Using that old saw known as “linear time,” we can see that not a great deal of time has passed since we first found ourselves in the orbit of Black Tempest. But then, we didn’t need much time to become enthralled by the sounds of the tempest, and since that time, our admiration has grown boundlessly. After all, space is dark and it is so endless.
Black Tempest is also dark, it should come as no surprise, and some are likely to find the sprawling, gravitationally-uninhabited soundscapes that populate brilliant albums like “Proxima” to approach the definition of “endless.” Certainly these sounds are not governed by any conventional notions of time. Rather, the Black Tempest listening experience owes more to an observation of the limitless and then seeing that limitlessness transformed into a finite expression.
And what an expression it is. Black Tempest’s cosmic creations – informed equally by a direct line of influence from space-and-krautrock pioneers (shadows of Klaus Schulze, Popul Vuh and Tangerine Dream abound) and the more indirect influence of simply being a limitless music-obsessive living in the 21st-century – make great use of the dark reflections one sees when staring into the void of space, but never seem detached from the human element, the magnetic impulse that directs ones attention toward the void in the first place. It’s a sound alien in immediate appearance, yet coursing with human blood at the heart of the machine.
We’re elated to have been brought into the orbit of Black Tempest – an elation upon which time will have only a compounding effect – and equally thrilled to have the heart of this darkness, Stephen Bradbury, provide answers to our ridiculous questions below. Enjoy.
Can you recall a time when either a single piece of music, the single performance of a band, a particular album, etc., changed your way of thinking about music in total? What was that music and what was it about that music that made such a distinct impression on you? How have your thoughts about it evolved since your first introduction?
I guess that’s happened to me a few times over the years. The first time, and thus probably the most profound, would have been Steve Hillage’s “Fish Rising.” I was probably about 12 or 13 when it came out. I used to hang around in our local record shop in the shopping arcade, and the long-haired bloke behind the counter, a few years older than me, recommended it to me. I took it home and it promptly blew my tiny teenage mind. It made me realise that music could take you outside of your normal consciousness to “other places.”
Since then the “classic” Hillage albums (“Fish Rising,” “Green,” “L,” “Motivation Radio”) have become touchstones for me, reminding me that my own music could, possibly fulfill the same function for other people. This is, essentially, what I aspire to.
A few years later I had similar revelatory experiences with Jimi Hendrix’ “Rainbow Bridge” album, and Spirit’s marvelous “Spirit of ‘76″ double. I first heard both of these during my first full-on hallucinatory experience, back in the days of “proper” microdots. They opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t the first person to tread those mysterious paths, and that music could be a guide and a teacher. This is also something I try to give back to people who take the time to listen to my own music.
Can you recall a time when either a single piece of music, the single performance of a band, a particular album, etc., changed your way of thinking in any arena apart from music? What was that music and what was it about what we might term “the message” of said music that made it so profound for you? How have your thoughts about that music – and that sphere of your life – evolved since your first introduction?
The most obvious example of that would be “God Save The Queen.” Although I’d already heard The Damned and The Ramones back then, when the BBC banned “God Save The Queen” and “prevented” it from going to number one in the singles chart, it revealed to me how music could be a revolutionary force for political change. It seems almost a trite statement now, but back then, as a teenager finding my political feet, it couldn’t have been a more powerful statement. In retrospect the music itself now seems almost irrelevant – it was derivative and the politics was simplistic at best – but the power of it back then was a massive electrical charge up society’s behind. It’s easy to forget that now.
To what degree is music the connective thread that runs through your life? Setting aside for a moment the act of making music, what do you get from music? Would you describe music as either your foremost obsession or your longest running obsession, or perhaps neither?
Music has been a connective thread through my life for as long as I can remember pretty much. I can remember bouncing around to “Bits And Pieces” by The Dave Clark Five when I was little more than a toddler. I still get that irresistible urge to dance to the right music. Now, of course, I also get the cerebral and spiritual thrills and spills, but those took longer to evolve in my mindset. Music is both my foremost obsession, and my longest running obsession! If you could talk to any of my family or friends it wouldn’t take long to confirm that fact! Music is pretty much everything for me – my whole life revolves around it one way or another. Our house is a shrine to my records and instruments – I don’t know how my family put up with it to be honest!
What were the steps that led to you first making the conscious decision to make music of your own? What were your early experiments in sound like? What was most satisfying to you about the creative process? What remained – and perhaps still remains – most mystifying?
School friends and I formed a band when I was about 12. Initially we just did the usual covers, but I soon went on to form another band with two friends who, like myself, were more progressively minded. We used to play local youth clubs and the like. We tried to do great long concept pieces (it was the early 70s!) – I remember one gig where the three of us even had slide projections and stuff, quite something now I look back at it. It is so long ago now it is hard to recall much about the creative process, but I do remember it involved smoking sneaky cigarettes!
When did you begin your path under the moniker Black Tempest? What does the name represent to you, if anything at all, and in what ways does that spirit manifest itself in your music, if at all? Like our (perhaps erroneous) assertion regarding music being a connective thread for life in general, do you identify a single, definable thread running through all that you’ve done as Black Tempest thus far? Was that something that you wished to achieve from the outset of Black Tempest, or have you seen this thread transform or reveal itself through time?
