The Mask Of Sorrow
After almost two and a half decades of ‘post-industrial gothic rock’, Current 93 are more alive than ever. A brand new full cd, the first (and last?) tour ever and much new music coming up: David Tibet is a busy but happy man. Still, when asked about his motives, he’s all serious: ‘I’m trying to work out my salvation’. His quest for understanding is neverending.
Much of Tibet’s output has an origin in the man’s dreams. It made us wonder what his last impressive nightmare or sweet dream was. “The last dream that impressed me was about a young Japanese girl, that killed her family. I was alone in bed, asleep. This dream was like a Japanese horror film, about a young Japanese girl, maybe 16 or 18, who had become insane and had a meat chopper in her hands. She was going around killing all the members of her family and cutting them up into little cubes. It was very unpleasant. She was in this building (Tibet’s hotel, MH) somewhere. I don’t know if you’ve seen any Japanese modern horror films. They’re very graphic and psychological, with some disturbing sexual quality. This made me feel quite sick and at the end of it, all I remember is that she had put the members of her family into a tankard, with a lid. That was the last dream I had that impressed me, it was really horrible. I woke up very disturbed. I don’t know why I was dreaming that. I’d like to say ‘I dreamt a profound christian dream, but you wouldn’t understand’, but that’s not the case. It was just a horrible horror dream like – there’s someone in the room! She’s got a knife! Dreams are important for me, but no more than they are for you. Dreams are important for anyone if they remember them.”
A dream was also the inspiration for the new album, Black Ships ate the Sky?
Yes, Black ships started about four years ago. I had a dream where I saw the horizon, and a black shade came into view and I didn’t know what it was. It looked like a smudge, a black mark. And then it hopped, like a stroboscope, staccato, with a staggered motion. I realised it was the prow. Then it came into the horizon. First it was hundreds and then thousands and thousands of ships and they all ate the sky. When they passed through the sky, they devoured it. All the sky they left behind was corrupted and decayed. I realised in this dream that this was the armies of the antichrist. In the album I describe the antichrist as the final Caesar, the last Caesar. It was the invasion and the arising of the Antichrist, which is of course what happens before the Second Coming of Christ.
From that moment just hundreds and thousands of images started pouring into my head like a letterbox. My skull opened up and a lot of the images where very static, two-dimensional, like childrens drawings as on the front of the album. Some of them were cinema films, people talking or acting. Then words, just thousands and thousands of words started pouring in. As the album progressed over the four years, and more and more work was done on it, more and more of these dreams came in. Do you know the word hypnaguogic? When you’re falling asleep and you get these really vivid images? It was this sort imagery; it was quite frightening but also really hopeful.
People always say that I’m obsessed with the apocalypse and I’m very doomy and full of fear, but for me this is all a hopeful time. Apocalypse, from the Greec word unveiling. People now think it just means destruction, but it just means taking off the mask. And these are the times we are living in.
Would there maybe be an interaction between your dreams and the work you do with Current 93?
Am I feeding the dreams as well? Never thought of that, but it’s an interesting idea. Who knows? Only God knows. Certainly as I wrote them down, more and more came. Maybe it’s the interaction between two people loving each other, you don’t know where one thing starts and one thing ends and the nature of the shifting energy. So I guess you’re right.
On the magnificent album Of Ruine or some blazing starre, you sing ‘And when I die, I fear that I shall say, I have not understood. I have not understood any of this’. Is your artistic output a way of trying to understand the world? Is this your way of giving meaning to your life?
Current 93, in terms of lyrics and themes, is historically just me trying to understand myself. That’s why I’ll always find it strange when people say they’re attracted to my work when it captures them, because it’s so obscure. It’s just me talking to myself in a mirror for 25 years. Me, trying to work out who I am, what are the natures of the masks and deceits that I wear, how to get rid of being a lie, a lie to myself. It’s a way of myself trying to get out my own truth. I just try to strip myself naked, because one day, God will strip us naked. I think it’s good to try and get as much work done by ourselves before we die. I’m trying to work out my salvation with words and understanding questing.
I’m sure that when I die, I’m still going to say ‘I haven’t understood’. It’s the cliché: the more you understand, the more ignorant you know you are. I’m just really an enthusiast and I have an obsessive belief in what I’m doing because it’s important for me. But I’ve never had any feeling that this is going to mean anything for anyone else. It’s just the way of working out my salvation. People just do the best they can. And I don’t know any other way to do it. Compared with a nurse or a monk or a nun, I’m selfobsessed and very selfish. These people do great things for many people, but I just do the best I can.
