In Conversation with… Me!
I’ve been pretty quiet lately. I haven’t been feeling the urge to trumpet on about myself…and I’ve been rather reclusive.
Despite this, I was asked to participate in an interview with Arts Atlas Geelong as part of a series called “In Conversation With…” with the article to come out on Oct 15, 2020. I got busy and before long had already written about 3,500 words in response to the questions when I received an email informing me that there was a 500 word limit! Ha Ha…
I kind of enjoyed writing it all out though, so here’s the full length version… with a few extra photos too.
Arts Atlas: Tell us about yourself.
I showed enormous passion for all types of music from around 5 years of age and started playing guitar seriously at 12. Music soon became my constant companion. It was my ticket to freedom. It was my peace of mind and my friend and therapist. It was a safe outlet for my anger, pain and general emotional dysfunction. Music literally saved my life, on more than one occasion, as I battled alone through depression, anxiety and an acquired, apocalyptic mindset… the consequences of being raised in a suppressive religious cult, followed by the bewildering exile from my family unit at age 17, as a result of me choosing my own path through life. That’s part of my massive life-story, which I’m growing tired of retelling, so will not expand further on here. [Collective sigh of relief.]
It didn’t take ‘young me’ long to realise that music was the connecting glue for all the parts of society that I resonated with, and that’s when I first started to experiment with the effects of different sounds and musical forms, like some kind of mad scientist. I proved to myself, over and over again, that music has this incredible power to change the way humans feel and think and act… including me.
I still never tire of that fact… It’s like magic, because sound is invisible and yet it has such a profound effect on the world around us.
I’ve dabbled in everything from heavy metal to bluegrass and from the classical era to post-modern and from every point on the compass and I’ve drawn my influences and tastes from across that entire spectrum.
These days I help kids learn how to sing, play guitar, bass, drums and piano and perform live music. It’s the best job in the world.
But lurking behind my ‘ordinary-every-day’ is a new passion and possibly my defining tool… the Behemoth.
You will not be able to fully appreciate what the Behemoth is just from reading this article… or watching YouTube videos… It’s something you need to see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears and feel the vibrations through the ground and air, to believe.
“The Behemoth” is a 6m long stringed instrument…with a sound palette as big as a symphony orchestra and an awe-inspiring, animal-like physical presence.
The idea for this super-long-stringed fretless instrument came to me in a moment of rampant creativity and was subsequently engineered, embellished and then cleverly handcrafted by local sculptural artist and fellow mad scientist, Mike Patton. Completing the collaboration is visual artist Nina Grant, and together we’ve nurtured this beast into existence…but ever since the moments of making her very first sounds, the Behemoth has been influencing the creative process and evolving those early concepts into something far more than we ever anticipated.
That alone excites me more than anything else right now.
Arts Atlas: Tell us about your work and what inspires you?
I’ve had fascinating and deeply moving experiences throughout my 25 years of live music performance, with audiences ranging from a single person up to about eight thousand. Those experiences were based on the idea of ‘song’ being a form of storytelling and retelling, memorised motifs and catchy melodies that lubricate the oral passing of ideas and culture. We learn the songs together. We sing them together in solidarity. It’s awesome.
But I’ve started to feel that there’s something missing… Music isn’t all about story is it?
I noticed that when I was first working on writing a new piece of music, when it’s still an embryonic, un-shapely, fragile inkling of an idea… there is a special kind of magic that happens, that only the musicians ever get to hear, because as soon as you start to rework the piece and give it form and shape and structure… it’s gone.
I realised that in those first precious moments of creativity there is a portal to the subconscious via an unpredictable and organically evolving soundscape. It’s the closest I’d ever come to having what others might call ‘spiritual communion’.
I wanted to experiment with how to work primarily in that space.
Therefore, in the last 2 – 3 years my focus has been slowly but inexorably shifting away from song-writing and more towards a sort of catalyst point, a convergence of all the experimentation I’ve been doing with music over my life. One-by-one I’m throwing off the shackles that have bound me to any sense of rigidity around music form and the idea of “songs” in particular. I’ve uncovered a deep well of creative satisfaction and unlimited expression, through my deliberate and prolonged immersion into improvised music and sound art.
Performing improvised music in front of a live audience is, for me, a place of complete freedom and beauty, interwoven with a sense of utter dread and extreme vulnerability.
It’s way outside of my comfort zone… and oddly enough, irresistible to me. I seem to have some sadistic desire to be placed in high risk situations, where what could be a huge triumph of shared musical ecstasy, could just as easily turn into a massive train-wreck.
Because improvisation is a ‘process focused’ art form, nothing is ever repeated the same way twice. It is purely in-and-of the moment and requires an ‘ego-vacuum’ so as to achieve a trance-like state of being. There’s no map and no safety nets. That’s where the magic starts to happen.
I’m very fortunate to be involved in several projects now that allow me to experiment in this way:
1. UPSCALE – The project that birthed The Behemoth. This is a sound & visual arts collaboration with Mike Patton and Nina Grant, that is both cutting edge and ‘old school’ in the same breath. Supported by Geelong Arts Centre we are currently in the process of creating a major work to be released in 2021.
2. Swamp Creechers – An improvisation experiment in the genre of psychedelic rock and blues. There are no setlists, no songs, no rules. We literally go onstage with no idea what is going to happen until it does… and it’s always amazing! I absolutely love working with Adam Robertson (drummer from Magic Dirt) and Liam Kealy (Hammond Organ virtuoso) in this project… and there’s no such thing as rehearsals… there’s no point.
