While Holy Sons may still seem like a new project to some fans of Grails and Om, it’s been the center of your creative universe for quite some time. Let’s say someone wants to dive into the rather deep Holy Sons back catalog; where should they start? Everybody always points to Decline of the West and I like that for a couple different reasons. First, its better to have made a record that someone somewhere can feel is your ‘classic record’ rather than worry too much about making a record that has to compete with that watermark. Also, that record was initially ‘rejected’ by one label who said it wasn’t ‘hi-fi’ enough and then another label that said it wasn’t ‘lo-fi’ enough… So obviously they were both totally wrong! I guess it just shows that you shouldn’t take what ‘experienced people in the industry’ have to say very seriously.
Is it an exaggeration to say you’ve written more than 1,000 songs under the Holy Sons name over the years? Have you been good about archiving your material, or has a lot of it been lost over the years? I started seriously digging through old boxes of master tapes from the ’90s when I moved out here to continue the Lost Decade series. I’d assumed that a lot of the master tapes from the ’90s had been taped over or lost at some point. But after retrieving a few boxes of unlabeled tapes from Chapel Hill and some in Portland, I’ve found the original recordings of every song I was looking for so far. I was a pretty hyper kid so I remember getting home from high school and recording up to five songs in a night if I could get that much time alone. So over 1,000 wouldn’t be that hard to add up since ’92, y’know?
You’ve called Holy Sons a way of “facing your own personal reality” before. When you look in the mirror these days, what do you see? And when you look at the world around us all, do you see nothing but the despair, war, etc. that dominates our headlines, or do you see a few glimmers of hope? From a Taoist viewpoint, I think a lot of human life is spent trying to force our blueprint on top of the world, trying to dominate and re-script the universe. So the idea that things are getting worse or being surprised at some of the miseries of temporal life could just be another anthropomorphic projection error in itself. I believe in a larger program of evolution and pre-destiny, but the earth will most likely die in a relatively horrible way regardless of what we hope for. I can only carry out the mission that was made for me. So that’s what generally makes me happy—doing what I was built to do as well as I can.
As you’ve gotten older and faced the anxiety that comes with age, have you found it harder to enjoy psychedelics?
I think a huge aspect of that dynamic is understanding the balance between the time you have on earth and the ambition you have to really use that time well. There was an earlier period where it made sense for me to abandon everything that’s supposed to be civilized, right and healthy… and LSD taught me about my own autonomy, power and destiny during that era. Then there was a natural time of recovery, self-preservation and reporting back on what I learned. When you’re 17 all you have to do is go to work and wash the fucking dishes y’know? So why wouldn’t you spend the rest of the night wandering around the train tracks channeling voices directly into your handheld tape recorder in a drug-induced trance? But these days I’ve got so many concrete things I need to get done that are equally important and shouldn’t be interrupted either.
Do you feel like psychedelics open a door that’s relatively impossible to close from that point on? In other words, do you feel like they show you things about yourself and the world around you that make it impossible to look at things the same way again? If so, is this both liberating and frustrating?
I asked my Taoist teacher in college something like that once and he said “I took so much that I am still constantly high… extremely high… don’t need to get high anymore.” I feel like that too but I’d say it was all a purely liberating process in the end. I mean all the bad stuff gave me my best songwriting material anyway so I can’t regret that right? Drug-damaged songs are killer.