Traffik Island’s  Zak Olsen is back with A Shrug Of The Shoulders

Original photo by Ashley Goodall. Handmade collage art by B.

Since Gimmie last spoke with Zak Olsen he’s been working on Traffik Island album number three (and four), and moved out of Melbourne into the country. 

Album A Shrug Of The Shoulders feels effortless and is a sheer delight, giving the listener a sense of sitting in a lounge room as friends make music together—in a word it’s, joyful. There’s a naturalism and realism along with beauty, nuance and humour revealed as the collection of songs unfold. The songs are stripped down to their essentials, influenced by 60s music but with a modern sheen. Zak’s sincere expression and ability to turn lyrical gut-punches into catchy psychedelic folk-pop riffs is truly charming. Today we’re premiering second single, ’You Do, Don’t You?’

It’s great to be talking with you again today, Zak.

ZAK OLSEN: It’s nice to be back! I’ve just moved out of Melbourne, I live out at South Gippsland now in a small dairy farm area called Wattle Bank.

What made you want to get out of the city?

ZO: It was more, what was making me want to stay in the city? That was more the question I was asking myself. I couldn’t answer it. Obviously I have lots of friends in the city, and I miss seeing them frequently. For me personally, Melbourne wasn’t really the ideal place for me to be at the moment.

What’s moving out into a more rural area given you?

ZO: Lots more time outside and plenty more of the colour green, which feels good. There’s heaps more space, the house is a lot bigger than the one I was living in. There’s lots of room to set up instruments. We have chickens! I’ve been enjoying spending time with the chickens.

I saw them on the Traffik Island promo vid for the new record! In the video you were baking something; what was it?

ZO: Yes, that’s the chickens in the video. I was baking a Lemon cake. It was a basic one. I thought I’d put some eggs to use.

Last time we we spoke you mentioned that you love cooking things and that you were trying to master the art of cooking different kinds of roasts. Is there anything in particular that you’ve been working on in the kitchen lately?

ZO: [Laughs]. Maybe “master” is a bit of a strong word to use. I made my first pumpkin soup last night, which isn’t too hard to master. It’s good out here because there’s a lot of less options for takeaway food, cooking is a necessity, and there’s great farmers’ market, so everything is really cheap. Everyone is really friendly too, it’s really nice.

I know that where you were in Melbourne you had a studio around the corner from your home. Do you still have it?

ZO: At the moment I’m still renting it. It’s nice to have when I go into the city, but for the most part I do everything out here.

Are there many other people around near where you live, or are you on acreage?

ZO: We live in a little cut-de-sac with four different farms on it. The house I live in is owned by the couple next door, they’re an old school Dutch farmer couple. They give us some of the food that they grow. 

That sounds nice. It seems like you have a real little community around you.

ZO: It’s great getting to know the neighbours, everyone has different skills. If shit hits the fan, they can help you out [laughs].

So, you mentioned you have a lot more space to set up your instruments; is it kind of a jam room or do you have a little studio there?

ZO: We have construction happening at the moment, there’s builders there, so our house is in a bit of disarray. Eventually one of the rooms that are being built will have my music stuff in it, but at the moment I just have mobile setups around the house whenever I can. 

My dad is here. The plan was that I was going to move in once he moved out, but because everything is the way it is at the moment he can’t exactly go anywhere. He was going to Western Australia. I’m living with him now. It’s been good, we’ve been jamming together. He hasn’t played music in a long time; he was playing all the time when I was growing up. 

Because of the harsh lockdowns in Victoria, you didn’t get to see your family for quite a while, right?

ZO: No, I didn’t get to really.

There seems to be a sense of new beginnings for you right now.

ZO: It does feel like that. It’s also my thirtieth year! It was my birthday at the end of August.

Happy (belated) Birthday! Did it feel like a milestone for you?

ZO: No. I’ve sort of felt thirty for ages [laughs]. It was more a feeling of, finally!

What were the things that made you feel thirty already?

ZO: [Laughs]. I’ve always just been rounding up since I was around twenty-six. I thought I started looking thirty!

[Laughter].

ZO: Let’s hope it stays at thirty [laughs], even when it gets to forty, I’ll just stay here at this age.

I know that feeling. For me as I’ve gotten older, I kind of stopped counting the birthday number and focus on doing the things that I love and hanging out with the people I love, spending my time on the things that bring me a lot of joy.

ZO: That’s exactly it. I get to do a lot more of that out here, which I’ve been really, really enjoying. It’s nice taking things slow, but at the same time I’m still making and playing more music. The days feel like they go a lot longer. It can get a bit suffocating or claustrophobic in the city. Once you add social media on top of that, it can get a bit much.

Photo courtesy of Zak Olsen.


I definitely feel that. You sound so much lighter, happier and brighter. I feel like your new record A Shrug Of The Shoulders has that feeling too.

ZO: That’s good, I’m glad to hear.

Of course there is still your humour and sardonic-ness in there.

ZO: Yeah. I feel like it’s a strange one. It’s the longest one I’ve ever done. It’s the first album that I’ve made in the last decade that doesn’t have a synthesiser on it. It’s a backlog of guitar songs that I had for ages. I wanted to record them in an instant manner with the band. I’m not unhappy or happy with the way that it turned out, the name really is how I feel about the album. It’s not to say that I am indifferent about it, I still put effort into it. I wanted it to be a bit more rough around the edges. I didn’t want it to be all glossy and Hollywood-feeling, I wanted it to be the opposite.

So, you wanted it to be a bit more understated?

ZO: Yeah, that’s the word I’m looking for, thank you. Understated, and there’s nothing sort of punk about it, but I just that more DIY-feeling. With me, the more you make the more you feel like you have to be of a certain standard or fidelity, I wanted to throw a spanner in the works for myself so I could clear the plate again. If that makes sense?

Yeah, it totally does. After doing a record like Peanut Butter Traffik Jam that was more glossy, it makes sense to want to go the other way and do something opposite. 

ZO: It had started turning out that way, that I do a synth-y one and then a guitar one, then a synth-y one. The one that I’m working on now for Traffik Island is a synth-y one again.

You’re already working on the next one?

ZO: With A Shrug Of The Shoulders some of the songs are quite old. I am working on the next one, but it’s not like I’m a workaholic, I just slowly work away. That’s the good thing about having guitar songs and then synthesiser songs, there’s always stuff there to go. 

What’s the difference between the two for you?

ZO: With the guitar songs, I’ll sit there with a guitar and write lyrics and work lyrics out with the chords. It’s a straight up and down old way of writing songs. The synthesiser stuff, I don’t have anything written before I start making it, I make it as I’m going in the music program.

Do you look for different sounds or start with a loop?

ZO: Yeah, I might have a drum loop that I like or I might just keep fishing around until a sound sounds cool and sparks an idea. The synthesiser stuff is good in that way because I never really feel like I’m running out of ideas with it. 

It’s totally endless. When I sit down at our synths we have set up, I can be there forever. You could sit there for days, weeks, and forget to eat cos you’re down a rabbit hole of sounds. There’s the sounds and then the variations you can make to the sound. 

ZO: Exactly! [laughs]. It really is. It’s probably what I enjoy doing the most out of the two styles. The guitar stuff is much more rewarding though to me because it takes more planning, effort and time.

Do you think part of it is that you’re more comfortable with doing acoustic music, having done it for so long?

ZO: I’m not sure. I go through stages of being comfortable with the guitar stuff. Sometimes I’m not very comfortable doing it.

Wow. Really?

ZO: Yeah. Especially when I play solo acoustic shows—it’s like a bad dream [laughs]. 

I guess being on stage with just your voice and an acoustic guitar might make you feel a little more vulnerable than if you had a band with you.

