It’s Not Night: It’s Space have a lot to say. What remains remarkable to these apes is that they’re able to say almost all of it without words.
When we first submitted to the gravitational pull of It’s Not Night: It’s Space, via the band’s debut EP (“East of the Sun, West of the Moon”), there was no doubt that we would be following the band’s orbit on their next approach. What we couldn’t have predicted is just how breathtaking we would find that follow-up to be.
“Bowing Not Knowing to What” is the band’s first full-length journey and somehow manages to capture nearly every disparate, distortion-driven element of our currently amplified cosmos into one unified universe of sound. Crushing rhythms merge easily with otherworldly guitar lines, reflecting the best of the East and the West (let alone that residing West of the Moon) across the spectrum of amplified space. It is a majestic, quantum-leap of an album, showcasing a band that has moved from great to quite possibly unstoppable.
Wordless as the music of It’s Not Night: It’s Space is in general, the result is something never less than lyrical. As mentioned previously, as evidenced by the W.S. Merwin-quoting title, and as confirmed by this mammoth interview, It’s Not Night: It’s Space have a lot to say, and we could not be more thrilled to offer our bow of respect to their words below. Long live raga-roll. Enjoy.
Is it fair to assume there is a shared fascination with outer space among the members of INNIS? To what do you attribute the origin of this fascination? How does that fascination manifest itself, if at all, in your everyday life? Can you sum up or capture precisely what it is about space exploration or the cosmos that carries such significance for you?
We certainly love reading mind-bending science articles about space and are fans of thinkers like Carl Sagan and science fiction like Philip K> Dick and most recently blown away by Olaf Stapeldon’s Star Maker. We also particularly share a deep love for authors like Tim Leary, Robert Anton Wilson (RAW), and Terence McKenna, and they have plenty to say about the implications of space travel and humans leaving the Earth. But really, the thing about space and the name of the band has to do with what we see as the difference between Night and Space. Maybe the best way to describe it is by pointing to a hierarchy we see. There’s Cultural Reality, Natural Reality, and Cosmic Reality. Each one being progressively more real, so to speak, which means less human-centric, less self-serving, containing less of the baggage of History and the trappings of Language. So Night is a human-centric, Earth-bound cultural concept. There’s a sense of stepping closer to The Real if we were to just adjust our language a bit and call it Space. Maybe small steps are all we can ever take, but there’s a certain kind of humility inherent in keeping close to The Real and it’s that very humility which we find to be so sorely lacking in humanity these days. Maybe some cultures, particularly ones of the past, have harmonized all levels of the hierarchy, but American culture seems so blatantly and obstinately out of touch and solipsistic in regards to those other two levels beyond the Cultural.
What are the overlaps in your own mind between a fascination with the cosmos and what we might pompously refer to as “the artistic process”? How does one inform the other in your experience?
If we are inclined to believe that Language is the prime engine of this Cultural Reality, the goal then is to find ways to step beyond it. Space represents the boundless and the great hope of “as above so below” is that we can eventually find that the same boundless potential exists right here. That the Ultimate Reality is that there is no hierarchy at all. So, anything that transcends boundaries and touches the numinous is what we are interested in: communication beyond language through purer symbols or through music itself.
Our process has consistently started, for every single song (except “The Gathering” which Tommy composed in his bedroom and then we tracked/fleshed out in the studio), at the same spot: the jam. We just tune in and let ourselves be informed by our sensibilities, by each other, and by the Other. We have some kind of recording device rolling so we can later comb back over what we channel and then decide what stands out and how to piece it all together, what story is trying to be told, what needs to happen next, how can we finish it. So it becomes this co-creation with what we call the Fourth Member. There have been many times where we will listen to what comes out of our instruments in the moment of a jam and it will feel more like we are in an audience rather than in the act of writing. For us, that’s the best place to be. We are fond of Lorca’s concept of duende for this reason because in one sense it is a type of muse that informs but also simultaneously is a quality that can be observed in a piece of art.
