Interview with Jon Auchterlonie of C.O.T.A. / Children of the Apocalypse
It doesn’t happen often, that I find a music, that really impresses me, but the Children of the Apocalypse did. One may mention, my „addiction“ to apocalyptic ideas is responsible for this, but that’s not the reason. In fact the Californian duo Jon Auchterlonie and Michelle Farokhnia (also known as Salomeh) do not provide an „apocalyptical“ feeling, telling us that the end of the world is near and we’ll all be gone soon. As I receive their music, it’s a vision of a world after the world as we know it today. A more healthy world, where people live in co-existence with Mother Earth or nature, if you like to call it that way. To find out, if my imaginations are correct, I connected Jon to ask him some questions. This seemed a bit redundant, because some other people have already made fine interviews, I advise you to read as „initiation“: http://www.sonicksorcery.com/about.htm (links at the left side). If you follow my advice or not, now we start with our inquiry!
debil magazine: First of all, please introduce the Children of the Apocalypse to our readers! So let’s imagine, you meet a friendly person, you tell them you’re a musician and he/she’s asking what kind of music you play – and you can’t play him/her your CD. What would you say?
Jon: There are a number of references I could make—influences, comparisons, but I find telling them we are post-urban is the most effective and thought provoking. Chances are they have never heard of a musick described this way. I found myself describing it this way more and more over the years. The other way I like to describe it as is a series of paintings. Being educated in art, and coming out of the post punk scene, I found it also effective in describing my work. It is perhaps why you see more audio diversity covered. The individual pieces are all representations of independent ideas. The challenge then for me becomes putting all of the tracks together to make up a complete work, so yes, post-urban soundscapes.
debil magazine: To be honest, from hearing your music, I didn’t get a clear picture about its “content.” It’s obviously mystical or better to say shamanic and there is a strong connection to nature. Can you help us exploring your artistic cosmos?
Jon: I realized very soon after beginning to record music, that so much of music, the industry, the clubs, the music itself was all a contrived image of the art and artist. I wanted to encapsulate ideas and works that were very real and not „plastic.” Perhaps this is due to punk and DIY Influences. Perhaps I just wanted to be an idealist in a world consumed with the „I“ or personal ego. C.O.T.A. was conceived as a post-urban sound project to convey a mystical experience possible when we connect to our true nature, bringing us into accord with our environment. Well, this is what I was later able to contextualize. This realization was first made when we began recording in caves and tunnels utilizing found objects as well as prerecorded samples and soundscapes. Now it is realized through trekking into the wilds for a few days to remember and return to the source from which this same inspiration is derived.
debil magazine: How can we imagine the „New Mythology“ your actual album (released in 2012) refers to?
Jon: New Mythologies was inspired by the idea that humans need to make that connection away from the nationalistic or religious reasons for our division. A new mythology would be needed to encompass the global dissolution of these divisions. As an ecologist, I see this as a natural extension of our evolution. If we look at how we have lived post-industrial revolution forward, you begin to see that we are wanting and needing to return to a time where we aren’t bathing in chemicals, detached from our food sources, and isolated in our communities. We have become detached, in effect, from our environment. We must return to it.
debil magazine: When I was listening to „Ta’wil“ as well as to the other albums, I felt a strong connection to the „Hippie“ ideas: brotherhood of man, Age of Aquarius, back to nature. What concordances and what differences do you see?
Jon: There are certainly some correlations. You can see that since the 60’s and 70’s there was this tendency which at the time seemed to be fringe ideas. Now you see them taking acceptance in the mainstream—community gardens, recycling, removing dams, restoration projects. What is happening now is a complete rethinking of city planning. We are beginning to see these ideas come into being as sensible and sustainable ways of living.
C.O.T.A. however understood that the boundaries of these ideas needed to be pushed much further, either by lulling or provoking the listener. The aim was an awakening to the potential of change for the listener. A spell of sorts.
debil magazine: What is wrong about the actual world and how could look a better one?
Jon: There is nothing wrong with the natural world. It has been changing and evolving just as it has been for millions of years. But there is a separation that human beings made from it physically as well as psychologically, specifically from the beginning of agriculture. No more were we hunters and gatherers with a very interdependent view of our relationship to our environments. I believe this is especially challenging in America because we are a nation of people from other places attempting to relate to new ecosystems and cultures. It seems, through observation, that this process takes at least a generation or two. If here in America we did all begin to see ourselves as bound together by the land rather than capitalism, it would indeed force us to reexamine what does truly matter. There would become a spirit of cooperation rather than base competition.
debil magazine: Are you part of a „pagan movement“ or is this just your personal way of looking at the world?
Jon: We have in the past been affiliated with a few different groups and organizations, but not for some time now. I found the politics of the groups detracted from the stated purpose. So I am very much a lone wolf in this regard. My spirituality tends to be more of a mystical experience of nature.
debil magazine: What can everyone do on their own, to make things better?
Jon: Walk what you talk and clean up after you make a mess. The Native American tribes liked to look down the road a bit further than we here today. They use to care for things to preserve them for seven generations. Probably a metaphor for a very long time, so our children’s children and so on have the same clean and abundant resources that we should be grateful to have now.
debil magazine: Are you optimistic about a positive change in time?
Jon: I am an ecologist, so my „faith“ is in nature.
debil magazine: Do you believe, that you as an artist, can contribute to this change?
