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Progressive Rock Interviews

Gong

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Kavus Torabi of Gong from 2016
MSJ:
There is a new Gong album coming out, the first since the passing of Daevid Allen. How much is his memory or spirit a part of the new album?
Well, he was at the forefront of our minds when we were making it. It's such an unusual position to find oneself in. When Daevid became ill, I don't think any of us really entertained the possibility of carrying on without him. If anything, I felt honoured to have been involved in, what I saw, as being the last Gong record, I See You. I was glad people had enjoyed it and felt proud of my contributions but nonetheless, two years later and here we are with a sans-Daevid Gong album, with his blessing. I know we put everything we could into the making of it and were very aware of the importance of this "thing" we had inherited. Since its release the responses have been almost overwhelmingly positive.
MSJ: Can you catch our readers up about your musical history leading up to and including Gong - just some of the highlights?
I was turned onto Gong in my late teens and loved them upon my first hearing. Camembert Electrique and the trilogy albums were incredibly influential to my approach to music pretty early on, so there was definitely a lot of Gong DNA in the music I made from then on. I was in a psychedelic band in the 90s called "The Monsoon Bassoon." When that split up I joined Cardiacs, who were perhaps my favourite band. In a funny way, Cardiacs sort of ran in parallel to Gong. I also play guitar in the instrumental band Guapo, and since 2009 my main focus has been my own band Knifeworld. I met Daevid properly in 2009, and he became aware of the stuff I was doing. Although he'd never heard me play, he knew Cardiacs and really liked them. I think he knew I was a fellow traveller of "the bent path" when it came to music. The first time we met we really connected and we stayed in touch. I'd come and see him play whenever he was in London. A few months after that he just came out and asked me if I'd like to play in Gong. Which, of course, I said "yes" to.

I never had any expectations from Gong. I just though it would be wonderful to be part of this crazy thing. Daevid was so inspirational. When I met him he was 74, at the time a year older than my Dad, and yet he was like no one I'd ever met before. Of that period a highlight was spending two weeks in Brazil rehearsing and performing with the band, while all being holed up in a tiny apartment. A joyous and inspirational time, beyond that, as I said, I have no expectations. We never imagined we would be continuing this band, so in the true spirit of Gong we have the sails of the ship raised and are just letting ourselves be blown wherever the wind takes us.

MSJ:
If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

Perhaps an illustrator or painter, maybe a writer. I always wanted to make comics. Something to do with making art. I think it's all basically the same thing. You're trying to make something that is beautiful and connects with others in a substantial way out of nothing at all. In that sense it's like magic.

Whether painting, writing, directing or composing, art is largely a process of organisation. The most exciting part is that initial idea. Who knows where it comes from? Once you have that idea the rest is just organising things to best serve the idea. I think it's about the most fun there is. Perhaps "fun" seems like too flippant a word, but I can't think of a better one. When you're actually in the process of creating something then you seem to exist outside of time. It becomes a discourse between yourself and the idea. I love that because all the noise and circular chatter that seem to interfere with the mind on a day-to-day basis seems to disappear. You become the idea, which is why you have to make sure it's a good idea. Once you have a bad idea it really becomes you and that can get you into all sorts of trouble. Just look at all the ugliness in the world. That's some bad ideas that have taken flight.

MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?

There are so many, even if I boiled it down to just music alone. I'm always hearing or reading things that change the way I feel about something. It's so counterproductive to creativity to take a standpoint and stick to it stubbornly. Like people who like a certain kind of' music. Can you imagine it? I hear it all the time, from grown adults "Oh, I don't like...*insert the genre*." It's absurd. As I said, before all art is trying to express the unspeakable, to somehow reveal the unknowable. In terms of genre, well, that just depends on the experience of the artist. If you have something really profound to say, but you grew up listening to only heavy metal, then there's a good chance you'll end up making some very profound heavy metal music, and more power to you for doing so. To denigrate any type of music based on your not liking it is an insult to its creator Everybody has something to say. Sure, there's good art and bad art, but as far as I can tell, no one specific genre has exclusivity over "good."

My main early influences were, aside from Gong, stuff like Syd Barrett, Cardiacs, Sonic Youth, Igor Stravinsky, Fred Frith, Steve Reich, XTC, Shudder To think, My Bloody Valentine, Steve Hillage, Autechre, Voivod,  Van Dyke Parks...all sorts. Anything psychedelic - again, psychedelic is not a specific sound, it's the way something makes you feel. But really, I'm influenced by anything. If you keep your gills wide open, it's amazing what will pop in.

