Crossing The Great Divide With The Cult

Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it – PemaChodron

Sometimes people come into our lives for what we believe is one reason and yet when they leave, we realize it was for something entirely different. This was the case with my interview with The Cult’s Ian Astbury. With the band’s first new record in approximately five years, there was a lot of curiosity in what Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy had been busy contemplating over all this time and what sounds they were preparing to unleash. Would it be another Sonic Temple or perhaps another “She Sells Sanctuary”? Or would it be something completely new and surreal,eerie and dark? After riding an extreme high with Love, Electric, Sonic Temple and Ceremony, the band became the darlings of visceral rock before circumstances led to several break-ups and reformations.

Knowing Astbury’s history of deep thought and cultural interests, which he had previously weaved into the very breaths of his songs, it would be interesting to see if he was again exploring the soul of his soul on Choice Of Weapon. This interview could turn into a revelatory dissertation of the ten songs or fall flat with hot breath oxymorons that would leave fans more confused than educated. The music ended up only being the stepping stone into an atmosphere of intellect that virtually bared the aura of a man humbled by a mission in life that goes beyond simple song spectral fantasies.

Speaking with Astbury is like having the universe open up for a few blinding seconds before just as quickly slamming shut, leaving one to contemplate about what just happened.“What do you want to do with your life?”he asked gently near the end of our interview. He was sincere, curious, calmly waiting for your answer following nearly an hour of insights into his own inner sanctum. Did his words make a difference?

So believing that we’re going to have a typical music-oriented interview, Astbury had other things on his mind. Prepare to enter the sonic temple of a poet who survived heartbreak and soul rape, who washed ashore onto Tibetan mountaintops and discovered that his most powerful denouement is his voice after all.

It’s been about five years since your last album. Why is now the right time to release Choice Of Weapon?

Why is it the right time? I don’t know (laughs). You tell me …

Well, the world is so bad

Yeah, it’s kind of strange. It’s like when we go into the studio, when we’re writing songs, we don’t really go in and like objectively look at the political and social climate and environment and go, ‘ok, we’re going to make a record that fits in with what we think is going on; we’re going to try and define our times.’ It doesn’t work like that. It’s more like, you know, enough energy builds around where you feel like you want to share, want to say, want to get it down. But I think having said that, I think that we must be blind or living in a cave if we weren’t affected by the current environment politically, spiritually, materially. So some of those ingredients of our environment have affected the way the songs have been developed, the sound of the record.

It’s also, I think, driven by place in life, going through another growing part, like going through a dark night of the soul and coming out the other side. There’s a redemptive quality to that as well, that is kind of woven into this record. But I think you must agree that the performances are very vital, the performances are very authentic and the performances are relevant and the lyrics are relevant and the imagery that we’re using is relevant in the sense that, to me at least as a cultural observer, I consider myself to be awake. I don’t live in nostalgia; I don’t live in a little village called nostalgiaville like so many artists that have success and go and live in these places where it’s perpetually 1989 or perpetually 1995 or whatever that is. I think our music is very much of it’s time and I think that as a band had the kind of experiences we’ve had in the time that we have been playing together, we still want to go in there and do something fresh and vital. We’re not resting on past laurels. So I’m pretty proud of the fact that we got in there and got in the deep end of the pool.

There is a real deepness in this music and the lyrics and the melodies on the new record and the word soul is the word that keeps coming to me.

That’s a compliment. I mean, you’re in a position as a writer where you kind of have to objectify subject material. So having a word or phrase to get in to open it up is really a wise observation, wise choice on your part. It also enables me to kind of get into the matter. Like I just spoke to a journalist in Germany who was interested in the mechanics, and interestingly enough men are very much interested in the mechanics of how things get made; like where did you record this record? How did it get made? What was the physicality of it? What was the cognitive process? Women are really interested in like what was the emotive process. ‘Forget all the mechanic stuff, we don’t need to know that, we want to know, we want to feel, we want to get to the feeling modality of what this is about.’ So I think that what I feel after doing this for so long, my thing has always been to try and get as close to the wound or the event as possible; the heart and soul of the emotionality of a piece of music, the lyrical content. And to do that you have to be in a protected environment, you have to be safe, the environment has to be safe. Because it’s deep work and it’s very emotional work, it’s very naked work.

