David Tibet / Current 93

in conversation with Marco Giuliano.

Among the other things, you are a visual artist and an art collector, what’s the most “sacred” piece that you own?
I wouldn’t be able to say there’s one particular piece because it changes. The main artists whose paintings I collect are Aleister Crowley, Louis Wain and Madge Gill. I also have art by Count Stenbock, Nick Blinko and of course Steven Stapleton with whose work I grew up and with whom I have worked. Recently I bought three absolutely huge and profound pieces by Norbert H. Kox’s and I love those. Louis Wain has had such a huge effect on me, but I suppose the Crowleys are in a way the most important because they are so hard to get, impossible to find. I built up a quite big collection; but usually Jimmy Page gets them all —of course— but he’s got a lot more money than I have… (laughs).
I really love them all equally, also the Madge Gills, from whose spirit guide’s name, Myrninerest, my new project’s name was taken.

So, you have recently started a new musical project called Myrninerest and its debut album is completely dedicated to the memory of Jhonn Balance (co-founder of the English band Coil, who died at home in an accident in 2004).
You worked together several times and above all you were good friends. How did you come up with this choice and what’s your most vivid memory of the time spent together?

It’s about my life with Jhonn Balance, about my love for him, and about his death. So it’s not so much dedicated to him, but it’s about him, about me and about us.
Honestly, Jhonn Balance’s death affected me and all of his friends hugely —also because we knew for a long time that he was going to die. You were always waiting for a phone call saying “Jhonn is dead”. So it’s hard seeing someone commit suicide over many years, especially when you know there’s nothing you can do to help. No matter what you do, he’s going to die. That’s what how we felt.
After he did die, it took us a long time to work through it and I think, in a sense, that Balance haunted us all and still haunts us all.
“‘Jhonn,’ Uttered Babylon” was a way of trying to exorcise the ghost of Jhonn, but I hadn’t really thought about writing an album about him. But then, one day, the title came into my head. I was in a bar where I go down and write every day, and the text started flowing. It just appeared and in few days all the text came down to, and through, me. I made the album with James Blackshaw just after the words came, so it was a narrative of our lives together—both the wonderful times and the terrible times. He entered into such huge darkness and it’s difficult, in a way sadly, to remember a lot of our earlier good times because they became overshadowed by his descent into alcoholism. So I remember him ringing up and crying when he was drunk or sending angry faxes and then sending faxes apologizing. My main memory now about him is the box I was given by Ossian Brown, of Coil and Cyclobe—a box of things Balance was going to send me, but that he never sent. One of them was a postcard, which you perharps have seen in the album, just saying “Love you David, will I ever see you again?” and of course he never did. And getting it after he died was hard. Also when we returned in the house where he was living, clearing out his things and working out which things to sell, one night a huge fire broke out in the same place where he fell and our memory is almost that Balance wanted us to be with him.
I remember Jhonn after he was dead with this fire that seemed to come from his sadness, hunger and loss. But I remember also having great times with him laughing; he was a very funny and generous man. But the life force in him was too strong, he couldn’t handle it, he was channelling too much. And the strength of the current rushing through him destroyed him.

You talk often about your main band, Current 93, in terms of a family, a group made of different entities and on the stage you act almost as an orchestra conductor. How do other band members usually take part in the creative process of the songs?

The comment that I’m somehow a conductor is correct. Obviously, Current 93 reflects my personal obsessions, my believes and my aesthetic. The rest of the band have huge roles. If you look for example at Michael Cashmore, he wrote and composed the music of many of the songs. Or Steven Stapleton, in the early years, was responsible for not only the mixing but also the editing —again, I was sitting in and conducting it with him.
Everyone I’ve worked with has played a hugely important part and I’ve chosen to work with all these people because I love them as friends and because they are my family. All of them, technically, are excellent musicians but I’ve never chosen anyone just for this. I’d rather have somebody in Current 93 who is a poor guitarist whom I love and feel to be family than an amazing musician with whom I’ve got no connection. Everyone contributes in different ways, even somebody like Andrew W.K., who was playing live with us and also played on some recordings; his input doesn’t seem to be so huge but nonetheless he brought his heart and soul to it. That’s why I often thank people who are not on the album, but who have been involved as friends or as inspiration. Everyone is working together, exchanging ideas, feeding each other but, finally, it’s the text that holds it all together and it’s driven by my personal æsthetic.

