DK UPC: 840093303011
Release date: February 7, 2018
While I was making little video promos for Raving Masses, it dawned on me that I wanted a few “standard elements” that would help people in the great big World Wide Web to easily identify my work, and to build up a picture of this strange little entity I was creating with my music, in their minds as well as in my own. I designed the little red triangle skull logo to identify the music for the videos, and took the goat (now “spacegoat”) as a sort of self-identifying mascot. There are far, far worse things to be known by, after all, than “that goat band”.
I found myself surprised, very early on, when I was just playing around with the first album, and thinking of it as a kind of extension to my orchestral composing “hobby”, that by creating The Lowest of Low, I was engaging a constellation of pursuits that I'd really enjoyed for a long time, and now they were useful. It suddenly wasn’t just composing and recording by itself.
While I know that writing and recording music brings me the greatest joy and satisfaction in my creative life, it’s not my only facet. It began to dawn on me that, apart from engaging a burgeoning love of cinematography and video editing and my love of art and design, this endeavour also brought my writing, website design and other (seemingly unrelated) skills into play. I began to see how fulfilling, on a personal level, creating a musical entity from the ground up, and using it as a vehicle of cohesion for my seemingly “unrelated” talents, it could become. Incidentally, I’ve never seen the point in separating out interests and pursuits into compartmentalised little boxes, because the skills and understanding or even mastery gained in one discipline can be applied across all disciplines to a certain extent. I don’t believe in the one-string-banjo approach to mastery. Our minds and spirits are much more all-embracing and synthetic than that. So the fact that I’d hit upon something that actively calls this cohesive understanding into play makes me extremely happy.
And so I began to understand that this thing could be anything I wanted it to be. It was mine. It could engage with ideas in a way peculiar to my own experience of life and the world, literature, philosophy… in ways that just art or writing alone never could seem to do for me. It clicked, in other words, and I recognised it as a life’s work, and that I could choose to give it a meaning beyond the ordinary production-for-consumption music industry miasma I was chucking this stuff into. The initial sense of complete freedom of expression that I felt in experimenting with electronic music during Raving Masses was extending out, becoming a coherent whole, a thing-in-itself. It was actually a little daunting.
My partner’s kid brother was still pretending to have an interest in participating at this point, and when his father cracked down on (his) idea of making a demonology-themed album (the kid is attracted by a very Hollywood idea of demons, evil, blood and gore and guts and stuff. And pain), he came out with the idea, having smoked weed for the first time, that * I * should write a song about weed. It could, after all, be pointed to and blamed when the kid inevitably got caught (scapegoating is a big tactic in that whole family, and growing up in it, the kid can't help but be something of a manipulative, self-protecting turd in many ways). My partner said in a darkly sardonic mood, well aware of how this would play out, “Hell, why not make a whole damned drug album?”
He's always incredibly supportive.
It wasn't difficult to imagine (or in any way unexpected) that the 15-year-old kid, growing up under an overbearing family regime, was becoming “interested” in drugs, alcohol and all that other stuff — forbidden stuff — that kids who are about to flower into their first attempts at rebellion are into. It was pretty clear that he was hoping I would write music glorifying drugs. His mother and her Kraftwerk-looking douche of a partner at this point, after having failed to break my partner and I up (you know, for fun and feelings of power), and having no real recourse to coming back for a new try, were spreading carefully placed rumours that I was a drug-addled whore. There's a 7-year history of this kind of spiteful and destructive lying towards and about me with them, so the idea of embracing this absurdity and grabbing it by both horns also appealed to my perverse sense of humour for this particular round of character assassination. A new tactic, embrace the absurdity and take it out of their control by unexpectedly owning it. It's very nice how it spoinks 'em out. Nothing stops this kind of hungry ghoul, however. But dealing with the crap they spew out in a way that's personally amusing does help.
I also felt that if the kid was going to fall into various kinds of experimentation, it would be better if he were at least in some way informed about what he was attracted to doing, and the effects his activities might have on him, should the opportunity arise.
Contrarily responsible entity that I am, I found the idea of writing what I came to think of as "clinical observational studies" on a variety of drugs, in musical form, a much more engaging framework in which to address this. The “Opioid crisis” was beginning to be all over the news, and I realised that while attitudes towards the medical and recreational use of marijuana had undergone a softening shift, preconceived ideas about other drugs were still as rigid as they had become during the 1980’s “War On Drugs” campaign. A black/white false dichotomy had been created, not just in the press, but in people’s private opinions, in which drugs were either demonised or glorified (according to which side of the “establishment” you were on), with all the pro/contra bias and selective representation of information this implies.