3. Freelance Sound Design and Production – Creating soundtracks and sound palettes for theatre and screen producers, using The Behemoth and whatever else is at my disposal. My latest work has been with Essential Theatre, working on soundscapes for their upcoming project “Dream Laboratory”.
4. Solo – As a solo instrumentalist I have been exploring the slide guitar as a vehicle for pseudo-classical, ambient soundscapes and improvisations. Only three weeks before COVID hit us (late Feb 2020) I had just released my first album in this vein. It’s called “In The Arms Of The Earth” and is the most beautiful of all of my solo projects to date.
Unfortunately, the record release was completely overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown of the live music sector so I’m planning to give it a second release when things calm down a bit more. You can purchase a copy via Bandcamp if interested. (Go on…risk it!)
I’m a pretty simple person. I love my close friends and family, I adore home-cooked food and my chooks and I’m fascinated by human behaviour and all of the creatures on this incredible, diverse planet that we share.
I’m driven relentlessly by aspirations of creating something new in this world of regurgitated ideas.
Right now I can’t help being inspired to action by the challenges we face as humanity, to care for the environment and all of its vital ecosystems, to combat climate change and save our species from extinction. I’m into the idea of “rewilding the world”, to live in harmony with the natural world… all while simultaneously embracing our peerless homosapien ingenuity and creativity.
Be clever and creative. To me, that’s our path out of this mess and I love that it’s Geelong’s moto at the moment.
Arts Atlas: What has been the most exciting part so far in your creative journey?
Right now, is definitely the most exciting part of my creative journey so far… for all of the reasons mentioned above and also because of the support and confirmation I am currently receiving from so many different quarters. I have been granted an enormous workspace in a woolshed in Freshwater Creek for 18 months, so I can work more expansively. I have the support of the City of Greater Geelong’s arts and cultural department and also the Geelong Arts Centre artist development program (as part of UPSCALE), which is a situation I’ve never had before…ever, in my whole career. (I love Geelong)
On a really personal level, I’m probably most excited by my own ‘internal world’ at the moment. I feel ripe and full of new hope and endless possibilities. It’s a fertile time and I think I’ve got plenty to be excited about.
Arts Atlas: What impact has COVID had on your creative process?
COVID-19 has had a massive impact on my creative process, and I must say… in surprising ways.
When the shutdown first happened, I was going through the motions of releasing another album (as mentioned earlier) and my first thoughts were, “OK… this is fine… I’m an artist… I’ll just hit the studio and start making the next album, while planning the tour for this current one, so that I’m ready to hit the ground running when the restrictions lift.” Easy… right?
The trouble is, there’s no tap you can just turn on where creativity flows out. I was all dried up. No song ideas came, creative motivation seemed elusive, there were no gigs to work towards, no jamming with other muso’s and I was stressed out by everyone else stressing out.
I immediately realised that this was not the right time to be pushing for anything concrete. In fact, it was the perfect time to stop, reflect, research, develop and also try something that I’d always wanted to but had never had the time to get into… Archery.
Pretty left-field, right? But that was exactly what I needed. Turning my mind and body to the mastery of a new skill was the perfect remedy. It’s the opposite of the rule-breaking, ethereal nature of my artistic practice, because although it requires discipline and a focus on very precise and repeatable techniques, just like music, the results are singular, measurable and not open to interpretation or opinion. You either hit the bullseye or not…There’s no bullshit. I love that.
I could write an entire article just on the subject of archery, but the point of mentioning it is because archery precipitated a new and invigorated process and workflow for me. I started to see the parallels between my two worlds and soon I was working in a new way with my music and finding new inspirations and ideas by taking long breaks from my studio to go outside into the fresh air and shoot arrows. When I return to the studio my mind is lively and the ideas start to flow thick & fast and I feel…happier?
There’s a tip for ‘writer’s block’ if you suffer from it… Take up a new hobby that is completely different from your chosen profession.
Another major contributing factor to my newfound creative epiphany was being given ‘the Surfcoast Woolshed’ to work in. The Behemoth is housed there, so now I can play her anytime of the day or night and am no longer restricted in the amount of time I can spend mastering this very difficult instrument. But it’s more than that too. It’s become my happy place. My escape pod, my man cave, my rustic classroom. And more than that, it’s a sign from the universe that I’m loved, supported and appreciated for what I do. That’s pure psychological gold.
I must acknowledge the Freeman family’s unfathomable generosity in this matter. They seem to be angels to me, and I’m not sure what I’ve ever done to deserve their kindness. I’m humbled and forever grateful.
So, in summary, I guess I went into COVID as a disillusioned singer/songwriter and I’m now emerging as a Sound Artist / Mad Scientist / Archer….go figure!?
Arts Atlas: Do you have an online presence where we can follow you?
I have heaps of online content, especially to do with my singer /songwriter career and I’ve included the links below, but because there’s an evolutionary process in progress right now there’s not so much content online to do with this latest incarnation. I will be refreshing and uploading a whole bunch of new content this year so stay tuned. My website is probably the best place for that.
If you want to see the Behemoth in action check this out:
This is a video filmed by an audience member of UPSCALE’s first public performance, at Geelong After Dark 2019. (Thanks Janet Michael)
To be honest… I’m completely ‘over’ Facebook and the culture of social media in general. I’m much more of a “face-to-face-in-small-numbers” kind of person so I don’t like where it’s heading anymore and you may find that I’m less responsive on those platforms than I used to be (because I’m not obsessed with checking my notifications all the time) It’s still worth taking a look if you want check back over my past releases and content etc. I sincerely hope that my faith is renewed someday and the online world becomes a safer place for us all. [Yes… I understand the irony that this website and the post I’ve just written are also social media…]
Please write to me, if you so desire at email@example.com
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