By Daniel Tucceri
Unbelievably Bad Contributor
Ballarat solo artist Matt Malone has just unleashed his long-awaited debut record S .I. X., and he’s launching it with an extensive East Coast tour, including a mini-fest called The Devil in the West / Fest 2016 at The Reverence in Melbourne this Saturday night (May 28).
Twenty-seven-year-old Matt has been called stuff like “brooding”, “dark” and “moody”. He’s also been called a Satanist and a black magician, which wasn’t very nice. His music is informed by his Thelemic beliefs and studies in occultism. “Music to me is magick,” he tells us.
UB spoke to Matt about S .I. X and Rage and Liber AL vel Legis…
There are plenty of folk-rock acts out there in Australia, but there are few of your ilk. Did any particular local musicians inspire your craft and simply to be yourself?
If I can extend the term ‘local’ to the entire history of the Oz music and arts scene, then there have been many examples that have inspired me to do what I do. For example, when I was young teenager growing up in the isolation of rural Victoria, the late night TV show Rage was a portal for me to discover new music. On most Saturday nights I would sit down and watch the selections of the various guest programmers. One night Sonic Youth were on (one of my fav bands in my youth) and Thurston Moore introduced a “great Australian songwriter” by the name of Nick Cave and played the film-clip for “Deanna”. I remember the feeling when I heard Nick sing; “I ain’t down here for your money, I ain’t down here for your love, I’m down here for your soul”, and thinking how much this guy embodied everything that I thought was cool at that time. Once I delved more deeply into his work and biography I discovered that he was just an Aussie kid who came from Warracknabeal, moved to Melbourne (you know the story), etc., and it really ignited this fire in my early adolescent belly to believe that it was possible to be a great Australian songwriter in the same calibre as a Lou Reed, a Dylan or a Leonard Cohen. Of course, I went onto then immediately discover Rowland S. Howard and David McComb, who further cemented my belief in the power of the Australian voice, story and craft.
Other bands who really blew me away were The Necks and Dirty Three who instilled in me the idea of balancing complete freedom with discipline and minimalistic restraint. And another local artist that I admire is the occult painter Rosaleen Norton, the notorious ‘Witch of King’s Cross’, who always let her mystical visions and deeply held beliefs nakedly shine through all of her works, even beneath the weight of extreme pubic prejudice. Artists like that always encourage me to continue with what I’m doing and instil in me the confidence to never let my will bend beneath conservative bigotry.
You’re an artist who could be described as an iconoclast with your unabashed advocacy of Thelema and occult symbology. Has that presented any problems for you?
As the baroque prince of horror H.P. Lovecraft wrote: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”. Occult literally means “hidden or secret knowledge”. So I think that people generally are fearful and dismissive of things that they don’t understand. I have been called a Satanist, a black magician and many other less kind things in my life. And I guess if we are talking about my musical journey in the scene and what not, there have been certain individuals who didn’t want to play on the same bill as me because of my supposed “association to Satan” or some such bullshit. But overall I would have to say that most people have been reasonably accepting.
What does being a Thelemite mean for you and how does that relate to your approach to music?
I guess for readers unfamiliar with Thelema I had better try my hand at some sort of explanation of what it’s all about. Thelema is the Greek word for “will” and it is a philosophical/spiritual worldview that comes from the central text entitled Liber AL vel Legis (The Book Of The Law) channelled in 1904 through the prophet Aleister Crowley from an entity called Aiwass. The Book Of The Law chronicles the heralding of a New Aeon called The Aeon Of Horus and expresses a new way for humankind to live, in the core foundational tenet of Thelemic philosophy: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will”.
Being a Thelemite for me is a way of life, a perspective, a dictum of complete liberty and total responsibility. The misconception of most people is that “Do what thou wilt” means “you can do whatever you like” but it’s not that at all. As Crowley expresses in Liber II; “‘Do what thou wilt’ does not mean ‘Do what you like’. It is the apotheosis of Freedom; but it is also the strictest possible bond.”
A Thelemite also believes that “every man and every woman is a star”, and as stars we have a ‘True Will’ in this life that we must discover and pursue “unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result”. Every star (or person) has their own orbit and in following one’s ‘True Will’ there can be no collision or conflict with the world or other people. One of the highest insults to a Thelemite is the violent imposition of one’s will upon someone else.