Maybe the reason people can relate to the things you do, is that they recognise a part of themselves in what you say, and that the way you say it is the reason why it attracts them?
I think you’re right. I was talking to my wife about that a couple of weeks ago. I asked her why people did buy and listen to the records. They don’t understand really what I’m talking about. A lot of the things I do, are very esoteric theology. Sometimes I’m using coptic phrases and Greek. She thinks that people listen to it, because they’re moved by the fact that I’m expressing myself. I think that’s it, I’m being truthful. You don’t have to understand exactly my lifestory to be moved by it. I think maybe they just identify, just like I identify with people who have been trying to be truthful to theirselves, with all their errors and stupidities and fuckups.
Maybe that must be it, I don’t know anything else. They’re not going for my voice, anyway. I mean that. I’ve got a really expressive voice, but that’s only because I really believe in what I’m saying. And that’s why people are moved. Often at a show I see people crying in the audience. I’m vulnerable and we all are. And sometimes it’s difficult to be vulnerable to yourself. Especially when you’re younger I think. In a way, you need somebody to do that for you, just for a small portion of you life. And then that helps you to try to be honest with yourself. Certainly, that’s what I’ve got from other artists that I admire: the absolute honesty or that search for honesty.
People who know you describe you as a funny, intelligent person.
Err… Is there some of this humour in Current 93?
I think there’s a black humour in Current. It’s not ironic. Nothing I say is ironic, but I think I’m often struck by the absurdity of life and by my own absurdity. That I spent time studying Coptic grammar and get obsessed with tiny details and then there’s a knock on the door and it’s the postman with a bail order and the toast is on fire. I just like to see the great in the small and the small in the great. To me everything is so mysterious and strange. Sometimes you have to stare at it with wonder, sometimes you have to stare at it with horror and sometimes you just have to laugh.
What are we doing? It’s just so inconceivable, it’s so strange, bizarre paradise and rubbishy. Who we are, the mystery of ourselves, the mystery of love. It’s just all mystery and sometimes it’s just absurd and it’s funny. When you think of all the time that we spend worrying about tiny details or stupid things; if you don’t laugh, then you’re in despair.
I always thought that I was funny. All the people that know me personally or know Steve (Stapleton) or knew (Jhonn) Balance, think so. We’ve all got a sense of humour and we’re just like anyone. We’re not about doom and gloom when we’re not serious. We are serious, but not always. We’re just regular people with a sense of humour. Usually I’m a fairly happy person and then sometimes I’m really depressed.
You seem to have a profound love for everyone you play with. What does this friendship mean to you?
I’m so happy to be able to work with these amazing people. Michael Cashmore, Ben Chasny, all these great people who create it with me. I mean, I’m the face of it and in a way it’s obviously led by me, but I can’t do anything without the people I’m lucky enough to work with. And all of their characters are in it, their souls are in it. Sometimes it’s just less obvious because they’re not singing, it’s not their words.
I do love them all, they’re my friends. I love all my friends dearly. I just think there’s a strong bond between everyone I’m working with in Current. We’re really close friends. They don’t all agree with my beliefs and perhaps I don’t agree with theirs. But I can’t explain what this all means to me. If you try to describe to me why you love your girlfriend, I can understand if you say that’s because she’s beautiful or intelligent and kind. I’ll understand all of this, but I won’t understand why you love her and not another kind of beautiful girls.
I just love them, they’re my friends. I’d do anything for them, they’ve been really kind to me. I don’t think of them as musicians, which of course they are. I don’t pick people who are great musicians or can do this or that well. I just pick people that I like and even if one can’t play anything, I’d still want him in the group. Historically I’ve worked with so many people and some of them are technically very professional and some of them, like me, are technically incompetent.
What’s the common aspect of the music you like?
