Lotus Mag interview October 2002
After missing in action for seven years, musical meditation and a return to classic rock psychedelia have Future Sound of London (FSOL) back on track.
""Papua New Guinea" isn't my favorite piece of music. Nevertheless, it is one of those pieces that hit the wave. There's talk about creators of music, but my perspective is that I didn't actually create anything. The wave created "Papua New Guinea." We were just the providers. That's what I think music is."
With "Papua New Guinea", the ambient house grooves of Accelerator, the timelessly futuristic Lifeforms, the master lysergic odyssey of Amorphous Androgynous' Tales of Ephidrina, the in-your-face, ISDN radio jams, and the beauty of Dead Cities, Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans of Future Sound of London have created a profound path of maverick visions.
Right now Garry is reflecting on that path and the "wave," a kind of Taoist idea in which music moves with the deep waters of history, the collective consciousness, and the larger universe, an evolutionary-social-feedback wave that artists tap into and intuitively reflect. Looking back, when "Papua New Guinea" hit the dance world, it reflected the times that inspired it, revealing an emotional deepening and maturation of a hedonistic culture. It crystallized a new introspective sadness, ecstatic joy, and ultimately, a complex yet universally intoxicating beauty. It was revolutionary, timeless music.
"There are moments as a musician when you just resonate. You produce something akin to a baby and it either grows or is stillborn," continues Garry in his disarmingly personal and passionate voice. "I try and do things that will hopefully come alive. I sound like I'm in touch with the universe, but I'm not sure I'm totally in touch.
"There's that hippie saying, 'When you say something true, the whole world vibrates.' I have utmost faith that when Brian and I hit a moment of great truth, then the whole world will vibrate. Who knows whether The Isness is it."
After seven years of fighting record labels for artistic freedom, struggling with a life-threatening illness, and traveling the world, FSOL is once again pushing out radical music. Marking their triumphant return is the new and remarkable, The Isness, made under their alternate name Amorphous Androgynous. However, a word of caution: expect the unexpected. Gone are the purely electronic reveries, the hints of their acid house origins, and the heady obsession with technology and the future. With psychedelic influences from Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, the Beatles and David Bowie, as well as the spiritual teachings of Lao Tzu, Mahavira, and Alan Watts, this is not the Future Sound of London we once knew. Instead, The Isness is an ambitious synthesis of tripped-out orchestras, guitars, sitars, tabla cycles, '60s beats, and wild electronic flights of fancy all in rock mode, with lyrics sung from the heart by Garry himself. The Isness' jam-y sound, created with countless collaborations, including sitarist Baluji Shrivastav, Mike Rowe, formerly of Oasis, and guitarist Gary Lucas, formerly of Captain Beefheart results is an ostentatious explosion.
Though difficult and weird at first, The Isness slowly becomes a revelation. It's quite possibly one of the few great albums of the millennium. But what happened in the last seven years to spark such a wildly creative approach? "A musician has to be somebody who is traveling away on a little sputnik and roaming back. We have time and space to try and say something. And if I wasn't traveling to the outer realms and bringing back something enlightening, then I wouldn't really be doing my job," says Garry.
"Around Dead Cities, I became slightly ill and quite obsessed with the possibilities of technology. At that time, I began to strip away my layers in order to try and work out what was making me ill. I soon realized the things I thought of as me weren't really me. That set me on a real course. I was into Ayurvedic healing, fasting and meditation. I gradually unearthed a different being." It's this process of healing and self-exploration at the heart of The Isness. It accounts for its personal, therapeutic nature. It challenges the listener to be open and feel.
This humanizing focus is contoured by the humorous grooves of "The Mello Hippo Disco Show," the rhapsodic inner-space oddity of "Galaxial Pharmaceutical," and the perfect instrumentals "Elysian Feels," "Go Tell It to the Trees Egghead," and especially "High Tide on the Sea of Flesh." But the real moment of truth comes during "Divinity," the album's centerpiece. Its opening lyrics would sound cheesy but for the conviction in Garry's singing. He hits the wave. His voice and words capture a hard-won, transcendent, loving embrace of life, steeped in joy, sadness, wisdom, and genuine optimism. In this context, Garry and Brian's music could have been vapid, even clichéd; something akin to Moby's candied electronic pop or the self-indulgent, calculated psychedelics of the Chemical Brothers. Instead Future Sound of London pulls no punches. They make no artistic compromises and it shows in the depth, care, and boldness of the music. Still, this process of healing, this ode to joy, comes with an essential insight.
"Yogis have basically said, 'What is it in our states of consciousness that produces these amazing feelings in the sexual moment, in the fear moment, in the drug moment?' They basically set about trying to achieve it naturally, meditating and fasting. That's something I've been doing for five years."
However in classic FSOL form, Garry reminds us not to take things too directly. "I don't want to ram home a message. There is no message. There is only a kind of glorious contradiction, which for me is what life is," says Garry happily. "For me it's like unlocking doors. The happier I become, the more in touch I get. The older I get, the less I know and it's less likely I can tell you anything definite. The more I can ask questions, the more I can trip and open doors. Ultimately that's all we can do."
Just as Garry and Brian were inspired by risk and the sense of infinite possibility, tomorrow's fearless and creative spirits will be inspired by this album. But will the pretentious critic in all of us prevent us from connecting with The Isness today?
"There will always be a fucker telling you it's wrong, but if it makes your soul sing and gives you that feeling, it's never wrong. On this album, I tried to just go with what made my heart sing rather than what made sense to me on a business level. 'Cause to be honest, you asked me if I'm scared? I'm scared shitless. You know, I was a rich man, but now I'm living on a floor in a studio. I've got nothing. I've got nothing and I love it."
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