Author Archives: Ray Jackson
  1. Deji Ijishakan: “I felt like I had to act like Zarathustra in a sense… just go to war with ideas”

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    Deji Ijishakan is a 21-year-old jazz musician from south London, his primary instrument being the tenor saxophone. Over a relatively short time he’s developed an eclectic and unique musical personality, infusing his passion for philosophy into his music, and forging an entirely new subgenre he calls jazz-drill. He plays in a number of jazz and fusion bands including Levitation Orchestra, Nihilism and Hypernova Militia. Over the lockdown he’s started releasing his own solo work under the name Xvngo. Ashwin Tharoor sat down with Deji to talk about his music, philosophical influences and new projects.

     

    Deji, Xvngo [Shango] is your stage name, right? Where did that come from?

     

    It actually originates from a Yoruba god, an Orisha in the Yoruba tradition. They have their own their pantheon and like, Shango was the god of thunder, fire and willpower. I was inspired by that.

     

    How was your lockdown?

     

    It’s been really up and down you know. I’ve had some really high moments, like for instance I just started releasing my music under the alias Xvngo, as a solo artist. I also finished my degree, got into the Masters I wanted to do and started a business. At the same time, in other areas it’s been quite negative. I know someone quite dear to me who’s been affected by coronavirus. I’d definitely say it’s been more positive than it has been negative.

     

    That’s good to hear.

     

    I think it’s good to go through some difficult times, because it makes you stronger, psychologically.

     

    So, when did you start playing music?

     

    I’ll never forget my earliest memory engaging with music, I think I must’ve been like 8 or 7 years old. It was on a laptop, not a music programming laptop or anything like that. There was this programme on there, for a game or something. I remember there being a wizard involved. I remember playing on a keyboard that allowed you to play [music] with the keyboard of the laptop. Testing sounds and being like, oh wow, what is this!

     

    Did you have any big musical influences in your family or at home?

     

    Funnily enough, one of my uncles is a saxophone player. And my dad forced me to play the keyboard when I was quite young, and at first, I was against it. Even though I must’ve shown him some type of musical inclination. But yeah, he wanted me to play and I was rebellious at first but then I really got into it and began to love it. So, my dad was a big musical influence, and then growing up throughout secondary school I was very much involved in music.

     

    What about your first musical love, in terms of an artist or a band?

     

    The first really profound musical love I had was for John Coltrane. I’d say when I learnt about Charlie Parker, I was like, wow, this is amazing. I was about 13 years old, so I was quite lucky to be introduced to bebop music. The way that I got into bebop is quite funny. I’d been playing the piano up until I was 13, and I used to go to this mentorship. And, at the time I listened to a lot of hip-hop music and my mentor looked at all the music I was listening to and he was just cussing me out for like an hour, and he was telling me I need to stop listening to this stuff.

     

    What was he cussing you out for?

     

    Like, he has quite a conservative taste in music, listens to Ben Webster and that type of thing. He said like anything after the 1980s is almost sacrilegious music (laughs), you know what I mean? But yeah, he was cussing me out for listening to like MGK, Giggs, Waka Flocka Flame, even Jamie Fox.

     

    Sounds like he didn’t like hip-hop at all.

     

    Yeah, he was very anti-hip-hop. And then after that, out of fear, I started listening to some jazz music. And I was like, you know, I really like this. Once I’d been introduced to it in that way I really began to fall in love with it. Then I started playing the clarinet. But when I found Charlie Parker as a result of this awakening, this jazz awakening, it really blew my mind. I couldn’t believe someone could make a sound like that, like a human being. I really couldn’t even comprehend. Now that I play bebop, and I can take the lines and I can play it, it’s kinda different. But when you’re standing completely beholden to it…

     

    With no conception of how it’s made…

     

    Yeah, it’s just so sublime. And then time went on, I kept on listening to jazz, and I found John Coltrane. It was beyond sublimity with Coltrane, because you could just see a man on a journey with music. And, he’s just leaving everything else behind, he doesn’t care about anything. He’s almost channelling – like he’s a vessel for his own unconscious mind. All the potential things in his brain, that he could release, to do with music. Like he’s trying to exhaust his whole potential musically. Which is such a beautiful thing to see.

     

    I really like the way you put it. So, which jazz musicians do you really like on the scene today?

     

    Well I’d say in terms of modern guys, I’d say like Joe Armon-Jones. I love his music; I play with him as well. Moses Boyd as well, really good music, KOKOROKO, Wonky Logic just put out some music. There’s hella people, Ezra [Collective]. And then you got other people like Levitation Orchestra, PYJÆN. I really like Empirical, another modern UK jazz band. There’s a lot of heads lying about doing some sick stuff, taking all different angles towards the music.

     

    So as far as I know, you’re in four bands? Hypernova Militia, Levitation Orchestra, Nihilism and KOKOROKO? Is that last one correct?

     

    Yeah, I’m not a member of KOKOROKO, but I play with them. I’m in the KOKOROKO family, but I wouldn’t call myself a member. But the other three yeah, I play in all of them.

     

    Are they all active at the moment?

     

    Hypernova’s active, Levitation Orchestra’s got some music coming out, Nihilism we’re gonna be getting in the studio to record an album.

     

    Nice! I’ve seen Hypernova and Levitation Orchestra live and they were both amazing, but how would you differentiate the styles of the bands that you’re in?

     

    With Hypernova, I’m the band leader, and the whole mission of Hypernova is one big philosophical, comical, abstract, absurdist, mess.

     

    It’s off the rails.

     

    The way that I approach that is gonna be way more primitive, and like almost letting your unconscious mind take control of the whole situation, whereas with Levitation Orchestra I’ll take a backseat. With Levitation Orchestra we’re all trying to write music together, so I’ll just try to contribute to the collective composition, as opposed to trying to drive it all. And with Nihilism as well it’s very collaborative, and a whole other sound world from Hypernova – which is typically bebop. The funny thing is we’re now putting the drill music with the bebop. On our EP there’s gonna be a drill track where we’re playing on it. First drill track with live horns.

     

    That sounds sick, tell me more about jazz drill? And your new single Entropy?

     

    Jazz-drill really started with me and Matt from Harris Westminster [our Sixth Form]. At university in first year, when I had my saxophone, I’d be hanging out with people but I’d also wanna practice and they’d be playing drill music and so I’d just play over the changes. And then, I was like, let me just keep doing this it’s good fun, it’s different. Now it’s become a thing of its own and I’m just trying to make as much of it as I can.

    One thing I appreciate about being an artist and putting out music, is you can just superimpose anything you’re experiencing or anything you find interesting into the general story behind the music, the artwork, or the name of it. With Entropy, it’s a nod at this thing called the free energy principle. It’s a neuroscience theory that says your brain is an inference machine, so your brain is always trying to make predictions about reality. Once you have a system making all these predictions, it means that entropy will play a role in it. What entropy is, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, is that we’re constantly moving towards more disorder. We’re constantly moving into more micro-states than previously were. Now as a statistical machine, what does it mean for you to be moving into more micro-states, moving into more disorder? It when there’s a prediction error, it’s when the statistical machine predicts something but then is surprised when the information it gets doesn’t marry up with what it was supposed to get.

    [Neuroscientist] Karl Friston has been using mathematical equations behind thermodynamics and entropy to apply it the brain, but there’s just so many implications behind it. There are even implications for psychedelic drug use. There’s this thing called the entropic brain hypothesis made by this dude called Robin Carhartt-Harris doing research at Imperial [College] about this right now. Saying how psychedelics increase the entropy of the brain, and that’s why it can help people with depression.

     

    That’s really interesting. How did those ideas inform the music, if at all?

     

    I don’t know if I could say that I consciously felt it informing it, but once I’d made the music, I feel like it represented that. And the music that I make is always in some way gonna be related to whatever I’m reading or whatever I’m thinking about.