The Black Tempest thing was a few years back now. I’d been using an old stage name (which I’m still known by in certain quarters), Squid Tempest, but decided I needed something darker as I was going to try a nastier, more metal sound than previously. So I switched the Squid to Black, in homage to Sabbath. Back then there were no other band I knew of that used the Black prefix – it has since, sadly, become ubiquitous, and Black Tempest looks like a hundred other band names. I’m considering changing the name at some point, but I’m a little reluctant as it is now familiar to quite a few people.
Certainly there’s something connecting the releases “Proxima” and “Ex-Proxima,” which served as our introduction to Black Tempest. We find both collections to be beautiful and are receptive to multiple listens to both – sometimes, in fact, shuffled together in a single playlist. What, from both a micro and a macro perspective, are the similarities shared here, and what are the distinctions that led to the “Ex” designation?
“Proxima” was a bunch of recordings put together for a release on Apollolaan Recordings, run by the very wonderful Matthew Shaw. I was going through a creative purple patch at the time and recorded far more than was needed for a single CD. Matt didn’t want to put out a double, so I released it as a separate CD a short while after. Thus the “Ex” refers to the tracks being “from” the Proxima sessions.
What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite Klaus Schulze album of all-time and why?
So many brilliant releases this year it’s hard to just list a few! Here goes:
White Hills – Frying On This Rock
Hookworms – S/T
Teeth of the Sea – Your Mercury
Nope – Revision
Carlton Melton – Smoke Drip
Sylvester Angfang II – Various Recordings
Kogumaza – S/T
Gnod – Chaudelande Vols 1 and 2
Mugstar – Lime
Goat – World Music
Baroness – Yellow and Green
The Heads – Enten Eller
You’re Smiling Now But We’ll All Turn Into Demons – Contact High
Om – Adviatic Songs
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – Blood Lust
Lumerians – S/T
Various Artists – Electric Eden
… and a couple of older ones:
Kevin Ayers – Harvest Years box
Todd Rundgren – Something/Anything
Edgar Froese – Solo
Favourite Klaus Schulze? “Timewind”!
How do you describe your music to the curious? Do you feel there is more or less to be explained, digested or perhaps translated from largely instrumental music? Do you tend to think of your music in either visual or perhaps “atmospheric” terms, or is there another, strictly personal sort of an alphabet that you refer to when summoning the Tempest?
I never enjoy trying to describe my music, but the description usually comes out as some thing corny like “experimental electronic drifty ambient” or simply “a bit like Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream.”
Much of my music is very spontaneous, so I don’t deliberately go for an instrumental approach. In recent times the results have been largely instrumental as you say, but this isn’t a planned strategy as such. My singing is more appropriate to some of the more rock influenced music that I’ve played on in the past rather than the trippy atmospheric things I’ve done in recent years, so maybe that is just the way of it.
Alex Grey says the following in his book, “The Mission of Art”:
“Yet no art is without influences. Artists who examine the art world and the work of their contemporaries open themselves to potentially refreshing influences that may bring their personal vision to full fruition … Artists cannot evolve in total isolation from other art, yet the art-historical imperative for making art, an art for art’s sake, or a concern for only the formal characteristics of art, is not a sufficiently deep motivation to sustain art as a living cultural force. Artists breathe in and are inspired by the condition of their world. Todays artists need to consider the consciousness-evolutionary imperative.”
Crikey! That’s pretty deep! How about asking my favourite colour or my lucky number?!
I wear my influences on my sleeve. Or, at least, I’m not afraid to admit what influences me. Black Tempest is clearly heavily influenced by Tangerine Dream, there’s no sense in pretending that isn’t the case. I’ve tried, however, to take that a stage further and inject my own thing, and add a more contemporary hallucinogenic edge to it. Whether that has been successful isn’t really for me to judge, but it certainly seems to have gone down OK with the people who have been kind enough to listen in. I aspire to inspiring people, and providing a soundtrack for peoples excursions into the territories of the “other”, the spiritual, the lysergic, the psylocybic, the meditational and the far out. A guiding vibration, an uplifting sonic path to follow if you so choose.
What’s next for Black Tempest?
Exciting times ahead! Fresh from the appearance of the expanded line up at the Supernormal festival, a film of the adventures of Black Tempest in outer space is immanent. The expanded line up, by the way, features the extraordinary talents of Spaceship Mark Williamson and Dan “Kosmischeboy” Doughty, two people I was really thrilled to have a chance to work with. For those who don’t know, at Supernormal we did Space Opera Live. Space Opera is a podcast that I’ve been doing this year – a spoken word science fiction story set to improvised synth music. In its live form it was accompanied by an amazing animated projection made by Dave “Hand of Dave” Longey from the States, and our costumes involved some incredible “alien spaceman” masks made by Felt Mistress.
The next recorded output will be a collaboration that I’ve been working on with the amazing Dead Sea Apes. I’ve loved working on this project, they are such like minds, and we’ve had an almost telepathic rapport while doing this. The results have to be heard to be believed! With luck this will be a vinyl release on the new Cardinal Fuzz label. To say I’m excited by this release is an immense, IMMENSE understatement!
And finally, I’ve just started working on the next Black Tempest release. I’ve been collecting field recordings the last few months, and I’m starting to splice these in with various improvised synth recordings and other sonic tit-bits. I may include some poetry and even (GASP!) some songs/singing, or something resembling that at least. Or maybe not, we’ll see!
Phew! Are we there yet?