Interview: Rob “The Baron” Miller (Tau Cross, Ex-Amebix)
When I ring Rob “The Baron” Miller, former vocalist/bassist of crust punk trailblazers Amebix, and current mastermind behind Tau Cross, he’s preparing to go camping, which seems oddly fitting since his new album channels the experience of shoving a human into the thick of forces wilder and older than he is. The record, which blends Killing Joke grooves with political lyrics and the occasional folk interludes, tries to evoke the two changing faces of the United Kingdom: on the one hand, raw natural beauty and years of tradition and culture; on the other, the relentless grinding of machinery and technological advancement. Black Sabbath and Judas Priest began their careers in the same musical exercise, and like those bands Tau Cross has come out of the gate with a memorable and confident debut. It will be a test to see if Miller can steer his new creation out from the shadow of his past achievements, but first, he’s got to get out of the moor and onto the road.
I would hate to impede on your plans too much.
You’re fine. We’re all good here.
Your Wikipedia page says you live on the Isle of Skye. Is there good camping there?
Everywhere, yeah. The thing about Scotland is that there’s “Right to Roam” here. You get land ownership but nobody can stop you from wandering wherever you want to. If you stand in the middle of a moorland and point in any direction you can walk there, you know what I mean? It’s very much a free place. The responsibility is on the individual to be sensitive to it.
I’ve never heard that about Scotland before. I find that really fascinating.
It’s one of the good things about it and one of the things that attracted me to being here. I grew up in in Cornwall. Back in the ’60s and ’70s it was still pretty easy to get out and find places and just disappear for a weekend. It still is to a degree but there’s this notion of “Private property: keep out” kind of stuff. We don’t get that here at all. People call that what it is, which is bullshit.
I know this is not a Tau Cross-related question. I’m just curious and you don’t need to answer if you don’t want to. What did you think about the Scottish independence vote?
It’s interesting because it was a very divisive issue. It was quite a weird phenomenon that went on there. Practically everybody I know would be pro-independence. I was about the only person I knew that was saying, “No.” The reason I was against the idea was because I realized that primarily it was an emotive issue. It was based on, not racism, but xenophobic principles. I thought, “Hang on. That’s not really working for me.” Nationalism is, at its root, a disease. I think it calls on the lowest common denominator within people: this kind of clannishness that separates people from “the others.” It’s not a healthy thing, not a healthy preoccupation. I think that’s Scotland’s suffered from that for long enough. One of the problems in Scotland is people thinking that they somehow are gonna be subsumed — their identity — while Scotland is possibly the strongest brand you can think of as far as identity goes. Everybody knows it’s a different country in so many respects.
Also, people conveniently forget that Scotland came pretty much on knees to the UK government to ask to be allowed into the United Kingdom because of their speculative ideas at empire. They basically bankrupted the country and said, “Oh. Well, we fucked up. We need to get into the club.” So, we did that. Since then, there’s been an uneasy relationship between people.
One of the main reasons I was opposed to this purely emotive issue at this particular time in history, being on the agenda is because we live in very difficult times where we’ve got governments that are increasingly authoritarian and dictatorial. I felt for my friends and the people I grew up with down in England. If Scotland opted out, then they would be forever with a Tory government. I’ve been through several Tory governments — most notably the Thatcher one. I realize that you need cohesion to fight against these people. The idea of divide and conquer would’ve worked finely if Scotland had drifted off. Scotland is a very left-wing or socialist nation, despite the fact that they don’t realize that the SNP is a right-wing party — a lot of people like to try to cover that fact up. So, yeah: that was my position.
You’ve just outlined so many themes that show up again and again lyrically on the Tau Cross album just in talking about Scottish independence.
Do you not agree?
Well, you don’t mean politically. In what sense?
The last lyrics on the album are something along the lines of us, “Our suffering will end the day we manifest love as the law.”