     

    Was there any particular inspiration for how you incorporate philosophy into your music?

     

    I mean, Mr. Stone [from Harris Westminster] used to teach philosophy of music (laughs). But I can’t really think of any artists off the top of my head who used to incorporate philosophy directly into their music. I just felt like doing it, I just felt like it had to happen.

     

    What do you want people to feel coming way from your gigs? Especially Hypernova, which I guess is the most…

     

    Visceral!

     

    Yeah!

     

    I want them to feel confused, I want them to feel entertained, want them to feel like they may be learnt something. I want them to feel like they need to start questioning the way they view reality.

     

    What else do you like to listen to, other than jazz?

     

    I love classical music. I love Beethoven, Bach, Shostakovich, Vivaldi, I love Vivaldi. I love Stravinsky as well. Other than jazz music, I mainly listen to classical music. Listen to some dub, listen to some drill music. But I also listen to some indie rock stuff, I listen to whatever I’m feeling.

     

    Yeah, nice! You gotta have a mix. What’s on the horizon for you, in terms of new music you’re making or releasing?

     

    Hypernova records the EP this weekend, that’s gonna be released sometime before I die. (Laughs)

     

    Fingers crossed.

     

    In terms of my solo project I’ve always got music coming out. I’ve got another single coming out in the next three weeks. You can always rely on me to have a single coming out.

     

    I know you’re an avid reader of philosophy, but when did that start?

     

    When we were at Sixth Form, I was into philosophy but I never really read it properly. Mr Stone actually inspired me quite a lot. And from then on, I was very much into metaphysics, Plato, Kant as well. Having that philosophical viewpoint helped me when I got to university, but I think my real engagement with philosophy started when I started watching Rick and Morty. There was a period in my life, I think Year 13, when I used to believe a load of these crazy theories, like some batshit crazy theories. Then I remember watching Rick and Morty, and seeing Rick and seeing how much he only allowed what he believed to be dependent on logic, rationality, reason and science. That kind of broke down a lot of the way that I was perceiving things. From then on, I was introduced to Existentialism and Nihilism and started getting into Nietzsche. When I got to university, I was like I’m just gonna read as much as I can. I just devoted myself to it. I read Thus Spake Zarathustra and that changed my life.

     

    How did it change your life?

     

    For me, after I read that book, I felt as though anything that was some trouble or something that caused me pain, it felt more like a war. Like a righteous war. Because after reading Thus Spake Zarathustra, I felt like I had to act like Zarathustra in a sense, and like just go to war with ideas. That helped me ground myself philosophically and intellectually.

     

    Since you’re the band leader of Hypernova Militia, how do you incorporate philosophy into the music live?

     

    There are several ways that I do it. There are some commands that I do, I give the band commands. Some of them would be stupid shit like, ‘quantum spin’ and then everyone spins around or like ‘roid rage’ and then everyone plays this mad music. But then also I’d just randomly get on the mic and say some philosophical passages. Whenever I feel like it, within songs. I also say some political stuff like ‘free the market’ (laughs). But like, there’s philosophy always being drawn throughout the whole thing.

     

    In terms of improvisation on the sax, is there a particular way you approach it? Feel free to get technical, or spiritual.

     

    For me, playing the saxophone is so therapeutic. It allows me to escape into myself and let my unconscious mind just be expressed aesthetically, artistically. At first, whilst I was learning how to play the saxophone, there was various ways I would approach it technically. You know you have to learn your scales, gotta learn the harmony. But even the way that I approach harmony, I see the whole thing as one big game. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, or like a maths problem. Harmony, composing, improvisation as well.

     

    When I play music with other people, I often feel a kind of metaphysical, mind-melding connection. How do you feel about that?

     

    I get what you mean, there definitely is a metaphysical component to it. There’s the band right, but there’s the non-physical, non-temporal elements of the band, you know? Even if you killed every single member of Hypernova, as an idea it would still exist. Like, the meaning behind you guys playing together, and obviously the idiosyncrasies of the musicians themselves. Personally, when I play in a group setting it’s all about listening. Trying to produce something that’s conversational.

     

    As someone who performed live so much are you itching to get back out there?

     

    It has been a while, but one good thing about the whole lockdown is I could just focus on being in my room and studying and going on all these other intellectual journeys. So, I was able to explore that part of myself even more, and almost forget about performing. But then also, I really wanna perform. Human desires are really all muddled up.

     

    How do you feel about the government’s response to the whole music industry?

     

    (Laughs) I think they tried…We can’t spend an unfathomable amount of money on any project, any domestic policy, because it will cause problems for the economy in the future. And then people end up dying as a result of it, whether we like it or not. So, we have to be reasoned in what we do. I think they’ve given it a shot; they’ve tried. There’s always gonna be problems. We’re in unprecedented circumstances. I mean, I’m fundamentally a libertarian – stop the government from having too much power.

     

    During lockdown you started a project with the slogan ‘Buy, Back, Build’, what was the name of it?

     

    The name is Owó, and it means money or business in Yoruba.

     

    What are your aims with this project?

     

    So, we’re creating a black business directory app, so you can use the app to find your local black business, and you can also use it find venues and galleries and that type of thing. And, eventually, I’d also like to incorporate information on finance, and that type of thing. With that project, it was in response to the George Floyd death. For me, the reason why I made it was because I was like, I’m seeing people respond to this in a way I don’t think is gonna effect change in the long term.

     

    What do you mean by that?

     

    Just posting on social media this, posting on social media that, putting up black squares. There’s no long-term impact of this, this is all performative. People are like, I’m in solidarity, but people actually end up dying because of real economic problems. My whole approach, I don’t wanna be on the whole political thing, I’m more on the economic development approach to it. That’s why I decided to make the app. I think that many of the problems black people face in this country are class problems as opposed to race problems. And that’s an economic issue as opposed to a policy issue.

     

    Do you not think they’re interconnected in a lot of ways? Policy and economics, but also class and race?

     

    Policy and economics are definitely connected, but the reason why I favour an economic perspective on it is because policy is top-down, but economic development is bottom up. If you build a company, or you and your people build companies, then you can actually put money back into the community. You don’t have to wait for my man to change the law, so that he’ll give more money, you can actually do it yourself. I’m not a fan of top-down control, I’m not a fan of government getting involved in everything. So, I think the economic route is the most prudent thing to do.

     

    Isn’t top down change necessary to provide the conditions in which black businesses can thrive?

     

    Yeah, there do have to be some policy concessions, for instance allowing for small business owners to not have to pay ridiculous rates on licenses, and random regulations for starting businesses. Freeing up the market basically, but especially for small business owners. Yeah, we need policy change to happen, but if you take the economic route first, the policy won’t even matter to you.

     

    Finally, what would you say to the thousands of young musicians coming up now, trying to do stuff and be original?

     

    First thing I’d say is, listen to as much music as you can, so you can see what you’re naturally disposed towards and hone in on that. Another thing I’d say is, know that there’s gonna be times when you feel like you’re not perfect at your craft, but that’s the whole point of it. It’s the whole point of it. It’s a dialectical process, you know what I mean? You need to come up against the problems and then get through the other side. So, keep fighting the good fight, keep making that music, keep listening to music and just do your thing.

     

    I think that’s about it. Thanks a lot for chatting with me.

     

    My pleasure bro.

     

    You can follow Deji on Instagram at @xvngo and his bands:

    @hypernova.militia

    @levitationspacebase

    @nihilismband_official

    Ashwin Tharoor is a 22-year-old graduate living in London with a passion for music, writing and visual media.