So, the idea of researching each of the drugs dealt with in the album, and representing the physical and psychological states which they most often induce in the human body and mind in an accessible (musical) form appealed to me very much. No judgement, no conclusions, no preconceived ideas, no pro/con. I wanted each song to be as accurate a representation that I could make, based on pharmacological research, medical journals, psychological papers and personal accounts. I felt that, because it was all music, without words, with just the themes of each song revealed by the title (each title is the name of a specific drug), there was an unusual potential to open out the much-needed dialogue about the reality of these substances, and what attracts or repels people of different psychological backgrounds and human needs, completely apart and away from all the black/white assumptions and rigid “moral” stances that cloud the issue and lead to unreasoned decisions.
I did my best to avoid musical stereotypes for the drugs, as well. It would have been easy (maybe even lazy) to record some "acid rock" for LSD, for instance, or something tending towards urban, inner-city hip-hop for Crack. I felt that by playing into those stereotypical associations, I wouldn't achieve a fresh look at the subject matter. I wanted to present each drug from the inside. And I wanted the instruments to reflect the nature (chemically, experientially, and to a certain extent, historically) of each drug without cultural assumptions and stereotypes getting in the way.
"I felt that by playing into those stereotypical associations, I wouldn't achieve a fresh look at the subject matter. I wanted to present each drug from the inside. And I wanted the instruments to reflect the nature (chemically, experientially, and to a certain extent, historically) of each drug without cultural assumptions and stereotypes getting in the way."
With the “Opioid Crisis” tending (ever and necessarily) towards the blame-finding mission it has now become, and with people struggling to understand how their friends and family members (or they, themselves) are being affected by addiction, I wanted to make the effects of these drugs accessible to anyone who genuinely wanted to understand, but who maybe didn’t know how to approach the subject.
Anything that is deified or demonised tends to carry with it a certain level of stigma or taboo in “polite society”. Which means that children like my partner’s brother, (or, for that matter, medical patients seeking relief from physical pain or mental torments), are left, on the whole, misled and misinformed or even completely in the dark about the substances which attract or addict them. In an “instant” society, and pressed into anxieties about not lagging behind their peers, young people find the attraction of self-discovery (which is their job anyway) in an instantly gratifying and fun, "socially edgy" way, incredibly alluring. I felt that even if self-reflection and self-knowledge were forbidden fruits in this particular case (I would get into big trouble later, as it turns out, for talking to this kid about the value of sitting meditation in maintaining a sense of calm in stressful living conditions), the knowledge about substances he was gleefully hoping might provide an easy escape from the weight of his daily life problems should at least be accessible to him in some form (music was ideal because it didn't involve any reading or exertion on his part). And I believe that this is true for anybody coming across these songs. I am a firm supporter of all honest and informed decisions and dialogue, whether I happen to agree with the actions or conclusions that issue from them or not.
So I was making this "strange knowledge" accessible, yes, to the enthusiasts who want to hear someone’s cool-sounding representation of LSD or Cocaine or Ketamine or whatever, but it's also accessible to the guy who says “I don’t understand why these kids today go in for all these drugs” (if he’s amenable to listening, that is), or to the person who is bewildered about why some family member can't see the problem with an unacknowledged pharmaceutical addiction. I wanted to create a field in which that informed dialogue becomes possible.
This is, of course, a profoundly unpopular idea, with any issue, in our times. Everywhere you look there’s a “for-or-against” oversimplification of pretty much everything. And all the rancour, hatred, righteous indignation, judgement, violence, isolation, victimisation and everything else that goes with it. Are you pro-drugs or against them? Are you pro-Brexit or against it? Do you believe in Climate Change or are you a Denier? Are you a meat-eater or a vegan? Big-endian or little-endian? Pro-Trump or Anti-Trump? Pro vaccines or anti-vax? Are you oppressed or privileged? Love Loot Boxes or hate them? Star Wars or Star Trek? "Woke" or Luddite? The minutiae are to be ignored — there are only two camps possible, which one are you in?
It’s easy and convenient and popular to make these things all cut-and-dried, black and white, and to take a rigid, vociferous (and often profoundly obnoxious) public stance on one side or the other. Any attempt to at least understand the “other” side, or to take account of anything larger than the Great Dichotomy as it is presented, will typically get you ostracised and abused from *both* sides. There’s no in-between, no willingness to look at both sides and reserve judgement. If you come to your own well-reasoned opinion on anything that isn’t one camp or the other, you keep your mouth shut.