“Love as the law,” yeah. That’s not literally the last words, but it’s the last words of the song “Our Day.” After that there is a denouement, “The Devil Knows His Own,” which is not really a song in its own rite. It’s kind of just a mood-changer to allow the album to flow out. But, yeah: I suppose that there are loosely cohesive social statements going on. The idea of, “Yeah, our day will come.” It’s an understanding of the mechanism by which we need to actually stick together in our times. You’re right, actually. There is a correspondence there, isn’t there? It’s saying that it’s much better to be united in difficult times politically than it is to be intrinsically divided, and that seemed to be what we were being faced with at the time. However, subsequent things, including the UK general election, show that the will of the UK generally is to [elect] another totalitarian, self-serving, selfish bunch of fucking bastards over here. We’re stuck with that for the next five years. God knows what kind of fucking damage they’re going to do.
I feel like in the United States we’re in a similar position.
Yeah. All over people are kind of waking up to the fact that there’s actually no critical difference between any of the flag-waving parties. They’re all actually of the same kind of hue. The things that motivate people into a political life are not the same as they used to be. People would be more motivated by ideas like justice and humanitarianism and proper, real moralistic ideals. These days, in order to even start to enter into the club, you’ve already been bought. I cannot stand the whole fucking political system we live under at the moment. I think there’s so many lies we’re living under. There’s great lies that we have been told in the last 15 to 20 years. We inherit all the overspill from that. We’re dealing with that. So many people are being switched off through the surveillance state, the constant monitoring of people, the dumbing down of people through social media, the cause of celebrity and all that sort of bullocks. It’s funny that I’ve been talking like this because for 20-odd years I didn’t really care much about anything. I just disappeared up here. I wasn’t involved with any sort of social ideas or whatever. These days, I seem to be increasingly getting more and more pissed off about it.
Well, yeah: the album struck me as very political, but not in a pointed sense. The Dead Kennedys were a political band. They wrote specific songs about specific politicians. It’s not that political.
Well, the dichotomy with that — along with Amebix — is that I’ve always tried to avoid time-referenced names and places. It’s better to be allegorical because the issues you’re dealing with are perennial. They do pop up throughout any society. We could be looking at 16th-century England or whatever and the same kind of underlying currents will be there. It’s just being able to say, “These are issues that we deal with as human beings.” I think the way that I look at people generally these days is becoming very clear to me: some people do not seem to have the same kind of moral imperatives that maybe other people do. It really does allow them to get with things that are completely inhuman and they don’t seem to have any conscience about it at all. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know whether that’s a choice within a person to actually switch off in that way or whether they just compromise themselves so much that they wake up in the middle of the night and think, “What the fuck have I done?” There’s just something wrong.
Maybe we’re all in different sorts of groups that can be clearly defined psychologically: people who are more empathic and can understand that there’s a connection between everything and people that absolutely cannot fucking get that at all. They’re just purely self-motivated and into their own self-interest. Even when it comes to their peers and the people they work with, they’re all out for themselves and they will step over one another’s dead bodies to get what they want. That’s so prevalent in the banking industry: the greed of money. [It’s prevalent in] the whole politics thing as well. You seem to have these really predatory types, you know?
Yeah. That’s not unique to the UK, I think.
No, and it’s not specific to one point of time, either. That’s why I said, “I’ve always tried to keep away from references.” Maybe some of our contemporaries would say, “Fuck that. Fuck Reagan.” You start singing a song like that when you’re in your 50s, in 2015, and it just doesn’t make any sense at all. So, I’ve always tried to lyrically deal with subjects that are always reoccuring. I’m fully aware that there’s not going to be any resolution of these particular struggles or ideals: just the fact that there is an imperative to talk about them is enough.
[Having a] song like “Our Day” end the album is to say, “A very simple solution is a social solution. The people within your immediate social circle — not in your imaginary group of online friends, but the people that you know and interact with — that’s where our work starts. [It starts] as an individual. We try to have healthy relationships with one another and help one another out when we’re in trouble. Also, we recognize that people are very different. We don’t need them to all be streamlined, exact copies of us because that would be boring.” I like having eccentrics around in my life. I like people with different ideas. I like people who can argue their case while also still being not intractable; they can still think and be persuaded to another idea if the argument is strong enough. I think that, in the present day, we lack that: a good way of talking and arguing without it being violent, “fuck you” kind of stuff.