  2. “It’s all about resurrection and shagging…” – Arab Strap rise again

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    “Bullies, burglers, paedophiles, Bird Flu and passive smoke. Volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, heart disease and strokes. Terrorists with homemade poisons, factions everywhere. They’re drinking in the street, they could steal your home, and I don’t care!”

    It’s hard to comprehend the fact that it’s been 15 years since Arab Strap effectively signed off with their last original arrangement, ‘There Is No Ending’, from 2005’s The Last Romance. Since then they’ve came back in some form with various remixes of older tracks, the release of their ’10 Years of Tears’ best of record and of course, satisfy the band’s hardcore fanbase with the obligatory sell-out tours, the last of which took place in 2016.

    But just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any better it would appear that Glasgow/ Falkirk icons Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton are back together again. The news thus far is brief, only that they have a new tune to showcase, but a new album and dare I say live shows (Dear COVID…) are surely to follow… news of which will indeed follow.

    “The Turning of Our Bones is an incantation, a voodoo spell to raise the dead. Inspired by the Famadihana ritual of the Malagasy people of Madagascar, in which they dance with the corpses of loved ones; it’s all about resurrection and shagging.” – Aidan Moffat

    ‘The Turning of Our Bones’ comes with the band’s signature guitars, deadpan vocals, and a fresh batch of poetry. The music itself also manages to mix electro, synth and congas. And its enough to get exited about. The new record is available to download now!

    Have listen to it via a backdrop of vintage horror movie clips below:

     

     

     

  3. Matt Morgan: “I don’t need to sort out the mysteries of the universe.”

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    For some, mainly Matt Morgan Appreciation Society members (like myself), Matt Morgan will be best known as Russell Brand’s sidekick on the hugely popular XFM and Radio 2 shows. Those familiar will also know he’s the man who as a school-boy suffered a horrid but hilarious ‘pin-pinning’ (thus becoming the original victim), he who as a child believed he had a crow living in his bedroom wall, and the man who, by his own admission here, sometimes thinks about going back ‘into the shadows’.

    For everyone else, these days Matt is better known for his work as a writer for TV (‘Mr Winner’ and ‘The Mimic’), broadcaster, and now the host of his own regular show. On Patreon he hosts Q+A’s with himself, publishes videos of his extreme camping trips, and broadcasts interviews with his ‘mates’. Thankfully these happen to include the likes of outdoor survival expert Paul Hayes aka Hazes Outdoors, comedian Rob Beckket, and my favorite, the often curmudgeon but always funny and frank singer-songwriter Mr. Noel Gallagher.

    Here, we chat about the future of his Patreon show, the decision to make the move to paid-for media, what it’s like to be friends with and piss off the most talented Gallagher brother,  and why going into baby-mode is so comforting, among other things…

     

    Matt, on your Instagram there are some videos of you dressed as a baby. What’s that about?

     

    That came from when I was with John Noel who was the agent Russell was with at the time. It came from was a sketch with my friend Kieron Hawkes, he directed shows like the The Mimic and Power. It was from the idea of ‘immersive’ documentaries, so it was one step on in telly evolution from Louis Theroux going somewhere. At the beginning, it was like, “I wondered if I could live as a baby. I used to do it without thinking, but as a man, can I do it now?” The point of the joke was how utterly stupid those immersive docs were. So I did one where I was an adult baby, and I went and had an adult baby experience, which is like, basically not sexual, but she [the lady providing the service] changed my nappy, she gave me a bath.

     

    It’s pretty funny

     

    I think I’ve always had an interest in adult babies. It’s just really funny to me. The oversized babygrows and stuff, it’s very visual. We stayed the night with her. She was saying how it’s very rarely sexual, a lot of is men with powerful jobs who get to switch off and go into infantilization. They get to go there, she puts a babygrow on them, she reads them stories, she gives them warm milk, they sleep in a big cot and then the next day, they get dressed and go back to their normal life. It wasn’t completely immersive because we were filming it but I did just let myself go and have the experience. The bit where she was reading me a story and I had warm almond milk in a thing, and the bit where she was changing my nappy, that was just a bit awkward. There was no poo involved, but I’d wee in this nappy and she changed it. Honestly, when she was reading me the story and I slept in this cozy little cot… there was something about it that was really nice.

     

    I’m still not trying it

     

    *laughs* At the time I remember saying to Kieron, “They should do this at spa hotels. Instead of having a massage and then some face peel or something, you should have a big nursery, where you put on a babygrow, you play with Lego, and someone reads you a story and they give you warm milk.” Like honestly, it would revolutionize the world. You’d make so much money.

     

    The comedy world is changing in terms of what’s deemed acceptable. I remember Russell Brand comparing you to one of the men dressed as women on the old Bounty kitchen towel adverts. How do you feel about the fact that some stuff wouldn’t be acceptable these days, in comedy terms, with ‘cancel culture’ and the trans debate which is in full flow (on Twitter at least)?

     

    Well, it depends. There’s context. I think as I remember that Bounty ad, it was part of the joke; don’t men with beards, you know, big fat men with beards look silly dressed up as women. So that was their joke. You have to be careful. You wouldn’t get away with that now, because people are so much more aware. I remember, when I was a kid and I worked in a shop as a teenager, there was a woman who came in who I previously would have said, “Oh, a bloke dressed as a woman.” But who was trans back then. I remember seeing what I think people called transvestites at the time, which was just something else. People didn’t understand did they? So transvestites are someone who has dressed up as a woman for a kink? I think it’s really important to be caring about it because imagine the shit they get. I wasa once actually writing something with a transgender character in it and I don’t think I would now, because I think…

     

    You’re straight and male?

     

    Yeah, because I think now it’s like, “Well, you can’t speak for them.” Which, I mean, that’s a whole other thing to get into, because then you get into, well, can men write female characters? and could an adult write a child? And that’s mental. Of course they can.

     

    Do you think it’s important not to be going after the more vulnerable, punching down etc like to be more wary and compassionate?

     

    Yeah, I mean, I’ve done stuff… Everyone in comedy has done stuff where you’re wearing women’s clothes if your a man or the other way round. But I’ve never blacked up, I think I would always known, “No way. Not doing that.” But that was common on our TVs not that long ago really. I think it’s good that things are changing because I’m very aware, you don’t want to make anyone feel excluded, like the idea of punching up and punching down. I think comedy’s better when it punches up because you should be attacking the people in power, not the disempowered. But then, to go back to your original point, I think that you’ve got to have compassion and I think, punch up. In the context of a stand-up gig, someone like Frankie Boyle or Jimmy Carr, you know what you’ll get when you buy a ticket. It’s not like, “Oh someone called Jimmy Carr’s on, I think I’ll go and check it out. It sounds like a light entertainment evening.” But when you get there, you know what they’re going to do. And also Louis C.K. I know he’s canceled for being a creepy sex pest, but any comedian, they stand on stage and they pick through things, do you know what I mean? They’re not making blanket statements. 

    You can’t stop people from being honest and going through things. Even Jimmy Carr, who’s not doing that sort of conversational comedy, he’s doing one-liners, right? But it’s in the context of his Jimmy Carr gig, and it almost goes with it that you go, “If he’s saying this joke, then he knows the power of what he’s saying, and why it’s funny is because “Oh you’re not allowed to say that.'”

     

    You’re removed in that sense because you write for screen?

     

    Well, thankfully I don’t have to worry about this particularly because I don’t do that sort of comedy. Everything I’ve ever written is pretty mainstream, really. And also, I’m not a stand-up, so I’m not up there saying stuff. That’s the thing. I think it’s good that people are much more aware of the idea of “who’s this hurting?” Because I think that’s important, but of course you can’t police people’s honest thoughts.

     

    When did you start doing that whole survival type thing as a hobby? What’s the attraction to that?

