I can’t see a reason for living unless you want to ask, or answer, or try and ask very difficult questions, but otherwise you’re born, you live, you die. There’s more than that. This world is far too intelligent, and too interesting, fascinating a place for there to be nothing.
For a start these things are hard to talk about. They’re often not rational or logical so communication is very hard, so yes, I’ve been misunderstood because it’s damn near hard to understand in the first place.
It’s no-ones fault. Secondly, the rock world obviously has problems with anything that’s not sex, drugs and rock and roll. It’s every limited tabloid world, very cliched and I don’t fit. I’m happy with that. Then there’s been those papers aren’t the right place to talk about this and so yeah, I’ve been ridiculed and laughed at, but that goes with the job.
A song like Seven was one of the first times I openly referred to God, much to the annoyance of my fellow band members who don’t really like me talking openly about these things because they don’t share those beliefs and that’s totally fair enough and James got painted as a Buddhist band, really because of the stuff I did.
I got this lyric in: “God made love to me, soothed away my gravity. Gave me a pair of angel wings, clear vision and some magic things.” When I’m singing “Love can mean anything”, it could be “God can mean anything.”
They’re just highly abused words. Well the idea behind that, if you really pursue the idea that everybody can get in touch with God, that everybody has God within them, then the ultimate union would be having sex with God, so “God made love to me…” That was the first time I started getting interested in that idea. That’s what I think ecstasy is, not the drug, the state, is when you feel totally at one. You’re free from all of your smallness, your day-to-day identity.
I was brought up in a very Christian religious household. My parents were very proud of the fact that we were related to John Wesley. My father was strong in the Church and I used to go every week or every two weeks. I used to like the stained glass windows, and I used to like the Bible stories with the big pictures of floods, and arks and dramatic sweeps like that.
And then I was sent to public school at 13, which I hated, and I didn’t fit in, and had all these feelings running through me which I couldn’t explain, couldn’t fit. I think of one of the big nights was when I was about 15 and there was an older boy who wrote out four questions on a piece of paper and they were:
Who are you?
Where do you come from?
Where do you go when you die?
Three questions. And he handed these questions round and everybody else didn’t like them, and I felt a huge sense of relief as someone had asked the questions which must be the most important questions of one’s life, if you want to have any idea of what the hell we’re doing here. I can’t remember what I answered but I remember getting very excited by that.
My state of mind was very strange and I thought I was quite crazy. I didn’t eat much as a kid, so my mum made me drink a lot of milk, and milk is one of the worst things for the liver. So I would drink a pint of milk and go into an altered state through illness, but it was never diagnosed, so I was always dealing with very strange states of mind, which is part of why I didn’t fit in. When I was about 22, I ended up in hospital. I couldn’t walk up stairs. I stopped breathing at one point and I remember that very clearly as very peaceful. I actually breathed out and the breath just kept on going and I remember thinking “Wow, this is fantastic.” I was sick of life, and I gave myself a year to investigate alternative medicine and therapies and meditation, and I actually gave myself one year to find proof of the existence of spirit or of God, and if I didn’t find that proof, I decided that I was going to burn myself out.
I then looked at meditation, as it seemed safe, you were on your own. I was scared about falling into a religion and being caught in a dogma, being caught by a guru, being caught by a great leader. So I looked at different meditation groups, I went to a Buddhist group for a while and tried transcendental. I was shopping around. I was a tourist. And I eventually heard of a group in Manchester which all the other groups were slagging off, because they said they can get you to enlightenment in two years, they can show you your own spirit within a few months and I thought that’s the one for me.
In a sense, the meditation was the first peace, I’d had in my life where you really sink into yourself. I had a huge resistance to meditation as I’m quite an active person. I used to do 18 hours, 1 meal day. At first I had huge resistance, the first 4/5 hours would be hell, where you’d be screaming to get up and run and then you’d hit certain things where you’d just feel like this light was passing through you and you’d just sit there nailed and you’d be letting energy just pour through you. It blew my mind. All kinds of things started happening to me. I’d see light around people. And I got my proof basically and unfortunately I succumbed to the usual trap of cults which is to think, “My God, this man did this to me. He must be powerful,” and I started falling for the dogma and the whole trip. I was celibate, no alcohol, no drugs, two hours meditation a day, 16 every weekend. It was a very aggressive path as I did it for 3 and a half years, and then we found out that the guru had been sleeping around and he wasn’t who he said he was. As a personality, he was a bit of a dick, and we disbanded the group an we went on our way, wiser hopefully.