What can you tell us about your own personal musical evolution? How have your own listening habits – not just the music you listen to, but when you listen to it, why you listen to it, and what you take from it – evolved over time? Can you pinpoint a specific album or a specific band that served to spur your own interest in a more expansive musical universe? What captured your attention about that music initially, and how do you feel about it today?
As we do more and more interviews and we analyze these types of things, we realize that in spite of our collective agreement on what is important, our individual tastes in music and individual interests in philosophy are unique to each individual.
Tommy: The history of my present musical preferences is a bit interesting. First, I must mention that I grew up in an extremely musical family. My grandfather was an accordion player and some of my earliest memories are of him dancing around the house with his accordion. My father played Spanish ballads on the Hyostar hummingbird acoustic that eventually became my first guitar at age thirteen. My grandmother sang in her church’s choir, so did my mother. So my exposure to, and interest in, music started really early on. I started getting into my uncle’s vinyl (you know… the ubiquitous cool uncle) when I was around twelve or thirteen years old. I dug on “Disraeli Gears,” “Benefit,” “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Sgt. Peppers,” “Aftermath,” “Wheels of Fire,” “After Bathing,” and also all sorts of weird world and experimental music. I guess I really had no choice as far as the selection went. If I remember well, the initial appeal wasn’t so much the music but the mechanical act of handling the records and the record console. It just seemed like such a grown up thing to be able to do unsupervised. But, inevitably, the music took hold. Through my later teens and twenties I pretty much dug deep into punk rock and all its offshoots, partly because that’s what my peers were listening to but mostly because I identified with the ideals. What is interesting is that I have come full circle to stuff in the same vein as those initial records: namely psych, world and experimental music. I guess if I had to point to the band that brought me back into the fold (so-to-speak) it would be the Soft Machine. I was stuck listening to the same records over and over, mostly 80s hardcore and alt stuff, and some of the more artsy punk, and feeling incredibly bored by it all and dissatisfied with the “indie” thing in general. Then the first Softs album somehow landed on my stereo and it struck such a primordial chord; it led me to rediscover some of my old favorites as well as dive deeper into the psych ocean. It’s such an amazing record. It’s not all jazzed out yet but the jazz is there, just under the surface. It’s whimsical, heavy, literate but not in a pretentious way. It just sounds like it’s drenched in psychedelic honey and it wears a Dali mustache.
Mike: I became really passionate about music, as a listener who started making emotional connections to music and identifying with it, in 7th grade and carried that all the way through high school, but that whole time I was pretty unadventurous. I just didn’t have the mindset/resources to step beyond the mainstream offerings. I absolutely felt totally suffocated by it though at the same time. I can remember wandering the aisles of Tower Records, dying to find just one thing new and worthwhile but being utterly unaware and directionless. So I was obsessed with the classics like Zeppelin and Sabbath and Neil Young and 90s alt radio offerings. I always remember being totally enamored by “A Warm Place” on “The Downward Spiral.” “If only bands could write whole albums like this,” I thought. Then finally, as internet speeds got faster, I found Godspeed You! Black Emperor. That was it for me. The gateway drug for sure. There’s no way I can encapsulate what they mean to me here, but rest assured, an enormous portion of my musical heart belongs to them. The doors they opened totally affected the way I listen to and play and write music now too. Through them I found bands like Do Make Say Think or Ash Ra Tempel and suddenly I was listening to the music itself, how it unfolded, how movement happens, and no longer just hooked on a vocal melody.
Kevin: I grew up enjoying alternative music picked up from the radio and MTV like Green Day and Nirvana. By the 6th grade, I was turned onto Punk Rock and started forming bands with friends. I was quickly attracted to Anarcho-Punk, as it’s called: bands like Aus-Rotten. My interest in punk comes from an overall ongoing interest in liberty, self expression and exploration, so I always find myself drawn to bands and music that radically critiqued traditional cultural boundaries and tried to create something in the mundane world but not of the mundane world. I started liking heavier bands like Infest, His Hero is Gone, Tragedy, and From Ashes Rise. At the same time, I got turned on to a wonderful plant called Cannabis and soon found my way to the classics like Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and the Doors, and I realized how radical these people were in their own way through their music and lifestyles. I feel around that time my appreciation for all music as a means of expression grew. Since my punk days I have also deeply enjoyed and been inspired by bands like Neurosis, Isis, Om, Dead Meadow, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age. Those artists have been hitting the spot for me for years now, unceasingly. What stands out to me about the music I’ve explored after punk was this unhinged exploration of expression in and beyond words, a means of charting new states of awareness through sound, and even the altering of one’s state of awareness through it too. I cycle through listening to Raga, Folk, and tunes from the 60s and 70s too. Music has had its place in my experiences with meditation and altered states of consciousness as well.