     

    One night, for some reason, I was watching this Ed Stafford show, where he goes somewhere and he’s got nothing. He’s basically naked, but as a survival expert, he quite quickly finds water, then he does shelter. And depending on the environment, basically, if it’s cold, then fire is a priority, if it’s warm, then shelter is a priority. So I was learning all this stuff. But I used to be a Scout and what I liked about Scouts was lighting fires, playing with axes, knives, but it was also controlled. It awakened something in me that was basically put away at the end of my teens. And then I think I spoke about that with Russell [Brand] – “Oh, I want to do this. I want to go camping and stuff.” And the idea of camping in this country is obviously at a campsite where there’s a shower block and toilets and all that stuff. And I was like, “Well, how do you get away from that?” And then when you look into it, wild camping in this country in illegal. In Scotland, it’s legal because you’ve got ‘Right to Roam’. But here, I mean, England’s not massive, It’s not like America where you’ve got vast fucking national parks where you could literally get lost in and die. I was like, “Oh, I want to go somewhere that’s not like, ‘Oh hello, here’s your pitch.” 

     

    Which brings us to you and Hazes Outdoors…

     

    Yeah, he said, if you’re interested in this, I’ll send you some stuff, because he basically… Well, It can get expensive actually, because you start buying all this kit. But he sent me some stuff he didn’t need anymore. It was basically everything I needed. Sleeping bag, a folding saw, like a knife with a fire steel so you can start fires and all that stuff. Somebody else, through listening to the radio show sent me a message and said, “I’ve got a small woodland on my farm in Essex that you’re welcome to come and camp in.” So I went. I was quite to keen to do it when it was cold. I’ve been camping in Summer enough to know that it’s not very difficult. You’re not even cold at night if you’ve got a sleeping bag. So I wanted to be cold. What I was craving was the simplicity of, “I’m cold, I need to light a fire, I’m hungry, I need to cook my food.” That sort of thing, as opposed to the stresses of everyday life which are so often abstract. 

     

    It must be difficult getting used to long hours in the darkness (sorry if I sound like a therapist)?

     

    I remember Hazes Outdoors said, “Be careful in Winter because the sun can go down very quickly.” When the sun goes down and you’re in woods especially, it’s even darker than the fields, it’s pitch black, so you’ve got your head torch on but the world shrinks down. You’ve got your little glow of your head torch, and that’s it. The first couple of times I did it I did get freaked out. You’re so freaked out by noises, and just the vulnerability that you’re out there and you think, “God, what if someone just saw my fire and my tent and came up and just fucking stabbed me through my tent.” You start thinking such mad shit. Because usually, you go to sleep thinking, “Right, the doors are all locked, I’m pretty good, I’m pretty safe.”  I don’t know, it’s just really good. And it’s not survival, survival, I’ve always taken food with me, I’ve had 4G. You’re not really looking at your phone, but you can. You don’t feel like, “Oh shit. I’m in the middle of nowhere.” But it’s still good to do it. It’s still quite extreme compared to what most people would call camping.

     

    On your video you posted recently on Patreon, Hazey sleeps on the ground?

     

    Fuck that. I’ve got a Hennessy hammock with a bug sheet net and stuff. Honestly, I sleep in that as comfortably, if not more than I do at home. Because you’re slightly swaying and it’s like being a baby. It’s just like hanging in the air.

     

    There’s that baby thing coming up again.

     

    Haha – all it does is just give a bit of a reset, to go outside. You’re away from your troubles for a bit. It’s masculine in a non-toxic way, do you know what I mean? It’s not, “Oh, I’ve got loads of stress, I’m going to go and get absolutely fucking pissed and I’ll be fine.” It’s not that.

     

    Onto the podcast and your Patreon site where you now post your content. 

     

    You’ve spoken on the Pod how Noel Gallagher was pissed off when you joked that Morrissey had died (It was, in fact, Russell Brand’s cat, Morrissey, RIP).  Was he genuinely angry with you?

     

    Yeah, he was.

     

    What’s he like when he’s pissed off?

     

    He swears loads. He’s up for a laugh. So I just thought, “Fuck it, this will be funny.” So I text him: “Fucking hell, Morrissey’s dead.” And he text me: “What the fuck, what, what?” Like that. He was freaking out and then he called me and he went, “Are you fucking serious, what the fuck, he’s fucking dead, he’s fucking dead?”. I went, “Yeah, he’s dead mate, he died this morning.” And he went, “Fucking what?” And I went, “Yeah, yeah.” He goes, “What? Morrissey’s dead?” I went, “Yeah, yeah, Russell’s cat Morrissey’s dead.” And he just went, “You fucking prick… Oh, you wanker… You fucking idiot, you fucking cunt, you fucking…” He just went like that and hung up. I was like, “Oh god.” And then he text me loads more swear words.

     

    You’ve used up all your prank points on that.

     

    I know. Afterward, I was desperately trying to think of some other famous pet. I was thinking, “God, is there anyone else I could do this to”. Like I’ll just leave it a week, and then do it again. Noel said to me later, “It really freaked me out because I had been listening to The Smiths so much. And thinking about Morrissey a lot. And then when you said that….” And then I felt really bad.  I knew he’d be all right. He’s had a go at enough people over the years.

     

    The stuff with you and Noel is all gold, really, it’s amazing to sit and listen to.

     

    He’s good, isn’t he?

     

    You both are. It’s purely unguarded, no PR, no bullshit, none of the usual pre-prepared answers you get with a lot of Podcasts and interviews.

     

    Well, that’s the thing I found. The thing is, it’s like normally, and I did try and do this with the Podcast in its first iteration, which was to be like “I’m talking to people about what they find funny, and whatever.” Which was great and then, Coronavirus happened, and it was like, “I’m not going into London to do the interview.” I can’t remember who was lined up, but any stand-up comedian who’s a pro isn’t going to be totally unguarded and have a chat. They’re going to be like, “Oh yes, the first gig and, oh, worst gig of my life.” And all that shit, and I just thought, “I’m bored by that just thinking about it.” 

    So I just reverted to calling people I’d already spoken to and people I actually know, like Jo Lycett, Rob Becket, Noel Gallagher, and that seemed to work. And I think now actually having moved to Patreon, I’m going to impose a bit more format on it going forward, because I’ve got this little squad of people that I call… this is exclusive to some extent.

     

    *Semi sarcastic* Ooooooooh!

     

    It’s only me, so it’s nothing great. In the future it’ll be more like, “What have I been doing this week?” That’s the format. And in the way that a stand-up comedian will tell you a story, but then relate it to bigger things, like, “Oh, I wonder what that says about me?” And just investigate things a bit. Basically, if Noel was on that week, I’d have four things that I’m going to be talking to him about. “Oh, I got my patio done, and I had to talk to the builders. And how do you feel, like being working class? And then, when a builder’s around your house, what do say? Hello, mate, do you want a cup of tea?” Or are you awkward or whatever. That sort of thing really interests me. What I hate is artifice. You know like these podcasts where, and I’m not judging them, but if it’s like… I don’t know, they’ve got such a format, the person is a slave to the format.

     

    Like I was saying, so many other Podcasts have that banal nature…

     

    Yeah and also, that a lot of those things, you can only have that guest on once because you’ve applied the format to them. “What are your favorite sporting moments in your life, or whatever?” And then you can’t come back on in three weeks’ time and say, “Oh, I’ve got seven different ones.” I could think of formats, but if it was like, “Okay, you’re allowed to pick one footballer, one musician…” All those variations on parlor games. It’s your ideal dinner party or whatever. And I just think that won’t work because it will just fall apart so quickly. So that’s what I’m going to do. Like, ‘What have I been up to, what have I been thinking about this week, what have we done this week?’ and if there’s a guest or not, because I quite enjoy doing them on my own and it seems to work.

     

    They do work, even the ones on you do on your own.