ZO: Yeah. It is really naked. There’s good things about it, if you make a mistake sometimes you can cover to up easier and it doesn’t matter if you miss a verse. Other times, if your voice breaks or something, it can feel like the most embarrassing thing in the whole world [laughs]. I know when I see bands, I do like to see the human touches.

That’s one of the things that I love about your new album Shrug… there’s little fragments and character touches, things like the background chatter and crack of a beer. What was the thought behind including these things?

ZO: 40% of the songs, I’d written lyrics first without any music. I wanted to work backwards. I was, for lack of a better word, scoring the lyrics. It was great doing it that way, some of those songs are the most enjoyable for me, the more lyrical ones. Along with that came the background effects and noises compliment the lyrics as well. I wanted to have it all in there so it would be like sitting in a room with us at a rehearsal—all the chatter, all the beer cracking or there’s cars driving by in the background of the songs. Leah [Senior] is talking at the end of the album.

I thought it was Leah! At the end of ‘New Leaf’ there’s a female voice saying, “I thought that was good.” 

ZO: Leah sang the harmonies on that one.

Nice! You mentioned before that you wanted to do the songs pretty instantly when you recorded them. I understand that they were learnt on the day by the band and you played them five or so times before recording them. Did you do it like this to capture a spontaneity or have that fresh sounding spirit for the listener?

ZO: Not the whole album was learnt on the day, some songs we had been playing for a little bit. Lots of it was quite fresh when we learnt it. It was mainly because of necessity. All the stuff with Traffik Island is always out of necessity. I’m super blessed to have those guys playing with me, I love how they all play and they bring so much to it. We all came together and started playing out of necessity and living together. I was going to play a solo gig and realised that I didn’t want to beforehand, so I asked Myles [Cody] and Jack [Kong] to play. A year later, I moved in with Jesse and he had a day off work and I asked him if he wanted to sit in on piano at a practice. Every thing I do with Traffik Island isn’t mega planned ahead. Again, I’m not complacent with it, I like things to be spontaneous; it’s the nature of the project.

Can you tell me about the joy of playing with everyone again?

ZO: It’s always a real pleasure. The song ‘Papers’ on the album is improv, but it’s actually four or five different takes of the same same motif we jammed on and I stuck them all together in a collage style. That song, as ridiculous as it is, was the most fun for me on the whole album because there were no plans and everyone played what they liked; we were having fun and laughing while we were doing it. It’s always a real pleasure to play with those guys.

Photo by Jamie Wdziekonski.

What song on the album was a little trickier to do?

ZO: For whatever reason, the second song ‘Do You, Don’t You’. We’ve been playing that one for a while live, but it’s just one of those things, sometimes when you go to record something on the day you can’t do it. It took us a while.

We’re premiering ‘Do You, Don’t You’.

ZO: That one is quite old. I wrote it just after Nature Strip, before even starting any of the Peanut Butter album. I did those two chords at the start, liked it. I wanted to make one with lots of chords, a garage-rock opera [laughs]. 

Because it had this obviously sixties inspired old dusty garage-y sound, lyrically I went down the typical path; all those sixties garage songs are about teenage relationships [laughs]. That was the natural thing that I felt like singing about. The words on that one was more of an afterthought, it was more of an impression of the music that I grew up listening to.

You mentioned before that the album wasn’t really punk, but I think a lot the songs have that spirit, like ‘F.T.U.’ Rather than fuck the world, it’s fuck the universe!

ZO: [Laughs] Yeah. That one was written on a Monday morning, I wasn’t feeling too crash hot that day and I thought about, what is the most angry thing that I could say? That was one of the ones where I wrote down all of the lyrics first and made music around it. 

I feel like that’s a song a lot of people will be able to relate to, we all have those kinds of days! You took it that next level with ‘fuck the universe’! [laughter].

ZO: [Laughs]. I’ve always felt a bit iffy about that song and wasn’t sure if I’d put it on there.

I’m so glad you did. It made me happy hearing someone else gets those thoughts sometimes too.

ZO: Aww thank you. That’s good!

I love the piano on that song.

ZO: That’s Jesse, the piano master. It’s amazing, he’ll play some chords and just do all of these beautiful things and flourish and bring all of this colour out in a song.

It’s so emotive. I guess moments like that also speaks to the joy about collaborating with other people. 

ZO: Yeah, especially Jesse [Williams]. He really, really is a master. I didn’t really know Jesse or Leah before moving in with them. They had a room up for grabs and I was blessed enough to be chosen [laughs]. Those guys are just super talented musicians. It was a nice house to live in, it was always inspiring and encouraging to make things. Jesse has been a big help with Traffik Island. He recorded all of Shrug… and the majority of Nature Strip in his backroom, which was nice. 

Other than piano flourishes, what else does he bring to the recording?

ZO: He plays guitar all over the album too. He was that missing piece, without him we were jamming as a three-piece. It was a lot more raw then. I remember the second that he started playing with us at rehearsal, the rest of us looked at each other and it was like, “Whoa! We sound so much more like a real band now!” [laughs]. He glued it all together. It was really something. He’s a master recorder as well; he really knows what he’s doing and really takes the time. I was wondering how it would come out after the last album, being so different. I’m happy with it and I’m glad that I’m going to have it out and I’m able to move onto another one.

The song you mentioned before ‘New Leaf’ is a really great song. It feels really introspective. I love the lyric: Turning over a new leaf, what does that even mean?

ZO: [Laughs].

Was that another day where you were like, why life? Why?

ZO: There were a couple of “why?” moments with writing these songs. It was written over a long time, some would be from 2019, even end of 2018, and some were written this year—it spans a lot. I’ve obviously gone through a lot of things in that time. 

What kinds of things?

ZO: Nothing crazier than anyone else. A lot happens in three years. It feels like a strange one to me, it doesn’t feel super cohesive, but it also sort of does, I guess because I made them all [laughs]. Usually I’d do overdubs into oblivion, typically there would be synthesisers on it, for this one I didn’t want to do that, so it’s pretty raw to my ears.

Album art by Jamie Wdziekonski

We love the album art that Jamie Wdziekonski did!

ZO: Yeah, he nailed it. 

I was speaking with Jamie the other day and he told me a little about making it. The whole concept of it is really cool—33 photobooth strips taken in consecutive order.

ZO: It took a fair bit of planning because we wanted to be able to take the photos and lay it out on the table and have the album cover there. We were going to do it individually and make it up on the computer, but we though we’ll go the whole nine yards and do it the way we did. 

Jamie mentioned that it was a funny and hectic shoot.

ZO: It was! We went there at night time to avoid as many people as possible. It was a busy night though, so it was hard, we had these giant letters with us and all our stuff. We did one shoot of it and then took the slides upstairs, there was a couple of letters that weren’t ideal, we had to run back downstairs and take some more. We had hundreds of dollars in gold coins. It was crazy. I was very happy how it turned out. It was this old photo booth that had been there a long time. The same guy services it, so we got to show him the album cover, which was cool; he was really happy that we used it.

Besides the next Traffik Island album you mentioned you were working on is there anything else in the works?

ZO: There is that one in the works, which is back to Peanut Butter… there’s going to be singing all over it this time. I want to try and blend the more song-iness of the guitar songs and have the production of the synth-y ones. 

What song have you most recently been working on?

ZO: This morning I was doing a remix for a band from Melbourne called Mug.

We love Mug!

ZO: I’d actually never heard them until I got an email asking me to do the remix. I really enjoyed them so I was more than happy to give it a go.

I know that you’ve done a few remixes now; how do you approach doing them?

