Interview by Joseph Kim 2/26/05, Photo credit: Jane Park
Lauren used to be the drummer for a band that I formed in high school with some of my friends with the express purpose of making "trashy punk rock". We were called the Doorknobs and our one and only show was thrown during the summer of my graduation in my basement with a bunch of other friends in attendance. My mom fed us all pizza afterwards. But that's a story for another day... Lauren and I had collaborated on other projects since then, but I was unaware of her musical activities in recent years. And then I found out that Lauren was playing in a new band, which she had great difficulty describing to me, suffice to say it might be classified as experimental pop. The band was called Holy Haunted Head, and the sampler cd she sent me contained the song "Oh, Skeleton!" which at first seems unlistenable with its off key vocal introduction, but quickly turns into an ecstatic and infectious pop confection, bursting with gurgling blasts of synthesizer noise and an out-of-control drum beat. This got me really really excited. Upon receiving their full album A Kali Yuga Opera I was delighted to discover that the entirety of the work was filled with quirky, deeply imaginative and even spiritually urgent gems. I later had the opportunity to email the head Holy Haunted Head, Simon Thrasher, my most pressing questions, to which he responded with extremely generous, insightful, and heartfelt answers. Please read on to see why I think this might seriously be the best f-ing (no swearing!) interview this little zine will ever see. I promise you'll be a better person for doing so.
Let's start with names and meanings. What is "A Kali Yuga Opera"? And where does the name "Holy Haunted Head" come from? (I think it's a great name, by the way!)
This may sound like a faerie tale, which it is, but it is how it feels to me inside... "A Kali Yuga Opera" is an opera written and recorded at the end of the world, in which the singers have forgotten their true voices but know that they must keep singing and believing in Love. This might just save the universe from being swallowed in darkness, but only if the whole rest of the world could remember to keep on singing, playing, creating, loving, and believing in themselves and each other as well, even when surrounded by so much confusion, doubt, sadness, and pain. Kali Yuga is a sanskrit term for the age many believe or see that we are in right now (literally "the Age of Iron" or the last and darkest age of a cosmic cycle of ages, which ends when everything is destroyed and then the cycle is refreshed, a "golden age" begins anew), and this ancient perspective/prediction of our times and future fascinates me. I was hoping people would read the title of the album and have their curiosity piqued to do some research. input "Kali Yuga" into a search engine and an amazing portal of ancient knowledge will be opened. It might give you the chills reading about what people from a long, long time ago knew would happen to our planet and our people. There is a great message of hope in there too. I am hoping people will search for that and find it.
Holy Haunted Head came from a word game I play in my head all the time. It started when for a while I was reading tags that people had written on buildings or walls or whatever, and I was seeing DMS written on all these different tags (like after your name, there will be the initials, usually 3, of your crew name). I love how people are fascinated with the number 3, too. So anyways, I was really curious about DMS because it was on everyone's, and I was like, this must be a huge graffiti crew! And then I finally saw it written out: "Drugs Money Sex", and it floored me. The 3 most important things to your average kid these days (Kali Yuga indeed) and it was consciously being signed everywhere. I felt troubled, and instantly I made a rhyme:"Hugs Honey Hex" and I was like, that's my crew! Hugs Honey Hex, a positive force of childlike energy. It has been my secret crew since then, HHH being what I write. And then, naturally, once I see HHH as initials, my brain starts to make up other words that it could stand for, and Holy Haunted Head came from that game. Which has a whole different energy, one that perfectly matched the music I had been making, so the two became tied together forever. I get really really bad headaches for years which are alot better now just recently and all of these songs were written in them and through them. That is the focus on the head part, and that is why it's not heart, which is what I would like it to be someday, because I don't want to live in my head, I want to live in my heart. The holy and the haunted are the saved and lost parts of us, that part that feels eternal, and that part that feels like it is slipping away, or a friend you lost.
Download "Oh, Skeleton!" by Holy Haunted Head
HHH seems to be your brainchild surrounded by a huge cast of collaborators. Could you say a little something about each person that appears on the recordings? Also, how was it working with Lauren? (We used to be bandmates, in a "punk" band in high school.)