What were your first forays into writing, performing and recording music of your own? What was most surprising to you about your early experiences? How do those experiences compare or contrast with your overall experience in INNIS?
Tommy: I’ve been in a few bands with a few good people before It’s Not Night: It’s Space. Most were punk bands; and most, with one exception, lacked motivation and/or direction. Through all of this I have recorded on my own. I guess I started committing things to tape sometime around my early twenties. Mostly little acoustic, nonsensical ditties that I would write in a few minutes, record and then forget about. It was all mostly for therapeutic value. The “songs,” and I use quotations here very purposefully, were pretty disposable and were never meant to be shared with anyone. Then, as I became more and more frustrated with the bands I was in, I decided to just go for it and do the lo-fi, home recorded thing on my own. I did that for a bit but it was so sporadic that it never really caught. Some of those songs were the first that Mike and Kevin heard when they decided to ask me into the band. All in all, INNIS may as well be my first band. I had come to think it was nearly impossible for all members of a band to be of a musical mind. I mean, we are very different people in many ways, but the way we all complement one another in the musical realm, and the way we all approach the Other, and the ways in which we make our songwriting process receptive to it … I have never experienced anything like it and am incredibly fortunate to be on this ride.
Oh yeah, and what most surprised me about my first forays into playing music for people is how incredibly unglamorous it really is. It’s basically a lot of heavy lifting and hanging out in damp basements and cold garages. And sometimes the cops show up.
Kevin: I started playing in bands and writing songs at age 11 when I got turned on to the local punk scene in New York. I started attending shows nearly every weekend or every other weekend from that age until I was 18. I first played drums and bass in thrashy punk and hardcore bands. In my last band, Sick of Talk, I played guitar. We played some fast and heavy stuff and some doomy stoner tunes before we broke up. We had a lot of fun playing and getting to participate in the DIY network around the tri state area. We released two 7” EPs and took one long weekend tour around a few eastern states. What I found amazing, and still do find amazing, was the process of writing music that I want to hear because I dig on it, and then upon sharing that with people, learning that they have enjoyed it or that it satisfies some musical interest of theirs.
With Sick of Talk, we found ourselves playing alongside some of our favorite bands, on sold out bills, opening up for them at one of CBGB’s last shows, and on stage at B.B. King’s in Manhattan. I never tried for my musical endeavors to bring any particular results, but have since learned that anything can happen when you just do your thing and see what the world makes of it.
In my old bands, I would whip up some fast riffs and we would blast them out; it was fun and gnarly, but this project has been a lot more experimental and collaborative. INNIS from the start has been a much more group minded and intuitive journey through sounds and reflection upon sounds in the process of jamming and composing psychedelic soundscapes. We seem to arrive at these psychic moments while jamming together where our hivemind kicks in and a song flows out as it wants, the duende arrives. Crazy things can happen there that one person can’t compose on his own. We work hard and play hard, I can say that for sure. The reactions we get from people at times is of a whole different caliber than other music I’ve played. People say some crazy and nice things. We really love what we’re doing and have been met with an inspiring amount of appreciation locally and otherwise, which we are definitely very grateful for.
Mike: I started playing drums my Freshman year of high school when I finally convinced my dad to take his old kit down from the attic, but this is the absolute very first band I have ever been in. So for half my life, I just felt this intense frustration and angst during any given set of some shitty bar band while I was out on the weekend. I wanted to create so badly and just never found myself in the right situation to really put work into a project. I had jam sessions here and there with good people, but nothing to call my own. My passion for being in this band is at least half fueled by that kind of finally feeling I carry with me. I can honestly say that I can’t imagine how this band could be any closer to what I have always dreamed of doing with music. If fourteen year old me could see us, he would be really excited and for that I feel blessed.