ZO: It’s different every time. One thing I do try to do though, is that I won’t listen to the original song more than once or sometimes I won’t even listen to the whole song. In the past I have listened to the song too much and the remix I ended up with, wasn’t as different as I would have liked it to be. A lot of the times people like to use the stems when doing the remixes, but I don’t like doing that; I like getting the final mix of their song, listen to it once or half way through and then go from there. I never want to make it too similar. 

What have you been listening to lately?

ZO: I finally set up my record player again, my records have been away for a little while. I’ve just been going through them. With my dad around, he’s keen to go through my records and listen to stuff. I’ve been showing him lots of things that have been my favourite things and trying to get him used to those sounds. He hated jazz a few weeks ago, and now he is coming around to it [laughs]. I first played him Can on my thirtieth birthday and he was not interested, but the other night it was his birthday and we listened to the again and after twenty minutes he was like, “wow! This is really good!” He’s fallen in love with Hawkwind all over again; he hadn’t listened to them in over twenty-five years. He wants to listen to them all the time now again, while he’s driving trucks, that’s his job.

That would be perfect driving music!

ZO: That’s what he said! He said he wanted to get Space Ritual and put it on USB so he could listen to it in the truck and just drive all day to it [laughs]. 

You mentioned there was always music around growing up; did your dad get you into music?

ZO: Yeah. When I was really young we lived on a farm in New Zealand. He played in a thrash metal band. When you’re a little kid, there’s nothing cooler than pointy guitars and thrash metal riffs; everyone had skull t-shirts. He definitely inspired me to want to be in a band. We grew up with [Black] Sabbath on all the time, passively I had no choice but to like Sabbath [laughs]. Who doesn’t like them? It’s very likeable music.

How did you make the jump from Sabbath to 60s folk music?

ZO: [Laughs]. I grew up around lots of heavy metal. Megadeath do a cover of ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’, I always remember that from my youth, pre-school and primary school. One day in high school I was watching a documentary on SBS and the Sex Pistols came on and did ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ and I was reminded of the Megadeath version. From that I got into 70s punk and you keep going back and you find The Kinks, once you get into that the 60s opened up, especially 60s garage. I got into a lot of 60s stuff though garage music. My grandma bought me Beatles CDs; people are lying if they say they don’t like Beatles songs [laughs]. Personally I think a lot of garage stuff from the 60s is more punk than what actually got called punk in the next decade. Any genre or sub-genre that exists has it’s roots in the 60s; you can trace everything back to there. As far as I can tell, it’s all there. 

Anything else you like to share with us about your new album?

ZO: It’s coming out in November, around the same time as Jake [Alien Nosejob] is releasing his album. The last two Traffik Island albums came out at the same time as Alien Nosejob albums, which is nice. 

Shrug Of The Shoulders is out November 19 on Flightless Records. 

Please check out traffikislandbandcamp.com.

Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds: “Stay in it for the long haul and stay true to the muse”

Original photo: Luz Gallardo. Handmade collage by B.

Kid Congo Powers is a creative force and true original. Kid’s played in The Cramps, The Gun Club, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Wolfmanhattan Project, as well as gifted the world a band of his own creation, Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds. Gimmie spoke to him to get an insight into their new EP Swing From The Sean DeLear, his experience of being a person of colour and openly gay in the punk scene, the upcoming biography he’s written, we also talk lucid dreaming and much more.

It’s so lovely to speak with you again. How have you been?

KID CONGO: Just at home [laughs]. Good, good. The lockdown has been good for a few things, I finished the draft of my memoir I’ve been writing for over twelve years; it afforded me the time to not have any more excuses [laughs], to jump up and go on tour and not finish it. Luckily, right before lockdown I had finished a lot of recording, a new Pink Monkey Birds record, and I did one with a group I’m part of called the Wolfmanhattan Project, with Mick Collins who was in The Dirtbombs and The Gories and Bob Bert that was in Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore. I’ve been working on other music projects with different friends, we’ve been recording at home and sending each other music and sending it back and forth between each other; a few of these are almost albums, I think. There’s been a lot of work. I keep sitting here for a year thinking I haven’t been doing anything but actually I’ve been busy the entire time.

It’s a strange thing because I moved, we’re living in Tucson, Arizona, and as soon as we were starting to know people, getting to know the town more and able to navigate it, the lockdown happened. There was no big social life, no getting to know anything else because everything is closed. Arizona had high Covid numbers so I was like, I’m not going anywhere! Just enjoying homelife, reading, playing music and writing, being a local stray cat mother; we found a little baby cat on our patio out front so we took him in and we’ve been raising a cat through the quarantine time. He’s gone from a sweet little kitten with eyes closed, he still had the umbilical cord and everything, just a day old, but now he’s six months old and a complete terror! [laughs]. We love him! That’s keeping me busy.

Your new EP Swing From The Sean DeLear is so cool, I’ve been listening to it over and over since it came out. Each track is different, there’s only four songs – one a 14-minute-long song ‘He Walked In’ – and it seems to me to tap into all of the things you’re about as a music maker and all the different things you like shines through in these songs.

KC: Yeah. It’s become the unconscious goal. It’s a really nice compliment because the goal is to use everything that you have learned and to try and make something else out of it. I feel like that is why sticking things out in the long term is really good. I was always in bands for two or three years and that was it or I’d start a project and end it but with The Pink Monkey Birds, it’s been over ten years with the same band. Everyone is very in tune and knows what we’re capable of and everyone contributes, it becomes its own beast with its own life. We never discuss when things are going to happen, a lot of music just comes out of “here’s some chords” and I’ll start playing or someone will start playing. It’s like automatic writing. Different people steer the ship at different times. That’s what happened on this EP, different people came up with different things. Mark [Cisneros] showed up to the session with a flute, I didn’t know he played the flute! He’s like, “We’re recording in the desert so I thought you might like some desert sounds.” I replied, “Great! Fantastic! Bring it on!” It really made that 14-minute-long song. Larry Hardy from In The Red Records said, “We’ll put out a 12-inch EP but one song has to be long, like 6-7 minutes.” We said we can do that. We recorded the song and I was like that should be 6 or 7 minutes and asked how long it was and he said “Fourteen minutes!” [laughs]. We weren’t conscious of time; we were just feeling it out. The only thing we worked out was the tempo change. There was no editing, it’s all live.

I thought, is anyone going to even like this? It’s a slow 14-minute song! We’re a crazy rock n roll, garage rock band. But it’s the music we want to make and that came out of us at this moment. Luckily, and like anything that has that positive energy behind it, it was very well received. I like that our audience seems willing and happy for us to change things up, they want you to expanded; like I do when I’m a fan, I always have been. I followed Patti Smith’s work since I was 15-16-years-old to now and I’m always happy whatever it is she does, it’s always big to me, it’s just loving her as an artist. I’m like that with a lot of people that stay in it for the long haul and stay true to the muse. All the people I have been involved with, I still feel its amazing work that’s coming out of them, it’s because they stick to their original idea but then are not afraid to experiment and go outside the formula, there’s no pandering going on, that is exciting to me!

Yeah. I’m the same as you. I love seeing artists go against expectation. If they’re doing it with honesty and stay true to their spirit, no matter what they do, I’m in.

KC: Exactly. We have plenty of rock songs on the record too.

The song ‘He Walked In’ was inspired by a dream you had about Jeffrey Lee Pierce?

KC: Yes. I had this dream that shook me when I woke up. I knew it hadn’t really happened but the things in the dream, I could smell him, I could feel him; I could feel him in my presence. I was very much like, wow! That really happened, that dream was a visitation. I have no doubts. I have lots of dreams and they’re just dreams, but once in a while you get these ones that are so sensory, you can feel it and when you wake up you can still feel it, and you know what that feeling is. I jotted down this dream when I woke up, it was very clear in my mind, the song is a version of it. It was important to me. When we started making the music for it, I had an idea that I’d use the text for this and it was perfect for it. It was all very serendipitous all fitting together.