If you hold enough of these black/white views in certain proportions, you might even get an “identity” to embrace. What’s convenient about this is that when you’re faced with a new and unfamiliar issue, and you’re unsure about how to feel and think and conduct yourself publicly regarding it, other people with the same “identity” can tell you what side to be on without any real thought or contemplation or research on your part. It will also help to push you farther into self-congratulatory arrogance about the correctness of your opinions without ever having to actually examine them.
I find this lazy, sloppy, and incredibly disappointing about modern humans. And it can only make things worse. The world is a worse place for it. Tensions between people are worse, and it'll all end up in a massive, shocking tragedy one day, probably in my (current) lifetime.
On top of this, credibility in science, medicine, politics, and news reporting are called into question on a daily basis to support one “side” or another of every issue, making people feel further discouraged from making clearly informed decisions about anything. Pile stigma and taboo (socially-driven fear) on top of that on one side, and "being seen to care" on the other, and you have quite a depressing situation. The most popular solution people seem to have found for the moment appears to stem from the 1980’s New Age idea, “Believe what you like best”. Embrace your “identity”. Don’t think, just be. Follow what you “feel”. Search your feelings, Luke…
Critical thinking seems to have given way to knee-jerk emotionalism, "positivity" and "freedom of choice", all of which are easily manipulated and "flipped" ... the (neurotically self-protecting and fundamentalist-style well-meaning) seeds of intolerance and ultimately, popular totalitarianism. These became ideas that I would explore (and continue to explore as this stage of civilisation plays out) in later albums.
So, as I was contemplating this state of affairs, and seeking to create a drug-themed album that forges a middle way through at least one issue, I felt naturally conflicted. There was no way that this was going to be received in any way, by anyone. This has become a recurring reality about my work and subject matter. I'm used to it now, but it gave me pause back then.
I mentioned at the start of this discography note that I had wanted to create recognisable "visual cues" to identify myself around this time. Not just to create a recognisable thing for people to find, but also as a willed self-identification. Like a personal seal or lamen that would act as a constant reminder to me about what I was doing, what my mission, as I found it unfolding, actually was.
In making the promo videos for Raving Masses I hit upon the spacegoat idea. I used to be a self-subsistence farmer, and I kept goats for many years, so this was a natural choice, affinity-wise. I also happen to hold the role of scapegoat within my partner’s fucked up extended family, an inescapable fact that makes me laugh and gives me amusing inspirations from time to time. I also have a fondness for Baphomet, and a fascination with the history of the vilification (for political reasons) of the Knights Templar that helped Eliphas Levi to “create” him in the form that we know him today.
So, thinking about all of the above as I wrote this album, “accused” of everything from Satanism, human sacrifice and Freemasonry by the kid brother’s father (more amusing developments on this theme in the Sirius discography notes), and embracing The Lowest of Low as something that could call into play my various interests and talents, I decided that I wanted to express it all in the goat imagery and in what became my red triangle skull logo.
I also loved the idea of painting an album cover, bringing that side of my artwork into things. And painting a subject that combined my personal elements with the idea of an uncomfortable and impossible-to-resolve ready dichotomy — the revered and the execrated — into one image also really appealed to me. The idea of a Baphomet with the bleeding heart of Jesus that was instead my red triangle — It just seemed right. It still seems right, even if it scared the shit out of a lot of people. To this day, I’m very happy with the spacegoat and my little friendly triangle skull. I enjoy emblazoning them on my clothing and bags and stuff. They bring me a sustained joy in a way I hadn't fully anticipated when I adopted them.
Musically, I still love the Bad Influence album. It was moving into experimental directions that I didn't quite have the confidence to pursue outside of the constraints of the project's subject matter. If I had it to do again, with where I am now musically, and in terms of sound design and mixing, I think I could do an amazing job with it. But even as it stands, there are musical explorations and ideas — an expressionism — that made itself known to me with the creation of this album, and which has informed my electronic music ever since. This closed the circle for me in the sense that I began to realise that the electronic music was in no way different to my structural, psychological or emotional approach to composing orchestral music. Any way I looked at it, this really was my music.