The songs are about this voice or story trying to come out, but the album is really all about these amazing friends and having the chance to share time and recording and playing these songs with them. In college i used to live in a house and my heart still lives there forever and i really started making music with other people when I started playing with the boys I lived with there, at 143 main street. We called ourselves "The Jackson Brothers" as a joke, named after the one and only magical family clan of musicians, singers and dancers, you know who. The name stuck, so that is what we are. We recorded 50 records, but never remebered how to play anything (it was all made up on the spot, sometimes very late at night). When we moved out and away from each other, songs started coming to me, whole songs that I could remember and play again. That is where this record started, about 4 years ago. So I held on to them, and more came to me in tiny bursts, like transmissions. (I really don't feel like these are my songs, just gifts or whispered from some other place.) Anyways, I finally had a whole bunch and knew I should put them down before the remembering spell disappeared and they were gone for good. A good friend Curtis said he would love to help me get them down and to help shape an album out of them. Naturally we thought of all of our friends who are such beautiful musicians and we were like, these people HAVE to be on this! So we got down to work, and everyone having full time jobs and relationships and it being the Kali Yuga and all, it took a whole year to do!
These are my friends that wrote and played and helped shape the songs:
The aforementioned Jackson Bros. who, living in all corners of the world, had to be slowly corralled in to curtis' bedroom studio to put a track down. These beautiful boys are Justin, William, Michael, Devin, and Joshua. (But everyone's a Jackson Brother really. It's like my secret name for humans.) Some having only one day of free time to record, because they were visiting from Japan, Seattle or just upstate NY (which I think sometimes is farther than the other two), they only got to lay down a track or two. They added guitar, piano, vocal, keyboard, & some old Jackson Bros. recording samples were used as well. (The record begins with the old piano in our house.)
Curtis, who recorded everything except some basic tracks I did in my bedroom on my housemate's 4 track or some older handheld tape recordings, manned the 8 track and mics and effects and was behind all of the recording of everyone, and later mixing and mastering. He really was the brains behind this operation. It was so awesome to work with him, and our frienship grew and became really strong throughout the process. We ate a lot of food. My offering to him for his time was that I would feed him as much as I could, and I would cook and bring meals over. He supplied the hot chili sauce for most of our meals, and I thinked that it helped with a few breakthroughs. Curtis also plays a bunch of stuff on the record, from synth to sampler to bass and guitar, adding some of the most tasteful elements on the album, I like to say!
Lauren, who is your friend and bandmate from high school, as you know, is one of the most awesome people on the planet! She was so down with playing on the album since its inception, and I got to know her through the past year or more of playing together. We would jam in Curtis' room, before the HHH project got started and we became really good friends. Her creative energy and positivity is tremendous and really hope inspiring. I got really motivated to do a lot of this because of her encouragement and excitement. She played drums on not enough tracks (next time!) and also xylophone. Also, we recorded guitars and vocals first, so Lauren had to play to the constantly shifting and unsteady rhythm of my strumming, something that was so challenging and she did such an amazing job! Curtis and I, while mixing, would turn everything else down, and just listen to her drum tracks over and over, adding some reverb, and say to each other, "We could listen to this all day!" If Lauren's drumming could be heard coming from the sky, people would be filled with so much positive energy from the rhythms that they could do anything, accomplish any feat! That's how I feel when I hear her play drums, it comes from her heart so strong.
Orion is an insanely talented singer and musician and being. I can't wait until her album is created someday!!! It will save the world I know it. She added magic spell singing, and harmonium, which was gorgeous to watch and listen to her play. I miss you!
Matthew is also insanely talented, and his spirit keeps us working and making stuff and playing, because he never stops. He plays alot of the crazy (and sublime) synth stuff and the crazy drum segment on "Oh Skeleton!" We actually recorded two drum tracks for that song, one Lauren and one Matt. Lauren's is the slower one, and Matt's was really wild and off rhythm except for those perfect moments, so we mixed his in during the mix down for those two measures.
Jim serendipitously blew through town and had his bass clarinet and totally entered a realm at Curtis' and layed down a contemplative, playful, and plaintive set of tracks.
Joe is an accordian (and otherwise) genius and he made charts and diagrams before he played, and his accordian is broken now, and I hope he can get it fixed or get a new one because I miss him and would love to play with him really soon.
Eric is such a dear friend and we had to wait for him to get back from Prague and the album was almost done but Curtis went all the way down to the city with the 8 track to get Eric to lay down a bass track on "Towering Down".
