February 24th, 2007 - Notes on the Coming Apocalypse
|Dream Usher–Anyone who has been to recent shows knows some of the story behind The Bright Apocalypse, both the song and the album. If you could, go ahead and explain what’s behind that title.
Stu–Here we are at the turn of the millenium, and End Of The World Syndrome is predictably gaining momentum. For whatever reason, we humans seem to get a buzz from anxious dread, and this calender change seems to lend itself to all sorts of Fun-With-Fear projects. From religious fundamentalists to computer techies, a lot of people seem to feel the turn to 2000 is a marker of doom. My take on the situation is simple; we’re all going to die anyway. So, if we are in fact living in the End Times, the best thing we can do is try to cultivate compassion and realize that in essence, we are all God, everything is God (or Spirit, or One, or Allah, whatever your preference). On the other hand, if it isn’t the end of the world, each one of us is still going to die soon enough, in which case the best thing we can do is try to cultivate compassion and realize that in essence, we’re God. Either way, we’re headed to the same place.’Apocalypse’ is from the Greek word apokalupsis, meaning uncover, reveal. So literally, I’m using Bright Apocalypse to mean a revelation of light. I’m just trying to put out a reminder that there is more than one possibility of what an apocalypse can be, and this album is a portrait of an interior apocalypse, the end of our old inner world, in a good sense. The idea behind the album is very simple: instead of the world coming to an end, humanity just becomes a little bit more compassionate. The world changes from within, that’s my kind of apocalypse. The songs on album tell the story, step by step surrendering to the Divine inside us. The perspective is not from any one particular religion, but rather stems from the mystical truths that are common to all religions. I’m a spiritual mutt by nature, so they’re kind of Buddhist-Christian-Hindu-Jewish-Moslem-Taoist pop songs.
DU–With this album, you have formed Post Apocalyptic Records. How smoothly did everything go in getting the label up and running? Any stories here?
Stu–For most of my career I’ve been looking for a record lable that would be passionate about the kind of music I write, and have the resources to do something with it. After eight albums, I’ve realized that’s probably not going to happen, and it’s stupid to sit around waiting for someone to come along and be the hero of my fairy tale. This summer after six months of talking with labels I gave up and decided if I wanted the right record label, I would have to create it. So, I came up with the idea of selling shares in my next album, and using the money to create a new label. I tested the idea by sending out a short note to a small part of my fan email list, and to my surprise all of the shares sold in matter of days. I suddenly found myself with all the backing I needed, and all of it came from people who love and believe in the music. Having this label relieves a lot of the frustration that goes with being an independent artist- raising money, finding a label that understands what you do and is excited about it, and staying in control of what happens with your music and how it’s marketed. This way, I’m fortunate to have the best of all worlds. The thing that I’m most excited about is that it’s a record label funded entirely by fans of the music. It is such a joy to work with people who are truly into the music. Those investors are my partners now, and the rest is done by Mike (manager), Chris (web designer), and myself. We may also hire a publicist this year. Things feel just right. I’m calling our marketing strategy for this record “strike it small”. I don’t have a desire for it to be big, I just want it to be good and get it to the right people.
DU–From the songs on the list that you have for this album, it is going to be an amazing disc. Are you going to head into some new areas as far as touring in support of Bright Apocalypse?
Stu–I will be adding some new cities, but not a whole lot. This year I’ll be going to Portland and Seattle, and of course since I live in California now I’m playing L.A., San Jose, and San Francisco areas. But I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew. I’ve made a promise to myself not to add new cities to my touring unless I intend to play them 2 or 3 times a year. If I don’t return that often, I can’t really build a following there and the energy dissipates. The plan for now is to hit CA, CO, WA, OR, NE, IA, MN, ND, SD, WI, IL, MO, MI, NY, MA, and NH. I may add some other things in there too, but for the time being I want to stay focused and grow slowly. I’m still just a little boy, after all. I’m considering going to Europe in the spring, back to Germany and Belgium, where I’m so famous that everyone stares at me with a catatonic glare which only Europeans seem to be able to execute correctly.
DU–The theme of transformation is looming huge on this album. Not only traditional ideas, but explorations of other forms of spirituality, different ideas of what it means to be spiritual.
Stu–Yep. One of the main mystical ideas in these songs is that there isn’t really a way to be more or less spiritual, because everything is Spirit. But, not everything is equally aware of that fact. Hitler and Gandhi were both manifestations of Spirit, but I’d venture a guess Gandhi was a little more aware of it than Adolf. That’s the point behind a song like Even The Devil Is God- everything is God, whether it realizes it or not. Bright Apocalypse is about trying to remember that. Either Spirit is infinite and includes everything (evil), or God is limited, in which case we have a god, not a God.
DU–One of the lines that really sticks out is *grin* “…Right now they’re building Ghandis they’re gonna’ bomb our ass with love…” from “World War Three”, any specific inspiration for this one?
