Interview: Gong

If we weren’t in these vessels of atrophying time we wouldn’t get to experience things like music. Music requires the illusion of time, and memory. So you need memory even though you’re in this single moment. I think space is also one dimension, we’re part of all of it.

Polymath and Renaissance man Kavus Torabi likes to talk. We caught up with him on the first leg of the two-legged Gong and Ozric Tentacles co-headline tour.

E&D: How are you? How’s the tour going?

Kavus: I’m great. The tour’s going very well. We’re doing a new set so it has a completely different shape. For the last couple of years we’ve been opening with ‘Forever Reocurring’ which was a very gentle beginning, I suppose. It takes seven or eight minutes before it really kicks off, and even then, it’s mid-paced. We’d got really used to starting the set with this long 20-minuter. Now [we’re] coming in with a bang and it’s changed the energy of the whole set. It’s just a very exciting, really wonderful journey. We’ve got an hour and a quarter, with Ozrics [also playing]; it might be my favourite set that we’ve done.

E&D: What’s been the reaction to the new album material?

Kavus: It’s been amazing. You want everything you do be better than what you’ve done before; to keep improving. It just seems it’s landed, this one, more than anything we’ve done before. We’re playing five songs from it in the set.

E&D: Was this reaction a surprise? You’re in the top 10 of the rock charts!

Kavus: We really went hard with pushing it, more than before, I think; the reaction has been amazing, people are really connecting with the album.

E&D: You’ve described the record as a suite; was that intentional? Were you aware of the relationships between the songs as you were writing and recording it?

Kavus: Dave (Sturt) called it a “pan-galactic suite”. We sequenced the record before we recorded it – we knew what it was going to be. With the exception of three of the songs, we’d played them all around Europe in 2022. They’re all really played in, we felt we had the pacing right.

We wanted the songs to run into each other and segue. We always like to have conceptional continuity with lyrics and themes that appear and reappear elsewhere.

E&D: Can you describe the macrocosmic themes that run across the tracks?

Kavus: There’s a few things on this record. For a start, the moon, and by extension, lunar goddesses, are quite a theme of it. I very much had the moon in mind whilst singing it. Also the idea… for example, that whatever one thinks of as them, I suppose you can often think of yourself in this body as being the surface, whereas inside there’s all sorts of wiggly monsters and creatures; whole societies and cultures going on inside you, including bacteria. And they’re you, too. Whole cities and climates going on all over you. That’s all you, and, by extension, the whole universe is you, and whether you go inwards or outwards, it’s all you. You know? You are part of everything, as are we all.

So I think that was part of the idea which started with ‘Tiny Galaxies’: look down the telescope the wrong way, you’ll see just as much of yourself whether you’re going inwards or outwards. The last record was about how there’s only this single moment and that’s all there ever is, and all there’s ever been. I think these bodies we’re in are vessels of time; if we weren’t in these vessels of atrophying time we wouldn’t get to experience things like music. Music requires the illusion of time, and memory. So you need memory even though you’re in this single moment. I think space is also one dimension, we’re part of all of it.

I’m rambling; I can explain better with tunes and lyrics. The last part of what we see as a trilogy will be more aquatic, which is why we end with ‘Asleep Do We Lay’, which feels very watery. Throughout the last two albums there have been lots of references to the moon, to water, and the universe. The universe was the main theme of The Universe Also Collapses, this one was the moon, and the next will be more aquatic.

I find writing lyrics the hardest part. Riffs and melodies are easy. I want the lyrics to be good. At the time I was living in West Pennard, near Glastonbury, and taking these long walks, and the connecting themes came on these long walks. There’s something about the rhythm of walking really gets your mind going; it does with me. I’ve found some cool routes to Glastonbury getting off the main road and to Gog and Magog, and the tor, when it’s too muddy around there.

 

E&D: What’s it like touring with Ozric Tentacles?

Kavus: I first saw Ozrics when they were supporting Hawkwind in Plymouth. It was 1989; Pungent Effulgent had just come out and I hadn’t heard them, yet. You didn’t get big bands like Hawkwind coming down often. Word got around Plymouth that you had to check out the opening band, cos they were brilliant. Just seeing Ed (Wynne) play was mind-blowing; it’s like “that’s how you play guitar”. He was such a brilliant player, I saw him quite a lot around that era.

It’s great playing with them now as there’s a lot of people who don’t know any Gong stuff, let alone the current Gong, you know? They’re coming up and saying “I’ve never heard you before, I really enjoyed it”. Both of our audiences are getting turned on to each other; it’s been great!

E&D: What’s Saskia Maxwell brought to your show?

Kavus: Saskia is incredible. We toured with her with Ozrics in 2022. Saskia offered to dance for us, during ‘Master Builder’. It was amazing! And then she started, as the tour progressed, she started adding vocals, at the end of ‘Choose Your Prophecy’, as well. She’s such good fun as well; we really connected with Saskia.

