The gears of progress here at the LNN have admittedly been a bit sluggish as of late, and for this we would like to apologize. To be honest, we finally sat down and watched Marjoe in the interest of cult research and have only recently begun to been able to control the violent seizures and fits of terror that resulted from viewing this horror of horrors. Though our sanity may never fully recover, the LNN must go on.
Last month, we introduced you to Casey Rae-Hunter, a.k.a. The Contrarian: a preternaturally eclectic, intellectually minded prog rocker with a penchant for cosmic horror.
How's that for a sound byte?
Though, as is the curmudgeonly custom of certificated literati, we do not deign to conduct "reviews" here at the LNN, we will make a point of notating that the CD is razor sharp in its production value, stimulating on more than just an aural level, and surprisingly accessible in its form and genre.
This week, it is our supreme pleasure to present an interview we conducted with The Contrarian regarding his latest musical excursion. Without any hyperbole, we can safely say that, in our opinion, this is the LNN's most interesting interview to date.
Without further dilatory ramblings, we present to you, The Contrarian. . .
LNN: You discuss at length your intentions with this project--those of a literary, musical, and ideological nature--in your "making of" podcast. For those without access to this, could you briefly describe the nature of your album, and could please retell your great story of how you came about with the idea to begin the project while having an inebriated discussion with Blue Öyster Cult producer Sandy Pearlman?
Contrarian: Well, as a writer, I’ve long been interested in the through line that connects other scribes of a certain disposition. Here’s an example: I was recently reading The Tenant, by Roland Topor, and it had an introduction by Thomas Ligotti — perhaps the most gifted purveyor of cosmic dread currently drawing breath. Likewise, one of the only contemporary fiction authors I read is the French erotic nihilist Michel Houellebecq, who just so happened to write a book about Lovecraft called HP Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. I find these synchronicities all the time. It’s like being able to see an extra color that others can’t perceive.
As far as the Sandy Pearlman connection, well, I’d always been curious about this legendary rock ‘n’ roll Svengali. When I was first learning about music, I was primarily into 1970s rock bands — Sabbath, Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, etc. The latter is an acquired taste. It’s like Steely Dan — BOC are not for everyone. One of the things that struck me about them was that the lyrics were cryptic, but also intertextual and definitely tongue-in-cheek. I mean, you had references to The King in Yellow and the Men in Black in the same song — way before any of that shit was cool. For those who don’t know, Sandy was BOC’s manager, producer and one of their chief lyrical collaborators during the band’s golden years. He had a hand in establishing the art of rock criticism, and was present at birth for a whole lot of pop culture insanity. A mad genius, as it were. His “Imaginos” mythos, which informs a number of BOC songs, was definitely Lovecraft-inspired.
So, for much of my young adulthood, I was sort of wondering who the hell this guy really was. I never thought I’d actually get to become friends with him. This happened through my job, which I’ll explain a bit more about later. Anyway, Sandy and I were talking one night at a party-type-thing, and we began discussing the Mythos and rock music. Sandy mentioned how long it had been since there was a significant rock record that dealt with Lovecraftian themes. I’ve been known to self-impose ludicrous challenges apropos of nothing when I’ve had a few drinks, so I said I’d make that record. Which is a good place to start with art, really — create what you think is missing in the marketplace. And somehow, I actually followed through with it.
Do you know the Turing test? It’s an assessment to determine whether a machine can evince human intelligence. Sandy told me sometime after I’d gotten started on the project that there’s a Lovecraft, test, too. I’d like to think I’d pass with a C minus.
LNN: Tell us about the production process in your home studio. Specifically, what role did your two cats and pet rabbit play? What does you wife think?
Contrarian: I have three cats and a rabbit, actually. The cats, well, they are my kids. Total freaks. One of them is very into music — she loves singing, percussion, and even lead guitar. The other two guys just kind of hang out. They just think it’s just Dad being weird when I’m recording. My bunny is my familiar, my avatar, if you will. My wife is a writer, and is incredibly supportive of all of my creative endeavors. Plus she tolerates my eccentricities, which are legion.
LNN: What are your plans for this project's release? Specifically I am curious as to your intended audience. After listening to the composition, it is quite clearly of a superlative quality and fit for a mainstream release, but of course the traditional curse of the Lovecraftian artist is to be eschewed by the puerile masses of pop-starlet-consuming drones. You knew about the curse before you made the album, right?
