Proclaimations -> Interview with Jeb Brooks
March 13th 2012
How do, my simian friends.
I'm once again cracking open my skull so that you can dig around in the sloppy, gray morass contained therein.
At the ass end of 2010, I was contacted by Jeb Brooks. He was writing his senior undergraduate literature thesis on the grotesque in southern literature and dark roots/gothic country/southern gothic music. Apparently, my music falls into one or more of these bloody buckets, so I acquiesced to an interview. Since I'm dragging you all down with me anyways, I figured I'd share said interview with thee and thine.
JB: Are you familiar with Southern Gothic literature? If so, which authors have you read? Has that reading influenced your songwriting, and if so, in what ways? If not, what has led you to write songs that include the grotesque and religion?
ZW: I'm acquainted with Southern Gothic literature, although I'm not as widely read as I'd like to be. Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" is one of the most personally influential things I've ever read. It's brooding, beautiful, violent, eloquent... everything that I could ask for in a book. The same is true for Nick Cave's "And the Ass Saw the Angel", which fits neatly into the genre (albeit being written by an Australian).
Some of the themes that Southern Gothic works exploit are also found in other places that I've read since I was 11 or 12 years old (Poe, Lovecraft, etc). Honestly, I take what I can where I can find it. While I never set out to create anything that could be called Southern Gothic by intent, I've always been drawn to a lot of aspects of it.
Aside from literature, I've always been fascinated by books on science and pseudoscience. These inform a lot of my songs. Parasitology, astrophysics, alchemy, M theory and all sorts of other junk really captivate me. Also, I'm keen on history, true crime, human monsters and the lot. World mythology, religion and occultism are also deeply engrossing. A lot of my interests coalesce in my songs and artwork by design.
JB: Do you think that music and literature connect? If so, how?
ZW: Music and literature don't connect nearly often enough anymore. Gone are the days of skalds and bards. Hell, even Wagner's dead. I think that there are still a number of folks genuinely interested in telling stories with their music. Obviously, they're outweighed by the din of pop music.
Conversely, I think that music informs a lot of authors. I'm not talking about authors that use musical allusions in their work (although there are plenty of those). The authors I'm speaking of are those whose words have an unmistakably musical flow. Cormac McCarthy is a prime example of this.
JB: Were you raised in the South? Did you grow up with relatives who were either raised in or still lived in the South? If so, did either of those things influence your songwriting? Similarly, do you believe that perceptions of the South influence your music?
ZW: I grew up in a very rural area of East Texas, about twenty minutes outside the town of Elkhart (population 1,076). It absolutely influenced my songwriting. The religious zealotry, extreme Christian logic, spiritual decay, abject poverty... these were all things that I could witness by looking out of my front door. They all stuck with me, too.
The South gets a bad rap. Sure, there are people that actively seek to be stereotypes. That's true with any group of people. They invert a negative, outside perception of them into a badge of honor and doggedly stick to it. At the same time, there is genuine culture there, the likes of which I haven't found anywhere else.
Honestly, I don't really think that outsiders' perspectives of the South have really influenced me much. I certainly don't pander to the stereotypical redneck persona that some might be happy seeing in a Southerner. At the same time, I don't go out of my way to play the part of the noble savage that might please others. I just do what I do.
JB: Why do you often write lyrics with Christian references and imagery?
ZW: I find it easiest to write what I know about. Religion is king where I grew up. I also spent my formative years in the Satanic Panic of the 1980's. I heard a lot of smart people say a lot of really stupid shit growing up, all in the name of religion. Creationism, new earth, fossils as a test of faith, Satanic sacrifice, damnation of all non-Christians, myriad pagan government conspiracies... when solitude and remoteness get together, they breed a lot of crazy. I'm never left without source material.
Besides, I've read the Good Book cover to cover, and (more importantly) I've given a lot of thought to morality and spirituality.
Most people seem content to just gloss over the horrendous stuff in there, or play down the parts that don't fit well with their denomination's dogma. Practically everyone sees best not to question anything, though. It's like this rock that folks pretend shouldn't be lifted because they don't want to see what lives in the wet darkness underneath. I think that with any system, religious or otherwise, you should push it to its extremes. If it's a true system, it should function. If it's false, it starts breaking down and looking insane, or fails completely.
JB: When you use Christian references, is there a particular denomination you have in mind? For instance, I argue that O'Connor, who is writing from a Catholic background, often uses religious references to comment on Southern Christian fundamentalism.
ZW: I spent a few years dragging myself to a couple of different churches; primarily Church of Christ, but also a bit of Southern Baptist and Methodist. They're all pretty much the same.
Spending time in a Church of Christ made me focus more on the sound of the human voice (all sacred music there being a capella). This shows up in a lot of my songs.
The experience also introduced me to the concept of meanness in religion. I was often struck at the similarities between the church I was attending and the Pharisees. It was all about the Law; love had no
place. It was a very literal congregation, and you can see the same belief patterns popping up in extremist religions the world over. Once you can excuse an action through a scriptural reference, you open yourself up to the temptation of excusing anything through interpretation. Want to commit murder? There's a biblical precedent for that. Want to beat your slave and rape women? It's all in there. Have a desire to dash a baby's brains out on a tree? You can point to a biblical verse that not only excuses these actions, but condones them as good work done in the name of the Lord. This religious literalism is a slippery slope and its base is littered with abandoned congregants, torture, and spiritual and physical death.
Obviously, this is a total generalization built on my experiences in a few individual churches, but it constitutes my worldview of organized religion in practice, so it's all I have to go on.
JB: Do you have a purpose in mind when writing your music, particularly in regards to dark instrumentation (use of dark ambient-like noise on Psalms for the Spiritually Dead) and dark lyrical content? If so, what is that purpose?
ZW: Not so much, but I want there to be a connection between the aesthetic style of the lyrics and music. The music is almost always an afterthought, so I don't spend too much time on it. There are a few guidelines I sometimes set up before I begin, though.
"The Kingdom is On Fire" is an acoustic album except for the bass and slide guitar. It's meant as a musical allusion to life before the Fall or industrialized society. It's naive and personal, whereas I use electric instruments, keyboards and effects on "Psalms for the Spiritually Dead". There's a coldness there; a sense of distance. The next album I'm working on will most likely use a lot of sound manipulation, for reasons that should be apparent once it's released.
I used to think I worked in a bit of a vacuum, but I've gotten pretty good at sniffing out my influences in my own work. When I was younger, I listened to a lot of industrial and power electronics. It became part of my musical vocabulary. There's all kinds of junk like that in there. I try to mix and match elements from disparate sources whenever possible. It makes it more interesting for me and I think the songs benefit from it.
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