     

    It’s weird, isn’t it? Because it doesn’t bring the mood down if you’re having a laugh. I think that stuff needs to be handled properly, you can’t just be flippant about it. So that’s the weekly podcast. And Noel can fit into that, because I can just tell him what I’ve been up to and he’s… the thing with Noel is, he never… he’s similar to Russell in the way that he’ll never dry up. He’ll always have something to say about a subject. And also, to be honest, his fucking anecdotes are star-studded, because of the life he’s led. So he’ll just be like, “Oh, I was with Paul Weller and McCartney.”  and you think, ‘Fucking hell’.

     

    You were talking a few weeks ago about the chance of you and Noel doing a regular thing together. Is that still a possibility – like a co-host situation on a show?

     

    Yeah we have been talking about it, because he’s got his studio, so he’s got a brand new studio that he’s built himself, it’s just for him basically, and he was like, “Oh we should do something regularly.” So I guess he meant we should sell a podcast, do it for someone, like Spotify or something. And that would be a regular podcast. So I’ll carry on doing my Patreon podcast and that would be a second thing. What’s been interesting about it, what everyone seems to have realized, like even doing this call, it’s like, we don’t need to be in the same place to record. Or to do anything really. I’ve been amazed. That’s why I’ve moved really, because it’s like, “Oh shit, I don’t need a studio. I don’t need to go in and use a studio, I don’t need to even go to meetings.” Me and Noel could potentially do something where we’re at our houses, but we do something regularly.

     

    On your move from the ‘Funny How?’ podcast and taking your content over to Patreon, you obviously did it to make more money which is common sense. On the original setup, did you try to sell it in any way, or was it just not a viable option really?

     

    I was doing it with Global so then it’s on Spotify, iTunes, and all the main places. Basically, you do it and then they sort out the advertising and they sell advertising if they can, and then the ad split is negotiable but basically starts at 50/50. So you provide the content, they provide the advertising and you take half the money each. And so it makes some money like that. But I think Coronavirus did affect things because people weren’t buying new cars, people weren’t going on holiday, people weren’t buying high street fashion stuff, because they couldn’t and so I think a lot of advertisers just pulled their ad campaigns. So that didn’t help. I don’t think that was the complete problem. With podcasts you have to accept that it won’t make much money for the first six months or a year. I was sort of okay with that at the beginning, but then when I saw how much it was… I was just like, “Really? This is almost not worth doing for the hassle.” And I’d quite happily just disappear back into the shadows and do my writing and stuff, but I was quite enjoying doing it and it was going down well. I didn’t want to just walk away from it. I looked at different options and found you could use Patreon to boost your income by doing extras. I just thought I should take the risk and just go completely on Patreon. You do lose people. You lose numbers, but the people who are left are actually paying you instead of going for advertisers, so in terms of how much of my income it takes to do it, it’s much better. 

     

    Maybe more work or expectation? 

     

    I think it’s a little bit more work because I feel like I’ve got to provide, not just podcasts, I’ve got to do… I’m doing extra bits and video and stuff. Yeah there’s more expectation, and also, you go, “Well, these people are customers now, they’re not just getting it for free.” So I’ve bought some equipment now and I realize it’s not just audio. It will include video as part of it. 

     

    You seem like quite a laid back person. Is that a fair comment?

     

    I suppose I am laid back in some ways. But I can get really fucking angry.

     

    I’ve been listening to you for a while, going back to the radio show days with Russell Brand. You’ve always seemed like the kind of calm, quiet voice of reason?

     

    Yeah, I suppose, but then you’re forced into certain roles aren’t you, by the person you’re with?  With Russell, I’m naturally going to become the straight man to someone that mental. When I say mental, now he would look at me and think, “Fucking hell, you’re mental.” He’s extreme in whatever he does, so now he’s an extremely spiritual person. He’s weird, Russell, he’s not just like, “Oh, shall we have a cup of tea and a sit-down?” It’s like he’s always intensely up for something. And he’s on this big sort of journey to work out what this all means, this life and stuff like that.

     

    And you?

     

    I just think I’m sort of vaguely interested in spiritual stuff and whatever, but I don’t have that yearning that Russell has to understand the universe and stuff. I sort of feel like I’ve worked my version of it out when I was about four. And I’m just coasting on whatever I took life to be at that stage. I think I’m much more practical. Like now I’ve moved house, I’ve been camping, I’m swimming in the sea, I just think that’s enough for me. I don’t need to sort out the mysteries of the universe.

     

    Onto Withnail and I. Allow me to self indulge. I adore that film, and you’ve spoken of your own love of it on your shows. Do you remember when you first watched it?

     

    I remember when me and a mate Rich were around 15, in the days of VHS. Back then, there was basically four channels. And I used to stay up late to find boobs in a film. It would be like quick, record them, yeah, Channel 4, late at night, usually some sort of vaguely artistic thing. We were really bored, I think my parents were on holiday and I’d been allowed to stay in the house.Rich went through tapes desperately looking for something to watch. And my mum and dad had accidentally recorded it… So we fast-forwarded to the end of this film hoping there would some boobs, so tragic, and then that music starts, King Curtis. We hadn’t tuned into the comedy at all, we thought it was a serious film, and we were watching a bit going, “This is fucking mental.” And then the bit that really, really made me laugh was when they sit a chicken on a brick in the oven. And also the line, when he says, “Kill it before it starts making friends with us.” It’s so ludicrous, that idea. It’s a clever idea but worded like a child, ‘making friends with us’. 

    Years later I thought about it and I never knew what it was called. I just remember this mad fucking film, with a chicken sat on a brick and these two blokes. And years later when I went to university, somebody said, “Withnail and I.” And it was like, “Oh my god, I watched it. Oh, fucking hell.” And then when I watched it then, I was like, “Oh this is a comedy, this is hilarious.” I thought it was some mad thing on a VHS video, with no boobs.

     

    “I mean to have you even if it must be burglary!” – What’s your favorite line from the film?

     

    Let me think, best line? Well, there’s a couple, God there’s so many. Once you start thinking, you go, “Fucking hell.” But like I really liked the bit where he [Richard E. Grant] says, “There must and shall be Asprin.” Because it’s perfect for his attitude to life. He’s so entitled that because he wants it so badly, he can will it into being. “There must, and shall be Asprin.” And I love those sort of characters. I like it when he’s talking to his agent: “How dare you, fuck you.” He’s such an arsehole. I do think about the line, when he goes, “This is really a rather groovy long white hat.” Or whatever he says, and they go, “It’s a wig.”

     

    Yeah. They were talking about a judge and some hat, and Danny the dealer says, “No, man, this was more like a long white hat.”

     

    Fucking brilliant. I’ve watched it so many times, but by talking about it now, because I couldn’t remember the lines around that, so I clearly need to watch it again. But, fucking hell, it’s just so good.

     

    Lest there’s anyone reading this who would like tips on becoming a writer or at least practicing as such, what are your own regimes in terms of working. I myself find sitting up really late with some wine as the only good time to work. 

     

    Well, my natural instinct is like you said, same as you, stay up really late. It feels like in the daytime, not just because the doorbell’s going and stuff… It just feels like the world is alive. And then once you get into the evening and the night, it feels like the world shrinks down, and you can think clearly. That’s how I am. A lot of writers, like the majority of writers, when you read books about how to write or you read articles about the process, honestly 90%, will say “I get up at five, I’ll be at my desk, and I do four rounds of writing before…”. What the fuck? I’ll never be like that. I’m never good in the morning. And I come alive at night. So I don’t go to bed until late, and I could never get up early. But there’s other people who stay up late, but then the thing that fucked that up was having kids.

     

    Of course, your wife must be great in that sense?

