Before the world went to hell, in a handcart, with all the worlds' leaders at the wheel. Before everything ground to a complete halt - we're not complaining, we're still alive... Things were going swimmingly at OUTSIDELEFT, maybe better than in many years. Our NIGHTS OUT were a fun experiences, drawing great musicians and great crowds, all having a great and we were thinking, sonically edifying, time. The first recording available from our new label Outsideleft Original Sound Recordings was scheduled for release. The Kingfisher, a Jason Lewis poem set to music by Ancient Champion was getting rave notices. Damn it's all so Candide-like. You all know what happened next...
Here though, is a conversation we recorded prior to the Great Halt. Prior to the great Momentum Loss. Jason Lewis and Ancient Champion talking about The Kingfisher.
Ancient Champion: Jason and I had talked for a long time about working with his poetry. He was writing, we were thinking about getting the SideCartel to publish his poems. We hadn't even considered recording them, doing that Elton and Bernie thing. When Jason sent over ‘The Kingfisher’, it was... It was serious, astonishing, seriously astonishing as a stand alone piece. We definitely wanted to see it in print, but it was impossible for me not to dabble with it and that's how my part of it began.
Jason Lewis: When a local coffee shop started having poetry nights a few years ago I was in awe of the people who got up and had stories to tell. It awoke something in me. I wanted to write, but what's my story? I started to write autobiographical stuff, but it lacked something, then 'The Kingfisher' came to me.
Ancient Champion: Well, I think I knew you had a story to tell from the first time I met you... And I do think 'The Kingfisher' is, well it feels like it couldn't be told by anyone but you...
Jason Lewis: 'The Kingfisher' was a watershed. I can clearly remember writing it, but I can't recall how I did it. Only afterwards did it start to make sense of it and I could see shades of a macabre early Ian McEwan short story or the rather unpleasant 'In Germany Before the War' by Randy Newman. They must have left quite a stain on me.
Although it's a fiction, those details, like the overspill estate and the rubbish strewn river, they're real! As for the ‘urban regeneration’ element, I remember seeing a photographic exhibition of how one estate, near to where the poem is set, had been turned around. All I could think of though, is that these places were built with no real consideration for how actual people would live in them. You can't whitewash over decades of neglect.
Ancient Champion: It's a leap though to set your own to music, or sounds, there's a lot of hour and faith that the people you work with are going to be empathetic to your vision and the needs of your art. I find it almost impossible to ever collaborate with art. I have to completely believe in every aspect of the art, and the artist. Or internally, I'm just yelling. No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No!
Jason Lewis: After hearing Will Burns and Hannah Peel's collaboration, I knew what I wanted to do with these words. To create a sympathetic soundscape around what I was saying. I sent you a rough demo and you created the track. Sonny Pine added the guitar and afterwards he played me 'Deep Fried in Kelvin' by Pulp. He got what I was looking for immediately. He knew what my inner Jarvis wanted.
If you listen to the instrumental of ‘The Kingfisher’, it's really unsettling. If anyone is thinking of setting a horror film in Smethwick, you are the guys to get in touch with to write the soundtrack.
Ancient Champion: I think the music came together pretty quickly, the lumpen subsonic bass parts, maybe you've never heard. It's the parts you can't hear in the music, maybe the parts you're imagining that I love the most. But it didn't have the murderous buzz saw, Psycho-esque atmosphere at all until Sonny Pine came in, poured over the guitars he poured over, experimenting with sounds and loops and reverbs and rhythms, over weeks, really, to get the music where we wanted it to be. Honestly, it was like watching an athlete train for Olympic Gold. He'd come into the Kitchen Studio, give everything and stagger away, late at night, exhausted. You'd see it in every facial expression, in every crank of the dial. What he gave. He was intent.
I pushed the vocal round a bit. It’s important to emphasize the story, something changed here and that cannot be unchanged. It cannot go unchanged by the overgrowing forces of beauty and it cannot be overlooked by nature trails and normalcy. The dichotomy though, is the hopefulness, there is some but it seems a desolate hope, springing nocturnal, imbued with the sadness that remains. The lovers are already lost, their relationship of extinctions path - (a favourite combination of words from Kirk Lake!). And when I look at you, I see all of that in your body language. In your body. You are a walking descriptor and you are a walking question mark? No?
Jason Lewis: I like what you say about the lovers and, yet again I didn't notice it at the time, there's an element of 'Afternoons' by Philip Larkin there as '... something is pushing them to the side of their own lives.' The sun is setting, both literally and metaphorically.
You've made a fascinating observation about body language there. It’s like Jarvis (again), and the ‘mistakes, misshapes, misfits…’ you can see us coming a mile off - but how do we get across what we want to say? It goes back to that question about ‘how do you tell your story’? Many years ago I did some stand up comedy, but I’m physically not that funny and what I wanted to do just got lost. This feels much better.
Ancient Champion: You’re working on several other pieces, with me, with Museumgoer, and as we put them together over time, it just seems like it demands an avalanche of emotion to write with such intensity. That feels to me like it could be damaging, I am not sure. You know, I tend towards the trite stuff, the misplaced memory, an old face that did no harm. The ‘Anton From the Factory’ song, whose life is recorded as being of no consequence. Not you?
Jason Lewis: I find it all rather cathartic. Neil Gaiman once gave a speech to some students, fledgling writers, artists and performers...which was: when bad stuff happens, make good art. I love that! And whether or not this constitutes ‘good art’ is not for me to decide.
And writing is therapeutic. The revelation is that you unearth peculiar things whilst doing it. It’s not the obvious stuff that you think that you’re going to discuss when you’re planning to talk to a therapist, it’s the odd minutiae that you discover has been plaguing you when you get there.
I like to look at things while listening to things I am not looking at. But doesn't everyone.