August 2010 - ARC OF ASCENT
New Zealand is notable for its geographic isolation, but that does not mean that it was cut off from the history of psychedelic and heavy rock. Especially Billy TK, who was part of the lineup of The Human Instinct in the very early 1970's, is one of the most well-known and technically proficient guitarist in New Zealand. But there were of course more NZ bands in the 1970's who dedicated their music to the power of heavy psychedelic rock. In the course of time, as in other countries, new musicians came along who have left their musical footprints, which leads me to multi-instrumentalist Craig Williamson. Over the last sixteen years he has become a widely known personality among lovers of heavy psychedelic music. In 1993, he formed DATURA, who released two marvellous albums at the end of the 1990's on Cranium Records. Six years later in 1999, they broke up and Craig had enough time to dedicate himself to his solo-project LAMP OF THE UNIVERSE.
In contrast to DATURA, LAMP OF THE UNIVERSE is far less heavy rock and much more influenced by Indian Raga music, but the musical framework for his trippy excursions is wide open for other elements, ranging from Klaus Schulze, Incredible String band to Popol Vuh. Meanwhile, he has released eight solo albums, and, most recently, he has a new band called ARC OF ASCENT. Their debut album 'Circle Of The Sun' has been released this year and it's one of the most powerful heavy psych albums I have heard in a long time. Since I am enthusiastic about Craig's work since I've heard DATURA for the first time, this as well as the new album was reason enough to do an interview with him about ARC OF ASCENT, his musical background and his artistic philosophy.
Hello Craig, when did you begin playing music and what bands have influenced you?
I began playing when I was 12 or 13 years old, playing guitar, y'know, at school getting lessons, but always loved bass more for some reason, so I switched early on. That's when I got influenced or got into music more, the usual things in 1986, Sabbath, Zeppelin, Metallica, some punk and death metal haha! :) Well, that's what influenced me back then anyway, but as anyone will tell you that knows me, I'm constantly getting into new music. What influences me now would be very different obviously, but I still love all those old albums....
Before you have founded ARC OF ASCENT, your first band was DATURA who released two very strong albums in the 1990's. What was the reason to disband the group after almost ten years?
Many reasons why DATURA "slipped away" so to speak, but really the main reason was I just wasn't into it anymore, personally it was just too limiting for me... and there was allot of problems with record labels too, money owed, the usual stuff, it started to have an effect on the band, and all of usl, one way or another, had had enough of the circus that is the music industry at the time. But we had a great time doing those albums, ARC OF ASCENT still play some of the songs live too.
You've released a lot of solo stuff under the name LAMP OF THE UNIVERSE. What is the current status of this project?
LAMP OF THE UNIVERSE is just me really, so as long as I'm alive Lamp of the Universe will be too. :) I guess things are on the back-burner at the moment, because of the band situation, but it'll always be there. So if someone was to ask if it's still going? the answer would be yes, am I working on new Lamp material? Yes.....am I still breathing? Yes.. haha! I don't know what more to say, I have very special fans around the world who are always waiting for new material bless them, so if they want to hear something from me musically what can I do? :) I feel very good to know someone may have got something special out of the sounds I create in that style. But I'd have to say that ARC OF ASCENT has been my main focus recently.
Please, tell us more about ARC OF ASCENT. When did you feel the need to start a new band and where is the main difference to DATURA?
I'm not sure when I started to feel like getting into a band situation again, I never ruled it out completely, even after all these years doing LAMP OF THE UNIVERSE, maybe I wanted to do the rock thing a little more than before, so I actually started looking around and asking people to play some tunes with me a few years ago, more heavy/rock songs I'd written since DATURA that didn't fit in with LAMP OF THE UNIVERSE.
ARC OF ASCENT is really, in my mind, an updated version of DATURA, there are different things in AoA that aren't in DATURA, some things in the ol' DATURA that have been left out of AoA.....I suppose the main difference might be that AoA will incorporate more eastern directions musically, but it's still me playing bass, singing and writing the music, it has been 10 years though and things have changed a little!
Where did you meet guitarist Matt Cole-Barker and drummer John Strange? Have you ever worked together with both musicians?
I've never worked with these guys before, just put a few adds up here and there looking for people, that's it.....lucky they worked out haha! We didn't even have auditions, it was just like "hey man can you play this?" cool you're in! :)
I've noticed on your myspace site that Matt Cole-Barker has been replaced by Sandy Schaare. What was the reason for that change?