And thus I believe music/poetry to be my ‘True Will’ in this life. And Thelema has helped to support and cultivate that within me. So all aspects of my art is deeply informed by the Thelemic mythology, philosophy and worldview. For example on S .I. X the song “The Beast” is a direct homage to ‘The Great Beast 666’; Aleister Crowley. And there are several references throughout the record. But I also believe that it informs the way that I communicate musically with other musicians, in that I endeavour to respect and balance the interplay of wills, which is also educated by my explorations into sex magick and tantric practice. As a ceremonial magician I see the live performance as a ritual. I have a set of invocations (songs), an altar (the stage) and magical instruments (guitar, voice, drums) to incite ‘change to occur in conformity with Will’. Music to me is Magick.
When did the appeal of the ‘dark side’ first become apparent to you?
I actually consider Christianity, Capitalism and unbridled materialism to be the “dark side”. I think that occultism and finding myself in Thelema has been a great healing, fulfilling and enlightening process.
I was brought up as a Roman Catholic and went to church every Sunday in my childhood. And when I was very young the stories and iconography were something I deeply enjoyed and fuelled my imagination. But when I began going through puberty I was overwhelmed by this very fucked up sense of “guilt” about developing a very normal bodily process, namely; sexuality. My understanding of sex was something that I couldn’t reconcile within my natural self and Christianity. So thus I started exploring the works of Nietzsche, LaVey, Zen Buddhism, Heraclitus, Gnosticism, Theosophy, of course eventually coming upon the beautifully healing and affecting writings of Aleister Crowley.
I mean ultimately it is really whatever works for that singular individual. For some people Christianity works, for me it doesn’t. I’m not someone who hates all Christians or anything juvenile like that, I have many Christian friends and ultimately I consider the man Jesus Christ a great rebel of his time and agree with many of his more Gnostic teachings. But the dysphoria that Christianity imposed upon me made me spiritually sick and Catholicism in particular became a disease of consciousness that I had to heal and wake up from.
Ten years ago, where did you see yourself? Ten years from now, where do you see yourself?
In a way I have always known that I had to be a poet and musician. But I guess 10 years ago (when I was 17) in my naiveté I would have perhaps thought I would be more successful by now (haha). I think that when you’re younger you have these high ideals and the world slowly but surely strips them away from you through maturity and feeling the obligational weight of an economic reality. That’s one of the general reasons why I admire artists, musicians, poets, magicians etc. – they keep pursuing the ideals of the child and don’t sell their soul (so to speak) to the impositions of society.
Ten years from now I would like to be able to say that I am a respected artist/poet/magician, a good husband/father, and hopefully be able to live off what I love to do. I find that happiness usually comes down to appreciating the very simple things in life.
Adam Casey obviously played a big role on the realisation of ‘S .I. X’. How did you cross paths and how big an influence has he been on your sound?
Adam and I met totally by chance. I was playing a solo support at Yah Yah’s quite a few years ago now, and Adam happened to be the house mixer for the night. After my performance he came over to me and said, “You are one the best performers I have seen in Melbourne for years,” and we avidly discussed the intricate details of my favourite band Swans and then parted ways. I did one or two solo supports with Adam under his moniker The Boy Who Spoke Clouds. But the prospect of recording together was something that I had certainly not entertained for quite a while after. I think I just got to a point where it was either make or break. I had these songs lying around for a while and I had to get them down into a concrete expression that I could say I was content with. And Adam provided that opportunity and experience to do so.
There is this communion between the both of us on a musical and intuitive level. I think we both come from a very similar artistic space and in a musical sense “finish each other’s sentences”. The foundational skeleton of the songs were there and I had a lot of ideas for arrangements, etc. But it was through Adam and his own imagination that really helped to bring these songs into a light that was more complete and whole. So I am deeply thankful for his belief, love and technical ability so that S .I. X could become what I always wanted it to be.
Despite being open about it, the occult is something that implies a great deal of intrigue for the uninitiated. What part about it do you feel is most misunderstood?
I think one of the most common misconceptions about the occult is the classic bullshit, that it’s all about Satan, animal and child sacrifice, sex orgies, etc. It’s really got nothing to do with that at all. Occultism is just another pursuit of knowledge like the disciplines of philosophy, science, and religion. I think the perfect summation of what occultism is comes from Crowley’s quote; “the method of science, the aim of religion”. It’s supposed to be a discipline where science and religion are unified into one investigative expression. I know for a lot of individuals occultism is a symbol on a T-shirt or some sort of superficial fashion statement, and I personally think that denigrates the power, majesty and beauty of its true intent. It’s another language and way of life in the pure quest for that ever-elusive notion of “truth”.