There’s an aspect of poetry that reveals itself on your stunning full-length debut, “Bowing Not Knowing to What,” which is somewhat surprising, giving the largely lyric-less nature of your music. What led you to choose the line as the title for the album, and are we correct to identify the source of the line from W.S. Merwin’s poen, “For the Anniversary of My Death”? What does that poem – or more directly, the final line of the poem – represent to you? How and where does that train of thought appear in the music of INNIS?
Mike: As we were saying before, we each bring different interests to the table, which is not to say the interests are exclusive, but we each seem to have our areas of expertise. Literature and particularly poetry are my thing.
If I can talk again about my formative years, aside from feeling suffocated by mainstream music, I just felt suffocated in general. There was a distinct lack of value all around me that seemed to be swallowing me. No one, neither my peers nor the culture at large, seemed concerned with my concerns or to be taking life seriously. But in my early twenties, around the same time I discovered Godspeed, I started reading Terence McKenna; I read The Romantics, and then The Transcendentalists, and then The Beats, and then other American poets who didn’t necessarily belong to any movement like Merwin or William Stafford. And suddenly, there were these voices speaking this language I had never heard anywhere else, voices that cut through all the unnecessary and echoed the awe and wonder I had always felt connected to for as long as I could remember. I remember standing in Barnes & Noble once in the poetry section just trying to grasp how these voices all slipped through. The slightest counter balance to all the heaviness of the culture at the time (war; consumerism; terrorism, etc.).
Merwin, in particular, is one of my favorite voices for a variety of reasons, but essentially he would understand the difference between Night & Space. He is absolutely a poet who in many ways distrusts language which, as you point out, is ironic. But walking that line between totally forsaking language and being totally consumed by it is a very important task. It might be described as an awareness of limitations and that awareness goes a long way in solving problems of our culture which is something RAW would understand and also something Jacques Derrida would understand. But without getting too sidetracked (too late?): the poem “For the Anniversary of My Death” has always been one of my favorites. It’s pretty much the perfect poem: so profoundly potent yet so simply composed. The speaker of the poem considers the fact that much like we have our birthdays marked on the calendar, our death days are marked there too; we just have no way of knowing which day it is. But, we live that day once a year just as we live our birthdays. So in essence the poem is a pondering of that mystery and sort of encapsulates one of those moments where a thought bends your mind just enough to stop you in your tracks but with enough grace that you fall in love with the mystery of being. And that’s what the last line is really all about. Reverence. Not based on some dogma, but reverence for Being itself. Genuflection before the great mystery. Humility. When you boil down the band’s individual interests and passions, there is that general sense of reverence behind how each of us approaches the world individually and what we hope comes across in our music.
While it’s impossible to select a favorite song amongst an album that hangs together so nicely as just that – a complete album, a complete and coherent expression – we will admit to being utterly engrossed with the song, “The Mantis & The Cow”? What can you tell us about the origin of this song? What led to the choice to use the recitation of Aliester Crowley’s poem “The Pentagram” within the song? Is there a Crowleyian fascination within INNIS and if so, to what do you attribute this? What does the line, “man was the lord of the fire” mean to you? Do you prefer the proper pronunciation of Crowley, or do you default to the more common, Ozzy-popularized pronunciation?
Like our other songs, “Mantis” started with a jam. The first riff you hear is the first one that just appeared one day in the midst of an extended session. Mike drew a picture a long time ago of a Mantis Being and a Cow-Skull Being and for some reason that came to him when trying to name the song. Because of that imagery, the song took on a distinct narrative quality. Mantis hero crash lands on an Evil Cow Lord’s planet. Capture and suffering/battle and redemption/salvation all follow. It’s one of the main examples of that kind of co-creation we’ve experienced. The music was telling us a story and we were listening to it, but simultaneously trying to figure out how to finish the story with subsequent parts.