Things haven't been working out with Matt musically for awhile, plus a few more problems which I won't mention, but we had to get someone else to keep going....and I've been through too much in DATURA to let more "musical problems" and crap happen again! haha!. Nothing against Matt really, great guy, cool to hang out with. Now we've got Sandy, which I've know for awhile, so we'll see how that goes. :)
The debut album 'Circle of the Sun' has been released through Astral Projection. Is this your own record label and how important is it for you to have control about your music?
Yes it's my label. Control over the music? hmmmmm.....I don't know.....maybe I just thought it would be easier to put the new ARC OF ASCENT out on Astral Projection so we didn't have to suck up to a label and sell our soul to get it released! haha! I didn't approach anyone else to put it out, maybe it wouldn't have got released? Who knows. I know some very cool people who look after the Astral Projection releases overseas, with distribution etc, so it seemed logical more than anything else.
Apart of the songs, I really dig the mind-blowing cover artwork from Greg Hodgson. Could you please introduce this man to our readers?
Hell yes! Greg is an awesome dude, very energetic in person, very artistic and thoughtful.....go and have a look for yourself at his work. :) http://www.1976.co.nz/ He's from Auckland (New Zealand), like I said great guy, funny as hell, singer in some of the coolest bands I've seen recently, big big music fan too.....so we get along amazingly well.
Once again, you've written all songs and lyrics. Furthermore you've produced the album. Was it planned right from the start and do you allow other musicians to participate in the creative process of your work?
Yes it was planned the whole time for me to do those things, produce etc. You see, when I get on a vibe for a project or song I seem to see things really clearly, y'know, have a clear view on what should be happening where, when, or what it should be.... so thankfully the other guys just let me do it! haha!
I produced DATURA's 'Visions For The Celestial'' album also, but never got the credit, they wouldn't allow it haha! Nevermind, I wrote those songs too. :) But really, in the past, even now too, it isn't required that more people are involved in the creative process on a large scale, sometimes one Captain sailing the ship is all you need!
At that time in the late 1960's and 1970's, there were some amazing bands in New Zealand. Reptiles At Dawn or The Dum Dum Boys represented the kind of bands which were strongly influenced by The Stooges and MC5 while heavy rock bands like The Human Instinct or Jesse Harper draw their influences from Jimi Hendrix. But what's going on today in your country? Are there any heavy rock/psych bands that you can recommend or that you like?
Not too many really, there's a good stoner type scene going on down here at the moment that is coming along really well, bands like The House of Capricorn, SoulSeller, Second Grind or say Stonehurst are up-and-coming big time, but unfortunately I can't name any descent psych groups from down here.....there's the experimental drone noise scene which is thriving in places, but I didn't think too many actually in NZ know it exists. :)
Have you ever met Billy TK?
Yes! Very nice old fella, too :) I've also met Doug Jerebine (Jessie Harper) recently, as his band played in Auckland not too long ago, Billy TK jammed with him too, YEAH!.....Also met Maurice Geer from The Human Instinct, got him to sign my 'Stoned Guitar' LP, that was killer!.....man those guys are legends in my eyes. :)
It seems that you have a fondness for exotic instruments such as tanpura or saz. What do you like about these instruments?
They help create a feel I'm looking for mainly.... just pick-up something, play along and see if it's sounding "right" or not haha!
What are you doing when you don't play or produce music? Do you have a daily job?
Yep, working at an Automotive type store doing sales, stock purchasing, accounts etc. I've been there for 20 years so it's something I obviously enjoy on some level....of course music takes a most of my time outside of work. :)
How realistic are the chances of seeing ARC OF ASCENT here in Europe? Do you have any plans to play some shows in Germany?
At the moment it's just a "see how it goes" type of thing, I'm so ridiculously busy with ARC OF ASCENT, LAMP OF THE UNIVERSE, the label and work that it would be difficult, even doing gigs here in New Zealand is bit of a pain in the ass, but never say never, if we get the right offer we'll be coming over to see Europe for sure.
When can we expect the second album from ARC OF ASCENT? What will be be your next steps?
I've already written enough material for another ARC OF ASCENT album. With the down time we had with the mixing and mastering of 'Circle of the Sun', I kept busy by writing new material over last Christmas, I had about fifteen new ideas to start work on at the beginning of the year, we've only started to try them out, probably do six or seven for the next album - then I'll re-assess how I feel, lots of things bubbling under the surface right now.....LAMP OF THE UNIVERSE LP and probaly CD re-issue next year, and then a bit later on a new album...haha! Maybe after the new AoA even..., new AoA material rehearsals then new album at some stage, maybe 2012.
Ok, Craig, that's it for this moment. Thanks a lot for your time and answers.
No problem Klaus, it was a pleasure. :)