Having Chris Goss in the room, he’s one of those very intuitive producers who is able to create an environment that allows that stuff to come through. I think that’s one of the reasons we have the record we have is because we had a producer who was very protective in creating the right environment and the right set of circumstances so that we could go more deeper into it. He pushed me a lot and I was ready for it; I wasn’t so much wanting to come out and make a record that was like, for example, Sonic Temple where you have a song like “Fire Woman”; it’s a pop song. I mean, there are layers to it but for all intents and purposes it is a pop song. It was a top 40 hit. It was written and designed with that in mind. But this record is very different. There was no destination, there was no pre-determined end point and it was really like, ‘let’s take all the assets we got, everything we got, and go in a room and find out what is there. Let’s really turn this stuff over and see what’s going on.’
So as we start playing this music you can see certain things come up and a lot of it is in a very intimate place, very autobiographical, lyrically anyway. But I think also, musically, it reflects the energy of the lyrics and it reflects, without me being too objective about it, you just organically pick up on what’s going on around you. The cinematic elements to this record are very broad landscapes, very cinematic. And then the stuff that is really guttural, like “Honey From A Knife” for example.  I’m talking about real events that really went down, first person events. I’m not really talking about somebody else’s experiences. I’m talking about my own experiences. So I’m pretty proud of that.

Yes, this is definitely not a danceable album. 

I lived the experience so I’m basically describing what I saw myself around certain events. It’s not like I’m pulling from another source. It’s actual events that occurred in my life. It’s my kind of describing my moment or observing it and writing it down. It’s interesting, there are two schools of thought with writing: There is the intuitive school where you work from experience and you document it and then there is another school which is very much more mechanical. You create a construct, you go at it like it’s a job, like it’s work. You’re looking for a particular result, a predetermined cookie cut, and I use that term very loosely, but even within the post-modern realm, which is considered to be where our most illuminated erudite young feeling, young poets exist; even within that realm there is a lot of construct, there is a lot of materialistic work that is really looking for patronage from a critic or a parent or something. We’ve fallen away from that so many years ago. We were that at one point, we were the darlings, the disenfranchised dysfunctional abandoned children, and we were celebrated for that.

Then as you get older and start having success and you become more of a popular artist then you become a target, a very convenient target. Then you go through a period of living completely in the wasteland. It’s not so much that people don’t care about you,it’s that you’re not thought of at all, you’re not considered at all, you no longer exist in the epicenter of the culture – unless you’ve died of course. Then they build a statue (laughs), a monument and you stay there like a Kurt Cobain. You constantly stay in that place. You’re transfixed in time. But when you’re living a life and you haven’t fallen by the wayside, then you’re forced to kind of deal with, ‘ok, now I’m 33 years old, been doing this for twelve years, where do I go?’ Then you’re 43 and then, I’m approaching 50 this year.

Different stages of that journey you kind of have to redefine yourself, reinvent yourself, and that means going more inward. If anything the work is getting more authentic; well, I wouldn’t say it wasn’t authentic in the past, but the connection to the events and to the emotionality is a better articulation, which is what I always hoped for, always felt that as I got older as an artist it would get richer, it would get deeper, and that we’d keep doing our push-ups physically, more physically able to go out there and destroy sonically and create great sonic moments and great emotional connections. I’m really proud of what we’ve done. I think it’s a milestone for the band.

What is the guiding force in your life now? Is it your emotions or your spirituality or your environment?

All of that. There is no separateness, no duality; it’s all of it. I think it’s just intuition into self-knowledge, being honest with yourself. If something doesn’t fit for me, I have a very difficult time doing it. One thing about The Cult is that The Cult is a collaboration as well so I’ve been asked, like on this record for example, I’ve been asked to interpret my partner, give voice to his emotional process, his creative process, on a song like “The Wolf” for example. But for the most part I’m culling from my own intuition, my own sense of self.

Have you ever been afraid to share all of your emotions and what you think in a song?

I think there are some things that have occurred in my life that would be too difficult to share. I’m not ready yet. Certain events, certain places, people, that I couldn’t share at this point in my life but I would like to think that I will get there eventually. That is part of the journey, to get as close to it as possible without it kind of destroying you. I mean, it can be delicate work as well cause some of the subject material we’re dealing with is pretty powerful. There is also the kind of consideration to come out and say some of these things and the reaction is a fearful one where people reject what you do because they are afraid of what you’re saying. When someone really doesn’t care about something, they don’t usually say anything. If you’re not connected to something, then you don’t notice it, you keep driving. But if something hooks you in, if it’s a negative reaction it’s going to come from a place of fear within yourself. It’s hooked into something that has pressed an emotional button within you and you’re responding that way.