In the song lyrics you mention the kitchen and a telephone on the wall; is that the kitchen where you live now?

KC: No, it’s actually my childhood house where I lived with my parents, that’s where the dream took place. It was even stranger and had very personal images. Jeffery had come to that house.

I really love the film clip for the song. I enjoyed how the first part of the clip is shot in one continuous long shot. I noticed too that when you were walking and you get to the part where you start the dialogue and you’re talking about Jeffery coming to visit that in the shot there’s a little golden orb of light.

KC: Yeah [laughs]. There’s no CGI going on. It’s the sun deciding to come at the moment, we did that take several times because we had to nail it. It was the hottest part of the summer; the Arizona summer is very hot and we’d had all these wildfires in California and the smoke was making its way all the way to Arizona.

I wanted to work with the film maker David Fenster, he’s magical too. He deals in a lot of art films. The films he makes deal with a lot of spirits, a lot of ancient spirits usually, either living in nature or inhabiting different inanimate objects, it’s beautiful. He’s a beautiful cinematographer. He had moved to here shortly after we moved here. I knew I wanted him to do a video. We’re in quarantine but we have some wide-open spaces, so he rented a really nice camera. He said, “I think you need to be here. Wear a white suit walking through the desert and we’ll figure the rest out. You’ll be able to feel what’s happening.” I had actually just done an online workshop with this intuitive teacher named Asher Hartman from Los Angeles; it was a workshop on finding spirit guides. I did that not too long before we did the clip. David had done some film work with Asher, that’s how I found out about Asher. That came into play in the film. It’s pretty much improvised, we just had to nail the text [laughs]. We had to do it a few times, walking for 9-minutes in the heat without stopping or having a car come by with someone honking or whatever. So, it worked out in a magical kind of way. It’s hard to go wrong in that magical scenery, you’re on Native land [of the Tohono O’odham, Sobaipuri, Pascua Yaqui, and Hohokam people] and that is magical, when you get out into the desert and you realise it really does bring a lot of magic to be engaged the whole time.

Speaking of magical things, your outfit in that clip is really magical!

KC: [Laughs] I wore that suit when my husband Ryan and I got married.

Awwwwww.

KC: That’s my marriage outfit! It’s a good suit and I was shocked, really shocked I could still fit into it! That’s several years old.

It is so beautiful, especially with the turquoise Bolo necktie.

KC: Yeah, awww. That’s the thing, every piece has to have meaning. Film is two dimensional and that kind of stuff helps make it visceral and more three dimensional, because all of that stuff is happening and, in the background, and in the weight of what’s going on in the moment. Full disclosure, I have studied acting as well, for four or five years I went to an acting teacher, a private group acting with Cathy Haase. She was a great, great teacher. She was from the Actors Studio and as a teacher at the School Of Visual Arts. I never thought I was going to be an actor but I thought, I’d rather do this than therapy [laughs]. It was a lot of Actors Studio kind of sense memory stuff and using your past to evoke emotions and actions. I think I’m very equipped for that, I don’t always know how to use it but for that I did. I don’t think I looked uncomfortable or anything.

It looked very natural. Another song on the new EP is ‘Sean DeLear’ that’s about a non-binary African-American punker and culture fanatic, and Glue front-person, Sean D; what’s one of your favourite Sean stories or memories?

KC: [Laughs]. I would just be constantly amazed at where they would pop up! Anywhere I went, at any event, it was like; how is Sean DeLear backstage at Siouxsie and the Banshees concert? They were very much a character and reminds me a lot of myself, that Sean just put themselves there. They were going to be in the middle of it and that’s just it! People start to treat you like, “Oh, Sean DeLear! They must be someone, so let them in.” The last time I saw Sean, they showed up at my show in London. I really liked Sean; I always call them demi-drag because they were not always a woman but not always drag, non-binary, whatever Sean felt like on the day. They were part Diana Ross, part Johnny Rotten; a real Zelig. He was a very engaged, lovely person and fully original. Just to be an African-American punker but to me, a gay, out, Black man was always incredible to me and always inspirational. I was always amazed where they showed up at, all around the world—New York, L.A., London, Vienna. An ambiguous character that was well-known and famous for being around. That’s a real, real talent! And, very beloved by the underground rock n roll community and the underground in general, the gay underground, LGBTQ+ underground. A bright spot. Very, very kooky and original person.

When they passed away it was like, how can it be that Sean Delear is no longer on the earth?! Someone that is so alive and bright. I was very inspired to write something about the essence of Sean DeLear. It’s like, where is Sean DeLear now? I thought if there is a heaven… I looked in the sky and I thought, oh, they’re probably just swinging from some chandelier, that’s probably what heaven is [laughs]. I say in the song: how many people can you fit up there? He passed away in 2018 and I had so many friends that passed away that year; I thought maybe they’re all up there on the chandelier swinging around together. I don’t know if I believe in that, I’d like to believe in an afterlife of some sort but I don’t know what it is but maybe that’s it, a party on a chandelier rocketing through outer space [laughs].

As a gay Latinx, person of colour, in the punk and rock n roll scenes; did you ever experience racism or homophobia? Or in your experience has it been an accepting place?

KC: Things came and went; prejudices and fears I would have about being out. Luckily, the earliest punk rock of Los Angeles definitely had a lot of gay people at the forefront, it was made up of art students, gay people, film people, all kinds of people made up scene—it was more misfit than misanthropic in the beginning. It was a gathering of likeminded outcasts who were sick of the status quo, the music and the whole scenario. That was always very open but it was also a time where people weren’t talking about… in the punk rock scene in Los Angeles at that time, any labels were absolutely off the books and totally taboo, you don’t want to be anything, except for a punk rocker, you’re outside of everything, you’re the blank generation! What ever you can call it, you’re not that. If you’re bucking against the system, that was good enough, that was the only requirement. Being gay was definitely bucking against the system. That’s how openminded and accepted things were in the beginning. I guess later it got more co-opted to become homophobic, more when hardcore music came in.

Totally!

KC: That kind of dispersed the original scene. People turned twenty-one and twenty-two and were old and out of it already by them—cos they were washed up old hags! [laughs]. People moved on to something else. In The Gun Club, we played with androgyny; Jeffery with his Marilyn Monroe from Hell moniker. We were totally unafraid to play with stereotypes and gender then. We were just freaks. Then in The Cramps, how much freer could you be to be a sexual deviant! [laughs]. It was encouraged in the highest! That too, with The Cramps there was no limit to gender roles. You just looked sharp and whatever it was, that’s the way you were going to look and be. It was such a pro-sexuality-of-all-kinds-scene, it wasn’t homophobic. The Bad Seeds, open-minded people, although very macho sort of; that was the first time I was in a band with all men [laughs]. There was always a woman in the band, with The Cramps and The Gun Club. I didn’t have any trepidation about being myself and sexuality and putting it out there. I think I adapted to every band. I just thought I’ll be me; I don’t need to be Ronnie Spector in this band [laughs]. If there was any trepidation of about what people thought of me, that’s on me really. I was never treated different for being gay and that’s because I’ve always stood my ground and been who I am. People can accept it or not accept it.

I think homophobia came from outside the rock n roll world, if it was in the rock n roll world, I’d just tell them to fuck off! I’ve experienced tons of homophobia. I also felt really ostracized by the mainstream gay scene, more when I was younger, the pre-punk time because I didn’t look like them and I was not going to be accepted by them. I decided that I’d just become a monster [laughs], that was a better route to take. If you see a monster, I’ll be a monster!