Argument itself is actually an art form. The Greeks developed it as a kind of conversational method whereby you’re not looking for a personal victory or glory in it. You’re not looking to say, “This guy’s a fucking idiot because he doesn’t believe what I believe.” What you’re trying to do is work out the solution to a complex problem through dialogue. In order to do that, both sides need to be amenable to be able to take on a new idea. The whole idea about argument is that from two opposing forces a new thing can be created or can be accessible to people, I suppose.
I did an interview with Tom Warrior from Celtic Frost not too long ago. He and I had this conversation wherein he said that it was easier to him in heavy music to create lyrics that have some sort of gravitas during the Cold War because there was a more palpable fear. Now, the fear between people has become more abstract.
Yeah, yeah. The Cold War a great time for punk bands because you could just be pointing at stuff: take random names, places and ICBMs or whatever and making songs out of that. Celtic Frost never really seemed to be a particularly politicized band, but maybe he’s talking about how the general atmosphere at the time could create a mindset whereby it’s a “War. Us and them” kind of approach to things. I suppose we had that in the ’80s in Thatcher’s Britain with this very divided idea about dissent, the way that the state could come down on that quite heavily and the minor strikes over here where that actually spilt over from the fringes into the life of working-class people in Britain. They would use the police force to subdue any sort of riotous instincts people had.
We live in a different world nowadays. I’m getting a bit cynical about it. We’re so plugged into the Internet all the time. We’re not really achieving anything at all. We’re having these small-scale arguments in smaller and tighter circle where they’re not affecting anything at all. It’s almost like you’re allowed to talk about stuff in this particular corner, but [aren’t allowed to] try and take it into a social form at all. I guess one analogy I have for that is this. I’ve not really been involved with Facebook for very long but I did it because of my businesses. [It’s helpful for] running a business day-to-day. I’ve found that, with bands, it’s quite good to do that sort of thing, as well. Along with that comes this increasing awareness of how facile and fucking stupid it can be there. I was trying to talk about very serious matters that I was interested in politically and people just are not there for that. One friend of mine said, “You don’t do that on Facebook. Other forums are dedicated to that.” But, the actual serious stuff is being increasingly pushed out to the fringes. We’re not really talking in any big way at all. The media seem to be completely taken over and compromised. There seems to be almost no way of getting across an alternative point of view without somebody trying to pull it to pieces and shouting, “Conspiracy theorist! Nutcase! Tinfoil hat-wearing weirdo!” [These are] our real, big, pressing questions and issues that we should be dealing with.
The left-right divide — I don’t know if this is the case in the UK, but I can say with some authority that this is the case in the United States — the left-right divide…
We do have that here, but it seems to be such an illusion. You can see behind the curtain. They’re all shaking one another’s hands. It’s almost a game that we’re invited to play here every five years where we pretend that there’s a difference between one party and another.
On the political level, I agree with you. But, to the people not involved in politics here in America, your political alignment has become almost its own form of personal identity. It’s the kids across the hall throwing spitballs at one another. Republicans don’t socially talk with Democrats so much.
I became really aware of that. I went across to LA to track some of the initial Tau Cross stuff with Roy and there were people with bumper stickers and that. I didn’t realize it was kind of like that; it is really very clownish. I guess Roy would be very much a Democrat. Everybody was hoping for this promised “Change” kind of thing when Obama got into the administration. That was all going down on the first Amebix tour, actually. We were asked at the time on a radio interview, “How do you feel about this?” I didn’t want to knock things down at all because people in America really think, “If you’re not for us, you’re against us.” Like you say, there’s a very clear demarcation between one thing and the other. You don’t get so much of a bleeding through of ideas. You don’t get that, “Perhaps our party might be wrong.” If I said in America, for instance, that the Obama administration are equally as guilty as the Bush administration, are perpetuating the same fucking system of international aggression, have done nothing to stem the illegal torture of people in Guantanamo Bay and have done nothing to address some of the pertinent issues that rose up from the 9/11 fucking farce, people would say, “You’re a fucking Republican.”