I think The Cult in some ways, maybe because I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve since I’ve been a kid and been very earnest, has really been uncomfortable for critics and peers to kind of digest. Some of the things I was talking about are considered to be too serious or super-fantastical or whatever. Then I challenged that, the profoundness of life, the profoundness of being.  What do you do to reflect that, how can you not be plugged in to that kind of consciousness? Whether you know it or not your antennae is up. I think if you probably went around, walked down the street in New York City and asked ten people about their current state of mind I’m sure a lot of them would be saying that they’re in an incredible state of anxiety. There is a lot of anxiety out there. They are feeling that kind of disconnection, the anxiety and the culture we’re seeing the cracks. I guess the difference between me and the man in the street is that I have an outlet, I have a medium to express what I am feeling and seeing.

It’s a strange thing – you make this music, you make this art and this commercial element to it, it’s my livelihood but I’m not selling anything, I’m not pimping a product. It’s almost like you sing for your supper kind of thing. I have no idea commercially how this record will do or how it will be perceived. I really have no idea. I’d like to think that we’re reflecting very honestly about our experiences and I know that we’re connecting with other people who are feeling the same way. There’s something about that. When I was a kid I knew if I stayed out for an extra hour with my friends playing and knew that the fact that my friend was going to get in trouble from his parents made it ok. I knew I was going to get punished but the fact that my friend was going to get punished, made it ok. We have solidarity on something. We were both going to get in shit and it made it ok so you stayed out for that extra hour.

Do you think people are intimidated by you because you are so honest?

Perhaps. I mean sometimes I used to think it was because, I mean, I’ve been told, “You’re pretty scary” and I’m like, “What? What are you talking about? I’m a fucking teddy bear.” And they’re like, “No, no, when you’re in your shit.” Like now, I’m 185 pounds, bearded, tattooed and I jump off stages. It’s like, “Oh yeah, but that’s not what’s going on for me. I’m in the moment.” “But it’s pretty intimidating.” But I could possibly see how that could work. Maybe that’s another thing with critics. Like it always amazes me when I’m talking to some sort of self-professed, erudite journalist and they consider me to be kind of like a Neanderthal or whatever and once they start talking to me they see I’m as much of a nerd as they are (laughs). I’m as much hung up about science-fiction and video games as the nerd next to me. And that’s ok. And then it’s like, “Oh wow, we didn’t know you were like that. We thought you were this like rock & roll Neanderthal banging on his chest with long hair and leather trousers and just rocking out.” And I’m like, “No, no, no, that could actually be quite fun. That’s more celebratory and that’s a different thing.”

But then there is a different side as well, which is kind of the performer, theatrical dominion of the high pop thing. We identify with The Doors cause they had pop hits like “Light My Fire” and then they go into things like “Celebration Of The Lizard” or “The End” and you have that kind of polarized element. It’s all inter-connected, those primal elements existed in “Light My Fire” and “Touch Me” as it did in songs like “The End” and “Celebration Of The Lizard”. The wonderful thing is it was a 360, it wasn’t one dimension. I think that maybe that’s why it’s taken us nearly twenty-five years to begin to connect with the so-called illuminated, erudite, intercultural commentators going, “Hey, wait a minute.” The difference is we’re not getting it from books or Wikipedia or Google. We actually went out into the world and did the work and did the research. Maybe that’s what’s happening is there is a certain amount of awareness. I’m not saying that we by any stretch of the imagination are authorities. We’re only authorities on what is occurring in our own lives. It just so happens that what is happening in our lives and our journeys is also happening to many others around us. So I think that that is a real sense of kinship.

One thing I’ll say about Cult fans, Cult supporters, is there is a real sense of partisan connectedness. We’ve always had that with our audience and it’s because we’ve always considered the audience and without the audience we have nothing, we don’t have a pot to piss in, so to speak. We can’t get the spell. I always refer to this as the spell, like when you go into a concert and if you’re not participating with that performer then that spell doesn’t happen, the magic can’t happen. You need that, you need those elements and together we create a moment we all experience, that we all go away from feeling elevated, expanded, grateful. It’s a great way of life but it can also be a cruel mistress as well. You know when you find yourself more in the Prometheus chained to the rock situation and when you’re in those places, when you’re huddled up in a corner of a hotel room at 5:00 in the morning, covered in your own blood, in tears and completely in a frenetic state and there is nobody there that can console you.

