Paradox and Existence: The Mastermind Behind An Isolated Mind Talks Debut Full-Length “I’m Losing Myself”
There is perhaps no topic more timely than mental health. While other genres are progressing when it comes to opening dialogues about internal distress, one arena that has never been hesitant to address the issue is extreme metal.
The musical components of An Isolated Mind land far outside today’s primary streams of death and black metal, but the themes it approaches in the process remain pertinent to those from all walks of life. Through melancholic wind instruments and meandering brush strokes, the solo project’s debut full-length I’m Losing Myself paints a chaotic picture that is all too familiar to some, one of the social isolation that only intensifies an already debilitating mental disorder. And project mastermind Kameron Bogges speaks from experience: translating the turbulence of his struggles into ultra-modern, experimental black metal like that which is contained on I’m Losing Myself is clearly a forte.
We wanted to tap further into Bogges’ mind; we corresponded with him about the effects of medicalization, progressive melodies, and some lighthearted breaks between the cracks.
An Isolated Mind has seemingly come out of nowhere, in the best possible way. Can you describe the journey to creating this project?
I’ve been recording silly pig-themed music for the past ten years under the name Four Hoove Death Pig. It was basically an excuse to experiment with every genre I could imagine, and when my friends found it jarring I could say, “Heh, but it’s supposed to be funny so it’s okay!” Over the years I considered this fun/pointless kind of music a way of staying productive and practicing my skills as I mulled over a hyper-emotional “grand vision” that could express the inescapable sadness behind the pig gimmick. I’ve written and demoed what would be the debut An Isolated Mind album about five different times, each one shelved out of lack of time, equipment, skill, and/or satisfaction. Last year, during the stress of my final year in college, I completely broke down mentally and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. The experience really changed the way I looked at the world psychologically, philosophically, socially, and spiritually. With these changes came a sense of urgency to express the musical vision I had been meditating on with a new sense of vitality.
Saying that I’m Losing Myself produces avant-garde atmosphere is an understatement. What is your composition process like? Do you do much technical writing beforehand, or is it more of a matter of experimenting while recording?
There was very little technical writing and no MIDI programming for this album. I wanted to prioritize emotional expression and spontaneity over anything; focusing on the present moment and trying to find ways to directly translate my experience into a recorded performance without a loss of energy between the writing/demoing/practicing/recording process. Rather than the usual rough demo followed by a polished recreation of that demo, the writing process was a continuous set of demos that slowly turned into a finished product all in the same DAW session. I would listen to a recording a couple times and then delete it completely to avoid clinging on to any one idea or passage, and continue on a sort of iterative process until the song evolved naturally on its own. This really helped keep the writing open and experimental, because I think immersing myself in a “constant renewal” approach helped desensitize me to the various ambiguous boundaries of my musical subconscious. My only reference for judgement was how truthfully the amorphous cloud of possibilities expressed the feeling, thought, theme, or concept I was trying to convey at the moment, rather than which notes and timbres fit together to make a genre or “sound.”
One of my favorite reviews of the record read: “Sign this man. He put a clarinet on his self-released black metal record for Christ’s sake.” How long have you been dabbling into wind instruments, and how do you think they channel the feelings you are trying to convey?
I’ve been wanting to incorporate wind instruments since I first discovered Maudlin of the Well as a teen. Their use of clarinet portrayed a kind of hopeful sadness that I never heard before and haven’t heard since, like how the clarinet solo in “The Curve That to an Angle Turn’d” sounds like both the sadness of loss and the beauty in accepting that this is the way things will always have to be. I wanted that hopeful sadness on this record, so rather than using samples as I have in the past I bought a half-broken used clarinet off of Craigslist and practiced just enough to be able to express that feeling.
Your track “Pathologized Existence” raises some interesting philosophical questions. How do you think the medicalization of mental distress has affected the way you conceptualize the consuming despondence you presumably feel?