Contrarian: Curses are meant to be broken! This is the era of disintermediation, when production, distribution and marketing are no longer under the exclusive control of gatekeepers and middlemen. So it’s a good time to experiment with niche projects like this. You do a little research, figure out who’s likely to appreciate what you’re doing, and just put it out there and see what happens. I think we’re having a bit of a zeitgeist with old HP at the moment, but I certainly didn’t plan to capitalize on it or anything. Really, I’m just trying to amuse myself, and I figured there are a few other people on the planet who would likewise be amused. As far as the pop market, well, I’ve always been outside of that (or maybe slightly ahead of it). Interesting music finds its own course, even if it doesn’t make a ton of money or get played in a car commercial. On the other hand, I’m not pursuing a purely experimental path here. I want people to be able to comprehend the music on some basic level. It’s rock, with plenty of recognizable ingredients. It’s also an aural hyper-sigil that will reprogram your mind. But let’s not go spoiling the surprise…
LNN: What exactly is your day job? I understand that you are the Communications Director for the Future of Music Coalition; tell us about this group, and how does your involvement in it correspond to your Lovecraftian projects?
Contrarian: Future of Music Coalition is a national research, education and advocacy organization for musicians. It’s essentially a music-technology-policy think tank. We work on issues of access and compensation for artists. On the access side, it’s media reform and telecommunications policy. Why does commercial radio suck? Because of federal rules that removed the caps on the number of stations a single broadcast entity could own. We fight for net neutrality, to make sure that artists have an equal technological platform and can compete in the legitimate digital music marketplace. We advocate for more equitable structures that reward creators and not just entrenched industry interests. We defend musicians’ speech and freedom of expression. We do original research and translate complex policy issues. I’m the communications director, and it’s endlessly fascinating. It doesn’t really have anything to do with my other projects except that it does provide me entrée to some of the most brilliant minds in the history of the music business. And these people are even more eccentric than me, which makes me feel normal for a goddamn change.
LNN: Tell us about the Contrarian persona. Whence his non-conformity, and what does his disestablishmentarianism allow Casey Rae-Hunter to do?
Contrarian: I guess I was born under a bad sign. Or an elder sign. Really, I’ve always been something of a contrarian — not for the sake of countering societal mores, but rather because I see things differently and am full of enough vim, vigor, id and ego to simply dive in and do something regardless of prevailing opinion. This is not a stance. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s a metaphysical heritage, from Comte de Lautréamont to Oscar Wilde to HL Mencken to Mark Twain to George Carlin to maybe me. What does being a part of this lineage allow me to do? Well, it certainly doesn’t make me feel particularly at ease with 99 percent of humanity. But it does give me a certain sense of mission. You see, The Contrarian is more than just a musical persona, it’s my intellectual coat-of-arms and the crux of my new media empire. Which is nowhere near finished infecting the Cosmos.
LNN: Tell us about the process you call “Illuminated Musicks.” Specifically, tell us what is the amperage of this illumination, have you purchased carbon offsets for its use, and whether or not William Blake has been consulted on the project.
Contrarian: Blake has been consulted, after a fashion. I plug into the Los often enough for the dearly departed bugger to sniff out my peculiar alchemy. Or maybe it’s just my socks. They do need washing. Anyway, “Illuminated Musicks” is a process of receiving information that can be synthesized in a goodly and useful fashion. It can come from Buddhist meditation or a fine single-malt scotch. Perhaps a nightmare or a really nice Sunday morning with my wife, cats and bunny. Maybe it’s a reflection of my ongoing fascination with absorbing as many systems of thought as possible, then forgetting all of them in a sudden flood of inspiration. Maybe it’s the dark night of the soul and the Saturnine weight of realization that accompanies any serious looking within. Or perhaps it’s all just bullshit. At least records and essays and quasi-profound interviews occasionally come out of it. Which is more than I can say for accountants.
LNN: In your CD liner, you write that the aesthetic rules you "set at the outset of the process were never violated." What is the significance of this success for you?
Contrarian: As an aesthetic fascist, rules are important to me. And let me define that for you: any artist worth his/her salt is an aesthetic fascist. Because what is art, besides the projection of aesthetic will upon existence? I’m just reality-hacking with a very primitive kind of code — sound and symbol. But in order for the program to run smoothly, you gotta keep the extraneous shit out. And it’s best to have the battle map at the outset. Or be really good at convincing yourself that it’s ALL incredibly important. And I suck at that, so I have to have rules.
LNN: Considering your cited rock and roll influences of BOC, shouldn't your project be spelled Eldritch Müsicks (with an umlaut)?