I saw much more sexism towards woman, directed at the women I was in groups with. I saw sound people in clubs be condescending to [Poison] Ivy or Romi [Mori] or Patricia Morrison. We would call them out of course, but it existed. For me, I didn’t feel it as much as what I saw happen with women, which upset me. They were all strong, cool, women that weren’t going to let it go! [laughs].

Did you experience any racism?

KC: I don’t think so, no. That was the glorious thing about coming up in punk rock, it was open to everyone. Being in Los Angeles, which has a huge Hispanic population, a huge Latino population, Chicano population, there was never a way of avoiding it. Jeffrey Lee Pierce was Chicano, his mother was Mexican-American. I think people were more outraged by my hair than the colour of my skin [laughs]. You come equipped when you are a person of colour. I was equipped with an immediate idea that I was a second-class citizen, that there was a prejudice and always a potential for danger and there was always a way to carry yourself to protect yourself. My parents very much grew up in the depression era… they had a very hard time, I think that’s why they brought me and my sisters up speaking English as a first language, not very much Spanish was taught to us. They wanted us to assimilate. They wanted it to be easier for us because they and their parents had a much harder time assimilating. Their parents’ generation were actually immigrants and they saw how hard it was. There’s a lot of people that didn’t grow up learning Spanish and it contributed to a feeling of otherness. You know you are Mexican and you’ve been raised to be proud of your heritage and you’re exposed to your heritage and customs, family and things, but you also don’t speak the language and that makes you feel ostracized from people.

How did your song ‘(I Can’t Afford) Your Shitty Dreamhouse’ come to you?

KC: I wrote that before the George Floyd death, Brianna Taylor shooting and the Black Lives Matter uprising and protests; I could see something coming, just look at our Administration at the time. It’s a protest song. The shitty dreamhouse is all of the conversative right-wing let’s-make-America-great-again-dream they had, which is to return to a time when people of colour had no civil rights. That’s basically what they were saying. I’ve always been fucking fighting against this, it’s particularly terrible at this time. Blatant fascism. People were empowered to be racist. I was like, they have some shitty dream house they want to build! I can’t afford to buy into this or think that it’s going to be a part of my life. People are out there protesting saying you’re fucked and this is fucked and you’re not helping, you need to listen to us. There’s a line in the song that says: I can fight like we did all along, years before you were in my song. It’s a fuck you, you’re not going to get us. It’s protest music that you can dance to. It has a deeper meaning.

I love the art work for your new EP too; your husband Ryan does it?

KC: He’s done all of the records, he’s the ideas man! I really like the idea of having one artist, it really makes an identity and theme. I like to have a theme going with music or whatever philosophies there are with the culture we’re creating. He’s a visual artist and he said it was good to have on-going identity, that people come with you. I’m happy with whatever he comes up with, it’s always great. He does the lettering by hand. He’s an incredible draftsperson. And, he’s fun! He’s just the right kind of crazy, too [laughs].

That’s something that I’ve always loved about all off the bands you’ve been a part of, you’ve created your own world.

KC: That is intentional. I didn’t know any other way to do it.  That’s how I learnt from all the bands I’ve been in; you create your own world. Jeffrey was the focus of The Gun Club, Lux and Ivy were the focus of The Cramps, they came up with bullet proof concepts, ideas and worlds—they bring people together and people into a community and our world! It’s more multi-dimensional than just listening to music, it’s visual and conceptual and also loose enough to change and ever-morphing, it becomes its own beast. It relies on a fair amount of consistency, that was always my shortfall [laughs]. I’ve done a lot of different things but only for a little while. With The Pink Monkey Birds I wanted to start something like that. I’m in it for the long haul, as a result we have created our own world and we’re lucky people want to come along, jump on our planet!

A band like, Sparks, who I’ve liked since I was a teenager, still going and I’m still in their world and I never want to leave. It’s consistently amazing. You’re like, oh my god, they’re getting better! The Ramones, you knew exactly what their world was about when you first saw their show, at least I did. I couldn’t tell you what it was about but I could tell you that it was something that I understood. I do hope that it’s something that happens with us.

I spoke with Martin Rev from Suicide the other day and he was telling me that he wakes up and pretty much every day makes music. I asked him what he was working on and he told me that he wasn’t working on anything in particular that he was just making music. That’s his life.

KC: Yeah, that’s it. That is just it. There is no big plan, maybe some people have a big plan, but for us old timers and people in it for the long haul, you just make the stuff. That’s what Patti Smith told me an artist was: make the stuff, keep your name clean, don’t do stuff you don’t want to do and it should all work out somehow. You might not be famous but you’ll have this amazing work and people will respond to it, it might be ten people or it might be ten million, it doesn’t matter really. It’s our chosen path in life. That’s what we do, we make stuff.

Please check out: Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds on bandcamp; Get Swing From The Sean Delear out on In The Red Records. Kid on Instagram: @kidcongopowers

French Sci-Fi Psych Rockers SLIFT on New LP Ummon: “It is mainly inspired by Homer’s Odyssey”

Handmade collage by B.

SLIFT’s music takes you on an epic journey to the far reaches of the Universe and back! Their latest slice of heavy sci-fi psych-rock album Ummon is excitingly one part Homer’s Odyssey and one part sci-fi trip. We interviewed guitarist-vocalist, Jean F. to find out more.

SLIFT are from Toulouse, France; what’s it like there? Can you tell us about your neighbourhood?

JEAN: Toulouse is a beautiful city made of red brick, and there are a lot of musicians here. Many very good bands, one of my favorite is Edredon Sensible, they are two percussionist and two saxophonist, They play a groovy and heavy trance, with free jazz elements. I think they will release their first album this year. There’s also BRUIT, evocative post-rock, and Hubris, krautrock warriors. We have a bar (Le Ravelin) where psych and punk bands from all over the world come to play. It’s the last bar in the city to regularly book great bands that play loud and fast. Many venues have closed, the city’s politics sucks and prefers to set up hotels in the centre of town rather than clubs and venues. But I hope things will change in the near future.

What have you been doing today?

JEAN: Today, we are going to pack vinyl to send them as quickly as possible despite the health crisis. Post offices are idling right now and that makes things more difficult. And then, as we are out of town at the moment, we are going to walk in the hills. We play a lot of music as well.

Two of you are brothers (Rémi and Jean), you met Canek in high school; what kind of music and bands were you listening to growing up?

JEAN: When we were kids, our parents listened to the Beatles, and a lot of blues, like John Lee Hooker and BB King. We’ve always loved the blues. Personally, I like the idea that we are still playing the blues with SLIFT. A different blues, but a blues anyway. In high school we listened to a lot of punk stuff, Rancid, Minor Threat, then Fugazi, No Means No and Melvins. In the van on the way to the rehearsal room, Canek’s father introduce us to South American music, psych stuff and jam bands. And of course we are extremely fans of Jimi Hendrix.

When did you first start making music yourself? You played in punk bands?

JEAN: We started playing together in high school. Rémi was still in college, we played punk in Green Day mode at the very beginning. It’s all good memories! We quickly started to add instrumental phases in the compositions. Then we played in different bands before meeting again and forming SLIFT.

Who are your biggest music influences?

JEAN: The Electric Church of Sir Jimi Hendrix.

Photo by RABO.

What made you start SLIFT?