And how many times have you been there?

Many (laughs)

Are you still there?

No, no, no, no

Are we in a happy contented place now?

We are in a much better place. But the main thing is what gets you there, what gets you into those places, what gets you into that self-destructive, and we love our artists and we love our celebrities to be self-destructive. In fact, the more self-destructive the more that we are engaged. And it’s amazing that we love to watch how young women destroy themselves, like Lindsay Lohan for example.

Isn’t it almost Romanesque, though, like the romans at the coliseum?

Sure, it’s the site of the spectacle. Yeah, absolutely. There is not much difference between whatever those tabloid magazines are and the roman coliseum. But we can watch UFC, we can watch boxing. I mean people into Nascar seem to enjoy the crashes. The crashes seem to be the highlight of the event. We have violent sports – ice hockey is pretty violent. These are all spectacles but then I’m also talking about something else, more like a one-on-one situation. There is one thing when we make a record, when I’m writing a song, I’m talking to maybe one person. I’m not really talking to a group of people. I feel like I’m just trying to talk to one person, like a friend, a good close friend,how to share with them, how to break it down, like a dialogue between two people, a conversation.

Are you disappointed how the world has changed since you were a kid?

I don’t know. I was born seventeen years after the end of World War II. Both my grandfathers fought. One grandfather suffered from post-combat syndrome and depression, was a chronic alcoholic, was a hitman for gangs in Glasgow. We lived and they lived in a very impoverished area of Glasgow. We used to play in bombed out craters. There were so many forty year old men coming out of bars drunk, fighting, brawling, violent. They were all veterans from World War II. And they were all guys still in their forties, some in their fifties. So we were surrounded by this generation.  My father was actually physically bombed, literally had to run to a shelter while the bombs were falling around him. Wow, that is profound. So in essence,I think we came out of the post-nuclear atomic bomb generation and we went straight into a dystopian place in the later part of the 20th century.

These kinds of kids got dropped into that. I mean, my first real experience of getting my identity together was discovering Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie. When I saw that, I was like, ok, this isn’t pop, although it was popular it wasn’t pop. We knew that something like The Who said “the kids are alright” but the kids we knew weren’t alright. We kind of grew up as orphans, very quickly. You know, my family was destroyed by the age of fourteen. My mother got cancer from steel works, a very polluted area in Hamilton, Ontario. We went there for a better life than in the UK, as immigrants, but very quickly my family was decimated. And the fact that I was from the UK the kids didn’t like that. I was ostracized from the North American Canadian kids. My peer group was indigenous Native Americans, I had friends from Jamaica, I had friends from Turkey, I had friends from Italy. All my friends were like from different countries or from the indigenous population so I very quickly found myself in the outsider group for real. And that wasn’t by choice. That was just by circumstance.

If anything it’s just been a continuation. I didn’t have like an idyllic childhood or anything. I can certainly remember idyllic moments but I don’t know, I’m not a child now, but my heart does go out to a generation now cause I do think the generation they are inheriting is very challenging. But we also came into a very challenging world. My generation was like, we had ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. We were dealing with the post-war, we were dealing with a post-industrial world where modernization was putting people out of work. We lived in an economic depression. We went through all of that so I feel very connected to the subsequent generations. I think we’ve all inherited something in the late 20th century, 21st century, we’ve all had the similar experience, we’re having a similar experience. We’re kind of all in it together, not feeling disconnected or separate from it now.

Do you feel like you could call yourself a survivor?

I could say I’ve survived some traumatic events, yeah. I’ve been through some stuff that has been challenging. You know, I’ve buried about twelve of my friends over the years; beautiful friends, good people who really should still be here, like Michael Hutchence or Andrew Wood or Shawn Mortensen or Ray Gillan or Ron Yocum. I mean, the list goes on. People that were friends, Shannon Hoon, they were friends that should still be here. They were bright, brilliant souls. Nigel Preston, the original drummer for The Cult. Not everybody makes it. But if you’re in this for the real, whatever end of the pool you want to get in is totally fine. I’m not one to be telling someone they shouldn’t do what they want to do. We need entertainment, my God. In fact, I’m very grateful for the entertainment spectacles that exist. I couldn’t do what Lady Gaga does. I couldn’t do it but I admire what she does as an entertainer. I think she is magnificent. But it’s amazing because she is in a position of real power and influence and she could talk about something like a spiritual teacher like Osho and maybe some of her followers will pick it up and find out who Osho is and they’ll be liberated through that. It’s wonderful to see how she takes that position and shares those kind of insights.