[However,] I’m definitely not. People can maybe take a side and if they’ve taken that side they’re absolutely unwilling to criticize the dealings of the particular side that they’ve taken. That seems to be the way of it. I remember when it came down to Libya, you know? I had this argument with some of my friends across in America. I said, “Do you see what’s happening here? Have you got any idea how you’re all being duped into this: ‘Let’s all rally together and have another fucking war against people in Libya for something that might possibly have happened. These awful people are going to do something terrible.’” It’s the same fucking card that’s been played time and time again with us. We’re always saying, “Let’s believe what the media is telling us about who the good guys and bad guys are.” We need to start to understand that, actually, we’re the fucking bad guys, and we have been for some time now.
I’ve got no counterpoint to all of that. I don’t have anything interesting to add in terms of disagreement to that statement.
I’m not against disagreement at all. I think disagreement is very, very healthy. It’s just, I feel quite strongly about the fact that we don’t really discuss ideas anymore. It’s not taboo for somebody to say, “Actually, you’re wrong” or to say, “This is how I think about that.” I like that because my mind has been changed several times in my life by people that know more than I do about particular things. They can come to me and lay it out on the table. I go, “Well, okay. I accept what you say. I will change my mind accordingly and be able to look at things from a different view.” I think that’s a healthy way of doing things. I think that to be stuck in a Democratic or Republican camp without being able to say that this is not the whole picture is not helpful to anybody.
You’re talking about the value of reason, you know?
The sentient process.
Literally reasonability: the act of being a reasoned human being.
Yeah, exactly. When someone says, “Oh, he’s a responsible person,” that means he has the facility to be able to change, be dissuaded or persuaded and engage in sensible argument with people.
In a sense, I think that some people see the ability to be persuaded as weakness. That [the ability to be persuaded] is a contemptible thing in and of itself.
Yeah, I can see that. It all depends on how you use the word, though, doesn’t it? Persuasive is not necessarily hypnotic. Persuasion can be somebody that actually knows what they’re talking about. I’ll often doff my hat to somebody that’s an authority on something I know nothing about. I’ll say, “Until I know otherwise, I’ll take what you say.”
Yeah. Going back for a second, I just wanted to say: I saw you on that first Amebix tour in 2008 just after Obama won.
He was being inaugurated, wasn’t he? When we played in San Francisco, I think the inauguration of the President was going on at that point. We did this back-cast with Alternative Tentacles at the time. John Sharpen, actually, was doing that and saying, “How do we feel about that?” So many people were really hopeful at that point. People had this great idea that, “There’s going to be somebody from a traditionally downtrodden cultural point of view who’s going to be put into office. He will really empower people at the lower end of the social scale. It might do something to rebalance the social inequality.” Was it Bill Hicks that went on about how as soon as somebody becomes the President, no matter who they are, you can imagine them being taken into a backroom and being shown this secret film about a different camera angle on the JFK assassination and stuff. They kind of get informed that, “All you are is a puppet. You’re just a figurehead. We run things back here.” Tangentially, to link that to Tau Cross: “We Control The Fear” was that kind of outlook. [It was meant] to say, “There is a sentient kind of process going on behind the whole manipulation of humanity through media: the control of our basic instincts which are desire and fear.”
I love that song, by the way.
I’m really surprised that that one worked. When I went to the other guys, I had a few of these songs. I had that, “Sons of the Soil” and the “The Devil Knows His Own.” They were things that are difficult to get away with in our line of music which is, traditionally, a bit more heavy-biased. But, I was very convinced by this. I thought, “This actually says something.” When I first wrote that song it was literally me with a guitar imagining fucking tambourines in some kind of ’60s protest song. We had to kind of dirty it up a little to get anything out of that. But, the thing that worked with it was that it was powerful acoustically. I think that if you can sit down with an acoustic guitar, write a song — just strumming something and getting the lyrics placed in the right sequence — and it sounds right, then you kind of cracked it. That’s kind of taking it right down to that level, isn’t it?
That’s one of my favorite aspects of the album. When you start listening to the album, [you hear that] the first three songs are all heavy bangers. I thought to myself while listening to them, “The lyrics are good. The performances are good. But, it’s pretty much an update of the return-to-form Amebix record.” I was like, “There’s a lot of Killing Joke influence.” That’s good because I fucking adore Killing Joke. However, it’s the folk elements that provide the juxtaposition.