How difficult is it to maintain your approach to life and art in a country town such as Ballarat? How have you resisted the temptation to move to a major city?
The Ballarat that I am a part of is a very tightly knit community of artists and supporters of artistic expression. Ballarat has a small but very rich history of great bands, painters, poets and cultural individualists. For example the place boasts some of the best musicians and bands to ever come out of Australia. Bands like Damaged, The Dead Salesmen, The Mavis’s, Immaculata, Warren Ellis and countless others all hail from the small community of the Ballarat and legendary Bridge Mall Inn scene. Not to mention the historical context of Ballarat and the Eureka Stockade Rebellion, which many historians credit as one of the defining moments in the development of modern democracy. But as I say this small community of artists is overwhelmingly outnumbered by the vast majority of conservatives and traditionalists who despise the underground arts scene in Ballarat. I mean it’s not uncommon to be walking down the street with long hair, wearing a Doors shirt and for some bogan to yell out of their car; “You fucking long-haired faggot!” or something abhorrent like that. But for me personally it just adds fuel to my fire to be even more radical.
I have lived in Melbourne for several years in the not so distant past. But there is something about the proximity of unspoiled nature and the less hustle and bustle of Ballarat that makes it more conducive to the quieter way I like to live. I need my regular long walks amongst bushland to keep myself sane and in some sort of communion with the earth. If I live in the concrete jungle it begins to suffocate some natural yearning in myself for the clear country air where there isn’t a human in sight.
Is there any particular message you are wishing to impart through your music and Thelemic principles?
I don’t know if there is necessarily a conscious message that I want to get across; I certainly don’t write a song to manipulate or indoctrinate someone to a particular perspective. But I guess if there is anything overall that I would like to impart, it’s my personal belief as to what music can be as a medium of communication. Music to me isn’t just mere entertainment or even necessarily telling a story (not that I don’t appreciate that aspect of music) but it’s the potentiality of bringing oneself out of the seeming mundanity of life, into the realms beyond our limited sensory perception. If through a song or live performance I can give wings to the listener’s imagination and incite a stirring of the deepest dreaming aspect of The Self, then I believe my work has been achieved in that fleeting and unrepeatable moment in someone’s life. A person’s willing ear is a great gift that I deeply appreciate. I hope I can invoke through word and song an elevation from the suffering of mortal life into a momentary awareness of true freedom and transcendent universal love that I believe vibrates like a silent drone in the hearts of all humankind.
Tell us about The Devil in the West Fest; what motivated you to step beyond the three-band album launch format and make it more of an ‘event’?
I always like to try something different and step out of the norm, even if it means you might fail. As Nietzsche said: “The greatest enjoyment in life is: to live dangerously”. From my perspective it’s better to live with the knowledge that you never held back what was your instinctual inclination. The other motivation is the fact that I have so many good friends who are in a bunch of great bands and musical projects. The prospect of bringing them all together into one day of eclectic celebration seemed too hard to dismiss. I also get kind of bored with those one-day music events where every band plays in the same vein and it turns into this kind of pissing contest. I like it when every individual act is like a master of their genre on the day and showcases the variety of the artists in their differing styles of musical expression. It’s something that I personally wish would happen more in Melbourne, since the scene is so rich with diversity. And I thought The Reverence was the perfect spot for it, since Footscray is such a shining example of the cultural melting pot which is Melbourne.
S .I. X is out now on 180-gram vinyl, CD, and all digital through Heart of the Rat Records.
Matt Malone tour dates:
May 28 – The Devil in the West / Fest 2016, The Reverence, Footscray, Vic (w/ Agonhymn, RIP nofun, Fuschia, Trappist Afterland, Limnal, Bunyip and Clive Of India)
June 9 – The Hamilton Hotel, Newcastle, NSW
June 10 – Secret gig, Sydney, NSW
June 11 – Music Farmers, Wollongong, NSW
June 12 – Front Bar and Gallery, Canberra, ACT
June 24 – The Tote, Collingwood, Vic
July 9 – The Eastern, Ballarat, Vic
July 22 – The Exeter, Adelaide, SA