In this sense, Bad Influence was my "real" first album. Not in the sense of disowning Raving Masses, but in the sense that my direction as The Lowest of Low (and everything that implies) began to assert itself through me at this time. I’m very fond of it and grateful for everything it taught me personally. I also still listen to it with pleasure every once in a while.
“Where, exactly, do you stand on drugs?”
“….well sir, I don’t think anybody should stand on drugs.”
What do you do when you are lucky enough to find money on the ground? I don’t mean just change (I pick up any small change I happen to see. Glasgow was a good place for that in the late ’90’s, oddly. I lived there for about 6 months and collected £42.36 in change from the ground and in phone boxes, mostly for something to do, for about 3 months. At the time, a cheap flight to London cost £9.99. Never neglect the small things, children!).
Anyway, three times in my life, I was lucky enough to spot actual paper money on the ground. Not one of those fake folded money God brochures, real money. Twice, this was in the grounds of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire. Ten quid each time. Why? Who knows? Maybe that place was lucky for me. Maybe some crazy groundskeeper drops ten quid there every day or once a week for someone like myself to find. My life partner broke his arm the one time he went there AND he didn’t find any money, either. Technically, he only dislocated his arm at Castle Howard — doctors broke it for him later while trying to reposition it where it belonged. He also insists that when he woke up in the middle of surgery because they’d got the anaesthetic wrong, he came out of his body and died, and that he hasn’t been the same since. So Castle Howard wasn’t so lucky for him. It may be that some strange Jupiterian ray is attracted to that location for some unknown or secret reason. By Jove (which I pronounce Yahweh, by the way, like a good Roman), I just don’t know.
But when I find money on the ground, I kind of panic and stand on it with one foot. I look around furtively, to see if there’s anyone watching (or looking for something they’ve lost… there never has been yet though), and if I happen to be with anyone, I call them over in a stage whisper and tell them “I’m standing on money!” I then pick it up with haste and almost don’t want to look at it. But then I do, and I feel fortunate for the rest of the day. Usually I use it to do something different or nice and unexpected for someone. Finding money makes me feel generous, like I should be using it for some greater purpose.
Why does money, particularly finding money that wasn’t ours, that we didn’t earn, make us feel fortunate? Money is of no value in and of itself. But it’s what you do with it, what it represents. On this planet, in this particular time, money represents the potential to do and to accomplish things that would be otherwise cut off from our particular experience, because our societies revolve around money almost exclusively. So people attach a lot of Hope and Thought to it. They even say “money is power”. It’s certainly challenging to live without it in ways that even barely comfortable people can never imagine (more on that another time, perhaps), so in a sense it’s understandable why they say such things. Finding money (or coming into money in some way other than hard work) gives a lot of people the feeling of almost mythological reverence. The promise of an unexpended potentiality.
Human lives are also unexpended wells of potentialities. How you draw out the “living water” from your well of incarnation, and what you do with it in your life is ultimately up to you. The paths you take, the decisions you make along the way, are yours and yours alone. That’s not to say there won’t be pressures pushing you in certain directions. Sit up straight. Smile. Don’t eat gluten. Wear the tie. Take the medicine. Believe in what they tell you. But drawing up the fullness of your humanity into your own expression of this incarnation…. that’s private soul stuff. And because it’s nothing (necessarily) to do with money, it’s not particularly given any importance or value in most societies or by many people today. As a consequence, it is stunningly difficult to find one’s own path and not be pulled out into a life that is not entirely one's own.
Many people take drugs to try to get in touch with this feeling, to “find” their inner essence. Because altered consciousness can be fun, and what’s more, bought with money, it’s not entirely dismissed in our societies — we even get to create subcultures around it, kind of like belonging to one or other Greek Mystery. Some people find something they’re looking for. Some don’t. Some feel like they do and then become Jehovah’s Witnesses or whatever. And they’re on some path… maybe it’s theirs, and maybe it’s not. I don’t know. Only they know, deep down, when all is quiet, and they’re all alone. I’m not going to judge or moralise. That’s not my job. But my job is to tell you to listen to that small, still silence inside you, and to follow it. Small ways, little expressions. Eventually, if you head where your soul is looking to go, you may just get somewhere surprising, and uniquely yours. That’s the goal. If you just can’t (probably for very worldly reasons) at very least you can still maybe muster a spectacularly fun midlife crisis. And you’ll even come out of that a little closer to who you Are. It’s never too late. Keep going.
Here is what I originally wrote on the webpage announcing Bad Influence. I still think the message is valid.