrong. We’re talking about Debussy, and despite the fact that he never advertised, he is still singing to us. Both of us are saying how profound he still is. I believe that truth always reverberates around the world. It forms its own mechanism. The music industry doesn’t revolve around ideas like that. It revolves around the need for a business mechanism. They don’t understand the way the universe really works; they understand business, which is a male energy, so, therefore, the music that the industry will distribute will not be about the individual. What you said was really good – in the past, you could sit down with a record and know what that person was feeling. Today, a lot of that has been stripped out. That’s because the industry is scared of individuals because they might not sell. I have a different take, which is a yoga take, a tantric take; my take is that only by going into my individuality will I ever understand you. Only by going into me and experimenting with my own paradigm, my own shifts of consciousness, will I understand you. The music industry will never understand that because it’s far too deep and spiritual. That’s why I made this record. I’ve gone against that energy. I strategically pulled away from corporate England with this record. We were on Virgin for eight great years but in the end, we argued so much about what we wanted to do with this record, that we mutually went our separate ways because it was a waste of time. They were trying to tell me what I should do, and Brian and I wouldn’t take it. It seemed to be full of fear and man energy, and at a point where the world is needing to heal and regain that balance, nobody needed another dark electronic dance album, and we didn’t want to make another one like that.
Interviewer: It’s ironic that the thing the industry loves the most is the thing they are afraid of the most, which is technology.
Garry Cobain: That’s a very good point. I said a while back that everything is electronic these days. All pop music is being sampled, produced and perfected in computers. On this record, we tried to be a bit scruffier, even to the point where people who were used to that precision maybe wouldn’t like it. Any form of music that is heard in every gymnasium, swimming pool and water aerobics class in the country can no longer provide the necessary seed of revolution to the middle order. I think there is a lot of music that is reinforcing the sedation of the middle order, and I never set out to make music like that.
Interviewer: I’d love to talk about some of the influences that inspired this album. A few people stand out, especially Gary Lucas. Would you consider Ween and Frank Zappa influences as well?
Garry Cobain: I don’t think Zappa would be someone we’d name drop. Our manager is a massive fan and always brings us Zappa albums, but we never really listen to them. I always find them slightly ugly, although I like the spirit. I do, however, really relate to that mindset. In 1967, through the early ‘70s, there was an opening up, a refusal to accept the limitations of what the song had become. That’s why prog rock erupted in 1970. Pop music was so endemic that a bunch of musicians came along grooving on esoteric philosophy and wanted to include that shit in songs. These musicians weren’t going to accept this anymore. Time has a funny habit of being elliptical. It comes around to similar points. Now we are in a parallel universe to that universe, the universe that George Harrison and Zappa inhabited. I think there’s a spirit that continued from that day to the present. I don’t think psychedelic culture is dead. The word is always alive because it means spiritual, colorful living. There was a freedom and a spirit that we really dig. Donavan, a friend of ours, has collaborated on the album and wrote the liner notes. We sat and talked for many hours. The reason we asked him to write the liner notes is because he’s not scared to talk about human consciousness and I’m not scared to talk about spirituality. I’m not scared to talk about these things because I think they are important now. Five years ago, though, I would have talked about technology, ISDN and spirituality in a different form, but I didn’t realize what I was talking about then. I’ve woken up. Even if I went through destitution and poverty, I’d always have a center that could never be taken away. We struggled through this album and its discovery. When we first started this record, we didn’t know why we were trying to do this. We were both picking up records by a bunch of weird people. We were picking up any record with sitars on it and professed to have any element of spirituality. We found Alice Coltrane was fiddling with the drone. Miles with Panthalassa was fiddling; Jimi was always fiddling … The drugs were unlocking weird cosmic consciousness states in the late ‘60s, maybe because they were purer. The music was incredibly liberating. A lot of the music that seems to be done with drugs today seems to be about fear and machinery, and I’m not so sure that certain drugs aren’t controlled by the establishment. I think that they are a way of keeping us asleep. I’m not against anybody who wants to use them, but they are not what I need. I think an increasing number of people are trying to wake up. You can only realize you’ve lost childhood when you’ve been a child. You can only realize the doors that drugs and alcohol are unlocking inside you when you’ve experienced them. They can be very useful. Gary Lucas is a connection to a time period that I believe is very important, but I believe I am the new carrier for that time now. I’ve combined what they were all about with a load of new stuff, like modern nutrition. They didn’t have the knowledge about healing with whole organic foods. They didn’t realize you could heal the kidneys or cancer with organic juices. Five years ago, I started wearing flares and two-tone clothes and ‘70s clothes, and put it together in a way they never did in the ‘70s. I’ve even seen that explode. All the designers are embroidering flowers into jeans. Everybody is trying to incorporate an element of joyousness, freedom, hope and optimism. It can look a bit naïve, but now, we’ve backed it up with some solid signs that there is a need for change. The signs say the world is dying and being polluted. Our immune systems are being destroyed. We have disease like we’ve never seen before. Diabetes in America is ridiculous; so is cancer. You don’t get these diseases when you live naturally. These diseases only exist in sophisticated society. I use the word sophisticated loosely because sophisticated society is the only society that has shifted and made life unnatural, made man ill, made man unbalanced. In order to heal, they may even need to pull away from cities.
Interviewer: You mention the need get away from cities. I want to cite Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and his concept of man being inherently evil. He felt that once men are placed into the most savage surroundings, they revert back to their most primitive behavior. If you flip that around, and look at man as being inherently good, and if you take them out of the machine-like society, they can rekindle their ability to be pure.
Garry Cobain: You made a very great point, and I was very relieved that you chose to turn around the Joseph Conrad message because I think this record is about celebrating positivism and healing, rather than misery. It’s easy to celebrate misery because there is a lot of misery and darkness in this world. I agree. Man inherently is beautiful. It’s the opposite of Conrad. Every child is beautiful. No one looks at a child and thinks it is ugly. Even when a child has a tantrum it’s beautiful because it’s natural. We become unnatural and ugly because we become mind-oriented, toxic and acidic. We get taught by family, lovers, friends, politicians, teachers and society to live a life of fear. At that point, yes, we are ugly and evil – not through a fault of our own, but you could always make the effort to return to your childhood, and that’s what yoga is about.
Interviewer: Based on everything you’ve said, it almost seems as if "Divinity" was the track in which you were reborn as a person and as an artist.
Garry Cobain: That’s very astute. When we first started this album, we said we love songs but what we love is songs that potentially won’t be understood by the pop-single-obsessed industry. I’m not sure if I can produce pop singles, but what I can make is lyrics incorporated with sound in an interesting way. Most of my favorite songs have done that. “Within You Without You" by the Beatles was a deeper song that would never be a single. Funny enough, “My Sweet Lord" recently became a number one after George Harrison died. I’ve been listening to and loving that for the last five years. “Divinity" was a very important track because after doing a number of tracks that were weirder and more intellectual, I suddenly craved to just speak with a guitar. It was my basking song. It was my way of being very direct. I’ve went so far into the intellect and wanted to break free, and that’s a spiritual message. You go so deep into the mind that it drops. It goes silent. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was a point with Dead Cities where I was so ill in the mind. I had lived with parents who had taught me to be very educated and pursue what was going to get you money but not joy. I was studying engineering and never enjoyed it. I was always told that I would profit from going into science because it was the way of the modern world. I was forced to do it. I actually enjoyed art, but was rubbish at it. I was rubbish at drawing but realized I could collage my taste, and that’s what Brian and I always have done.
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