JEAN: We came from punk, and after discovering Hendrix, we started to lengthen our songs, to stretch the structures and especially to jam. It was 4 years ago, we wanted to start a band and play these new songs. We did not know at all the modern psych scene, when we had the chance to attend at the last minute a Moon Duo concert in a museum in Toulouse (we grabbed the last tickets by begging the porter to let us in). This concert was an important event, it was just after leaving the museum that we decided that we were going to record and tour. After that we have of course dug up the modern psych scene, there are so many great bands! People often associate us with this scene, and it’s very cool, but to be honest, today we don’t listen to bands like King Gizzard or Oh Sees anymore. We are more on the groups which, I think, influenced them. Like Amon Dull, Can, Hawkwind, all the 70’s German scene, 70’s Miles Davis, electronic and prog stuff. Among the current groups, we really like the Doom scene, and we particularly love a trio of English bands: Gnod, Hey Colossus and Part Chimp. We listen to a lot of film music. I would love so much that one day we have the opportunity to make one!

What does the band name SLIFT mean?

JEAN: SLIFT is the name of a character from a novel, La Zone du Dehors by Alain Damasio. Read it, you wouldn’t regret it. This author also wrote a masterpiece, La Horde du Contrevent. Probably my best reading experience.

How do you think SLIFT’s sound has changed over time?

JEAN: At first we just wanted to play a lot live, so we recorded quickly, and we composed quickly. Today and for the first time on Ummon, we took our time. The composition method has also changed. On our first two recordings, we all composed together in the rehearsal room. Now I mainly compose on my side, which allows me to go to the end of the ideas and to have a precise vision for the album. Then we test the songs in rehearsal and in concert, we jam the songs, and we talk a lot about where we want to go, what sound, what we are talking about. Personally, it is for me a more accomplished and coherent record, because I have the feeling that we have put a lot of personal and honest things in it, whether in the music or in the concept and the conception of the album. And in terms of sound, we often listen to new things, so it’s always enriching the way we play music I guess. Maybe in two years we will make an album with only percussion (… still with fuzz haha).

You are influenced by cinema and books, especially science fiction stuff; what are some of your favourite books and films?

JEAN: La Nuit des Temps – Barjavel, Rick and Morty, Hyperion cycle – Dan Simmons, Le Dechronologue – Stephane Beauverger, La Horde du Contrevent / La zone du Dehors – Alain Damasio Alien / Prométheus.

Your album Ummon is s real journey for the listener; what inspired the songs themes? It tells a story? It’s a concept album?

JEAN: It is mainly inspired by Homer’s Odyssey and science-fiction trip. The first part tells of the titans’ ascent from the centre to the earth’s surface. The construction of their Citadel on a drifting asteroid, then their departure towards the stars in search of their creators, a journey which will last forever. The second part talks about Hyperion (a Titan born in a Nebula during the endless drift through space) and his exile from the Citadel. After wandering for millions of years, he will return on Earth, alone, then dig the Son Dong’s cave with his bare hand. Hyperion rests at the far end of the cave, and its body will be the breeding ground for life which will soon climb out of the abyss and cover the Earth.

Where does your fascination from space come from?

JEAN: When you are a child, space is synonymous with adventure and wonder. Growing up, what I find cool is that it’s probably endless.

Can you tell us a little bit about recording it? It was recorded at Studio Condorcet by Olivier Cussac, right?

JEAN: You’re right, it was Olivier Cussac who recorded it, and we both mixed and mastered it, we wanted to have as much control as possible over the sound of the record. Olivier is a very talented musician, he play a lot of instruments, and he’s a very good arranger. He mainly composes film music. He has a fascination with vintage stuff, so his studio is a real museum. It is a dream to be in a place like this. He liked the album project a lot, so we took a full month to do it. The atmosphere was super chill, we had the best time!

What is your favourite thing about Ummon?

JEAN:  It is a team effort. We feel fortunate to work with very talented people who passionately love doing what they do. Guthio (who designs the clips and makes the video live), Olivier, Philippe Caza (who designed the artwork), Clémence (who came to sing), the fearless Vicious Circle Records and Stolen Body Records. Hélène, who made so that everything goes well and that ensures that we never sleep on the floor after the shows. And the coolest thing is that these people become a friends.

What do you strive for when playing live?

JEAN: We try to never do the same concert twice. Some pieces are lengthened. We don’t want to recreate the record on stage, its two totally different listening experiences. The record, you can listen to it at home with headphones, it’s an intimate and personal experience. Concerts are an experience of the body, it’s about feeling the volume and the vibrations and seeing humans playing live music.

What do you do outside of music?

JEAN: We do Bonsai!

Please check out: SLIFT. SLIFT on Facebook. Ummon is out on Vicious Circle and Stolen Body Records.

The Dandelion’s Natalie de Silver: “I have a garden so I go out there… you only have to sit and watch for a few minutes and you’ll see creation and the creation process”

Original photo courtesy of Harpoon; handmade collage by B.

Sydney’s The Dandelion channel the best parts of 1960s music, hints of exotica and psychedelia to create a magical world of their own. We had a deep chat with The Dandelion’s creatrix Natalie de Silver about creation, spirituality, songwriting, growth and their new album in the works.

What feeling do you get from making or playing music?

NATALIE DE SILVER: It brings on a whole range of emotions. A good song is a song that makes you feel something quite powerfully; a bad song is a song that doesn’t make you feel anything or it might just make you feel annoyed [laughs]. I always judge a song by how it makes me feel. The feeling I get from making or playing music is quite inexplicable really. The creative process is quite complex, sometimes it can be frustrating. I start with a sound in my head and I want to bring it to life; it doesn’t always come out the way that you want it to, which can also be a good thing as well because it can be surprising where it goes. There is something about spontaneity in the creative process that is magical.

I understand that you don’t really feel so comfortable writing and recording in the company of other people; why is that? Is there a freedom in making things by yourself?

NDS: I don’t mind recording in front of people. The reason I do lots of recording by myself is mainly financial. I can do it from home and I’m not on a time schedule. I can chip away at what I’m working on when I feel like it and I’m in the mood, rather than have studio time booked and have to get everything together for it and make it in a short timeframe. The next record that we are doing is going to be in a proper studio, it will be a bit more of a collaborative process with the other band members more involved. We’ll have a recording engineer as well which is exciting!

I was going to ask you about recording your next album because I saw back in November last year that you put out a call for a violinist on social media, saying that you might be recording this April.

NDS: That’s right, it’s still scheduled to record in April.

I’ve read you talk about wanting to really get a really lush sound to your albums. I was thinking being in a studio as opposed to home recording like you usually do, you may be able to realise that.

NDS: For sure! It will be nice to have a little bit less responsibility in terms of capturing the sound but, it is inevitable I will be directing a lot of what is happening and the creative process. Not having to be the one that presses play, record and rewind, will give me a different type of freedom. Like you were saying before, I do have a sense of freedom when I record by myself at home but, I think having less responsibility in engineering the recording I will have a different freedom in the studio.

I know that for the last two LPs you used the same recording equipment and instruments to get the sound you have. Using a different studio etc. it will be interesting to see where this recording goes.

NDS: I think it will have a different sound sonically for sure. I don’t want to give away anything yet before it is done though. I always find that generally how I would envision the album before its being made, it doesn’t always turn out the way I plan.

I understand that when you do start writing for an album you often think it’s going to be a folky kind of album and then it turns out completely different.

NDS: That happens pretty much every record, I plan to do a folk record. I think it’s because I write a lot of my songs on a nylon string acoustic guitar. You can probably tell on my albums there is a lot of folk material, that’s generally how I start the record, then there is this moment where I get a burst of energy and want to play real drums and play an electric guitar [laughs].

Photo by Jamie Wdziekonski.

I think it’s so cool that you write, play and record all your songs yourself, not many people do that.