Stu–When I started to write this album about how the world was NOT going to end in a nuclear holocaust, I got the idea to write a song about World War Three being a different kind of war, a war that takes place on the inside of humanity. It’s the greatest war ever, because it’s love against hate, and the Lover’s strategy is to show the haters their true essence, which is love. Seeing this, the haters surrunder to their true Self. Gandhi was that kind of soldier, soo, that’s where that line came from-
Right now they’re building Gandhis
DU–“Infinity Hymn” is among the new batch. The chorus of the song is just humming. This humming is a simple melody that gives birth to everything in the Universe, past, present, and future. Again this comes back to music as spirituality, an expression of God through music. I think that in a lot of people’s lives, other things have become ways for them to reach their own spirituality. Whether it be through music , sex, art, we all find something greater than ourselves in creative pursuits.
Stu–Well, writing songs about this stuff is funny to begin with, because really there isn’t anything to say about Spirit. Whatever IT is, it’s absolute, infinite, and unknowable with brain-based seeking. I mean the brain is finite, and IT is infinite, so right there you’re at a dead end. That’s why there’s meditation and contemplative prayer, etc to expand awareness beyond the brain. Not that I have much experience there either. But, I kept thinking how silly it is that I even bother with these lyrics when what I’m singing about can’t be described with language. So, I finally decided it would be more accurate to describe it by humming, and not use words at all. That’s what the song Infinity Hymn does, uses that simple humming phrase to represent the sum total of manifest and unmanifest Reality. It all fits in some little phrase you can hum.
DU–There is a lot of very different and unsettling imagery in “Dresden”. Without steering you in any certain direction, how did this one come to be?
Stu–Well, this one has several layers to the inspiration. First, I think most people in the West are totally unaware what took place in Dresden at the end of World War Two. The city was fire-bombed by the U.S., and many thousands of civilians were incinerated, even though Dresden held no strategic value and was easily one of the most richest cultural cities (art, architecture, history) in the world. It was a massacre by fire, which by definition is a holocaust. So, I wanted bring some attention to that fact, that there was more than one holocaust in that period, and that the U.S. commited one of them. World War Two is supposed to be one of the real “good guys beats bad guy” wars, and our history tends to overlook the fact that orchestrated another holocaust. So one part of the song tells that story, the story of the other holocaust.
A second story within that song reveals how the unspeakable brutality of that bombing has residual effects on the people who live there today. The narrarator of the song is a man who makes a game of picking up tourists, Jewish girls in particular, and debasing them. He is possessed by the demons of that town, both the ones from the holocaust against the Jews by Germans, and the holocaust against the Germans by the Americans. The poison of that era is still bubbling up his metaphysical well. The song flashes back and forth between the rape of the city and the rape of the Jewish girl he targets. I wanted to take away the good vs bad idealism of World War Two and paint it in a much greyer fashion.
DU–The song “Whisper” suggests the difficulty of opening up to people. Lines like “Whoever sees me dies” and “No words now, only notes” suggest to me people connecting not necessarily through words, but through art, through simply being. The importance being in (metaphorically) the heart having ears to hear what isn’t said. Perhaps you could expand on this or just tell me that’s not what you were thinking at all (laughs).
Stu–Well, that wasn’t what I was thinking (laughing). Actually, the song is about God whispering little clues on how to “go home”. These little phrases are like a map being dictated. When the voice says “Whoever sees me dies”, it means a mystical death, where the ego is dissolved by connection to something greater. When the voice says “No words now, only notes” it means a simple melody is a better prayer than a bunch of words. When it says “I pour into what is still” it means we create space for Spirit when we still the thinking brain. When it says “come here” it means through that fear that is a wall. It is also worth noting that the voice comes from behind the heart, from behind where the thinking mind is, in a place that’s often called the witness.
DU–I have often wondered that people don’t see the way ideas from all forms of spirituality inter-relate. Why should one form preclude another?
Stu–Well, that’s the idea behind the Perennial Philosophy. On the surface, the World’s religion’s disagree. Their outer (exoteric) forms and practices diverge and even seem to clash. But, at their mystical (esoteric) core, they are in harmony with one another. Each religion has exoteric and esoteric dimensions. The exoteric focuses on the beliefs people are supposed to hold, the significance of rituals, and the necessity of intermediaries. The esoteric centers more inward practices (meditation, contemplative prayer, etc) which can lead to direct experiences of the Divine and transformations of what we think of as our ‘self’ and reality. People from various religions do have divergent beliefs, and in that sense they often disagree. The surfaces are different. But, when mystics compare experiences, they find a Unity at the core, no matter what tradition they’re from. That’s why it’s called the Perrenial Philosophy, the mystical traditions of the World do in fact inter-relate with ease- at the deeper levels. If you put mystics from Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam together in a room, they’ll share their snacks and have a ball. If you put fundamentalists from these same religions together in a room, they’ll make snacks out of each other. It’s not that exoteric religion is wrong, it’s just partial. Mysticism picks up where the exoteric leaves off and goes to a deeper place where there is a Unity that underlies and informs it all.