Have you ever heard of ChogyamTrunpgpa? He’s a Tibetan scholar who wrote a book called Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. It is a good place to start [learning]. And PemaChodron, she’s excellent. Start with her, she’s a great place to start. She’s a wonderful woman, wonderfully articulate, considerate, compassionate, really understands the modern malaise and really gets into it and applies Buddhist knowledge, a different perspective.

So what makes you happy in your life, Ian?

What makes me happy? My girl, my kids, I’ve got two boys … My fiancé makes me happy.

Does touring still excite you?

Touring never excited me

Does playing live still excite you?

Yeah. It’s like Charlie Watts said, “Five years of playing and twenty years of sitting around.” That’s when you get in trouble is when you have to deal in between, you do a show then you have to travel with a hotel room. Usually people go, “You must be out seeing things” but usually you’re exhausted or you’re in your room or you’re working on stuff. And I work on the road. I try and live a life on the road and normalize it as much as possible when I’m not performing. I mean, certainly, as soon as you enter a venue something happens. There is something chemical that occurs where you’re in a performance space. Certainly when the audience comes in the room, something else happens, a catharsis. Then in the performance, the ritual, something happens in that and that doesn’t matter whether you’re playing in a club in front of 200 people or you’re playing in a stadium in front of 60,000 people. There is something about walking up to that threshold of the performance area. Maybe the rational mind falls away or something like that and then you’re completely running on instinct. People say autopilot but I don’t think it’s autopilot. It’s almost like a cognitive. I like the idea of it being instinctual.

So what motivates you to keep going, to keep being an artist?

Family of origin, events. I mean, you can load up your batteries in your childhood or even stuff you bring in your DNA that you come in with. When you come down that birth canal, there is already shit going on. You’re already packing your DNA from previous generations, previous lives, previous incarnations or whatever. You’re bringing stuff in.  How does an acorn know to be an oak tree? Something so small grows into something so huge and powerful. It’s in the DNA of that acorn. And every tree is different, every human being is different. Some of it, I guess, can be learned but I think a lot of it comes in environmentally, geographically, your gender, your ethnicity, all those things play into it.

I mean, for me growing up, my father was going on about “the matriarch, the matriarch”. Well, all I had to do is go, “Why all this talk about the matriarch so much?” I’m looking at all these wonderful philosophers and I go back to Joseph Campbell again, to the matriarch in mythology and tribal culture. And then I go, “Shit, my mother had sisters, my father had sisters. And I had a sister and female cousins. So there are a lot of women around me, very powerful women. My grandmother is a very powerful woman. That’s where I got a lot of my early education. My aunties were playing the Stones and The Beatles, Bowie. I was turned on to music by my aunties. I used to get babysat by them and they would dress me up and play me music and that was my education. Sure I was out with other kids throwing stones and shit, but I loved them playing music and stuff. It was great.

You mentioned the Stones. I read a quote by you in an article that you really liked what Brian Jones brought to the Stones. But Brian Jones gets lost in the shuffle of today’s world.

Brian Jones was a very forward-thinking guy. I think he’d fit right in. I think the difference between Brian Jones and a lot of the artists now is that Brian Jones would be authentic.

I think people forget about him though.

Well, of course they’ve forgotten about him because Brian Jones was never connected as being the lead songwriter, as being the lead performer, even though he started the band, named the band. Things get lost in time. All of us. I mean, everybody on the planet right now in a hundred years none of us will be here. There will be somebody there to tell them what it was like, a historian. But things get lost. Today’s monuments will be tomorrow’s dust.

Do you believe that you think at a higher level than most people?

I don’t know, it’s strange. Maybe very early on I was forced to, when you’re dealing with being a young teenager and coming of age with the same fears and insecurities as everyone else. I mean, you care about your looks, sexuality, all those things are all coming in while coming of age and meanwhile you’re in a home where people are dying a very slow death and all the pressure that puts on the family. And then you’re dealing with other dark elements coming with that, the family is falling apart very quickly. There is no room for bullshit.