I wrote a few songs looking at the nature of Christianity, which I’d had force fed for 20 odd years and included observations on the cult I got into. God Only Knows is probably the most successful and the song is really “What is the nature of God? And the chorus is “God only knows.” I mean, anyone who sells himself up as a holier-than-thou religious leader is going to come crashing down. The thing I see about religious leaders, or spiritual leaders, is that they’ve often focused on just their spirituality and as a result, they haven’t dealt with their sexuality, their greed, their ego, their flattery. If they haven’t learnt to deal with the more mundane parts of their character, they’ve gone straight to their spirit, they become op-heavy, like some kind of body-builder who thinks only about their muscles. To me it’s about a balance, you have to get the mind, the body, the spirit, everything. You have to keep them in balance too. If one gets over-developed it’s always going to be to the detriment to the others.
Traditionally, dance has been used by shamens, tribes, to get people into ecstatic states. These are receptive to information of from the spirit world and I’ve always been fascinated by this, especially in this culture which the main way people get into altered states in the West is through altered states. I thick drugs can be very instructive at first, because they show you that this isn’t all that exists, that there are other ways of seeing the world and I think that’s very useful to people but then the trouble is that what happens is it turns into a problem and it turns into a negative and destroys the body and mind.
So I’ve been very interested in the way drumming, dancing, music, fasting, sleep deprivation and meditation can get you away from the monkey mind and the human machine and allow more spirit. It’s not New Age, it’s ancient healing that’s been used for thousands of years, and predates religions.
And it’s quite fierce. New Age suggests something quite wimpy about embracing the light and for me you have to embrace the darkness before you get any way near the light and if you deny your dark side it will come back big time.
When we did Gold Mother, I had just split up with the mother of my son, and I had just left her and my son. That was probably my darkest time and a lot of the lyrics in Gold Mother are about that. In Come Home, “After 30 years, I’d become my fears, I’d become the kind of man, I’ve always hated.”
Which is about as dark as it gets. Like a lot of that record, I kind of hated myself. I dunno how close to suicide I got, but I got fairly dark.
I don’t think I’ll get to suicide, I just don’t believe in it as basically, I know that you’ll come back, and secondly, I don’t think that it’s a way out.
The first gigs that we played were in Blackpool, and I remember when we got to the lines, “After 30 years…” the audience sang it back to me, punching the air with joy, and I remember being completely done in by it, completely devastated by it. They’d taken something that I’d written as self-abuse and dark, and turned it into a celebration, and I thought, that’s healing. And they did that on all those songs that night. And I suddenly realised that was what being in a band was all partly doing for me. It was helping me heal my on pain. And that’s been my promise to myself each time, to go in deep each time, to keep writing about the things that are uncomfortable because it gets to the real stuff and it also touches people on a deep level.
(part 2 of interview, some time later)
In the first part of this interview, we fell into the trap of setting a beautiful white environment with candles, the clichés of religion, and really religion has been ghettoised. It’s thought of in pious, probably very dull terms, probably because the dominant religion in this country is Christianity and it’s been force-fed to children at school, and so most of us are like, “Jeez, don’t talk about that crap anymore,” where it should be something passionate, something discussed in cafes. I should have a fag in one hand and a beer in my other hand, and I would have faked it for the camera, but, you know, it’s not me. It should be a day-to-day thing. I think more and more people are getting into it. To be honest, I’m trying to make it more concrete for this programme, cos a lot of my life, I couldn’t talk about here, because a lot of the realms, the altered state realms you go to are by definition, outside language and outside the rational, therefore how the hell do I explain it to anybody.
And I believe in following dreams and I mean that in following your own dream in your life, what you really want to do in life, your real passion. I think dreams are an amazing way into your instinctive self. Everything in this culture wants us to believe in the concrete, the rational, the logical. We can’t possibly do that. We get so trapped in our day-to day crap, that we forget who we are, and its like, people are capable of magic.
The danger with message, it’s like you asking what is the message? That’s the usual danger of any spiritual organisation, is that it becomes a package to sell. And it’s also, “I’ve found a way that’s right, and right for you.” And I can’t say that because I’ve found a way that’s right for me and I mean, so I don’t have a message, only that all that I’d say in that case, is that everyone has to find their own way.