NDS: I don’t know how that came about? I learnt to play instruments, I had a period years ago where I was living in a warehouse space, that’s where the band used to rehearse so instruments were just there set up… maybe I started out of boredom? We had band rehearsals once a week and I had all this time in between that, where I was surrounded by all of these instruments. I was always writing songs and I’d feel anxious because I wanted to just record it. It was a slow process of recording and learning how to play those instruments at the same time. I had a multi-track cassette recorder and I would start with the drums. I’d record myself jamming to myself and then I would write the song based around that drum beat. I would have an idea of the song in my head but then I would create little bits, like a drum roll or a break down, and start playing softly. Once the drum beat was recorded I would listen back with the organ or a guitar playing along with it and work the song out that way.

It’s really great starting with the drums because the drums are such a primal thing.

NDS: Yeah, I always consider the drums as the heartbeat of the song, everything else is on the top of that. This record I’ve been writing is a little bit more challenging because I am writing at home by myself and having the other band members involved. I’ve been writing very much on just guitar and organ, without the drums. We’ll see how I turns out.

I understand that spirituality is a big driving force in your life and your music; when did you start on this path?

NDS: Yes. I’m a cradle Catholic, so my spiritual journey started form birth. I was initiated into the church through the sacrament which is baptism, confession and Holy Communion and Confirmation. Like most kids who were initiated into religion at a young age, I didn’t really understand the true significance of those sacraments until later in my life. I left the church when I was fifteen, I would have been in Year 9 or 10 at that stage, I was going to a Catholic school—I chose a path of self-spiritual self-discovery through what I would call chemically-induced mysticism. I was very influenced by my favourite musicians from the 1960s. Unfortunately that path inevitably got me expelled [laughs] from Catholic school. Music became my religion for years after.

Through those years I identified as a non-practising Catholic, however I formed a strong attraction to New Age spirituality. That led me into the occult and I began to experiment with practises such a Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Witchcraft, Sex Magick and spiritual channelling. The practises were complimented by drug use, mainly amphetamines and psychedelics. I think that created an illusionary sense of connecting with the divine, it took me many years to wake up from that—I describe it as self-centred, chemically-induced, hypnotism. When I woke up from those experiences I thought it was a very self-indulgent way of obtaining spirituality and spiritual enlightenment—spiritual gluttony is probably a better term to use.

Quite recently I found my return back to the Catholic Church and I begun attending the traditional Latin Catholic mass. I started participating in daily prayer and regular confession, slowly I began to realise that there is no self-centred way to God and spiritual enlightenment. The holy mysteries are revealed slowly and incrementally through self-sacrifice and positively and actively participating in society, as opposed to chemically inducing yourself into a state of false divine revelation.

Courtesy of Natalie de Silver.

Was there anything in particular that woke you up?

NDS: I realised I was self-destructing, that was a wakeup call. I got to a point where I realised that if I continue down this path I’m not going to be alive, it was getting to that point. I had a wakeup call that when I looked at myself objectively and asked myself; what are you doing to yourself? I asked myself the very serious question; do you want to live or do you want to die? That’s when I realised how self-centred I had been by being self-destructive. It’s quite easy to get self-destructive, there’s something quite romantic about it, throughout the centuries people have written poems ad painted pictures and created stories and lived out these seemingly romantic lives of self-destruction, living in pain and embracing it. There is a lot of pain and suffering inevitably in life… there’s that romantic notion that you embrace it and take it head on. Once I looked outside of myself and looked at what I was doing and realised it was affecting other people around me, my relationships with them and my life, that pulled me out of that vortex, that cycle. That’s when I come to realise that self-sacrifice is the key to obtaining true enlightenment. I had to give up a lot of things in my life which I was enjoying, but they weren’t healthy for me. Ultimately the outcome of that – it wasn’t an easy process, it was quite painful but ultimately beautiful – was that I was able to find an inner peace. I have less friends now but I think that the people that are close to me, those connections are so much more solid than before when I felt quite lost amongst a sea of madness [laughs].

Isn’t it funny how different people in your circle or groups of people you know, start to fall away and out of your life when your self-growth accelerates in positive ways.

NDS: I know! It’s a painful process because they are people that when you’re amongst that arena, everyone is on the same wave length, we’re all searching for something and you find each other and you do form a closeness; it’s painful to break away from that. Sometimes people don’t like it when you do better because they might feel like you’re leaving them. Ultimately it’s probably best for both of you to move away from each other, especially if you both have the same bad habits.

There’s a lot of references to the natural world in your music: the night sky, willow, fire, sun, moonbeam meadow, cold wind, petals, morning, evening, nocturnal/night, garden, caves, earth, milky way, trees, 8-legged ones, seasons; what’s your relationship to nature?

NDS: To me nature is the best representation of the existence of God. I see God as the essence of creation. I’m fortunate to have a backyard in my apartment, I have a garden so I go out there and you only have to sit and watch for a few minutes and you’ll see creation and the creation process. That to me is a symbol of the existence of God because I recognise it from my own observations that everything does have a purpose… which is contrary to what prominent Atheists like Richard Dawkins say, things like, the universe has no purpose of design and there is no good and evil, that the world carries on with pitiless indifference. To me there is more evidence to suggest that we do have a purpose and an intrinsic purpose which we call survival. If you see everything intertwining and working together in this beautiful harmonious structure… I see it as this metaphysical hierarchy in nature, there’s the hunters and the prey, some species are both, and it’s fascinating to see that unfold.

Courtesy of Natalie de Silver.

It’s interesting that if you look at nature it seems like everything lives in harmony with everything else except for us humans.

NDS: Yeah, I guess so. There’s a certain grace that nature has that us humans try really hard to obtain. For instance, if you watch two humans fighting each other it’s generally what I would consider an ugly performance – maybe with the exception of controlled fighting like martial arts, there’s some sense of beauty in combat there – generally human conflict is ugly. If you watch a wolf hunting down a deer, even though it’s brutal to watch and can be confronting, it has something majestic about it. That’s part of the process of life.

What makes us different is that as humans most of us have our basic survival needs already met, this looking for our purpose and meaning changes to other activities; those other activities sometimes can come into conflict with other people’s purpose and activities and what they want out of life and what they feel is important to them—that’s when us humans can definitely fall from grace and that’s when the world ca become quite ugly. When we become too focused and too ideological about how we think the world should be run as opposed to finding balance and harmony.

In some ways I also believe that conflict does seem necessary in some way because I always think of those moments when you have a conflict with someone and then post that, there’s often a moment of transcendence where you can reflect on it and learn something from it and hopefully reconcile with the person you had the conflict with and then you both transcend—that’s such a valuable experience to have. The connection and transcendence with that person wouldn’t have happened unless you had conflict. I guess that’s the strange puzzle of life that I think is very mysterious. Spirituality and religious philosophy is able to explain that well I think.

There’s such an importance in mythological stories, they convey human experience as opposed to just looking at stuff analytically, like in the Sciences as opposed to direct human experience. In saying that, I have a big respect for the conventional Sciences as well; that’s part of us as well, a gift that human beings have, to look at things analytically and experiment with things as long as it’s done with positive and good intentions. There’s another part of human nature that’s hard to put into words, that’s where I see myths, stories, films, music, art, are the best methods of explaining that inexplicable.

I noticed that the Aboriginal creator goddess Yhi makes an appearance in your songs ‘Garden of Yhi’ and ‘Goddess Yhi’; how did you first come to know of her?

NDS: It’s a fascinating story. The first version of the song, I recorded in the morning, it was actually a very beautiful morning. I was contemplating her, again I was in the backyard. It was one of those angelic mornings where you have that dappled sunlight shining through the trees and I was thinking about the goddess Yhi, I feel her story is very similar to Persephone in Greek mythology, she goes down into the underground Hades but when she comes up its springtime and everything just comes to life. I saw a very strong correlation between Yhi and Persephone. It’s a beautiful story that’s symbolic of the cycle of life; again it’s a symbolism of God and creation. Her archetype was very, very inspiring.

