Percy: We became a mutual admiration society. He's liked my work since Nûs and I've liked all the stuff he's done with Bill and Mick Harris. How did we hook up? Oh, Bill gave him my email address and we started trading emails back and forth. We decided we wanted to do some work together, but really didn't have a project in mind--specifically--so we decided to do a trade. If he would give me some loops and beats, then I would sing on his Ashes project. So for "Filigree" [Incidental Seductions] he gave me some loops and beats and that 808 bass drone--that bass push--for "Thirst." His stuff is really cool to work with because he produces stuff really well on his home studio---clean and fat and really brilliant. Most of the mix and mastering of this album was done in Cubase. And so it was really easy to work with. As a return favor, I'm doing three vocal tracks on his next Ashes project which will feature Bill [Laswell] and Raoul Björkenheim and a bunch of people. And Eraldo is a really good guy too. Really warm human being.
There just doesn't seem to be a direct pipeline into what he is doing and I'm always interested in what's coming out of his studio next.
Percy: You should talk with him. Eraldo is a fascinating guy. His beats and loops are not always the most cutting edge, but they are interesting. They are always interesting and warm and he has a deep sense of melody. There's not a lot of "DJs" whose sensibilities that I really admire--that we seem to talk the same language. But with Eraldo, it is very easy.
I was shooting to get to "Interference" [from the Meridiem album] but, naturally, got side-tracked. In the material that you sent me, one of the quotes was from the San Jose Mercury News where they called your voice "incandescent." "Interference" is, of course, a perfect opportunity for us to hear that.
Percy: That tune was complete improvisation. Fred was just putting this little baby radio up to his strings and all this stuff was coming through. Apple Jacks commercials and just crap. And then I just got this idea: interference. And Bill started playing this trippy dub beat and I then I just wanted to scat to it and see what happened. And then I treated it like crazy. Live, I had Oz Fritz throwing stuff all over the room. Oz Fritz was the fifth band member. He was the live sound guy and was real important because of all these loops and delays that were being created. Yeah, the whole thing was just this haunting kind of quality to the vocal that I wanted to get where all this stuff was happening, all this interference. And I wanted the vocal to be something that you could lock onto.
It is one of those things that really drives home the idea that you are more than just the guy pushing the lyrics. You're the other instrument.
Percy: That's something that I enjoy immensely. The Meridiem III record which we'll do next year will probably be back with Bill and Fred and Charles. Meridiem II is the thing that I'm doing with Jarboe and Bill Rieflin. Meridiem is just going to be my material, but I'm going to bring in other people. I've got this long list of people that I want to work with. I'd like to hook up with Bill Frisell. Meridiem will be this ongoing project. But Meridiem III may have no lyrics, just be entirely made up of vocalizations--just another instrument--and I'll heavily treat the vocals. I do'nt think I want to do any lyrics.
I've spent the last year going away from lyrics myself--more beat-oriented and ambient stuff. And occasionally I miss hearing lyrics. But I've never been contained by the fact that the lyrics had to be in English.
Percy: They don't. That's just it. You can say whatever you want and there is meaning there. The meaning is on this other level, on this subliminally spiritual level, because you have to attach to the emotion and intent of the sound. It's just the same as what people do with an instrument. When John Coltrane was playing, he was speaking. When Charlie Parker was playing, he was speaking. Look at Liz Fraser at her peak of genius.
Before they finally said: "You know, Liz, we need some lyrics."
Percy: She's got a solo album coming out and she's going back to vocalizing. I really like doing that. I didn't want to get into that thing like Lisa Gerrard does with this made-up language. She does. She has this made-up language. My stuff is a combination of vocalizing and scatting.
Have you heard the remix discs that Anton Fier did for the Golden Palomino albums This is How it Feels and Pure. They were really small release (called Dreamspeed and Blind Light respectively) and were pre-releases to the albums with Anton trying out the rhythms and the beats and Phew just supplying vocals in Japanese. And they're phenomonal. Because you don't get tripped up by what she is saying, but rather can concentrate on how she's saying it.
Percy: That's cool. I'll have to check those out.
"The Basis for the Devil's Argument." [Inside is the Only Way Out] What a great little song.
Percy: That was all inspired by Milton's Paradise Lost.
I'm glad to hear you say that. I was thinking the same thing.