LNN: Tell us about your work with Sandy Pearlman. In his poetry, Pearlman wrote that the "Blue Oyster Cult" was a group of aliens who had assembled to secretly guide Earth's history. Tell us about this. Can we now safely assume that you too are concerned about the imminent threat of shape-shifting reptilians and their Freemason army?
Contrarian: It all comes from the long-running left/right political/esoteric meme of an “invisible college,” a coterie of adepts who can and do influence the tides of history for outcomes a conventional dichotomy would term “good” or “bad.” Agents of Fortune, to quote the title of a BOC record. Christianity is a spiritual-semantic meme that has evolved in countess fascinating ways, and has been exploited by a plethora of power structures. Are there actually guardians of some amazing occult knowledge? Maybe. One thing I know for sure: when imagination is hooked up to the chariot of mass participation, dramatic and ugly things can happen. History tells us that much. The rest is up for the reptilian overlords to reveal at the time of their choosing. Or not, which is most likely the case.
LNN: Tell us about your interest in Eastern religion and mysticism: is it literary, Fortean, or spiritual, and do you thus align yourself less with Lovecraft's hard line mechanistic materialism and more with other more gnostically inclined Weird authors like Machen? As a believer, do you ever worry that Richard Dawkins might stab to death you in your sleep with his ego?
Contrarian: You know, Thomas Ligotti is supposedly a disenfranchised Buddhist. I’m a fully franchised one. I’m the Quiznos of Buddhism. Or maybe Rent-a-Center. If you were gonna put me on a spectrum between Lovecraft’s mechanistic misanthropy and Machen’s Manichean mysteries, I’d probably fall squarely in the middle. As far as belief goes, well, I essentially think that there is no objective, separate understanding of the totality of phenomenon. None that you can intuit in any fixed or permanent sense, anyway. Hence the Buddhism. I suppose it’s also Burroughs-ian, minus the morphine and buggery.
LNN: You list some of your yet-to-be recorded projects as the following: A Latino death metal band called Sotomayor, The Goth Lebowski. (you imagine it to be like the classic Silence of the Lambs-inspired ditty, “It Rubs the Lotion On its Skin”), and a live reading of the Beach Boys‘ Love You album, which would culminate in onstage self-immolation. Do goals like these echo an ideology as reflected in the following statement that you wrote concerning the meaning of life, "No one is keeping score, and imagination is precious," and how so?
Contrarian: I’m only limited by time and laziness. I have a good or ridiculous idea every five minutes or so. And who can tell the difference? Certainly not me. I regret that I have but one life to give to my ludicrous ambitions.
LNN: You have released several other CD's, including one entitled "Soft Rock," which is subtitled the "35th anniversary edition." Tell us how these prepared for your current project?
Contrarian: “Soft Rock” was my attempt at a breakup record — somewhere between Fleetwood Mac and Elliott Smith. After that, I did a record called “Northern Lights,” which was based on Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” novels. The first record was an exercise in minimalism (it got me out of my evil, trippy electro phase), and the second was total maximalism, like me trying to out-Queen Queen. They both taught me different things. Of course, I had other records before that, some with actual bands. I’ve learned from all of these experiences, but it’s not always apparent what that is be until I’m embroiled in another project.
LNN: Perhaps this questions is best asked off the record, and I don't want to sound too disparaging if any tender sensibilities are on the line, but I can't help but recognize the title image from your "Northern Lights" release is a mutation from a popular Mormon painting depicting the arrival of an extra terrestrial being from the planet Kolob to the American continent. In a way, it's devastatingly Lovecraftian. There has to be a great story behind this. Please indulge me.
Contrarian: It’s amazing you caught that. I actually didn’t even know where the image came from; I asked the designer, and he said he pulled it off of an issue of the LDS Watchtower rag. I’m sure the Mormons could sue me six ways from Sunday, no pun intended. I decided the image fit, because the album was based on a set of children’s novels about killing God. I’d never pull something like that with Scientologists. Tom Cruise is way scarier than Nyarlathotep.
LNN: What is next for you?
Contrarian: I’m in preproduction for an apocalyptic blues record called “Revelation Musicks.” It’s gonna be like Flannery O’ Connor’s “Wise Blood” meets Robert Johnson. Which means it’ll probably sound like acoustic Zeppelin. I also hope to keep writing horror fiction, since people seem to like it when I do that. Maybe someone will actually give me money. I’m planning on writing a graphic novel, too. And, depending on the next couple of election cycles, I may move to Europe and become another ex-patriate nutter on the dole.
Learn more or purchase the album at The Contrarian's website:
Update: Hear Casey read aloud his fantastic short story, "The Cove," on the ShadowCast Audio Anthology for free.