I remember going to the hospital with my mother, fifteen years old, to pick up my mother who had just had chemotherapy. I went to the receptionist to ask if we could call for an ambulance. They said, “Oh, no, no, no. Your insurance doesn’t cover that. The bus stop is over there.” They were very brutal about it. I had my mother in a wheelchair, she was just out of chemotherapy and probably weighed about ninety-five pounds at this time. I actually wasn’t at school anymore, I had quit to get a job. I remember dragging this guy over the counter (laughs). I dragged him over the counter just as my father walked in. I was infuriated. I just couldn’t believe that lack of compassion. So maybe as a kid I was just experiencing that injustice in my own life and it gave me empathy for others that had that. There is something about that connectedness when you look in somebody’s eyes. Like when I was in Tibet, a monk grabbed hold of me. There are all these fucking idiots out there that talk about Tibet like they know about Tibet – save Tibet, free Tibet. Fuck it, they’ve never been there. I was the only individual to play the Tibetan Freedom Concert. We begged to play the Tibetan Freedom Concert but they thought my band wasn’t cool enough to play the Tibetan Freedom Concert. Yeah, I went to Tibet.

What did you learn from being in Tibet?

Well, when I was in Tibet I had a monk grab hold of my arm, young guy, and he looked at me with tears in his eyes. He said, “Thank you so much for coming. You are my benefactor. Please go back and tell them what you are seeing here.” When you connect with somebody like that, you don’t forget that shit. So of course I came back and I’m hearing like, and again I use the word erudite – I’m fucking wearing this word out – all the post-modern illuminated performers which is what it narrows down to, pontificating about Tibet and blah, blah, blah. I was just like, “You know what? You haven’t got a fucking clue.” The thing about, “Don’t go to Tibet cause you’re playing into the Chinese tourism.”Are you kidding? By going to Tibet, I’m keeping the Chinese hands off the Tibetans because you become the eyes and ears. You can see what is going on and you can come back and report. The Tibetans want us to go there because at least while we’re there they’re not getting beaten, they’re not being dragged out of their homes. The western eyes are there. You look at a generation of people, young women and men who are self-emolliating. Why are they going out setting themselves on fire? Why would a young person, and we’re not talking about someone going out and playing hacky sack down on Wall Street, putting up a tent and saying, “Hey Dude, it’s wrong.” We’re talking about fucking setting yourself on fire. That is a different kind of protest. What drives a generation to that kind of desperation? I think the deal is you feel the empathy, I think. My heart goes out to them. I don’t make it out to be about myself. It’s not about me. It’s about trying to put a spotlight on that suffering because I felt it so deeply in myself. And that’s part of it.

Everybody knows George Clooney got arrested but we don’t know what for. You know, we see Bono before we hear the issue. We see Angelina before we see the issue. I can’t remember what she’s saying, I’m too busy looking at her. I don’t know what she is talking about. I’m looking at her. And they’re rewarded for it. Vanity Fair sells loads of copies of their altruistic issues or their environmental issues. Not because of the issues but because of the celebrities in them.

So you don’t think that celebrities can bring more attention to an issue?

I don’t know, are they? Maybe, perhaps. I go to the Pine Ridge Reservation and I don’t see any celebrities there. I go to Yankton, South Dakota, and I don’t see any celebrities there. I go to Detroit and I don’t see anything in Detroit (laughs).

I have a strong affinity with the indigenous population of North America. I know what they represent. The knowledge they have in their culture, the wisdom they have in their culture that we really need. Everyone is looking for an answer and the answer is right there in their culture. It’s amazing that we make it so complex but it’s really so simple.

Do you think the younger generation will get it?

Well, they’re certainly going to get it when they get to the point where they are staring down at that finite point that we all arrive at in life. I think that culture perpetuates the myth that eternal youth can exist, that we can somehow scientifically control aging; that we’re not going to die but be young forever. Death is something we don’t deal with very well in this culture. We don’t celebrate. There’s a finite point so we live our lives like chickens with our heads cut off, for the most part. People live in great anxiety running in different directions, maybe underliving or overliving, not finding balance. It’s great if we’re protesting about the war, the environment, but not realizing 51% of your tax dollars go for military so in effect you’re buying the bullets; effectively there’s blood on your hands too.

So how do you deal with it?

