A Paradise of Shadows – An interview with myself, by Toby Chown, part one.
I met myself at home, and decided to catch up with myself about my latest project – the launch of an album called “A Paradise of Shadows” under the name Lupine Collides. We met at my house, in the attic. The kids had gone to bed, and I was a little tired, but still polite and ready to chat. In person I was unsure as to what kind of reception to expect from myself, given a rumour that i had heard from myself that i could be obtuse, vague, overly serious or given to impossible flights of fancy. I was pleased to find myself to be an engaging interviewee, happy to talk about the past and passionate about my latest project.
I was wearing a blue T-shirt with a orange spiral snake on it, with the name of 90’s indie band “Jacob’s Mouse” on the back. I explained that I was quite tired from having taken my children to Devil’s Dyke for the day, and walked back, and then cycled over to my allotment and back to check if the apples are ready on my apple tree. I decided to start the interview in a low key, open way:
So, Toby, I have been following your work for a number of years, but some people reading this might not know too much about you. How did you get into writing music and poetry?
I have been making art since I was 18, writing poetry , playing in bands. I was in a rock band called “Diggin Dr What What.” It was one of those classic university bands with about a hundred people in it from our friendship group- sort of anyone that wanted to play. For me, though, it was my chance to take the idea of myself as a singer and a writer a bit more seriously. After several members dropped out we slimmed down into a smaller more focused rock band called “The Great Mistakes” and recorded and played around Brighton at venues that don’t even exist anymore – like the Pressure Point and the Gloucester, as well as street parties and London.
How do you feel about those early efforts when you look back on them now?
I’m just very pleased I had the chance to do it. I loved fronting a rock band, for me the passion and intensity of channelling and communicating the music was something deeply profound – there was a wild energy to it. I’d love to do it again. At the same time, I feel that the lyrics that I wrote were sometimes a bit naive or romantic – or that they suffered from that kind of early writing problem of being so enthralled with your own creative process that you can’t judge what is good. I think it affects young poets especially, when they mistake the random imagery that comes into their minds for a brilliant piece of surrealism and don’t develop it at all. Well, it affected me anyway – my early writing could be so cryptic and metaphorical that you could not have known what it meant at all – or it could be so romantically positive in a way that i think i would be embarrassed to write like now.
Do you think you have developed as a writer? of songs and poems?
ha! I bloody hope so! but then it’s a funny thing…..i think that absolutely my ability to write has developed; I am more interested in writing songs and poems that have a simple focus and tell a story. But at the same time, I have had periods of stagnation, and I think that improvisation and non-censoring have been lifelines when my inner critic becomes too demanding and harsh. But I like the idea of uniting different pieces of writing through a single theme – that’s the idea in “A Paradise of Shadows.”
Can you say a bit more about this? Why is it called “A Paradise of Shadows?”
- the title comes from the Orpheus myth. It’s to do with the Underworld that Orpheus visits, and the what his descent and re-emergence tell him about this life and this world. I was thinking about the way that the Christian myth of Heaven or Paradise compares with the Greek myth of the Underworld, Hades. I had this idea that Hades was this very gloomy and dull place – nothing happens there. And then I read this book called “The Dream and the Underworld” by James Hillman. He equates dreams with the underworld and so with death. And dreams are so vivid, so strange, disturbing, funny and profound. I liked the idea that death might be like a dream, it’s a poetic idea. I was thinking of the work that i had done during my dramatherapy training and in a Jungian analysis on the shadow. And part of the importance of that work is that it inverts the idea of shadow in the conscious mind – so shadow essentially becomes where soul it, where something soulful is living inside you that has been oppressed, held back, de-humanised. It’s appears horrible because it’s been kept in prison for so long. But when it comes out it has a teaching and a strength, one that challenges whatever your identity has fixed on.
I’m not sure quite follow what you mean. You’re talking about repression, right? Repressing aspects of yourself?
In a way, yes. The Shadow does come from a kind of repression. But it’s more than that. Take any quality in yourself that you don’t like. Arrogance for example. Well Arrogance appears awful to Humility – but it might be just what Humility needs to come out of his shell. Arrogance is a distortion of self confidence – which is a positive trait. All negative seeming traits have something to teach, just as positive seeming ones can cause problems. Take a sense of humour for instance. Laughing at things is generally a sign of being well adjusted. But if you can’t be serious at all, then you lose a chance to see the depth of things. This is what I want to get at in “A Paradise of Shadows” – this idea that in the worst seeming parts of ourselves lie the deepest treasure. And that all this parts of ourselves are in relationship the whole time. The patterns within ourselves get reflected in the patterns outside ourselves to a certain extent. And it’s a metaphor for life as well.