Jennifer was my best friend through all of the years these songs were coming out of me, and she usually was the first one to hear them. She had always wanted to sing with them and play cello, and when she got a cello for a holiday gift, we knew the recording could begin. she started to sing again, which was her most sacred way of expressing, but something she had shut off for a long time, and it was so special witnessing her sing and sharing that with her. She also plays a mean keyboard!
All of these people are crazy amazing and they will all have their own solo album out someday, and we want to repeat the process of recording and all helping out each other's project. I could do that for the rest of my life!
I love the parts in the song "Which Branch?" when it unexpectedly breaks open into a gorgeous chorale harmony. I'd definitely say you guys have a very experimental nature- but do your arrangements come more from trying things out without knowing what the outcome will be like, or do you hear more specific things in your imagination that you try to realize?
It is a mixture of hearing things, like, sometimes suddenly, a new voice or sound will come to your head when playing or listening, and you say, "Okay, that is part of the song now, but how do we do that?" and then you go about almost unconsciously knowing how to try it, but knowing it will be its own unique expression of that thing you heard. The outcome is always a surprise! Music/sound has a life of it's own!
I like to be in a dream-like place when doing technical stuff, or trying new things. It feels like something is speaking through you then, and I am fascinated with what it ends up saying.
If I had to pick one "hit single" on your cd, it would definitely be "Oh Skeleton!". Dave and I were arguing about one of the lyrics. Are you singing "oh skeleton, hold that chin of yours up to the sky?" or are you saying "hold that SHIT of yours"? Because personally, I think the latter is much more bad-ass. Also, what is that song about?
"Chin" is what I say. I tried to stop swearing this year by having a swear jar where you put a nickle in everytime you swear, and you can only take money out of the jar if you haven't sworn all day. It really worked, but I think i realized that SHIT is a really funny word and I don't want to give that one up, so, yeah, I guess it will be "shit" that I sing from now on. That song is about panic attacks and apocalyptic headaches.
Download "the Summer of the BBQ Fairy" by Holy Haunted Head
Lyrically, I feel like there are constant allusions to mortality, even on upbeat songs like "Oh Skeleton!". Imagery-wise, the artwork on your album depicts all kind of mystical and religious symbols. What is your relationship to the mystical, the spiritual, and religion? Can you discuss the major themes running through A Kali Yuga Opera?
I see no separation between the physical and the mystical, or really any separation between anything. Everytime I think I see things as separate or different, life kicks my ass. Life is like one big quilt, and I feel very blessed that I am here and am experiencing this and with all of you. I don't know how I feel about any religion but I am fascinated with all of the contact people have felt that they have made with god, or a creative source or all-prevading consciousness, or the innerself, or even things like aliens, faeries, ghosts, and plants, animals and nature. The information gleaned from such experience and awareness is utterly compelling to me. Especially when you start to put it all together and relate it to one another. A story that fills me with absolute wonder. The album dimly reflects this life long obsession of mine, filtered through darker times where a lot of the songs came from. The album is about very human stuff, without knowing what's out there or in here, and being in turmoil because of this falling world and trapped in your body, haunted by your own life, but hoping and praying that Love (which is what I call god and all of us) will save the universe. So there is a focus on death because the first thing that ever broke my heart was realizing my parents and brother and cat and I weren't going to live forever, and I laid awake all night as a very small child, trying to comprehend this, and being completely terrified and heartbroken. But then maybe there was a heaven and I thought of living forever, and ever, and ever, and I kept going, stretching out my consciousness and imagining what the mind would feel like being in the same head eternally, and I think that terrified me even more than there being no heaven/you just die. So ever since then I have been totally obsessed with what happens when you die and what does our true nature look like and all of that. I think we will have some of the answers to these questions in our lifetime, if we don't destroy ourselves and planet first (but then, I suppose, we will all be finding out the answers, but at what cost!). So there is a frightened question... And there is also a great hope that an unbelievable peace exists for all of us.
I think my favorite song on your album is perhaps the most lo-fi sounding track of the whole bunch- "Fiery Was the Path (Mega-Crossed By Demons)". I'd describe it as a lovely drone piece which slowly builds to a cathartic plea, perhaps to a lover, to recognize that one's time in this world is short as you repeat the question, "Who's going to wash our hands when we're finished with this world?" It really affects me in a strong way. Could you talk about that song and tell me what it means to you?