Yeah. I was very keen to that exactly: juxtaposition. I was really keen to have as much texture in this as possible. When I became aware that Amebix was done, that was really after I’d written quite a lot of this stuff. It was gradually degenerating and [there was] this kind of fiasco that we went through. Things happen as they happen. But, whilst I was going [through] that and writing these songs, they were very personal songs. They were ones that I really felt quite strongly about. I think that, initially, I thought, “Looking ahead, if I’m not going to be able to find somebody to be involved with this, I’ll do it anyway. I’ll do it at home and I’ll write them.” I’m not a good guitarist. I’m a reasonable bassist. I’m shit on drums and everything like that. I would’ve made it happen one way or another.
I was just lucky enough to find other people to do it that were kind of open-minded enough to say, “There’s a big spread of stuff here. There’s a whole lot of different atmosphere.” That’s very much on purpose, having a lot of freedom as a songwriter. With Sonic Mass, a lot of that was Roy’s work. Even if I had a basic idea, which would be pretty basic, he would rearrange it and introduce stuff which was working more from a drummer’s point of view. He’s such a talented person and he really upped our game quite a bit on Sonic Mass. But, by the same token, some of the songs would not be so immediately recognizable as coming from the same camp. So, we had that kind of dichotomy where some people couldn’t really make a connection between Arise and Sonic Mass, whereas I was very happy with that progression of ideas. But, coming off into Tau Cross, I became aware of my own limits as a songwriter. It’s very, very simple but I thought that what I could rely on was that I’ve always actually really gotten behind what I’ve done, no matter whether it’s an acoustic piece or whether it’s a full-on, rocking kind of song. I’ve always tried to put everything into that to make it so it has an authenticity to it. There’s a genuine element because I do get involved with it. If there’s a strong vocal there, I’ve got to be living out this stream of consciousness while singing the song. I push everything that I can into it. I try and use willpower to make something good out of something which might otherwise be a simple, 4/4 song. You know what I mean?
Simplicity isn’t bad.
No, it’s not bad. I had 20 years or so away from everything musical, so I had no idea who the fuck had been doing what by the time I came back to play music. So, I’m still a bit bewildered by that. But, one thing that did strike me was that people were getting increasingly more and more complex in some ways with what they were trying to do. There’s kind of a competitive element to how clever you can be with arrangements and all the rest of it. I think that’s what made Amebix. We called ourselves Amebix after amoeba because it was a very basic, structural form of music, the same as a very basic life-form. But, we managed to make the most of that. I think there’s so many songs that are really convincing because they are absolutely very simple. You go back to early blues or somebody like Springsteen: things are very simple with a bit of melody in there. They’ve got something. They’ve got an inherent quality in there. Like you said, it doesn’t have to be clever or complex. Sometimes, that’s great — particularly if you’ve got a mathematical mind and you can follow what the hell is going on with Rush, you know?
It’s interesting: I never thought going into this interview that you’d bring up Bruce Springsteen. But, you mention that and I’m seeing where you’re coming from in terms of Tau Cross. That man is probably my dad’s favorite artist. I’m not the biggest fan, but there’s things that he does that I really like. What I love about him is he’s a consummate songwriter in terms of the storytelling song. That’s something that you did really well on Tau Cross, specifically the song “Hangmans Hyll.”
Yeah. I really like that, as well. Going back to Springsteen, I couldn’t fucking stand him. When “Born in the USA” came out, a lot of people in the UK thought it was kind of a flag-waving, patriotic song. I was working in a sheet metal factory at the time when that Live 1975-85 LP came out. My friend in the factory said, “You’ve got to check out Springsteen.” I said, “No. It’s a load of fucking bollocks.” He gave me this triple disc. I took it home and I started playing these songs. Some of them really went in deep right away — stuff like him playing “The River.”
It’s really, really big fucking ideas. Even “I’m On Fire” and “My Hometown” appealed to me straight out because I understood that he’d got this knack of, like you say, creating a narrative and an entire environment within a song. Sometimes, it might be very simple songs. But, man: they take you right into the heart of the subject matter.