In your musical background you listed many bands, not necessarily related with goth or folk, ranging from pop music to 70’s Italian progressive. Did you bring some formal elements from these different genres inside your compositions?
I have no interest in goth music and I don’t really like folk music. The music that I listen to is, of course, the music of my friends but, primarily, it’s the music that I listened to growing up in Malaysia or in England at school. So glam rock or, as you said, Italian progressive. For example T. Rex, Yes, Judas Priest, The Groundhogs and so on—these are the artists that mean the most to me, because they moved me at an age when I was easily influenced by music and I was listening to a lot of it.
I don’t know if I bring any formal elements from them into my compositions. Obviously they do all influence me but I think it’s at a quiet subtle level. For example, I utterly love Judas Priest; but I think nobody would listen to Current 93 and say “Oh, that’s quite like Judas Priest!”. I like Il Balletto di Bronzo or Area and Demetrio Stratos but, again, listen to an album of Current 93 and one wouldn’t think that it’s really influenced by them. These influences didn’t affect mt music. As I said, Current 93 is driven by my desires, my thoughts, my hopes and my fears, and is a conversation with myself. But, you know, if Judas Priest want me to be their singer I’ll definitely accept! (laughs)

Listening to your speeches, you appear as a person with a deep sense of humility. How do you relate with the fact of being one of the most influential artists for a generation who follows a musical genre that you helped to create?

I’m aware that somehow, objectively or theoretically, my work has been influential, but when I find myself stopped in the street by people, I’m always quite surprised, because I feel my work is so personal that I can never quite understand why anyone else can access it. In a sense, I work very hermetically—I work in isolation in some ways and, at the same time, I’m working with a large group of people. I think that nothing comes from ourselves, everything comes from God. We can’t create anything truly ourselves; it must come from within us and, as we didn’t create ourselves, we can’t take too much credit for it. We must do the best with what we’re given, by God as I believe, and not to become arrogant and not to become proud, because finally we die and that inspirational spark will go on to someone else.
I’m sure that I suffer from arrogance and pride like everyone else, but I try not to let it take me because, finally. we are here for a brief time and then we are gone. The most important thing to me is to see the effect that my work has had on people; the clarity, the comfort or the happiness that it has given them. I receive a lot of emails from people who have been in despair and perhaps been suicidal, and who say my work has helped them through a difficult period. And they say that they have rediscovered their faith, not necessarily the Christian faith, but the faith to look again at the possibility that there is a God, that there is a great Love behind us; as Dante said “the love that moves the Sun and other Stars”. If people remember that and start to take off their masks and become bare, become naked in their souls, then that must be a huge thing for them to be happy with.

In your wide career you’ve also touched the world of fashion with a collaboration with the Italian fashion designer Fabio Quaranta. Fashion is considered, in some cases, a shallow world far from a true spiritual dimension. Did you feel related to fashion before that work and how do you consider your approach to this artistic field?

I think “touching” the world of fashion is perharps a little extreme. Fabio and Grace used some of my designs for a collection and we talked a lot about aesthetics, but it’s not like I’m designing the suits. On his suits he somtimes has stitched little Xs, like crosses, which he says are taken from some of my paintings where I cross out people, mouths, eyes with those signs.
To be honest, I don’t know anything about fashion but I love wearing the suits that Fabio and Grace kindly gave me. I think of fashion in terms of what I like wearing and I prefer light linen suits. I think that comes from growing up in Malaysia where you can’t wear wool, of course, because it’s too hot. I love Grace and Fabio as part of my family; people who have been so kind and helpful to me and my work, I like to respond to. So if Fabio or Grace want me to do anything for them, I’ll do it. In fact, I think Myrninerest will be playing an acoustic concert in their store in Rome, Motelsalieri, very soon, I hope.

In an interview prior to 2012, you analyzed the signs of an imminent end/rebirth of the western civilization, deeply scarred from a long-lasting global crisis. Now that we have passed this symbolic date, do you think that our contemporary situation has changed in some way or do we have still to wait for the Apocalypse to come?

The nature of the human soul is to be permanently in crisis; humanity is alway in crisis. Economically, if you look at the problems in the Euro-zone, it is obvious that Europe is in a huge crisis. Then if you look at China, it’s another bubble waiting to burst. I think things are going to get very difficult and then get slightly better and then get difficult again.
I suppose it’s the cliché that so many people want more than they need. The more frightened they become, the more they are estranged from God and Love, the greedier they become. In this way we keep on adding petrol to the fire that is burning. I’m always waiting for the apocalypse (laughs), it happens everyday in a little way. And I wait for the second coming —that second coming is the kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of God in our hearts.
Apocalypse only means unveiling, from the Greek, and that’s when the veil is taken from our eyes and we see things clearly, and purely, and truly —and then we will be happy.


First picture: David Tibet performing with Current 93 by Marco Giuliano
Artworks by David Tibet
Interview by Marco Giuliano

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