The most debilitating part of my episode was the stigma; from others, from myself, real or imagined. To think the words “I’m losing myself” was to anticipate an impending madness that I knew I could not accept in myself, that could not be accepted by others. Being in the hospital, there was absolutely no understanding of my experience or any real attempt to understand it, rather I was seen as an inconvenience and a threat. My illness was an excuse to take away my autonomy, to tie me down to a bed when I tried to walk after lying in bed for days. To give me pills that slowed me down so that I could be forced back into a world I couldn’t stand to be in anymore. I was not angry or violent (though there was always the expectation that I would be), I just desperately wanted to make sense of this confusing world and be left alone to do so. Despite being treated as alien, my condition was existential, readily available to anyone under the right conditions rather than an isolated incident of a defective mind. Consciousness had backed itself into a corner, forced to see reality as it really was; ambiguous, absurd, meaningless, overwhelmingly vast and beautiful and infinitely frightening. Ineffable, but demanding explanation. Paradoxical.
The psychiatric conception of mental illness can’t address these problems. It is concerned with which symptomatic category to put someone in so that the most relevant drugs can be administered, successful treatment measured as an absence of symptoms. It was dehumanizing, unhelpful, and ultimately harmful to be reduced to something so crudely biological when I was in desperate need of meaning. I only started getting better when I decided to distance myself from the medical concept and take my autonomy back: I stopped taking the medication, stopped trying to explain myself to doctors who didn’t really care, and used the state I was in as an opportunity for deep reflection. I began journaling extensively and studying the more spiritual and Eastern brands of psychology and philosophy, realizing that what I was experiencing was more spiritual than it was psychotic, that I was understood and accepted more than I had thought. Just not here, not now.
You are also responsible for I’m Losing Myself‘s artwork as well. Watercolors are interesting in that they are, indeed, colorful, yet the way they bleed gives off an ominous feel. How do you think they symbolize the loss of one’s spirit?
No matter how much you try to create a sense of boundary or separateness in a watercolor painting, there is a blending of pigments the moment water touches the paper. Everything is bound by the water, connected by it, and its impression is left when the water dries. In the album cover specifically, consciousness is trying its hardest to control, to construct, to distinguish itself as separate from this mysterious ether beyond. But it is not. It is bound to it by the water, to the paper, its colors bleeding and blending into a larger whole. “I’m Losing Myself” is a gaining of spirit through a loss of self, a blending of boundaries between the ego and itself.
The title track closes the album with what is best compared to floating in white light. Do you think we can be awakened from this void, or is it our destiny to drown in it? Perhaps a future album will address this question of permanence?
The void is something to be awakened to rather than from. It is that paradoxical, ambiguous, ineffable emptiness that I had awakened to in the hospital, an inexplicable nothing that was somehow everything at once. I was drowning because I could not accept the void that I knew I truly was, and madness was my mind’s defense against a terrifying unknown freedom. With creativity, openness, and acceptance I was able to see my experience as an awakening rather than a drowning, a milestone of growth in my life that has left me much healthier and happier than I was before.
Despite the gravity of An Isolated Mind’s sound, your social media presence suggests that you enjoy having a sense of humor about music. What value do you find in employing a degree of lightheartedness?
In the end I’m just a person; not a brand, or aesthetic, or God, or hardly even a band. I poured my soul into a piece of art so that I could tell my story as honestly as I could, and now I can be free of that pain until I move on to something else. Sometimes that thing will be avant-garde integrative mindcore, sometimes it will be banana bread themed pig metal (sorry). There is something profoundly freeing in experimentation, whether it be serious or silly. To be confronted by an arbitrary limit of what should and should not be mixed in this palette of black metal clichés, and to disregard it with defiance. It’s all for the sake of maintaining some semblance of sanity.
I’m Losing Myself released March 16th independently; the project was then signed by I, Voidhanger and the album re-released on CD on July 5th.