Glasgow’s loopy, gloopy space rockers The Cosmic Dead have spent much of 2016 stoking the fires of psych with a killer new record and a bonkers world tour.
The self-styled ‘psychonautal cosmodelic buckfaustian quartet’ have been drawing deep from the well of improvisation, layering shape-shifting guitar solos and sub-bass rumbles in their intense sound.
It’s a perfect analogue storm of sound, which rails against the prevailing order with rasping resistance.
We get under the skin of the band with guitarist James T Mckay…
What music did you grow up listening to and how has that affected the music you make, if at all?
My mother was the number one disco DJ around the little mining towns where she grew up in central Scotland in the seventies and my father was a radical anarcho folk musician who apparently had quite a big influence on the eighties crust crew. They are both still active behind the scenes of their respective communities and growing up, they allowed me to come to my own conclusions as to what path I was to follow. When I arrived, they allowed a vast platter of sounds and sights to come, and go and from that I would form my own stained glass.
What was the first psychedelic record you listened to and how did you discover it?
The Smurfs Go POP on tape when I was a little child. I was maybe seven years old when it came out and I listened to on repeat in the back of the car on my wee Sony Walkman. Their version of the technohead classic I Wanna Be a Hippy was really important for me. From this, I discovered the joys of Eurobeat and the pounding, bouncing drums and dreamy treble level that I would later come to utilise heavily in my own music.
How important is the function of repetition in music and how does it affect the player and listener, do you think?
While I can’t possibly say anything that hasn’t been said before, I can safely say that repetition has been monumental in shaping my enjoyable moments and glitterbangs through the years. Disco, acid house, kosmiche, techno, house, any true form of music that is to act as a tool for transportation must make use of repeating rumbles in order to tap into that which is at the very core of our experience; the heartbeat. Our own, and that of mother.
Did you start out wanting to make psychedelic music or did you fall into it unconsciously?
When I formed the Radiation Line I did it because I was sick of trying to write songs and I wanted a totally different experience, one of immersive tonal saturation and drone and visceral noise with features not to be found in regular rock music.
I spent a lot of time exploring these themes to their limit by my own hands and when I fell in love with dancing and more complex textural layering, along came the idea for the Cosmic Dead. An immersive experience that can allow you to forget about the tether created by limited physical form and being. Make any kind of love you wish, destroy Westminster, eat the rich.
Is most of your music improvised? If so, how does that affect the recording and production process?
We are constantly jamming and the energy we create together lays the foundation for our improvisations. You need to build a bond with people in order to grow a blanket of comfort under which to make warm gestures. This is one element. Another is about destroying this and creating as much discomfort as possible. Destroy rock music and smoke the dog in anger, if you will.
If we are feeling the vibes and maintain focus and allegiance to the cause then the recording and production process is very simple. Most of our albums have been produced very simply, under the light of the moon and in familiar environments with a lack of pressure to ‘perform’. We find this results in many hours of interesting sounds which can be later poured over to tap into once more.
How do you think your sound has changed since your first record in 2011?
In 2011 we were trying to create a new landscape for ourselves to explore. We did this. We were very young and barely aware of other bands making similar music or looking to achieve a rotary vibe in the vein of where we were sailing. We were so poor, ‘dumpster diving’ for food, busking for spare change to afford studio time, playing at house parties and using the music as a means of not only escape but as I’ve tried to touch on, a re-establishment of the standard.
Rock, pop, recognisable sounds for us weren’t relevant anymore and we were pushing ourselves every day toward a very exciting coastline that was losing it’s blur at all points whilst still mist gathered at a rate quite furiously.
I now realise something very important, that by mid to late 2013 we had touched down on land and established a way of operating that had resulted in a new standardised form for us. Then we became entirely fuelled by our passion for the Scottish Socialist Independence movement. This passion and involvement… the radical education and realisations that came over us totally injected us all as individuals and as a group quite succinctly with a new perception of the world around us.
For the first time we realised how important it was to be our own people. In the growing disgust which came with that education so too did a form of loss of innocence. We became more energetic, aggressive and rightly so with it. That morning of September 19 was one of great heartbreak. Our sound has changed even since then, reflecting more our need for psychedelic escapism that only qualifies its vitality by reflecting the twisted nature of our reality and magnifying it in all its grotesque lack of glory. What glory? No glory.
What’s the thinking behind your latest album Rainbowhead?
That it’s excellent. And features the finest improv work of any band operating in the world today. Check out my guitar lines. It took some serious boundary pushing to get there, and I can never replicate it. I taught Van Halen so much.
What’s keeping you busy at the moment?
By day I work for a venue in Glasgow called Nice n Sleazy. We are currently programming a series of events for our 25th anniversary under the name ’25 YEARS OF SLEAZE’ and it’s so much fun. Up to 60 hours a week smashing my face off a laptop and ultimately getting to have the best time ever around people I love that really do believe in the hard work they are doing, the example they are setting and the end result. We are in the business of making people happy, never forget that.
What’s next for The Cosmic Dead?
We will continue to do what we do. And that is to say, we will continue to explore within our own confines and make moves to break free of our own structures. True experimentation is a lot like practical magic and putting theoretical anarchism into practice; it requires an ability to see from the macro point of view but also to work from the micro. And that takes a whole load of honing. And that takes time, effort and meditation.
The Cosmic Dead’s latest album Rainbowhead is out now through Blackest Rainbow. They play the Strange Behaviours Festival at the Stirling Tollbooth on 26 November.