Percy: That's what it was. Paradise Lost is amazing. All that imagery when they all fall and have this discussion. What should we do? Should we siege the gates of Heaven? Should we just chill? Is it better to rule in Hell than be subservient in Heaven? I just came up with the basis for the Devil's argument is falling. And all this imagery, this reverie, of Lucifer's--of Morningstar's--fall from grace at the same time as Christ's ascension. You've got these great figures in the play of life passing one another. That's just it. They're passing one another. It's kind of an over the top thing. It's almost gothic. And that's another song that has a profound impact on people in a live setting. They've got to deal with it. You can see people's bodies shift when the chorus comes. "Lucifer, Lightbringer, Morningstar, Angel of Bright Pride, Winged Venus, God's Tear..." Every album I do I try to put some spiritually transcendent piece on it.
(laughing) Only one?
Percy: (laughing) Just one that's in your face. The others I can't help. That's just the way I write. But one that has an angelic theme or has some use of the Liturgy or Latin. On this next album I'm doing a song that's built around the Creed. I go to a Lutheran Church and I'm going to take my DAT player in one Sunday, and when everyone's reciting the Creed, I'm going to turn the DAT player on. So you'll get all these people--grandmothers, kids--all chanting this Creed. I'm going to set up four--maybe eight--vocal parts: me doing two, Jarboe doing two or three, Victoria Lloyd doing a couple, and Bill Rieflin doing a couple of this "hu-hu" chant around it.
Percy: This steady chant around it and then process all of it and add tons of violin loops and guitar washes and bass drones. It's going to be like ten minutes and it's just going to loop and loop and be like this mantric-type loop. So it'll be interesting to see how that works. I always enjoy having at least one song that has a spiritual overtone to it.
After reading Paradise Lost, I could never think of the Devil as anything but tragic.
Percy: The Devil is a tragic figure. I think people get caught up in this "evil" thing, that there is this being out there poking you in the butt, trying to get you to do "x," "y," and "z." The thing is, this figure wanted to be on an equal level with God. He just pushed it too far. In Westernized Christianity, people have a tendency to use the Devil as a scapegoat. "The Devil made me do it." You cheated on your wife? You did it. The Devil didn't do it. It's this responsibility thing. With the "Basis of the Devil's Argument" I was looking at the Devil as an entity with personality--not that he's an admirable personality to me--but as an entity with personality and culpability. I was just trying to flesh that out.
The Devil's failing--his secondary hubris--is that he doesn't realize how much God loved him. He has to have someone fall so that Man can understand the depths of depravity. And I think a lot of the impact of these songs is something akin to the Joyce quote above--that sense of opening of gates. And the Devil, of course, raced to the end and then went too far. In order for us to understand the wrong path, someone had to go down it.
Percy: Sure. I have two degrees--one in theology and one in psychology. One of the themes that emerged from my studies is that just as Moses is a template for Christ, Pharaoh was a template for Satan. Pharaoh in Egypt. Here he was, he just kept pushing and pushing and pushing. It's almost like he didn't have any choice. Judas is also made out of that template. In a way, a scapegoat. In order to really show the difference between darkness and light, you almost have to have a figure that it a caricature. That's the Satanic reality. And in that, there's sadness. But the bitterness is like a drowning man. If you've ever read Ezra Pound--Canto XVI--there's this great vision of all these drowning souls in this lake of ice--of ice!--that is Hell. Not fire. And all these arms shooting upward out of the ice, grasping, grasping for something to grab and pull back down into the icy depths. Just can't be satisfied with their punishment. "If I'm going to go down, then I'm going to take as many of you with me as possible." And that should give anybody pause because you run into that crap so much in everyday life just sitting in your cubicle at the office. It's always amazing to me--it always gives me such a jolt of energy--when I run into someone who is truly vindictive. It takes work to be that way. It's like a craft. They pay attention; they really work at being bastards.
"I'll watch ya, but don't come near my cube."
Percy: (laughs) That's right. It's always fascinating to me.
I pulled out the Latin dictionary and looked up Meridiem and came away with "midday." Was that a conscious decision?
Percy: Absolutely. It's also a nautical term. It's a midpoint. It is direct--right on--noon. It's not morning and it's not afternoon. It's that flashpoint where there are all kinds of possibilities. Maybe it'll rain in two minutes. Maybe it rained two minutes ago. Maybe it'll snow. You don't know. But on the meridiem you can make those choices. It's a perfect title for this project because I'm taking all these really great musicians and trying to find this synthesis of sound that makes it a connected voice, but from moment to moment, there is this element of surprise. There is this element of decision, of choice. It's the meridiem, man. You don't know. You don't know what is going to happen next. So a lot of people who bought the first Meridiem album are going to expect the second to have Fred and Bill on a freak out and it won't. It'll have me and Jarboe singing together--these sonorous, beautiful melodies--it'll have acoustic guitar and synth washes and bells and this spooky six vocal stuff.