When mixing and mastering the album we thought that the build-up section where Mr. Crowley appears could use a little special something and we were planning on back masking his poem with some swirlies but when Rick [Birmingham of Tree House Audio, producer of the album] dropped it in, it fit so perfectly that we didn’t touch it.
The poem itself goes through a sort of history of mankind, detailing how humans have conquered each element over the course of our evolution. We have become Lords of Earth, Sea, Fire, and Air. But the last realm which we have yet to conquer is the realm of the Spirit. So the idea of mankind conquering its suffering and redeeming itself through the mastery of Spirit, happily fit with the narrative of the Mantis and the Cow in this sort of triumphant moment of the song.
Kevin: The Crowley (I pronounce it Crow-lee) fascination can be attributed to my ongoing studies and interest in the Occult. For the past five years, I have found myself drawn toward ancient wisdom, astrology, and magick. I was turned onto Thelema (Crowley’s Philosophy, translating to “Will” in Greek) by Robert Anton Wilson’s work Prometheus Rising which was a consciousness changing book inspired by Crowley’s methods of Magick. I’ve been reading the Beast’s work for years now, and Crowley’s dedication to synthesizing spiritual wisdom from traditions east and west, his dedication to the liberty of the individual and shameless reverence for nature and the cosmos has always resonated with me deeply, thus I realized I was a Thelemite. When thinking about Aleister Crowley it is, in my opinion, important to look at him as more than an individual who wanted to offer humanity a new philosophy; his insights and libri are the product of humanity reaching a time where an individual can actually travel, learn, synthesize and share all of the wisdom of the world and also utter new truths about man’s Spiritual nature. I do believe Crowley was tapped into the values of the future, which is why he was received with so much friction in his time. He was also just a dude too, and had his rough edges as humans do. I’m currently a member of the Thelemic fraternity the A.’.A.’. So the themes of mystical reverence for our connection with the cosmos has been a part of my daily life, and so for me music is another yoga or sacred dimension of life. The art and symbolism we use has meaning to all of us; I know that. I think the awareness of the sacred power of art and reverence for nature and wisdom is something that we as bandmates all connect with. In fact well after INNIS started, I noticed this cool connection between one of Crowley’s visionary experiences and our band’s name. From The Vision and the Voice: “And it is night; and because the night is the whole night of space, and not the partial night of earth, there is no thought of dawn.”
What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite Iron Maiden song and why?
Mike: I seem to have a preoccupation with prolific drone artists. Evan Caminiti’s (of Barn Owl) solo work continues to floor me; Richard Skelton’s output this year was great; I have been digging as deep as possible into Steven R Smith’s work; especially in light of the success of Barn Owl, Smith is the epitome of shamefully overlooked; Zelienople; Always, always, always Stars of the Lid; Secret Museum of Mankind stuff; Sultan Kahn; Didgeri Dudes is surprisingly fantastic in spite of their name; oh yea, and I heard GY!BE put out a new album or something.
I have honestly never listened to Maiden. If you said Sabbath, I would have been all over this (correct answer there is “Wheels of Confusion” which we hope to do a 20min cover of someday).
Tommy: I’ve been keeping an ear out for this one group out of Brighton, England called Diagonal. Their debut came out in 2008, I believe, and it was absolutely phenomenal. They have a second album coming out on Metal Blade in November (that’s for the US release. I think it’s already out in the UK on Rise Above Records) and already their teaser track is hitting all the right notes as far as my ears are concerned. Besides that I’ve been getting a lot into anything to do with Felix Pappalardi. Nantucket Sleighride is an incredible album. Jack Bruce’s records after Cream seem to end up on my playlist quite often lately. Especially Things We Like, the Jazz one. Oh and Bach. Always Bach. Bach is for bassists.
Unlike Mike I do know a bit of Iron Maiden and I’m not afraid to flaunt it. No pushing or shoving required, my favorite Iron Maiden track is “Invasion” off of the Soundhouse Tapes EP. I guess I dig it and the rest of that EP because, unlike most of their later stuff, it seems to have a bit more teeth and grit and hunger. Paul Di’Anno was great. Much better than that other dude, in my humble opinion.