That was the very first song that came through in this long cycle of songs that became Holy Haunted Head. That song saved my mind. I would play it over and over again, so scared I would forget it, as I had never really remembered a song I had written before, and I think it saved my life. I was coming out of really really scary waters and just making it to a safe rock or perch. I have been on that perch ever since, just, like, looking out, looking back, looking ahead, but still clutching. It was recorded in my bedroom at my parents' house in 2001 and during a great thunderstorm, which is buried in static. The wind throug the windows was amazing and the color of the sky was so eerie. Hand-held tape recorders are so beautiful! I want to build an 8 track made of handheld tape recorders you can sync up somehow. Yeah, the song is about how short of a time we are here for. I am so thankful to still be here every moment I am.
What's with that random Twin Peaks sample on track 13?
Oh gosh I am so obsessed with Twin Peaks, I don't know how that got on there. Or at least, that will be my expanation if I'm ever questioned about it legally. I see things as being superinterwoven, and the album/songs are part of that, and I can't really seperate them from my mental life or experiences with others and the world. So there are threads leading to a larger picture, of my own life, and then on to the one we are all living, and hopefully someone who picks up the album will find some connections to their own experiences and feel more at home. There are a lot of references to things and samples of things that have shaped my emotional reality, different books or movies or even my favorite kind of soap, which doubles as my favorite bible ("We're all-one or none!" -Dr.Bronner) many of these things just kind of ended up in the mix ... Some songs took names from the book "In Watermelon Sugar" by Richard Brautigan, living and almost dying; in one song there are unicorns which are a symbol for the most amazing feeling inside of me that I've felt since I was little, like the purest love and goodness; a drawing and words from Hildegard Von Bingen who had these mystical migraine visions in the 12th century; the movie "Heavenly Creatures"; a model of the energy that lives in our spine called the Kundalini; a Neutral Milk Hotel quote; Orion and Pleiades my two favorite constellations to look at; and a voice from Star Wars. Samples seem to have a life of their own, too, and want to get into the mix right where it's perfect for them.
Being a recording geek myself, I'm really into learning about how others put together theirs. I really admire the DIY recording effort you guys have put in. Some of the songs sounds totally lo-fi, but other songs have an excellent clarity to them! Much props to Curits Bohner on the excellent mixing job! Please give us a glimpse into what it was like making this album. Was it the product of many sleepless nights? Was it stressful? Etc.
I work at a school with kids during the week, and we recorded it all in Curtis' bedroom, which he shares with his girlfriend Kari (who so patiently and lovingly put up with us for so long), so these factors forced us to have to work in daylight hours usually, so no sleepless nights! We really got subconscious with the process and just went for it, whatever the feeling was or what we felt was the next thing it needed. We let alot of mistakes hang out and become part of the tapestry, but we also spent countless hours on minor details, which often resulted in more mistakes and just having to accept stuff. Or total brand new things would appear out of that, and be totally right. we were really free with sound and having a mix of lo-fi and cleaner recordings. Some of the early guitar and vocals i did on a 4 track tape, and we just popped that into the 8 track and got really weird results, like one guitar showing up on two tacks, and not being in sync, and kind of flanging with itself. All kinds of different mics were used, and samples came from different sources, so there were a lot of different qualities, which we thought would sound so messed up, but we ended up liking it a lot, like a wide spectrum of sound and texture. I was so excited and nervous to be doing this I had butterflies in my belly the whole time, so it wasn't stressful until towards the end and the 8 track tapes started to warp because of the humidity and playing them so much. We totally freaked out then, and knew that we had to mix it as soon as possible, before the tape was destroyed. That was the scariest moment, but I tried to think of it like a Buddhist sand painting, where you put all of this work into a piece, adding the tiniest details, and then mother nature comes and carries it all away. I was ready for that, to let go, but it is so cool we made it through and I have this to give out to people now and to share with the world.
forcefieldsforever project 001: to collaborate and make a compilation CD & book of recordings, writings, and images inspired by DREAMS and/or NIGHTMARES.
If you are interested in sharing a piece, or pieces, for the project, or would like to help put together & create, contact Simon at:
(((FORCE FIELDS FOREVER)))
P.O. Box 67
Rosendale, NY 12472