John Bassett interviewed by Andreas Schiffmann, original german version can be found at http://www.musikreviews.de/interviews/22-07-2013/King-Bathmat/
AS - John, you started out as a singer-songwriter under the name KingBathmat; please introduce the band members to us, as they have been around you for quite some time now.
JB - Okay, we have Bernie Smirnoff on Drums, Rob Watts on Bass (recently joined the band), David Georgiou on keyboards and me on guitar and vocals.
AS - What makes the group special in this constellation?
JB - I think everyone would like to think that they or their group were special, yet I don't feel thats really for me to say, thats for others to pass judgement on. I don't like to blow my own trumpet, first of all I don't have a trumpet, secondly even if I were to come by a random trumpet, I'm not fond of the sound that it makes.
AS - The new album comes pretty fast after "Truth Button", especially since we are dealing with progressive Rock here; how could you put it together so fast?
JB - "Truth Button" came out digitally in June 2012, and the CD release was available in Jan 2013. The Cd release got more press attention than the digital release and therefore this has given the impression that it is only 6 months since the last release when really its 13 months since the last album release. Although 13 months between album releases is quite quick compared to other bands, I suppose? There were many hours spent, with sleeves rolled up over a short period of time to get this album released in that time.
AS - Your musical direction is as obvious as your sound is distinctive; King Bathmat seem to embrace Art Rock as a genre, yet make do without the often incestuous "scene" that is attached to the music. Am I mistaken here?
JB - I tend to steer clear of scenes that are termed "incestuous". Incest is not a quality one would like to associated with. I think I know what you mean though. People have always formed groups in society to enable them to fulfill an objective collectively and thats great, as long as those involved have an open mind and are welcoming to all newcomers who wish to be involved, its only when these communities exclude outsiders when problems arise. The music business is a collection of cliques that are interwoven by a thin thread, and some can be very exclusive and exist purely to help and further those already involved, some welcome you and some choose to ignore you. There are music publications that claim to champion a certain genre of music yet exist purely to sell the music of their friends and those that belong to their exclusive club with no regard to the actual quality of the music involved. I suppose I don't like to align myself with a scene extensively as that can lead to having to compromise your honesty.
AS - As for the lyrics; "Sentinel" conveys the feelings of an outsider obviously; which role does the god Apollo play here?
JB - The outsider in the song "Sentinel" is someone who is addicted to intoxicating themselves with drink and drugs, or alternatively polluting their soul with something toxic and they have come to a crossroads where they look for an answer or a way out of their problem from a god of some kind, their looking for help from a spiritual source. Apollo is the god of light, amongst other things and Dionysus (Apollo's brother) was the god of wine, ecstasy and intoxication. You could say that the outsider is leading a Dionysian lifestyle and when he looks up into the stars for an answer he feels that the god of light (apollo) is looking down at him and mocking him for his Dionysian lifestyle of drink and drugs. The song "Sentinel" is about spirits, both the metaphysical spirit and also the alchoholic substance and how people seem to have an inner urge to gravitate towards them both.
AS - What is "the unknown" that conditions our fears, as you sing in the title track?
JB - The "unseen" or unknown in the title track is the truth that is hidden from view. The way that history can be rewritten by the victorious and then how such a narrative facade can be shaped and moulded into creating views and opinions and judgements that modulate our conduct. And then asking, does any of this nonsense really matter, as when we reach the end of our mortal lives, if we exist in any form at all, will we really care about these inconsequential stories and ideals on the other side?
Although there is no way of knowing what the unknown is. Thats the nature of the unknown, if I knew what the unknown was, I would know of it and it wouldn't be unknown anymore.
AS - How did you come up with the concept of "Overcoming The Monster", which deal with inner fears and neuroses?
JB - "Legends of the slaughter of a destructive monster are to be found all over the world. The thought underlying them all is that the monster slain is preternatural and hostile to mankind." - E.S. Hartland, The Legend of Perseus (1896)
"Overcoming The Monster" is a archetypal storyline used throughout folklore. It can be seen as the basis of stories such as "Dracula" or "Jack and The Beanstalk", "St George and the Dragon" and also recently with the "Alien" series of films. My take on it is that that the monsters to overcome are monsters of the mind. "Overcoming The Monster" deals with the themes of psychological obstacles that are manufactured in our thoughts, both internally through our insecurities, externally by the outside influence of others and collectively through the mass media which uses fear as a tool to manipulate our perceptions.The Idea was to have every song on the album represent a monster of the mind.
Track 1 "Sentinel" has the theme of a spiritual monster (religion, guilt, the lack of spirituality creating fear)
Track 2 "Parasomnia" deals with paranormal monsters, (the fear of the unknown and unseen)
Track 3 "Overcoming The Monster" deals with historical monster (the rewriting of history)
Track 4 "Superfluous" is about political/military monsters (the state using propoganda to entice the young and gullible to fight unnecessary wars)
Track 5 "Reality Mining" is about technological monsters (the state using technology to snoop into our private affairs etc)
Track 6 "Kubrick Moon" is about conspiratorial monsters (Information overload in a digital age seeding mass confusion)
AS - "Reality Mining" seems to address media domination and maybe the kind of paranoia you have already tackled with "Truth Button", meaning that we feel - and perhaps justly so - that we are observed, controlled and targeted by the powers that be and those behind them - true?