     

    Well, she is pretty understanding, but then one of the reasons we’ve moved is because I need an office. I need a room to work in. Before it was in our bedroom, and then we had two children, so they all end up needing a bed, a bedroom obviously. So I’d sort of out-bred myself office wise. I get up for 8.00, 8.30, 9.00 o’clock now, which is fucking way better than 11 or 12 like I used to. And I haven’t tested it since we’ve been here, I haven’t had a real deadline where I’ve got to get something done, but I’m much more comfortable at night. My wife’s understanding. She can get up with the kids, and if I get up later on, I’ll do the end of the day with the kids, like bath time, bedtime, and stuff like that. It imposes structure, and I think structure is actually quite useful but I’ve not mastered it. I don’t think I ever will. I’m really bad at being my own boss.

    People can impose structure on themselves, but the problem with me is, I am me. I don’t know how people act like, “Come on, back to work, you” to themselves, because then I’m just like, “Fuck it, I’m not feeling well, I’m just going to sit down.” I’ll keep going back to it and there’s nothing happening, and then suddenly I’ll hit the theme of something, and you look up and it’s like four hours later, and you’ve done loads of work. With writing there’s deadlines, there’s money involved, there’s people saying, “Did you get that thing?” So I can’t’ just float around and go, “No, no, the sun is too low. I can’t write today” because I wouldn’t get paid ever. 

     

    If it’s not happening, it’s not happening and then when you try and force it, you just make a mess… 

     

    Yeah. I actually thought that I would pay for a service where you tell someone what your deadlines are, what work you’ve got to do, and then they basically call you in the morning and say, “Get up.” And then they say, “At the end of the day, send us what you’ve done.” You could make millions from self-employed people just running a self-boss service where you phone them up and say, “Right, can you email us everything you’ve done today?”… because then at least I’d fucking think, “Oh shit, I better do this.”

     

    Yeah, there would be pressure on you to things done.

     

    It would probably work for a week and then I’d think, “Hang on, I’m paying them to do this. Fuck off. They’ve got no power.” Do you know what? It should work like you’ve given them your credit card details and if you don’t hit your deadline, they charge you. Because then you’d be like, “Fuck.”

     

    That might actually work.

     

    Imagine that.

     

    Brilliant.

     

    Mate, you can have that.

     

    So I’ve got a man-baby pamper business in hotel spas and I’ve got another one where you get charged if you don’t meet deadlines…

     

    Mate. I’m full of good ideas.

     

    Matt, thank you. 

     

    Subscribe to Matt Morgan’s Patreon here

    Check out Hazes Outdoors

    Noel Gallagher doesn’t need any plugging but check his latest here

  4. Stanley Donwood: “I like staring into space and doing nothing”

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    There there, there’s no getting away from it. There was no hope in hell that an interview with Stanley Donwood would be concluded without mentioning Radiohead, the band whose music he’s so brilliantly illustrated since 1994’s ‘The Bends’. Since then he’s created some of the most iconic, dystopian, beautiful yet apocalyptic visions the graphic art world has witnessed, and all to inch-perfectly fit that band’s own sound, a collaboration which continues to evolve to this day.

    That being the case, my interview with the visual artist did manage to cover other topics such as drugs, ageing, planetary destruction, and his own books of design and visuals which he seeks to ‘be understood by every human being on the planet’. 

     

    I understand you like a glass of white wine, hopefully you’re having one now.

    Stanley, speaking as someone who is raging receder, when did you go bald and did you worry about it at all?

     

    I went completely bald overnight when I was 23. I have not a single hair upon my person. I didn’t worry about it at the time and I don’t worry about it now. I think hair is stupid. And yes, I’ll have a glass of Picpoul, thank you.

     

    In our first email exchange you mentioned you would be away in terms of being offline – do you need to be away from such things as the internet in order to work, focus, etc?

     

    I suppose that putting a ‘vacation response’ on your email account is a modern equivalent of pinning a not to the door – ‘back after lunch’ or whatever. Being attached to the internet in its various forms has recently become very normal and seems mostly to be a positive thing; although it must be said that the effect of the internet on our public and private lives has yet to manifest itself entirely. It may be that it turns out to be inimicable to liberal democracy. Wouldn’t that be funny?

     

    Pass. And for you?

     

    I don’t need to be away from anything to work, or to focus (not that I’m sure I ever really do) or for anything really. Sometimes I go to places that don’t necessarily have easy access to electricity, so of course, things like the internet are much more difficult to use. Like most people I usually have a phone, but the battery runs down, and so that’s it. When I’m in places with no electricity I don’t really work very much, unless it’s just drawing or something like that, partly because when there’s no electricity there are lots of things that need doing manually and partly because I like staring into space and doing nothing.

     

    Can the ‘planet be saved’ or what about civilisation? I’ve always had a notion that this thinking is our need to correct ourselves…

     

    I’m sure that the planet will be absolutely fine; it’s just that we have made some small alterations that will mean the future of our civilisation is untenable. It really isn’t a battle at all; not something we can win or lose. It’s just a tragedy. But regarding the survival of our civilisation – yes, I am quite pessimistic; although for many species, if they can survive the relatively short and undoubtedly messy period of our demise, this may turn out to be a net positive. If we manage to destroy much more than we already have (and we have done it in such a very short time) then it isn’t only humanity that will disappear, but much else besides. It seems such a waste; planets that sustain life are so rare, and we are fucking this one up just for short-term gain. Just for social status or money or transitory pleasure, or for convenience.

     

    How do you feel about ageing?

     

    I don’t mind about my own ageing… or perishing. Well, actually I quite like it. I have no desire to be young again. I detest the idea of eternal life as promoted by various religions, and more scientific methods of prolonging or preserving life such as cryogenics send a shiver along my spine. I very much hope that death is nothingness.

     

    What does age do to you, apart from the obvious?

     

    I’ve become less grumpy and cross the older I’ve become. I’m certainly happier now than I was in my 20s or 30s. I’ve become more fatalistic but also more accepting of the futility of existence.

     

    Age often comes changes in approach, which brings me to drugs. I understand you had a liking for magic mushrooms – when did you stop and why? 

     

    I used to be very interested in drugs and how they change your perceptions and emotions, how they can affect your mood and your senses. I haven’t tried everything by any means – new things seem to be conjured into existence all the time – and although I’ve had some unpleasant experiences I don’t think I’ve been damaged by any of them. And – I haven’t stopped taking magic mushroom; for me they’re very much a seasonal thing, and I’m a picker-and-eater, so I have to wait until late autumn and for when the weather is right, so lots of rain, but not too recently, a good drying wind, and I have to go somewhere where they grow. I moved to the south coast of England recently and I can’t find them anywhere. It’s not for want of looking. I think the soil is too alkaline or something.  As for my other favourite, which is/was hash, I gave up smoking a couple of years ago which has completely screwed that up. I’m very familiar with the traditional tobacco/hash joint or spliff or whatever you want to call it, but without tobacco it’s very hard to judge what’s going to happen. I think maybe I’ve just got bored with it. I went through a while when I was very enthusiastic about MDMA but that seems to have faded too. I think I’m just getting old. I’m definitely buying more expensive wine these days.

     

    Are they beneficial to your kind of work?

     

    I’m not at all sure if drugs are an aid or a hindrance to creativity. On the whole I think probably they are a kind of benefit, but you also tend to come out with some dreadful bilge.

     

    I’ve heard it said that being an artist isn’t so much an occupation, it’s more of an existence… 

     

    Well yeah, I guess so. It certainly is for me. I get kind of jealous of people with actual jobs sometimes – not proper envious, but just a bit. I would quite like to be able to go home and switch off. Or go on holiday and switch off. Or be able to meditate, or anything really. Just a break would be nice. But hey ho. I guess I should count my blessings.