It just moves me, makes my hair stand up and sends shivers through my body. It’s nice to try and get a little orgasm of physical or intellectual pleasure from these things. If it moves you, then it moves you. The music I like most is the stuff I listened to as a kid. I like progressive rock from the early seventies, and I like glamrock. And I like…
Yes! First three albums! Especially Sad wings of destiny and Sin after Sin. Also they do Joan Baez, who I don’t like, Diamonds and rust. It’s a song about her love affair with Bob Dylan but Judas Priest’s version is just so profound and moving. I love Judas Priest, but I prefer Rush. Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Rush. Those are the goofs with long hair that I like the most.
Cindy Lauper is one of my big heroines. I love Cindy Lauper, but I don’t really love Madonna. People say ‘oh Madonna is much better than Cindy Lauper’ but I only like Cindy Lauper. When I listen to Girls just want to have fun it’s both really life affirming and incredibly melancholic at the same time. Why it affects me like that, I don’t know.
The new album is really great. Do you know the song She bop? On her first album she does a song called She bop which is a sort of a funny and witty song she did when she was maybe twenty. It’s about female masturbation and really funny lyrics like ‘They say I better get a chaperone because I can’t stop messing with the danger zone / Well I won’t worry I won’t fret / There ain’t no law against it yet’. And also ‘They say it’s going to make me out of my mind / They say it’s going to make me blind’. She’s taking the piss out of it. And on the new album she does a new version, now she a woman of maybe 45, and it sounds really melancholic, really depressing and it’s still a great song. But when I got the new album I just keep listening to that one track and ask myself what has happened.
Some things of course move me because of historical reasons, things I heard as a kid growing up. Do you know the song ‘Hot butter’ (hums the song)? I love it! I sang it when I was a child, to myself like that (hums it again) until my mom said ‘David shut up’ (hums even more) and of course it was so really empowering and full of life, but also there’s also something really sinister, something frightening about it. Especially when you hear it for ten minutes, getting louder and louder with all the treble in it (as was the intro to the Current 93 concerts in may 2006, MH). That’s the point. A really great bhuddist once was talking about the transient nature of pleasure. He said, “consider: you love ice cream, but only up to a limit. If you eat four hundred tuns of ice cream, you really are not going to like it.” And it’s interesting, that connection between absolute pleasure and loving something or someone, and the other extreme of absolute displeasure or disliking it. And I’m proving that by playing ‘Hot Butter’ in a loop. You know, ‘A little bit of what you fancy is good, a lot of what you fancy is really bad’. That’s the message of Current 93! (laughter)
You mentioned you’re writing a book. What’s the idea behind it and when will it be out?
There this novel I’m writing and it’s just developing the themes in Current 93 and my quest for making sense of the world. I’m still working on it but I can’t tell much about it. I don’t want Stephen King to steal my idea.
The other book, Under the Rain and Teeth of Gods is going to be out at the end of this year. It’s taking a lot of time and I keep discovering lyrics from when I was 16, my sort of fantasy lord of the rings style, so maybe I’ll print some of that out.
The fact that life on earth is temporary is one of the major themes in your output. To what conclusions does this idea bring you?
Get busy. It says in the Bible: Watch and pray. Your time is limited, make good use of it. It also says that Christ will come like a thief in the night. It’s a reminder to myself that life is limited. We’ve all been given an incredible blessing. We should use it wisely.
What great projects would you want to, if you lived in an ideal world?
I could have those grandiose projects, but what I’d really like to do is to sing a duet with Cindy Lauper. And if I couldn’t do that I’d just like to meet her and have her autograph, that would make me ever so happy. Perhaps I can introduce her to the wonderful world of post-industrial gothic rock or whatever people say that I do. Now the joy of female masturbation is gone, maybe she’s looking for other pleasures in her life and maybe I can help?
What is it about cats actually you like?
This is the thing: there’s not one thing about cats that I don’t like. If I see a dog licking its balls, it’s filthy. But when cats do it I just smile. I’m just biased. God made me love cats and the devil made me not like dogs so much. The other creatures I really like are snails and smugs and seahorses. I don’t like things that smell of damp so much. That’s the problem with dogs. When they come in from the rain, they always smell really ‘doggy’. Then, when you stroke a cat and you smell you hand, it’s like perfume. But with dogs, I always wash my hands straight away because I always smell wet dog, even if they’re dry. I never been horrible to a dog, but dogs just don’t do it for me. I just love the independence of cats.
I had seven cats but three have gone to God. That’s always hard, to lose the things you love. It’s just heartbreaking.
Maarten, Antwerp, May, 21st, 2006