I think people are too busy tracking names and not so much concepts.
Percy: Right. What is going on musically. When we play live it's going to some of the same thing. When we get in that room at ARO.space--it won't be as bad because people will know who I am--but people are going to expect Jarboe to do her Swans thing. For God's sake, allow her to be an artist and to grow and change and morph into something different. And she is an artist who has gotten a heavy dose of that because she has a truly beautiful voice but she can also do some of the most devastating banshee wailing freak out shit you'll ever hear. Have you heard the album Anhedoniac?
I think I did. I was curious and picked it up in a store and listened to it. And I went: "Whoa."
Percy: I challenge you to pick it up again and listen to the whole thing. Because it is a personal journey through pain. "Anhedoniac" literally means "one who cannot feel pleasure." But her new album is called Disburden Disciple because she went through the shit. She and Michael Gira got divorced; she's starting her life over; she's working out again; she's a happier woman. But she's a person--an artist--who doesn't hide anything at all. But I've wanted to work with her for years for this very reason. I know we're going to make some powerful stuff together because neither one of us is going to hide behind expectations in order to make music.
Fantastic. Can I get excited? 'Cause I am excited. Damn, I just have to wait for all this.
Percy: Just a few months. Yeah, I am excited too. Bill [Rieflin] is going to send me some rhythm tracks and we're going to start working on some stuff.
I want to go back to "Voyeur." [All the Vertical Angels] The opening quote: "God is inside of us. The Devil is outside of us, in the world all around us." What's that from?
Percy: That's from The Last Temptation of Christ. That's Willem Dafoe saying that. (laughing) I stole it.
Cleanly. Just lifted it and went.
Percy: I just took it right out of the movie. See, I knew that my record was going to be so obscure...
(laughing) That no one would care.
Percy: No one. I knew that whoever owns that movie wasn't going to be interested in coming after me. I believe Willem has heard it. He's good friends with Janet Rienstra who is Bill's [Laswell] girlfriend and who is responsible for all the Meta stuff.
Right. He was on Chakra. He had that wonderful bit where he comes in going "Raum. Raum."
Percy: Right. "Raum." That's excellent. Yeah, that quote's from Last Temptation of Christ. It's the scene where Christ comes back from the temptation--you know, forty days and forty nights--and reaches into his body and pulls out his heart. It's this really stunning scene. He's got his heart in his hand and they're just staring at him. And so the whole thing about "Voyeur" was that it was at a point where I was angry at God. My whole thing was the Holy Spirit was kind of a voyeur looking through a window, watching our human comings and goings and the machinations of the flesh. Does it want to be like us? Why are we so interesting? It's like the whole idea of God becoming flesh. I believe that God had limitations which a lot people see as unorthodox--a lot of my Christianity is unorthodox anyway--so I just accept that. YHWH limits Itself and It was curious about our humanity. My view of Christ wasn't that God had to go and save us; God wanted to know. There's a thing about flesh, man. Flesh is amazing. And that's what "Voyeur" is about, that whole juxtaposition between Spirit and Flesh. Now Spirit wants to be close to Flesh and Flesh wants to transcend Spirit. It's a duality.
Which segues nicely into "Iurodivii" [from Meridiem] which seems to be the opposite.
Percy: That's a funny thing. That was inspired by the Last Temptation of Christ too. I really like Kazantzakis a lot. There's a scene in the beginning where Dafoe's Christ is on the ground and the Spirit is attacking him. And it manifests itself as great black birds, crows pecking at his flesh, trying to get inside of his head, trying to get inside of his body. The thing is you are a fool for God. People who are overtly religious and truly devout--and I mean those in the best way--who are fervently trying to have a transcendent relationship with what they believe to be God are still seen as being a bit freaky. God is not acceptable fodder for modern music.
Still. Unless you do "God is good. God is great."
Percy: Right, but what's that? Come on. That's not real life. I write about this thing because we're all concerned about it. Give me a break. People lie in bed at night and they're all concerned with their transcendent reality. Even when it comes down to "am I ever going to find a woman that will love me?" What is that? You're not looking at five years down the road and can you buy a boat together and have a child. No. It's about complete and total acceptance. When I'm fat and ugly and disgusting or a quadriplegic, will you still love me? They're asking for this thing that only Spirit can give them. We're always doing it. So I have no choice but to talk about it in my music.