     

    You’ve wrote that ‘Everything you’ve done has been a disaster’ – don’t you think that’s a bit extreme…

     

    A bit extreme! Yes, it is. I just exaggerate for dramatic effect, darling.

     

    Can I ask about your recent illustration book ‘Bad Island’ – firstly I’m inclined to think it was partly inspired by Britain… 

     

    No, it’s not anything to do with the UK. The title came along a while after I’d started cutting the pictures from linoleum. An island is in many ways a microcosm, and I guess I was thinking of our planet and how it’s a very lonely, very tiny island in an unimaginably huge ocean of nothing. And islands are intrinsically intriguing, fascinating places; an island can be a kind of Petri dish where uniqueness can flourish. Or it can be a terrible prison. There’ve been loads of islands in literary history; Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, The Lord of the Flies, Web, The Island of Doctor Moreau and so on. It was partly inspired by Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, but mainly I wanted to make a book which could have been made at any time in the past or any time in the future and be understood by every human being on the planet.

     

    And you’ve recently collaborated with writer and lecturer Robert McFarlane on ‘Ness’, what does he bring to your own work?

     

    I’m hoping his standing in the literary establishment and the fact he teaches at Cambridge will confer a small amount of respectability on my sorry person.

     

    Now onto … Radiohead… how did you first become involved with them?

     

    I was trying to earn a living by hitch-hiking around the country and doing fire-breathing on street corners, and on one occasion my act was meant to be the support for a band called On A Friday who were performing in the upstairs room of a pub in Oxford called the Jericho Tavern. The band secured management that very night and a record deal shortly afterwards. I had been prevented from doing my act by the landlord who cited fire regulations, an act of callous sabotage my fire-breathing career never recovered from. Fortunately, the band renamed themselves ‘Radiohead’ and phoned me up, asking if I was any good at doing record covers. I didn’t know, but I thought I could give it a go.

     

    I consider your work on ‘Hail to the Thief’ as a true masterpiece, enough so that I have hung on my walls. What’s your personal favourite work you’ve created for them?

     

    That’s a hard one. I think maybe ‘In Rainbows’. Or ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, perhaps. Neither of those ended up even remotely as I’d intended, which for me’s a good thing. I did like ‘Hail To The Thief’ too though.

     

    What is the process like between the band working on an album, coming to you with the concept and you producing your final work – do they give you a brief?

     

    No, there’s no brief or concept. Usually I started pretty much when they did, so quite early, when they’re rehearsing and making songs and trying out ideas. I’ve worked in the studio, or quite close to it. For ‘Moon Shaped Pool’ I was working in a kind of barn that was across a courtyard from the recording studio, and we had a wire running across and some big speakers installed in the barn. That was a great painting studio. It was in Provence and it was fucking brilliant. Beautiful countryside and lots of white wine.  Sometimes Thom has some visual ideas that he’s tried to convince me of but then again, sometimes I have ideas too. Usually, we try to utilise our initial ideas, but they haven’t ever really worked. I suppose they’re a useful place to start. I frequently begin with a hollow sense of yawning emptiness and fear that I’ve run out of steam and my paltry abilities will be exposed to the harsh light of reality. It’s quite horrible.

     

    Strange because your art seems to always fit perfectly with the feel or sound of what the band release… 

     

    Well, that’s always good to hear. I do try. It’s probably because I’m immersed in the music throughout.

     

    Have they ever rejected or been unhappy something you’ve produced?

     

    There was an instance when I wanted to make giant topiary cocks out of chicken wire and astroturf for the record that became Hail to The Thief, but usually things have been pretty chill. You can read about this, as well as various other indignities in a book I made called There will Be No Quiet. Thames & Hudson, twenty-five quid. A bargain, that’s only 50p for each year of my life.

     

    Obviously you listen to Radiohead, night and day. Are there any other artists you think ‘yeah, I’d do a good job of creating their artwork’?

     

    I hardly ever listen to Radiohead normally. I think I overdo it while making the artwork. Well, I definitely overdo it. I kind of wish I’d done a cover for David Bowie. A lot of his later record covers were a little questionable. But then, maybe mine are, you know. It’s all extremely subjective.

     

    What is your own favourite creation?

     

    My favourite thing out of everything might be Hell Lane or February Holloway. And in 2007 I made a series of photographic etchings I was very happy with. Oh yeah, and I made a load of drawings for an as-yet unrealised project called Modernland. I used some of them on Thom’s record that was called Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. They were very serious, quite threatening pictures which were meant to be documents from a destroyed world. Messages from the future.

     

    Are you dark by nature?

     

    I’m a pussycat. Ask anyone.

     

    Who do you steal from the most?

     

    I’ve really done that less the older I’ve got. I used to nick off anyone, but I think particularly Robert Rauschenberg. ‘OK Computer’ was directly inspired by his work. And I tried to steal from Gerhard Richter although that was a disaster; not only was I incapable of painting like him I was also useless with oil paint. It was a humiliation, and well-deserved. But lately, not really anyone. I’m very, very into 19th century Russian landscape painters, but my own skills are negligible so it’s just a romantic dream to be able to steal from them. It’s not actually possible.

     

    Are you still involved in the nuclear abolishment movement?

     

    I’m involved still, I guess; if you consider making films about nuclear weapons to be ‘involved’. But I’m not a member of CND or anything like that. Along with many people my awareness of matters atomic had been kind of off the boil in recent years, but when I got asked to art direct the film ‘the bomb’ by Eric Schlosser and Smriti Keshari my deep fear came flooding back. There is no question that nuclear weapons are a truly terrible idea for a species as aggressive and idiotic as our own. It’s not if with these fucking things, it’s when. We should absolutely do everything we can to get rid of them.

     

    What’s been your own experience of Lockdown?

     

    Well, I’ve got quite fit because I’ve taken up long distance running. It’s quite slow running and the idea is that if you can’t talk and laugh while doing it you’re going too fast. Also I’ve been swimming a lot because I moved to the coast. Most of my paid work was cancelled or delayed or postponed so there are vast holes in my financial universe. I started a new project called The Lost Domain to try to refill the holes and also to give some work to people I know, and to raise some cash for charities, as they’ve been really hit by the consequences of the virus. So I’m working much more locally, and also quite a lot less. Essentially there are good things as well as bad that have come out of it, as far as I’m concerned. But of course, peoples’ experiences differ wildly.

     

    Tell me about your next projects?

     

    I don’t have anything to promote really. I’m a bit tired of working and tomorrow I’m going to go away to a place with no electricity. But eventually I will have to return to the modern world and immerse myself once more in the tepid bathwater of earning a living. To which end I’ve been working on some new screen prints. It’s taken ages because, basically, of the pandemic. During the lockdown me and my partners in the screen printing business started turning the studio into a self-contained printing workshop, which took much longer than we’d anticipated. So now, about six months later we are pretty much ready to go, and we’ve been working on some of the pictures from Bad Island; photographing the actual inked linocuts themselves, rather than the prints taken from them. So we’ll be able to show all the cut marks and so on. They should be ready in September. I’ve also been painting, although quite why, or what for I don’t really know. I guess I want to show them in a gallery, but I can’t think how at the moment.

     

    Whats the latest with the Thomas Hardy stuff?

     

    Yes, I’m working on a load of pictures to illustrate the poetry of Thomas Hardy, lately of Dorchester, England. He’s been dead for a long while, so he can’t object to my interpretation of his oeuvre. The edition will be published by the Folio Society, so it’ll be well fancy.

     

    Theres something you cant talk about, it’s ‘utterly secret’. Obviously this is a new project with the greatest talent in the world – with Dear Thom Yorke – please tell me something…

     

    I cannot tell you anything. I myself have deliberately forgotten about it until after I’ve had a bit of a holiday.

     

    Stanley, Dan, thank you. 

