We had the pleasure of catching Holy Sons open for MONO on their tour through Nashville last month at the legendary Exit/In. Before the show, Holy Sons' frontman and experimental artist Emil Amos (Om, Grails, Lilacs & Champagne) was gracious enough to give us his thoughts on classic rock, becoming a podcaster, and seeing things that are hidden in plain sight.
Photo by Kari Leigh Ames
Is Duncan Trussell [comedian and friend since college] part of the inspiration for starting the podcast?
Definitely. I never would've done it without him having paved the way—and I didn’t wanna do it originally. People would say, “You should have your own,” and I’d just reply, “Why would I do that?” The true advantage of going on his podcast ["The Duncan Trussell Family Hour"] was that he has to do the hosting, and I get to be someone who throws ideas out there but doesn’t have the over-arching responsibility to entertain people continually. As the years went by, I'd wrestled with the idea to write a book about my guru and began to think a podcast might be an easier way to write the book in an audio form. Then, as the podcast developed, by the sheer need for content, I had to expand my initial idea from just a story about my guru into something more universal to casual listeners, that’s what provoked bringing in the music history aspect. I’ve spent all my life focusing on this stuff, so it’s starting to bring me back to my original idea of wanting to be a teacher... something I was thinking about seriously back when Duncan and I were in school, but I abandoned that to become a full-time musician.
What kind of teacher? Philosophy?
In college, I wanted to blend elements of philosophy and psychology into a theory of the evolution of consciousness—developing a theory on what the mission of consciousness actually is, what it wants, and where it wants to go. Part of my job as a musician, now a podcaster, or a visual artist, is to make stuff you can’t get other places. The commodity is the uniqueness, and that’s an old underground tenet. If you look at the way the mainstream works, it has absolutely no problem with completely recycling anything. Mainstream entities don’t have any understanding of why it might be useless to carbon copy a previous expression, remake a movie that’s been already made, or why challenging their audience is just an innate piece of articulating anything artistic. Essentially, the mainstream doesn’t value art itself and can rarely identify what it is. Tolstoy wrote an essay, What Is Art?, where he laid down the difference between art and entertainment. I'd use that as a jumping-off point if I was developing a curriculum for a class on art or music history. It’s kind of important to walk into the waters of possible pretentiousness here, because if I don’t verge on saying somewhat judgmental things, then I’m just pacifying everybody and that’s really not an artist's job. You’re supposed to bring rawness under the punk tenet that it can cause growth—and growing usually comes with some pain or discomfort. Drifter's Sympathy was a challenge to try not to moralize anything, and just tell people a true story so they have to come halfway to it and relate, instead of selling them any form of product.
Going back to the music side of Drifter’s Sympathy, I really appreciate that you touch on so much classic rock.
I'm just pushing certain aspects of what I feel is 'lost' to the surface. What some people forget is that the greatest moments in film history, the greatest moments in music history, probably literature, and virtually everything, usually came from the nexus point of an extreme experimentalism meeting right in the middle with an extreme traditionalism. The reason why Dark Side of the Moon and Physical Graffiti are so thrilling is because there’s something very familiar upfront, but it’s colliding with completely bizarre decisions that have almost never been made before in that context. It’s funny to me when people act like classic, ambitious music is somehow meat and potatoes, because it’s generally not at all. Its initial ambitiousness is what makes it arrive at being deemed ‘classic’. You could argue that punk is actually much more meat and potatoes, or folk music, but classic rock—look at the genre of records in a record store that says ‘rock’, it’s the largest because it could mean anything. Part of the whole podcast's intention is to not explain everything but to lead by example and preserve the true weirdo/freak spirit that's hidden in front of us all the time. Like Charles Manson... listen to him sing, there’s a lot of traditionalism in him. I'm a great believer in the idea Carl Jung put across, that a lot of truly forward-thinking people appear to be traditional on the surface [David Lynch comes to mind]. I’m trying to seduce people into realizing that they’ve missed so much that was right in front of them.
I really enjoyed discovering Lazy Smoke from your podcast.
They’re amazing. An old friend [Matthew Cooper, from Eluvium] worked at a record store, maybe 15 years ago, and someone had just reissued their CD and he said, “You're gonna love this,” but my attention span just couldn’t deal with it at the time. I put it on for a second, and I was like, “Oh, I’ve heard this kind of music before.” Then about a decade later, it was reissued on vinyl by my friend [Isaac Slusarenko, from Jackpot Records], and I guess, because of him, I gave it another shot. All of a sudden, I heard all the shape to something that seemed shapeless at first. The definition of the word occult basically means 'hidden', obscured, but simultaneously right in front of you, you’re just not seeing it. I think that’s somehow in the name and concept of Drifter’s Sympathy, that there’s some implied idea that growth is always eluding you and you have to work to open yourself up. The podcast doesn’t spell everything out for you, so it kind of purposely leaves you hanging and hopefully seduces you into doing more research yourself.
Do you want to talk about Filmmusik?
The album just came out on a label called Pelagic in Berlin on June 2nd. I knew it'd be a little harder to get in America, but the idea that a record might be more difficult to find, felt like it made it more special in this era. It's all the songs I’d never been able to fit on Grails or Lilacs & Champagne records in the last 6 years, or so. Maybe there’s something really obstinate about putting some of the best stuff I've got on a record like that. I can only move in the direction I'm curious in, and that's never going to be the same direction as what’s currently selling. The genius card will not be granted to most artists, so it becomes an almost aggressive feat to go out and dig these people out of the cultural waste bins. So following in their footsteps and making new records that are born to be overlooked, I’m just anticipating this dynamic. Working outside of most commercial pressures, I have the freedom to make something that understands its own obtuse autonomy. The new Grails record would never be considered legitimately as commercial music. It just exists on a planet, and you can go to that planet if you want, but it’s not going to come to yours and speak your language, you know?
Let’s talk about fear, what are you afraid of right now?
I’m paranoid about health, but I’m not scared—just paranoid. I get harder on myself when I'm back home. But when I’m out in the world and I’m doing my job, I’m engaged. So there’s a certain happiness to that, which is kind of ironic, because I’m also destroying myself by hurting my ears, playing super loud, which will cut down on my overall time to make music. I think I can generally tell if I’m thinking something that's not useful and get rid of those thoughts, instead of staying in most destructive cycles. My parents got divorced when I was two, and my dad died early, but those things have never haunted me. I just thought that was the way the world was supposed to work. It always seemed as though there was a kind of fair design to everything in the end. I never shook my fists at the sky and asked, “Why?” necessarily, maybe that’s because I’ve already gone through most of the darkest chapters and now I’m sitting here and things are essentially okay. At this age, you have to have some fundamental peace, because if you don’t by now, it’s gonna be a long fucking haul. It made more sense to attack the worst shit first, get past it, and closer to actually putting your hands on life and attempting to enjoy it.
Thank you to our contributor Kari Leigh Ames and Emil Amos for your words.
Listen to Emil Amos' new record, Filmmusik, above and check out his former projects at holysons.com, keep up to date with news via Facebook @holysons and Instagram @holy_sons, and listen to Emil's podcast, Drifter's Sympathy, on Feral Audio's website.