It’s almost even similar to your own story, you went into the darker areas of life and you’ve now come out the other side where you’ve created all this beautiful stuff.

NDS: Yes, that’s the love and hate relationship I have with the creative process [laughs]. You have to destroy yourself for a little bit to see the light. Although now as I’m getting a little older and more responsible, I think I’m definitely finding a way to manage that duality a bit more.

I know what you mean. I think for myself where I’m at is that I really believe in love, creativity, compassion, service, connection and nature.

NDS: Yeah, and what’s beautiful about all of those things are they’re so mysterious and that’s why we are so attracted to them. They’re not things that you can merely just look at. I googled the scientific explanation for ‘love’ the other day. The only way that you could analytically or scientifically look at love is through physical relations; it says there’s a certain chemical reaction in the brain when someone is in love and then it has these bodily sensations. I thought that was simply reducing something to a physical reaction—love is so much more mysterious than that. It’s something that is subjective and objective because it’s part of our experience and we all have a different understanding of love and we express it differently. I think love also can sometimes be confused with infatuation which can be the onset of love, but true love is something that you can’t really explain it. When you think of how you love your family members, sometimes in reality you might be really angry at them, sometimes you even hate them but, it’s inevitable that you do love them. Once you really embody that, you realise how powerful it is. When it’s true love that’s when you learn that love is not impatient, love doesn’t hate—there’s something really supreme about it. When we talk about the concepts of God or Goddesses or any type of archetype, love is one of those things that there is nothing higher than that.

When you talk about nature, there’s something so miraculously mysterious about it when you see how it all works together. At the same time it’s beautiful but it’s also brutal. If you think about us human beings, if we were to be thrown out into nature, out of our little cocoon of our home and shelter, nature could be really cruel and unforgiving—it could destroy you.

If you look at the patterns of Indigenous People throughout the centuries, they seem to have found a way to communicate with nature and to move harmoniously with it. Modern humans have a lot to learn from that. There’s a tendency in the modern day to see that type of thinking as primitive or archaic but I think there’s a lot of things we could learn from them. Where we are in this day and age where we are, going through this very strange pandemic, there seems to be crisis all over the world, environmental, social; we can learn a lot from going back. I don’t like the word ‘primitive’, I think that makes it sound derogatory, I like to think of it as eternal wisdom.

Going back to the concept of spirituality and religion, there’s an eternal wisdom that has always been around. Certain people throughout the centuries have been able to tap into that better than others. Hopefully as a nation we can start to recognise that and cherish that and conserve that as opposed to throwing it away.

We live in quite a post-modern type of world. Look at our technology at the moment, it’s helped us a lot but, things that have been created now are very disposable. I’ve always wondered; how does that affect us psychologically? In ways that we might not even be aware of it, unconsciously we’re owning all these things that we throw away quickly.

Lately I’ve noticed with everyone being in lockdown, when you do go out to the shops there’s so much stuff on the shelves that people don’t really need. I think maybe people are starting to live simply on what they need, the basics, rather than frivolous things they want.

NDS: Yeah. Obviously during these times you spend a lot of time scrolling through the internet, which can be not so healthy, but occasionally you’ll see that people have come up with some beautiful analysis of what’s happening. They’re looking at positives that have come out of this social isolation. Life tragedies are somewhat necessary for us to progress and move forward, as painful as it can be; there’s generally some sort of answer after. That is the mystery that we’re all in one way or another searching for, some of us call it God, some of us call it enlightenment, some of us call it just existing.

On album Old Habits And New Ways you have an instrumental song called ‘De Silver’s Dream’; do you dream often?

NDS: I do. I have a reoccurring dream, unfortunately it’s not a very nice one. I go into an old style house, similar to the ones in Surry Hills in Sydney, they’re skinny three-level terrace houses, and it has nice Victorian furniture in there and when I enter I’m compelled to walk up the staircase. There’s an impending doom-feeling and something telling me that I shouldn’t go in there but I walk up anyway. There’s a horrible, deathly, sickly smell and I open a door and feel the presence of something, suddenly I wake up. I haven’t had it for a while but I’ve found that the dream comes about in times of uncertainty in my life, I think that’s what it represented. I’d have such a mixed feeling, compelled to do something but something telling me not too. Maybe it represents a big decision that I had to make in my life.

I haven’t dived too much into dream interpretation but I’ve been meaning to. I’m so lazy with writing them down. I started writing a dream journal for a little while, there were some weird ones! Beyond weird [laughs]. I stumbled across it the other day actually, I was writing some songs – I always have ten books that I write in – I picked up one and it was actually my dream journal. I read through it and thought they were so weird!

I was watching Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain the other day and thought that movie is such a great depiction of what dreams are like; just complete weirdness, things have symbolic and sometimes triple meanings. The one thing I experience often, which I think others would too, I experience this phenomenon in dreams where you’ll be talking to someone and then they’ll change into something else, I find that fascinating. I think dreams are where our surreal art and art in general comes from. I’m really into C.S. Lewis at the moment. He’s one of those writers that are a top-level intellectual writer. He said he’d have these dreams and wake up and write a novel. I wish I could do that, it’s so fantastic!

Do you find lyrics come easy to you?

NDS: Lyrics are a tough one. That’s the part of the songwriting process that I like the least to be honest. The music side comes easy, I can pick up a guitar and write a song straight away. I would be mumbling lyrics and saying nonsensical words though. You know what is the most annoying part of songwriting for me?

What?

NDS: It’s when I have those moments and pick up a guitar and start to write a song, I’ll start humming lyrics and I might feel they’re good but then I can’t remember them because it’s such a spontaneous process. I’m just spewing out lyrics but they might actually sound good and then I’ll go get my book to write things down and I’ll be like; what the hell did I just say? It’s so annoying! When I focus on writing the song down it can sometimes lack that magic it had when I was just first creating it and I wasn’t really thinking about it.

What I’ve got into the process of doing now is that, when I start strumming I’ll have my phone next to me with a voice recorder and I’ll just hit that and record what I’m doing and I can play it back and generally be able to pick out some lines. The lyrical process for me is somewhat of a stream of consciousness. I find it hard to write about specific things. I know some writers might have an experience and they’re able to articulate it poetically and brilliantly use abstract words to tell the story. I don’t really write that way, sometimes I wish I could. I’ll generally have a mental spew of words, words will come together. I do like rhymes. What is really interesting is that when I reflect on the song it will have a theme and meaning; it will more often than not portray my state of mind or what has been happening in my life or where I’m at.

If I look back at my past songs, it is kind of like looking at a diary, which can be a bit awkward. Like when I look back at my dream journal, you sometimes cringe [laughs]. I feel that way with certain songs that I have recorded, it’s a bit embarrassing but then on the other hand people may see something different in it. There’s also times I do look and find moments of pure naivety, and I could never replicate that ever again. If you look at any artist that has put out a catalogue of work, it’s often the early stuff that people enjoy the most; during that time the artist isn’t over thinking everything or didn’t know what they were doing and sometimes that naivety creates something really, really special and accessible. I say this somewhat in jest but, my music is becoming somewhat more sophisticated in my artistic approach that I’m a bit unsure if my new music will be as accessible because I’m looking at it with a bit more experience. I don’t know though. When I record something I rarely listen back to it, I say goodbye and it’s then the listeners’.

Please check out: THE DANDELION. The Dandelion on Facebook. The Dandelion on Instagram.