Few words are needed to introduce one of the most significant living artists of the English musical counter-culture. Founder of the seminal cult band Current 93, involved in many projects for over three decades, visual artist and, above all, an intimate story teller of the Apocalypse.
For him, there’s nothing to be proud of. Everything is God given.
As David’s luminous thoughts are.
“As one who sees in dreams and wakes to
find the emotional impression of his vision still powerful
while its parts fade from his mind – Just such am I,
having lost nearly the vision itself, while in my heart
I feel the sweetness of it yet distill and fall.”
– Paradiso XXXIII, Dante
You are Christian. A Gnostic Heretical Christian. What’s the role of the religion in your daily life?
In some previous interviews, I stated that one of my favorite writers -G. K. Chesterton- said “A man must be orthodox upon most things, otherwise he will never even have time to preach his own heresy”, because Christianity, whatever that means, is something so vast, and huge, and beautiful and terrifying. Everyone has his/her personal way of looking on what happened when Christ lived and died, and what this means in our lives. I have always been interested in Gnostic texts and Gnosticism, in heresies and heretical thoughts yet, at the same time, a lot of what I believe is orthodox. So the role of this religion in my daily life is always to keep questioning—to never think that I know the answer, to never be dogmatic, but to look at the remarkable story of what happened when Christ was born and when He died. It’s important to me and for us all, I believe, not to take refuge in certainties; we must all know we have to keep on questioning.
There’s a passage I love in the Gospel of John (XXI: 25) where the author writes: “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” So you also have to think of that which He did that we don’t know about, and look in our hearts and imagine what that is.
A significant part of the musical and cultural scene of the 80’s, of which you were one of the main actors, seemed highly moved by a common interest in spreading radical ideals. Maybe because music represented one of the few media which could operate out of/against the mainstream realm. Do you think that the knowledge globalization of the last decades has influenced, increasing or blunting, the idealistic charge of the contemporary music bands?
As you say, when I started working as Current 93, at that time, of course, we didn’t have the Internet and it was very difficult to get information on certain areas in which I was interested. You had to search very hard to find those books, those ideas, and when you found the specific things you’re looking for—or came across new ideas from a thinker or an artist, perhaps connected to somebody else in whom you were already interested—it was very, very exciting. You had to struggle on, searching, and you really had to want to find these things. And these things would come to you by the Grace of God, or through who knows what or where. Now it’s easy to become an expert in anything; all you have to do is go onto the Internet where it’s easy to find everything. That is really a very good aspect yet at the same time the thing now missing is people deciding to investigate an area and putting all their effort into finding out about it.
Of course, like anyone else, I click on wikipedia and it’s very useful and helpful, but it could be easy to be lazy and not to put your whole heart into discovering the actual depths of writers, artists, poets, ideas and so on. It’s obviously increased the palette that we can paint with, the ideas that we can play with, and it’s expanded our possibilities—yet somehow also made this shallower. Everything comes with two sides, so there are some excellent aspects, as well as disappointing aspects to it.
Something has now gone from that earlier absolute excitement of finding what you’ve been looking for, for a long time; it doesn’t happen so much now because you just go on the Internet and find it quickly. There are benefits to that but there are also losses.
In a recent interview you talked about your late approach to the studies of the Coptic (latest stage of the Egyptian language). Is this a choice you made in a certain moment of your spiritual research?
I decided at a late stage, about five years ago, to study Coptic in depth. When I was a child in Malaysia, I was interested in the Bible, in Aleister Crowley and also in apocryphal and escatological Christian texts —which I think now is perhars odd for a 11 year old child to be reading books like these. I was also interested in the translations of Coptic texts even when I was a young boy, though it wouldn’t been possible to think about actually learning Coptic at that age. Because I was interested in early Christianity, then I taught myself New Testament Greek, to read the New Testament in its original language. But, after a while, I realized that I was reading more and more the Nag Hammadi texts in translation in English, and that moment I woke up and thought “I’m going to learn Coptic”. At that time I was living in Glasgow with my then-wife and we decided to move to Hastings. We were driving down in a van with our belongings and our cats and I remember I bought a book called “An Introduction To Sahidic Coptic” and I started learning it on the way down to Hastings, where I live now, so it was really picking up going deeply into something I was very interested in when I was a child.
After that I did an MA in Coptic and I am considering doing a PhD; perhaps one day I will, but increasingly I became more interested in other two languages —Akkadian and Sumerian. These are the two languages that I am, at the moment, more interested in than Coptic. The other thing I’d really like to learn —my favourite living language in the world— is Italian, because I’d love to read Dante on the original, and that’s not because of Dan Brown’s book…(laughs)
Your more highly symbolical lyrics appear as an evidence of the Lacanian thesis about the “unconscious structured like a language”, because they reveal into words visions and representations closer to dreams than reality. Where do you take those inspirations for your writings? Are you still close to the esoteric topics of your early works?
My lyrics, although I can understand they are impenetrable and allusive to other people, are all references to something that has happened in my life. They do tell a story; it is not a stream of consciousness or a free flow of poetic images. I can see that somebody would listen to “‘Jhonn,’ Uttered Babylon” and see that it’s a story about my life with Balance, but not see where the actual narrative is. But, to me, there is a narrative and it often folds in on itself. I don’t sit down consciously and think “I’m going to write about it”, as I mentioned earlier. But suddenly the mood comes upon me; suddenly I feel the words pouring in and the colours coming down into my head and I just write down what is given to me. Occasionally I’ve edited text down but that’s normally because there’s so much text —for example “The Inmost Light” trilogy or “Baalstorm, Sing Omega” both consisted of a huge amount of text and I couldn’t use it all, otherwise the latter would have been a double or triple album. Obviously I’m influenced by people I’ve read, by the authors, also by artists and poets, and again by religious texts. There are still references to Aleister Crowley, Milton, Dante, a lot of medieval English mystics. Generally I’m not a huge fan of 20th century poetry but, in terms of actual poets, T.S. Elliot is my favourite, so I can say he must have influenced me.
Recently, I finished the text of the new Current 93 album; I just sat down and listened and then it came very quickly. For that we’ll be going into the studio in July and hopefully, God willing, it will be out by the end of the year and we’ll be back playing live.