When we came off the tour to make this album we thought, “we have to get Saskia singing on it” – which we did. So on this tw-part tour we felt we can really make a whole section that works really well with Saskia. As it’s been progressing she’s been developing these new ideas; she has this improvised solo that she introduces her arrival with. It’s incredible. When you’re playing the show, and she walks on, you feel the energy in the room completely changes.

Right from the outset it’s been really important to reconnect Gong with the divine feminine. It’s been a very boring matter of economics that’s prevented it. When we had the final line-up of the band with Daevid (Allen), it was all guys; Gilly (Smyth) had stopped doing it, and Miquette (Giraudy). It would mean having to have a larger van, a lot more money, more rooms; at the moment, the precarious way that Gong operates, none of us have flying teapot shaped swimming pools in our back gardens! Touring with Ozrics presented the perfect opportunity. I feel like there’s no going back now; she’s such a big part of the show.

E&D: What do you say to those detractors who say you can’t have Gong without any original members?

Kavus: It doesn’t bother me, really. That’s perfectly fine. I don’t really need them. With the exception of ‘Master Builder’ we’re doing a whole set of stuff that we’ve written. And that’s the idea: we’re creating something that we can believe in. If people say “it’s not Gong”, through that filter they’re right. If they’re seeing it through the filter of “there’s no original members and that’s what defines a band”, they’re absolutely right it’s not Gong. But then Daevid didn’t see Gong in that sense; Gong was a mythology.

E&D: Have they missed the whole point of the Gong ethos?

Kavus: They’ve missed a point. Some people say I have; I mean the humour element is something I’ve dialled down now. I just can’t do that. I can’t put humour into it, because I don’t feel it. I can feel humour, but I couldn’t do that in music, it would feel inauthentic. It’s the same as playing older stuff: I have to be able to go out there and be completely into what we’re doing.

We see Gong and our live shows as a ritual of transformation. The way it ebbs and flows, the order of the songs, the message of the songs, the entire set has been put together because we want to effect a transformation of consciousness. It’s a transformation for us, it becomes a ritual with us and the audience all part of it. I couldn’t be feeling it if I was going out there singing lyrics I don’t believe in or playing a nostalgia act.

I think there is a place for a band playing Gong covers, we’re just not the band to do it. We never wanted to join a tribute band. When Daevid asked each of us to join Gong, he asked us to join to write stuff and be part of it. I don’t have a problem with people who look at it like that; I get it as I feel “no Ozzie, no Sabbath”. They’re entitled to their opinion; I don’t want to turn up at their houses and explain why Daevid would be into it. It’s all online, which is just a place for people to be angry. I go online and some people don’t even know Daevid’s died.

E&D: What solo projects do you have coming up?

Kavus: I’ve another solo album out on Believers Roast in June called The Banishing. I have a big project at a festival called Roadburn, in the Netherlands. I’ve played it with Gong a few years ago, Guapo twice, and also with The Holy Family. It’s about “redefining heaviness”: Swans, Sunn O))), Young Gods, Neurosis, those kind of bands, but also more experimental stuff as well. It’s not just “heavy” as in “heavy metal”, it’s also extreme stuff; Magma played the year we played with Gong.

The festival commissions artists; I’ve been commissioned to put together a piece of about an hour. There’ll be elements from my main bands: Cheb from Gong will be drumming, and Joe Lazarus, the drummer from Holy Family, will be drumming as well, so there’ll be two drumkits. Mike from Utopia Strong will be doing pipes and synth, and Josh from Knifeworld will be doing keys and woodwind. Most of us will be singing and playing guitar; it’ll be a one-hour polyrhythmic piece. Some of it will be through composed, there’ll be use of repetition, and also free improv as well; I’ve got an hour. The first time it’ll be heard publicly will be at this festival. That’s April 20! It’s three movements.

E&D: Does the project have a name?

Kavus: It’s called Lion of the Lords Elect. It’s from an Evelyn Waugh book called Decline and Fall, his first book, there’s a section in it where the protagonist, Paul Pennyfeather, is in prison, and he meets this crazed man who tells him he’s “Lion of the Lord’s Elect”. And every time after we meet this character, he’s referred to as “Lion of the Lord’s Elect”. It’s a nice name for the project – suitably ostentatious.

E&D: I really enjoyed the book you wrote with Steve Davis. I haven’t fully explored all the musical leads, yet.

Kavus: That’s what I should do. A playlist of all the tunes.

E&D: Anything else you’d like to plug?

Kavus: The Utopia Strong BBC sessions are out 22nd March. We’re also working on the new Utopia Strong album, it’s going really well. Other than that, just staying busy, really.

Gong‘s UK Tour with Ozric Tentacles continues until March 22, 2024. Some tickets are still available HERE

The Utopia Strong also release The BBC Sessions on March 22, 2024. Pre-orders and purchases here on Bandcamp.

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