From that record, I could almost dismiss maybe 60 percent of it — all the really commercial stuff. I’m not really interested in the more rocking tunes, if you like. I was always more plugged into his more thoughtful moments where he’s taking time to look into things. That song “No Retreat, No Surrender”: that put the fucking hairs up on the back of my neck, hearing it done live. The sheer, raw emotional idea that he was getting across — this thing about childhood and how visceral and important the connections we make with people back then are — I could actually juxtapose that song onto “Sons of the Soil.” I could say that’s where it comes from. Like, “You were people that I grew up with. We had a really big bond at a stomach level, right in the gut. This is our story.” It’s the same sort of thing. I recognize that in Springsteen, and that’s why I take off my hat to that guy.
You were talking about “Hangmans Hyll.” It’s the surprise track of the album, really. It’s a completely linear song. Nothing actually really happens at all. It’s just a sequence of chords that go round and round and round for what seems like fucking ever. The first side of the album is predominantly based on 16th- and 17th-century England, really. I heard these tales about a gate in London where criminals were executed. They were hang. Witches would actually collect the semen from the ejaculation of the hung man. That’s what happens when a guy gets hung well. You get an erection and you ejaculate. That’s how people get the autoerotic fix thing. They often overstep it and kill themselves, which is a fucking tragedy. But, that’s part of the thing — this death cult thing that they go into. What I was alluding to with this was the magical properties of the semen of a dying man being collected by these witches and being prepared into a concoction which would allow them to have a journey between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. I’ve got a big fucking story going on there. But, the punchline of that is the fact that madness will ensue. They would use this as their medium for going into trance state and being able to cross that bridge into the other side. But, when you return, you don’t have your mind intact.
It’s funny because the subject matter of the song is, in a literally textbook sense, esoteric. It’s a song about esotericism.
But, your performance on that song strikes me as emotional. Maybe that’s just because you intonate your growls and not a lot of people do that. But, I’m not the only person that I’ve spoken to about the record that’s said, “That fucking song. That one.”
Well, I really got in the spot when I was singing that. The first time around that I sang it, there’s one particular phrase in there which I got myself around: “Even the gods have turned away.” It’s like this sheer desolation. Everything that they believed in has turned away. Nothing serves these people anymore because they’ve gone so far past what is acceptable even within the occult world. The funny thing about “Hangmans Hyll” is I got a lot of emails from people asking, “Who’s the guest vocalist at the beginning?” It’s like, “Well, there isn’t fucking a guest vocalist. That’s me doing that.” They go, “What?” I go, “Yeah, it’s the same fucking guy.” I wanted to get into a different space vocally and also get into that song because it’s a trancing song. You trance out because it’s just repetitive. It goes over and over.
It’s got that Bruce Springsteen, lighter in the air quality to it. “Yup. Flick a Bic, put it up. This is that song.”
Yeah, maybe. It’ll be interesting to see how that one does live. It’s funny. I’ve got rehearsal mixes from James Adam, the guy down the road that does all our mixing stuff. I said to him, “Let’s get everybody set up with a mix of the album without their stuff in it.” I’ve got one without any vocals in it so I’ve been howling my way around the house today with that. I kind of got a little bit reminded about that song, too. [I’ve been] wondering how that would be live because it’s six-odd minutes. But, I think it’s going to be fine, actually.
I think that song is made to do live.
But, you are doing live stuff?
Yeah, absolutely. There’s no point in having a fucking band if you’re not going to be playing live. For me, that’s really what the payoff is: going out and doing shows. It’s going to be difficult for us because we’ve got Away, who does a lot of work with Voivod. But, he’s very keen to get this thing on the road, too. Also, John has got a full-time job, which takes a lot of his time out. So, I’ve kind of given everybody a heads up on this and said, “Let’s think about the next year ahead. When can we punch in some days? How long can we go out for?” It’s not going to be a big deal. We’ll just have to do a short commando raid assault of shows, probably in the States. I’m looking at eight to 10 gigs next March or April. It looks like we may have an invite from Walter at Roadburn. So, we could perhaps finish up that, fly over to Europe, play Roadburn, go back to the nest for a little bit and see if we can get out later in the year as well.
Please tell me you’re going to come to Seattle.
Yeah, that’d be great. I talked with Greg Daly. I’ve been keeping in touch with him because he set up all the Amebix stuff. He’s got places he goes to in Seattle as well as Portland and Chicago. We played there as well, didn’t we? It’d be nice to go up the East Coast and go across, as well. We’ll see how it goes. Eight or 10 days should be enough to cover up quite a bit of territory, I would think.