MSJ:
What's ahead for you?
Right now, I'm mixing a Knifeworld live album and starting a curious solo record. I'm hoping to get the live album finished this year around Gong touring in November, which I'm really excited about, particularly as we'll be playing a lot of new songs from Rejoice I'm Dead!. The solo album is nice because there's no deadline. I can just work on it whenever the fancy takes me. I like being busy. Somehow I've managed to keep the plates spinning with Gong, Knifeworld and Guapo. I'm off to Latvia with Guapo at the weekend, then I get back into Gong mode. The forthcoming UK tour should be really good fun. I'm counting down the days until we start rehearsing already.
MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
As I mentioned earlier, I've always felt happiest with the term "psychedelic." It seems to be going through a phase where the term is being hijacked by a more specific sound, but what I love about is you boil it down to "music that makes the listener feel as if they're tripping." This pretty much encompasses everything I do, from the folkier, quieter stuff to the all-out noise. I can't vouch for other people because I'm not in their minds, but it certainly sounds like I'm tripping when I hear it back.
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
've been incredibly fortunate or perhaps lucky to have worked with many of my favourites. I'd love to do something with Rob Crow. I think he's, without a doubt, my favourite American songwriter at the moment. Nonetheless, I'm not too driven by this kind of thing, I've found if I stay focused on what I'm doing these sorts of opportunities tend to present themselves. That's what happened with Gong, Cardiacs, Guapo, etcetera. I just do my thing. It has little commercial appeal, yet it's taken me to so many wonderful places and gifted me with a really lovely life. The thing is to say "yes" to stuff. When you say "yes," exciting things happen.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

Who knows? It's not any one thing. Folks don't define themselves by the music they listen to any more, the way they did when I was a kid. I don't think this means they listen to music any less, or that it is any less important. It's just that being into music seemed very central to identity back then, and it seems less so now.

For me the experience of creating it hasn't changed any. I think you find a way to make it work.

I know I'm supposed to have an opinion about streaming music but, really, I don't have one. It's not something I even think about until I get asked. The exciting part is the making of the music. What happens to it after it is made is what I consider as the boring part. If the boring part has changed, so be it. It doesn't affect me. I've never made much money out of music anyway. I f I wanted to do that, I'm sure there are far better careers I could have chosen.

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
I'm not that into it, I'm afraid. Again, there's nothing that I can do about it, but a performance is a communication between the performer and the audience. It's a beautiful thing in that moment. I've never seen any footage back afterwards, particularly most of the fan filmed stuff that litters YouTube,  that felt anything like containing the magic of the show itself. What can you do? Folks like to post that stuff.  I don't get involved. Fans often give me films or recordings of shows, and I never watch or listen to them - ever.  I got married fifteen years ago and have never watched the video of my wedding back. I like my memory of it just fine.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Ask Christian Vander, of Magma. I think he keeps managing to do this repeatedly.  I don't think it matters. I don't fetishise musicians, really. All players could be the best or the worst depending on the idea. As long as you have a good idea and everyone gets it, then any band could be the greatest.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
This year has given us so many terrific albums, too many to mention but off the top of my head my favourites have been:

North Sea Radio Orchestra: Dronne

Skeletons: Am I Home?

The Stargazers Assistant: The Remoteness Of Light

Gorguts: Pliaedes Dust

Rob Crow's Gloomy Place: You're Doomed, Be Nice

The Gasman: Aeriform

Loads more, though.

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
I have about five on the go at the moment, I keep starting them and then starting others halfway through. It's driving me nuts. I need to focus. I'm a pretty voracious reader, generally.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Magma played three nights in London last month and they were, typically, mindblowing. I've seen them maybe thirty times and can never get enough. They're the greatest.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
None at all. If it moves me it good. What's there to feel guilty about? I think to feel guilt, you have to buy into the idea of cool, which I don't.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Seriously, my entire life thus far.
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Alan Moore, Terrence McKenna and Daevid Allen. Imagine what an evening that would be.
MSJ: What would be on the menu?

I don't care. A bag of chips with an inspiring friend is a wonderful meal, but a gourmet dinner with an a**hole is a drag.

 

 

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2016  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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