How do I deal with it? I do what I can where I can in a very realistic way. I try and reserve my energy for things I know where I can make an impact. I’m passionate about certain points of view. I totally believe that the government should be half female. I think we should have a female leader instead of a male leader. I believe in those things. There needs to be more female politicians. I totally believe in going to our indigenous elders for insight to the mysteries of life. I believe that plants contain information that is relevant to our development. There is this huge kind of shift towards DMT and ayahuasca in the culture right now. There are people moving in that direction, to the jungles for retreats and ingesting ayahuasca and DMT and having expanded consciousness experiences and coming back and reporting back to us. We’re seeing more and more female heroes, so it’s happening anyway. These things are happening. The women are becoming more prominent in politics as leaders. It’s fantastic, it’s a great time to be alive, a wonderful time to be alive, cause we’re actually watching the balance being shifted. It’s also a horrific time. We’re vicious, cruel animals, what we do to each other. We do some horrific things to each other.

Do you believe in reincarnation? You had mentioned something about it earlier.

Yeah, even if you take the scientific approach and look at DNA. I mean, how do we evolve into the people we are? Like from a tiny little baby we grow into the adult body we’re in now and then it decays. Where does it go?Where do you go? I don’t think energy just disperses, it has to go somewhere. From a Buddhist perspective, they believe if you really focus through the bhava you’re able to attain a higher rebirth through awareness, which is a very interesting concept. They have kind of proven in their culture that enlightened Buddhist masters have been able to acknowledge past incarnations, past lives, as children when they were selected, recognizing objects, recognizing individuals, recognizing certain phenomenon. So, yeah.

Some people don’t believe in it and they look at you like you’re crazy if you do.

Of course they’re crazy. You go to Wal-Mart and you buy your plot and then you’re in your plastic box. No, no, no, no, come on. But I also think from a Buddhist perspective they talk about the fact that it’s no big deal. It’s your truth, go with it. Don’t think of it as some huge mystical, esoteric, big, spooky thing. It’s empowering when you go like, yeah, reincarnation, I’m there, next (laughs). Don’t get hung up on it.

Yeah, we can’t do anything to change the way nature decides to change itself.

It’s beyond language. Here we are trying to make sense of it all. And who are we to make sense of it all. Here we are, just get on with it.

But sometimes you sit there and you’re enraptured by talk like that and other times you think it’s a little freaky.

So what. Well, it’s true it’s freaky but it’s also wonderful. Freaky and wonderful at the same time. It’s interesting, again going back to when I was in Tibet. Another monk came to me and said, “You know what? You’re an incarnation.” I was like, “Yeah? I’m a reincarnated llama.” And he’s like, “No, no, no, you’re not a llama.” I said, “So am I an enlightened person?” And he said, “No, no, no, you’re a protector deity. You’re a reincarnated protector deity.” I was like, “Really?” He says, “But you’ve given up your own past, your own enlightenment, your own individual kind of needs for others. That’s what it is.” I was like, “Really?” It was pointed out that they built you this way cause you’re going to hold the space between the smiling ones with the big eyes and the nasty ones with the teeth and the spears. You’re going to have to hold that space. That was a real moment for me. I was crushed by that, crushed in a beautiful way by that. I was humbled, very humbled, by the sense that I had work to do and had a responsibility.

Does that put pressure on you?

It did. It was very difficult to think of that as being my truth, that there was a responsibility there.But I know when I’ve gone away from that path or whatever it is that I find myself in some very difficult situations. When you get away from yourself, you start to make bad choices, dark choices. But you seem like such a radiant person I can’t imagine you going into those rooms (laughs).I can’t imagine you going into those rooms but some of us do and we don’t come out. And I’m talking about physically going into bad places. Not just in your head that I’m talking about but physically going. But then again, you get knowledge from those environments as well so if you come out of those places, those dark nights of the soul, you have some wisdom about it. If you go back again, then you’re a complete fool, still an idiot (laughs). No other way about it.

But we’re all different animals, we all have different places and different functions. Some are more individualistic in the sense that we’re not herd animals, we don’t move with a herd. Some of us are different, more solitary, predatory.

Does that describe you? Being more solitary?

Probably, yeah.  But it’s time to kind of come back in again,which is kind of symbolic of the image on the cover of the record. It’s like, this is a person who is coming back in to the culture with information or knowledge or wisdom to share.It’s in the eyes.

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