     

     

  5. Taisiia Cherkasova: “It is up to the viewer to find true meaning”

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    “We can see familiar things while immersing ourselves in a parallel imaginary world..”

    Born in Ukraine the same year the country was freed from Soviet-Communist rule, Taisiia Cherkasova is an artist who deals primarily in allegory, using a mixture of animals and dream-like visions to create work that is somewhere between Salvadore Dali and Michael Sowa.

    Leaving behind what she has described as the ‘depressive reality’ of the Eastern bloc, she moved to Paris to pursue a career in engineering before eventually taking the ultimate risk, the one to become an artiste. Perhaps it was always meant to be – she even looks like a prettier version of Gustave Coubert’s The Desperate Man.

    Her work appears much more surrealist rather than overtly political, which she maintains it is. But like she says, ‘it’s up to the viewer’.

     

    What is more important: the idea or the execution?

     

    For me, the idea is more important than the execution. But technique is the way to transmit my messages and my ideas. As a writer uses – words to tell his story, I take care of my technique, I work my characters I give them a personality, I create an atmosphere and I try to make it all realistic. So I think that the idea and the technique are inseparable, but the most important aspect is the idea!

     

    Where do your ideas come from and how do bring them to a finished piece?

     

    I can find inspiration in my daily life, in the art of other artists, in cinema, in word games, on social networks or in a store window, anywhere. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to be open to this sort of vibration. However, there are subjects that pique my interest more than others: societal subjects.

     

    Such as?

     

    The fragility of the living is a topic that I have touched on several times in my painting, I am very sensitive to environmental issues such as global warming and the extinction of a species. Today I ask myself a lot of questions about the clichés of beauty, the importance of physical appearance, old age and narcissism. For me, these questions are often linked with more global problems like racism, homophobia and sexism. To represent my reflection on these subjects I use allegories and symbols. Ideas often come up in public transport or in the shower.  Then I go to the execution and from this point, I can have fun for a long time. It’s not always easy to quickly find the best way to represent all my ideas, so try things, finish and start again, improvise… In short, I try to do my best.

     

    How has your approach changed over the years? 

     

    I think the main difference is that at the beginning I didn’t represent humans in my paintings. Today I am much more interested in human nature.

     

    You’ve said previously you want to “denounce overconsumption, attachment to objects, inequalities and the extinction of the living by using imaginary allegories.” Can you explain further?

     

    An allegory that I have used several times is a vase, or porcelain objects, or any kind of object that has an aesthetic or historical value and which is fragile. I transform the body of animals into porcelain to underline the fragility of nature and to remind that animals are not at our service, that they are living beings and not objects. It is up to the viewer to find the true meaning of the artwork. I really like to use this trope in my work even if sometimes people have their own interpretation which has nothing to do with my message. 

     

    What’s the boldest move you’ve made for the sake of your career? 

     

    I believe that building an artistic career is already a very daring decision! (laughs)

     

    To me, some of your work seems very surrealist, even Bunuelian. 

     

    I really appreciate the comparison with Luis Bunuel’s work, thank you!  Let’s say that I am very inspired by surrealism. In this movement lies provocation, exaggeration, humor and poetry. I love it all but I do not consider myself as a surrealist in the appropriate meaning of the term. I do not aim to represent dreams or fantasies but a reality.

     

    Then there’s Michael Sowa (admirers of ‘Amelie’ will be familiar)  – why are animals such an important part of your paintings? 

     

    Oh yes! I really like this artist and I love his work in the film Amelie. I was very young when I first saw this film and it certainly influenced my work later. In the past, representing animals in my works was so natural for me that I wouldn’t even think twice before jumping into it. I think I didn’t make much difference between Man and Animal. Besides, from a scientific point of view, we are animals. 

    Today I am more aware of the choices concerning my characters. No doubt I am in love with animals but that’s not the only reason why they have such an important place in my art. I believe in the power of art and I believe that thanks to artworks we can change the world and give rights to those who have them but who have no voice to claim them.

     

    Which brings me to a story you write about when you were 7 years old, in post-Soviet Ukraine. In this tale you witness a drunken neighbor throw her dog from a window. It must have had a huge impact on you. 

     

    This scene had a great influence over me for sure. It was the worst act of violence committed towards an animal that I have ever seen. The dog was still alive when I approached, the blood flowed from his mouth, slowly he closed his eyes and this nightmare stopped for him. It was the first time that I saw the end of life of an animal which had been treated like an object. In spite of all the horror of this situation, it greatly fueled my imagination. When the body fell I heard a noise, as if it was a half-empty plastic bottle that fell. But it was not an object of daily life, it was the body of the dog. I think it was the moment which suggested my first allegory.

     

    What was it like growing up there, and that time in particular – you have referred to your ‘depressed reality’? 

     

    First of all, it may be necessary to clarify that despite everything I say about this time I had a good childhood. I grew up loved by my family and I lived a real friendship. But the Ukrainian mentality and especially the atmosphere of my neighborhood were strange to me. I was born in 1991, so Ukraine has already had its independence status. The 90s people in post-Soviet countries wanted to get rich at any cost. We lost the value of intelligence and culture. Those who were unable to fit onto this new way of life went on their lives as they could and a lot of people became alcoholics or criminals.

    In general, everyday life was nothing extraordinary. I went to school 6 days of school per week, my parents left in the morning to work and returned in the evening… My feelings are mixed, on the one hand, I have many good memories, I met wonderful people, I had lots of friends but on a daily basis I saw families suffer from alcoholism, young people who no longer saw prospects of a future and who took drugs, others stole…

     

    The dog story…  

     

    The person who threw the dog out the window was a mother of three children, she had a fairly ordinary life for that time. Her and members of her family suffered from alcoholism for years. The end was tragic. Her husband, her son and herself died from alcohol addiction. When I was a child she scared me, because I saw a monster in front of me, but I felt pity for her too. I never understood why she took such a choice in her life, I don’t even know if it was really a choice but I knew several families like hers and the more I reflect on this subject the more it makes me sad. Maybe people feel useless, desperate maybe they get bored…

     

    You’ve also spoken about Mikhail Bulgakov’s book “Dog Heart” also having had a big impact on you?

     

    The author uses many daring and original allegories for his time. The professor makes a surgical intervention and transforms a dog into a man, this creature makes a reference to a New Soviet Man – proletarian. You should read it, I think you will like it. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I can say that it’s not as fantastic as you might think, it is above all philosophical and satirical.  The story of this poor dog is basically very intriguing, it’s sad and funny at the same time. But this book has a double facet, the primordial idea of the author is hidden. You need to engage on some additional analysis in order to grasp hidden messages. It’s creative, original and fun it’s like a game, that’s why I really like this book. There is also a film which is very close to the original text.

     

    Lockdown seems to be easing up now. But for an artist like yourself, is isolation an ideal situation? 

     

    It depends on the duration. I really enjoyed it at the beginning of quarantine. M workshop is located at home, so I spent a lot of time working, but towards the end I was growing weary. I needed to share life with other people and do something else.

     

    And as quarantine is now easing in many areas, can you tell me about what happens next for you?

     

    For this summer I have a lot of work and I started a lot of new projects. For instance, I made a residence and my paintings are on display at Ellia gallery. If you are in Paris right now, come by and say hello. You can see my work there but also have an insight into my creative process.

    I’m about to take part in a collective exhibit at Pocket Art Studio Gallery in Rome. From October 10th to 18th I will take part to a collective exhibition at workshop gallery Oblik (19 rue du Dr. Emile Roux 92110 Clichy ), organized by POZOR Modern Living Art. Come in large numbers, we are going to do stamp workshops! For the rest I do not have precise dates yet, but I will communicate them on my social networks.

     

    Taisiia, thank you. 

     

    taisiiacherkasova.com