Yeah. These little commando-style raid tours, as you said, are becoming the norm for the kind of extreme music that I enjoy. It’s imprisoning but liberating to know that everybody has a day job. On the one hand, it keeps everyone humble. But, on the other hand, it means that no one can take more than two weeks off work.
It looks like that, yeah. I’m in the lucky position of being able to do what I like. I can just set up shop here because I work for myself. Not many people I know are like that, so I have to roll with it and say, “We’ll do whatever time dictates and whoever has difficulties can tell us what they can fit around.” We’ll do that.
Out of curiosity, what is your private business?
My business? I’m a swordsmith.
I didn’t realize that was something you did for monetary gain. I thought that was a hobby more or less. Maybe that’s condescending for me to say.
No, not at all. In 25 years, I’ve established a business doing this. It’s what I do for money. I’m not the best person in the world, but I’m recognized now for what I do. I spent a lot of time this year on a particular project. I was in touch with the British Museum because I did an interpretation of one of their swords — an extraordinarily complex Saxon piece. I’ve been doing that for 25 years now. It’s a full-time job.
I don’t mean to take up all of your time, so maybe we should call this the end. Is there any sort of similarity in your mind between the art of swordsmithing and songwriting?
Yeah. People have kind of asked that question in different ways. We can be cheesy and say, “Swordsmith and wordsmith,” can’t we?
Please don’t. [Both laugh.]
When I came to Skye, I’d given up the whole first thing of Amebix some years before. I’d been through a shit relationship and I was working in the sheet metal factory I was telling you about before where I first got introduced to Springsteen. I’d always been a very creative person. When I arrived here, I had to start all over again without that connectivity to any of the musical side of stuff. I didn’t have any way into that. I guess I found this logical way of getting involved with the same kind of creative energy. [I wondered,] “How do you make a sword? What’s the principle of swords? What does ‘a sword’ mean? What is it in a fully rounded sense? How does it resonate culturally and psychologically with us?” I found, within mythology and archetypal ideas of the swordsmith, there was a very rich landscape in the same way that there is within the lyrical approach that I used with Amebix and subsequently with Tau Cross. They make sense. The one leads into the other. What we’re dealing with is archetypal ideas, symbology and not being tied into one particular timestream — rather, saying, “What is the symbol? What is the symbol that we’re trying to access here?” You can do that through the symbol of the sword, as I do, or you can do that through song — the medium of evoking archetypal images and allowing the listener to bring their own interpretation into that.
I don’t know much about swords, so I can’t particularly comment.
Yes. My website is www.castlekeep.co.uk. If you have a look there, there’s quite a few bits and pieces there. I’ve got a Facebook page going on, too. As I say, I turned my back on everything and found that I still had creative energy — I just didn’t know what the outlet was going to be. Going into that made sense. It’s just kind of a continuation. Someone said way back in 2008 — when I was making the first retrospective DVD about Amebix — “The guy from Amebix gave up the band, went to some remote Scottish island and started making swords. Of fucking course he did.” It makes sense.
That is an obvious thing.
The other way around is all the metal kids say, “He’s so fucking metal. He makes swords.”
It is sort of this funny thing. I like to think of myself as a practical person. The music’s a tremendous part of my life and my identity now and I don’t regret that. But, I did initially come to it by way of nerdy shit. There’s always going to be that little 12-year-old boy in me listening to Metallica for the first time and thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to have a sword!”
Yeah, absolutely. That’s absolutely fine. I think that’s great. In this line of work, I encounter guys of all ages, you know? You put a sword into the hand of a 70- or 80-year-old man and the lights will go on. There’s that click moment. It’s such a culturally symbolic thing that you plug somebody into it and it’s almost like a key to the myth. It’s a key to the self. It’s a key to understanding the difference between right and wrong and [coming to say,] “This is where I stand. These are the things I believe in. This is what I defend.” [It’s a key to] all these really big ideas that we have as the individuated individual in the Jungian sense — the person that strives for self-awareness, to be able to claim their own ground and to be able to say, “This is where I stand. This is what I do. This is my place. This is my sword.”