Kevin: I have recently been digging on the new Om record, Weird Owl’s albums, Norman Greenbaum tunes, and Mike turned me on to Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. I only know a few Maiden Songs, but as one might guess “The Number of the Beast” is what I would lean toward.
Do you consider the members of INNIS to have a vision or prognostication for what you would like to achieve with your music in the near future? Or do you feel your next step is more left up to chance? What aspect of the band has been most surprising to you thus far? What are the areas of your music that you feel you have only now just scratched the surface of, and what promise does that hold for you in the future?
In terms of future sound, we will probably continue to allow ourselves to be informed, but we are all interested in exploring more open and textured spaces.
As far as other achievements: during an interview we did for a local paper this year, we were commended for not settling for local notoriety. We come from an incredibly active and talented region. There’s lots of stuff going on but some acts choose to keep it local while others branch out. It’s still hard to say what our next step would be. It has all been incredibly analogous to riding a wave so far, which is to say there seems to be a momentum that is entirely out of our control, but at the same time, you want to be conscious and aware upon the board you are riding so you can make adjustments as necessary. That’s the way we’ve been operating and it’s been working.
Pretty much any recognition at all in a world totally inundated by music has been really surprising. Locally, there was a sort of “bar band” barrier to break through in our home town considering it is a college town. Bars want to make money by making safe choices for their weekend events, so you could imagine an oft-too-loud instrumental psych band would be last on the list, but because of our drive to just play and hit open mics and never willfully turn down a show, the taste for us has been acquired and that in and of itself has been surprising. But again, it all just seemed to happen. We pushed very little but we resisted nothing. And all the while the scene around town has become more and more adventurous thanks to lots of different artists and collectives and venues. So now that we’ve done the Kickstarter thing and had support come in from all around the world, it makes us very excited to think that if the right heads got a hold of what we are doing, we can up the scale of the story so far.
Practically speaking, our goal would be to be acquire enough resources to obtain more instruments and continue to make more music. Socially speaking, we’d love to continue to play with bands that we have lots of respect for and vibe deeply with: Weird Owl, Eidetic Seeing, Ancient Sky. Philosophically speaking, if art is the way human beings honor the world, then to be honored for the way you honor the world is probably the most deeply satisfying thing we know of.
Author Stanislaw Lem wrote the following in his book, “His Master’s Voice”:
“Science is turning into a monastery for the Order of Capitulant Friars. Logical calculus is supposed to supersede man as moralist. We submit to the blackmail of the ‘superior knowledge’ that has the temerity to assert that nuclear war can be, by derivation, a good thing, because this follows from simple arithmetic.”
The reductionist materialistic mindset is certainly something that we see as a major problem with our culture. Derrick Jensen’s latest book called Dreams does a pretty good job at analyzing all the ills that arise from it. Science at its best can be pretty psychedelic. The fact that we can distinguish the difference between Night & Space is totally a revelation that belongs to science. But at its worst science can enable things like slavery, industrial mechanization, and genocide. Maybe the problem is exactly what Crowley was getting at in his Pentagram poem. We’ve gained (what seems like) a mastery over the material world but we experience all this angst because our culture is still afraid of inner space, of consciousness, of mind, of anything that can’t be measured in material quantifiable terms. As RAW once said, mysticism used to be a branch of science. It is the ordered study of consciousness and its altered states. We’ve lost that connection and it’s sorely needed. Real change in American culture isn’t going to come about through politics or prescribed leaders. It has to be a bottom up cultural change, a shift in value systems. The best way to shift values is via the psychedelic experience which again is tied to what we began with: transcending boundaries of culture, language, history, etc.
What’s next for INNIS?
We’d like to do some kind of tour. Surprisingly, we have never played a show outside of New Yorks state. Not even to New Jersey or anything. We play a silly amount of shows. 43 in 2011 and we are already over 50 in 2012. But all of them have been in the confines of our state lines. But, aside from the Kickstarter, we depend on our own pockets which are not very dependable. So, we’ll have to see how it goes. All energy flows according to the whims of the Great Magnet, or so we’ve heard.