JB - Yes, I think recent events such as the disclosure by Edward Snowden of secret mass surveilance by governments prove that this is a real issue of concern and not a paranoid delusion. And it seems very clear to me that these techniques are introduced not primarily for safety, but to restict and control us. Large media corporations are using this information to target us for specific advertising in ways that impinge upon our civil liberties. There is new technology being used in Germany to beam advertisments straight into your mind when you rest your head upon a train window (so no more sleeping on the train then). There is new technology called OptimEyes that is a camera built into screens that detect who you are as you walk by and then tailor the advertising that it will display to you based upon the data it has on file about you. This is only early days in the development of this technology, and if they can get away with implanting adverts into your mind without your permission through the use of techniques such as "bone conduction" today, then who knows what the future holds.
AS - In which way does the instrumental "Superfluous" fit into this context?
JB - "Superfluous" is about political/military monsters. The monster in question being the state that use propoganda and illusion in order to entice the young and gullible to fight unnecessary wars on their behalf for unjust reasons. I'm suggesting that perhaps this is a monster that should be overcome.
AS - With "Kubrick Moon", you stress that our environment is created by our own thoughts first of all; do you use the reference to Kubrick - I was thinking of "2001" here - for that very reason? Are our lives more than anything just movies with ourselves as editors?
JB - There's a phrase, I heard called "The Weapon Fathered The Man", I can't remember where I heard it from, but what it means essentially is that all of mans technological achievements throughout history can be traced back to the moment when man discovered how to use a tool and then apply its use as a weapon, resulting in all technological progress being primarily driven by man wanting to make bigger and better weapons to scare his competitors and steal his neighbours tribe, or as in todays world, illegally invade countries and steal their natural resources. This idea was illustrated cinematically with the famous cut scenes from the beginning of the Stanley Kubrick film "2001 a space odyssey". In the film a prehistoric monkey man recognises how to employ a bone as a tool, shortly afterwards the apeman realises he can use it to kill his rival, and then therefore take over his tribe, which he/she does. Then the prehistoric monkey ape man flings the bone into the air, the camera follows and pans the prehistoric bone as it descends and rotates in the sky. Then there is a quick cut, and the bone has transformed into a space-craft floating in outerspace. This scene, I believe, is a metaphor, showing that our inceptions from the past create the reality of today, thought creates the world we live in. If our lives are movies, then we are the directors, not the editors. And this analogy also highlights that we maybe now highly evolved technically from our prehistoric ancestors, yet emotionally we are the same and are still controlled and inspired by the same primitive fears and desires.
AS - How do you deal with the lush arrangements and vocal harmonies live; do you restructure your songs?
JB - Yes, its a four piece band live, and we have to simplify the arrangement of the songs, we've recently had a change in personel with Rob Watts replacing Lee Sulsh on bass and have changed quite a lot around. There are numerous guitar parts on certain tracks and what is played live by the one guitarist will be an amalgamation of those multiple parts on the record.
AS - How important has the visual component for the band, e.g. the cover artwork?
JB - Its very important, I was really pleased with the artwork for this album. The artwork was created by Tazminion Art, based upon the idea of Medusa attempting to overcome her own personal demons by blindfolding herself, therefore neutralizing her ability to turn people into stone with her gaze.
AS - What influences you as a musician and lyricist? I don't necessarily mean other bands.
JB - I suppose ultimately I draw inspiration from people who are honest and are not afraid to be themselves and speak how they see the world in the public eye. I really like the late comedian Bill Hicks and the way he conducted his life within his chosen career. The films of Stanley Kubrick have become a recent obsession. Authenticity is all important to me, Being true to oneself, following your own personal musical path and not allowing yourself to be coerced by unnecessary material gain and trivialities. In other words, not selling yourself out to corporations to sponsor their goods and not affecting a pretence in your personality to fit into a pre-conditioned stereotype. Fundamentally just being yourself and becoming successful as yourself without compromise. There are many well known artists that could be named, but for me, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain personify those qualities in a musical hero.
AS - How is the current climate in your region for music like this? Do you feel a renewed interest in classic Rock and its gnarly, proggy branches?
JB - I don't feel their is a renewed interest locally but globally, online and throughout cyberspace, yes there is. I feel that there is a growing interest in music that is different. I feel that people are actively looking in obscure places for music that is hard to categorise, I think that people have become bored generally with what the music business prescribes for them and they are forced to look elsewhere for something fresh to stimulate their musical interest.
AS - As independent musicians, how do you face the digital age with all its pros and cons?
JB - The pro's outweigh the cons significantly. I think the problems only become more pronounced when success and notoriety are on a large scale. There has never been a better environment such as now for independently attaining an audience for your music.
AS - I guess you do not make a living from the band, so how do you keep yourselves up, and what is your key to balance artistic work with common jobs?
JB - I personally have created an environment which allows me to allocate much time to music. I work for myself as a sole trader, buying and selling all manners of things, I've done this for the last 5 years or so and being my own boss, I can then take off any day I please when I wish to follow my pursuit of making music. The trick to pull off would be to be able to make a living from music. That would be fantastic.
AS - Which steps do you wish to take into the future with this album, and what's in store for you during the next months?
JB - I've already started work on an acoustic album, which will be released under my name "John Bassett" which will be documented and found at http://www.johnbassett.co.uk. This music could be loosely termed as acoustic progressive rock of sorts, different from KingBathmat, I don't think it would align itself with the KingBathmat sound that has since been established. I have a lot of music floating around in my brain, and it needs to find an outlet. I'm also looking at another project which will be purely instrumental. The acoustic album should be finished by the end of the year, and then hopefully KingBathmat album no8 should be released in late 2014.