We headed out to the Neon Marshmallow Fest in Chicago a couple of weeks ago and it was a real treat. Sure, here in Brooklyn my act gets to roll deep with sonic heavyweights like Grasshopper and Excepter all the time, but it was nice to rub elbows with those guys in a different time zone along with 80 other acts. One of my favorites of the others was Neil Campbell, aka Astral Social Club.* He's been in the game for a long time and he was very gracious about answering some questions...
You are notorious for having a huge amount of releases. Has there ever been an unproductive time in your life, a time where you just said FUCK IT, stared at a wall and just let time slip through your fingers?
I guess I've been around for a long time, so it's not difficult to amass a vast discography. I was lazier when I was younger, and had all the time in the world. Now I'm older, and have hardly any spare time, it makes me focus a bit more. Also, my social life is almost non-existent so what the hell else am I going to do with my time?
What is the greatest band you ever saw that you never heard anything from or about after?
Sepopeplel - that lunatic Stewart Greenwood and his (now ex-)girlfriend, Brighton in the late 90s. A huge warm wall of muffled radio interference with the slowest most gorgeous concertina and clarinet woven over the top, with them both wrapped in mummy-style bandages or something. Weird and heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I think they had a release on Chocolate Monk, but then just seemed to disappear.
Astral Social Club, Vibracathedral Orchestra, you are always associated with COOL sounding band names. Any you have considered that just didn't make the cut?
Ah, but both those names are appropriated, in one way or another ... I guess I just know the best places to steal from! But how about one of the earliest bands I was in, from 1981-85 - ESP Kinetic ... now that's a TERRIBLE name. Following that, I had a short-lived project called Redemption Inc ... so embarrassing.
What is an Astral Social Club? It's a real place right? Is the Astral Social Club in your mind the same as in real life?
It was a real place, in the small town where I live, but it had obviously been derelict for years. I liked the combination of celestial and mundane - there's an intrinsic humour to northern English working men's clubs too, which fits right in with the way I like to live my life. I'll have a pint of bitter and a dose of rainbow juice, with some pork scratchings on the side.
Like, say you went to visit a social club on the astral plane. Who would you expect to socialize with? C.W. Leadbeater?
My old pal MS Turner, 23 years dead ... what a fucking waste. We could do a great turn up there, after I'd given him some shit for bowing out of here so early.
Any interest in the Astral Plane at all or is it all fun names and imagery?
I'm a pretty feet-on-the-ground solid sort of guy, in the main. But, like I said, underneath I'm a naked pantheist hollering at the dawn ... I probably never properly came back from the first time I took mushrooms with that maniac Stream Angel. He has them on his cornflakes in the morning, but my tolerance is super-low. Letting someone like that dictate your youthful and clueless dose is crazy.
How did your trip to the US for Neon Marshmallow come about? What did you think, get exposed to any hidden gems?
I had a great time for the two days I was there. Really enjoyed the vibe, and a load of the music too. It was good to catch up with some folk I hadn't seen in a while, meet new people, and I really enjoyed playing the two sets. The revelation to me was Nmperign/Lescalleet set, which totally took me by surprise - I wasn't sure that would be "my thing", but it was easily my favourite set. Carlos Giffoni and I had to do our completely unprepared duo set on the same stage right after they played, and I was kinda shitting myself to go on after them. I don't think we reached their dizzy heights, but I don't think we disgraced ourselves either - it was fun playing with Carlos, and good also to largely avoid "the obvious", ie do a weirdo acid house set.
I'm not much of a gear fiend - i tend to like inexpensive things that I can use and abuse, then discard when I feel I've exhausted them. For my Chicago trip I purposely made sure I could travel really light, so it was all micro-sized things - Bugbrand Weevils, mini-Kaos pads and that Korg Monotron used as a guitar processing tool (it's my favourite tremolo and distortion unit these days). At home i tend to record using a mixture of outboard electronics and tapes, mixing it with some computer-generated drum/loop sounds and the odd bit of acoustic noise. Nothing fancy.
Last great book read? Last terrible book read?
I've been on a bit of a Stewart Home tip recently, and "Come before Christ and Murder Love" was my transatlantic reading matter. I always laugh out loud at the funny bits, so no idea what the people sitting next to me on the plane thought. As for terrible books - "Open up and Bleed", the Iggy biog is actually pretty good and well-written, but it left me thinking what a dick Iggy is (no real news there), and how he's pretty much pissed his talent away. I ALMOST wanted to revisit "The Idiot", but instead just dug out my MP3 burns of the complete "Funhouse" sessions and jammed them on random play ... still sounded fantastic.
What was the most recent beautiful thing that you have witnessed?
Picking beans, dodging all the bees doing their thing on the flowers, beautiful sunny day earlier today.
Have you ever been shocked? Either by electricity or by just something outrageous. Have you or anyone you know ever been struck by lightening?
Nah, but I get static shocks all the time - I feel I'm some sort of benign lightning rod or something sometimes.
When's the last time that you have been truly humbled? Not "wow that guy has some chops" but have felt that you are sitting at the feet of an ascended master?
Looking at Monet paintings in Chicago Art Institute - the hay bails always get me, but there's this great great one looking out to the ocean from some cliffs, huge rock formations looming ... really atypical Monet subject matter, but that just made it even more jaw-dropping for me. I used to be down on the impressionists a bit - totally partisan and possibly patriotic devotion to Turner, y'know? But I couldn't deny that stuff in Chicago. But, shit, the Matta paintings in there are really something too.
David Bowie or Scott Walker?
Scott Walker. They're both ridiculous, but Scott's on his own trip - Bowie's just a fanboy. Plus, I'm a real sucker for sumptuous 60s string arrangements.
Ever have a metaphysical experience? Have you ever seen or felt a ghost? Have you ever felt a ripple in the cosmic frame? Have you ever seen a UFO? Swam with Nessie at Loch Ness?
Sometimes just walking down the street is a metaphysical experience. I get these huge tides of joy surging over me, really strong and delicious. None of the more dramatic stuff you mention, just a very good feeling of being a small part of a much bigger thing, hurtling through time and space, ready to crash and burn at any minute, but knowing that that's a GOOD thing.
Bombay mix, or maybe kalamata olives.
And finally, the most important question of them all. ABBA - take them or leave them?
Jeez, have you ever heard my Neon Blossom tape, with the track "Stig fucking Anderson" on one side? I LOVE ABBA ... favourite tune? "Bang-a-boomerang".
So check it, we now have some music files from Neil - (Right click to download)
Stig Fucking Anderson (mp3)
Generator Breaker (mp3)
Well Neil, I couldn't find one for Bang-a-Boomerang but check out backwards Voulez - Vous
I admit it, this was a bit of a cop-out to get someone else to do all the real work! To regular readers of my posts, fyi, I'm still working on that Best of Brooklyn Botanicas list, I swear!
* Funny thing is, when one of my friends said he was playing he was described as "that Astral dude" so for whatever reason I thought it was going to be Mt. Vernon Astral Temple. I think this is the part where Josh chimes in and says...