How do you mean?
life imagined as a paradise of shadows. It’s to do with the way the certainty of death inverts the reality of imagination and everyday life. One of the things about taking death seriously is that it creates a strange kind of internal movement. Life becomes at once less real and much more immediate. It’s the idea that this so real seeming world is so transient and temporary. In some way, we are the shadows, and the dead, or the imaginal characters, the archetypes, the daimons and gods are far more real.
Doesn’t that view just lead to a kind of dreamy disenagement from the world? If everything in life is a dream, then why take anything seriously at all?
On the contrary, I think it encourages me to think seriously about my experiences. There is no denying the reality of life, that comes to us daily in the inescapable fact of our daily existence – the vulnerability of the our body, the daily suffering we witness in others, the conflict within ourselves. All these need a framework or a backdrop to be understood against. I chose a poetic one – that the world is a paradise of shadows, that we pass through and in order to know deeply.
It sounds like there is a kind of religious dimension to this?
Not really. I like what the poet Alice Oswald says about belief – how we make it seem so final and sudden, and how this idea of deciding or believing contrasts with experience, with slow understandings of oneself or dilation in relation to the whole. For me, it has been part of a process that I began with a sequence of poems called “Hero the Clown in the Ghost Garden”. They were about a clown called Hero, who was not a Hero, and he had to find his way from the beautiful abstract forms of his ghost garden into a real, fleshy ripe green one. That was a journey I wanted to make too. And I wanted to understand the relationship between these two gardens – the garden of images and the garden of apples, roses, lavender, earthworms and snails.
How does this relate to the songs on your album?
Well, song and music act as very real bridges between the tangiable and the imaginal. vibration has a physical quality. The songs are all little glowing shadows really, shadows that intermingle about a single kind of point. They collect together the backlog of some of the songs i have written. I realised I had written lots of songs about the colour black. I felt a bit embarrassed, as if I had been found out as having some kind of teenage angsty obsession. Then i looked at them again and I saw that there was a development in the way that they treated the idea of blackness. That they begin by venerating what is beneath the black, like in the song Silver, and move towards taking the black in, in later songs like Black Sunshine, which is written as a kind of poetic Jonny Cash pub dirge about the dismemberment of the soul in the face of its attempt to hide its shadows in its fantasies about nature. Black has become different then, a kind of medicine kept in the night.
can you say something about the style of the music?
Well, the music comes from my relationship with my acoustic guitar – from little discoveries or reveries on certain note patterns and chords – often quite well known ones, that have been worked into a supporting structure for the themes I’ve been talking about. Two songs are one off improvisations that i couldn’t really play again easily – they are songs that have only existed once and were recorded – Orpheus – which i don’t really remember recording, is a mystery to me and Give Me the Moon from an amazing jam session. I was lucky enough to have Laura Clarke and Frank Rudow from Suma playing on quite a few and they add their textures to those songs – Frank recorded half the songs in his Catalan hideaway outside Barcelona – check the video for Ragged Sun…his drumming is awesome, and Laura’s melodies and keys so simpatico and pure. Really what i want from this album is a kind of distorted acoustica. A kind of mytho-poetic acoustic pop music. that sounds awful like weird 70s prog. But that stuff used myth very self consciously, grandly and escapistly, rather than finding the underlying myth in the everyday patterns uh…i guess (Love’s record) Forever Changes has a good balance between acoustic, drum, bass and darker storytelling. I’ve been playing with my friend Daragh recently and his enthusiasm has been great.
anything else ?
Yeah just want to plug the other music at the launch- we have Dancing Cranes of Sweden playing their first gig – but they have a mighty mighty sound that they have been honing for years, the mysterious bastards. And Wook Hamilton duo’s jazz, i am looking forward to that.
no thank you
you’re too kind
nice T shirt
where’s the off button on this thing…
LUPINE CoLLiDes play the Latest Music Bar on Sunday 2nd November with Dancing Cranes of Sweden and Wook Hamilton Duo 7.30 pm