Jon: C.O.T.A. initially was formed to attempt to facilitate this change, specifically within darker music genres and the fans of this type of music. We can look back now since the late eighties and see this healthy transformation in those around us. Not to be so egotistical to state that we created it, but I can see an impact on many friends and associates over the years now. We are obviously not pop artists, so unfortunately to this point our reach may not be as extensive as we hoped to see. Sometimes I feel as if we should have promoted more within the psychedelic and „Grateful Dead“ scenes. I was just never fond of that genre in general.
debil magazine: So C.O.T.A. is mainly you and Michelle. Who’s doing what in the project? How can we imagine the process of creation?
Jon: It has changed over the years, the creative process, that is. I tend to write most of the material based an idea, tone, concept, beat, loop, guitar track or lyric. Michelle may add some percussion, keyboards, or vocal tracks. I do most of the core writing and recording, then we tend to collaborate to finalize the songs. I found it easy early on to construct „formula“ music. Much of what I attempt to do is deconstruct that entire process so that there is no expected next track. I think this makes it also more interesting and challenging to piece together tracks to complete a whole project. I like to see our releases as sound paintings that attempt to convey post urban musings, much of the time only in sound without vocals.
debil magazine: What are your influences? Mainly other “pop music” or ethnic music or books and films. Maybe all together?
Jon: The land is our primary influence. Additionally: Jon Muir, Edward Abbey, Joseph Campbell, Robert Anton Wilson, William S. Burroughs, Omar Khayyam, Native American and Persian traditional music, Coil, Current 93, Led Zeppelin, Sol Invictus, Cabaret Voltaire, 6comm, Pink Floyd, NWW, Salvador Dali, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Death in June, Crash Worship, Master Musicians of Jajouka, Hybryds, and Celtic and Norse Art.
debil magazine: Another influence, I guess, are drugs. You mentioned this initiating experience in another interview. Drugs are a good example for freedom and responsibility. What knowledge you’d like to share with all the psychonauts out there?
Jon: The term drug tends to have negative connotations, even artistically in today’s very homogenized culture. Plants and plant medicines can be very powerful teachers and allies if used with respect. I believe the reference you make is due to the compilation we released- „Visions from the Garden.” There are some great tracks on this release. The artists were asked to submit tracks based on the creative influences of entheogens. I believe I made a reference to freedom and responsibility in a previous interview—this was in reference to the great lessons I have learned while backpacking, a different, but nonetheless inspiring kind of high. But serious adventures must be smart and responsible when seeking wisdom in the wilds. If you plan on going all the way with something, keep both feet on the ground.
debil magazine: On the compilation “Visions from the Garden – A Psychoactive Aural Botanical”, your contribution is about a very strange substance, about Dimethyltryptamine. Why have you chosen this? Did you ever lick a toad’s skin? 🙂
Jon: We chose the D.M.T. track because of its inherent qualities. What we were attempting to do was replicate the experience in an audio format. I had a profound experience with this and wanted to convey it in this way.
debil magazine: I guess, C.O.T.A. is not your main work and not the work you earn your money for. So what’s your profession and what activities you deal with?
Jon: Correct. It took me a long time to come to that realization. Capital did interfere with our creative process early on, and for a time I considered that music may also pay the bills as well. Things in music have changed a lot since the mid 90’s and it became apparent that we need to work in other fields to support the project.
debil magazine: In one of the interviews you told, your music was mainly made for your own ritual use. How does it feel to hear it from a record? Can you use it the same way?
Jon: Well, that is how we started out—making music at night in the refuge of caves, tunnels, and sandstone rock formations. We would use pre-recorded sounds with found objects and live instruments. Loops and tones provide an excellent conduit for inducing trance states, but growing up in L.A. led us to seek out something that was not only much more real but fun. Not all of our music is obviously appropriate for such work. That is why you see our releases covering so much audio territory. That being said, there are tracks on all C.O.T.A. releases that were designed to „take the listener there.” In a society where so much is based on faster and more, the only way to convey this experiential listening is to slow things down to design the least mediated experience.
debil magazine: What about live shows? As far as I know there had been a few, but mostly smaller ones. I read you like to play in front of a bigger audience. Did you already succeed with that?
Jon: Funny you ask. For some reason we have been seen as largely a studio project, but we have played live shows consistently since we initiated the project. It is hard to replicate the material live now as only a two person project. We have enjoyed playing at larger festivals such as Stella Natura, but have not been able to make a European tour cost effective. We do hope to see C.O.T.A. play in Europe someday. We have recently taken a break from performing, with the birth of our beautiful daughter to spend time focusing only on her.
We will probably perform again, but are in no hurry.
debil magazine: I came in contact the first time with C.O.T.A. at a concert, when I was strolling along the record dealers’ displays. Between all this Power Electronics, Industrial etc. stuff I was mentioned one very mystic CD – “Ta’wil”. From the beginning I liked the tree-root-picture and I had to buy the CD without knowing, what to expect. Your actual CD “New Mythologies” is designed in nearly the same way. Is this your work or Michelle’s? What principles or ideas are connected with that?
Jon: I have always done all of the artwork and project designs, though I don’t believe I credit myself in the liner notes. I design our releases to be craft or boutique in style. I hand sewed and screened our first cassette release, sewed and branded the leather for “Ta’wil,” and designed the limited boxes for “New Mythologies.” I have always been involved with design. We did a number of t-shirts to reference our work early on with no emphasis on or to the music. The art I felt should convey a grey romance with nature, both light and dark, to convey psychological and natural archetypes.
debil magazine: The artwork of “Marches and Meditations” is some kind of outlier. Can you tell me, who has done this and what’s the idea behind?
Jon: It looks initially like an outlier from an art standpoint, but the symbolism is the same applied on other releases. I wanted to convey the raw power of true wilderness. I do work in color with collage and photography, and in this release it was appropriate symbolism for many of the events leading up to this release. We had learned that our label had pressed more copies than we were informed of. And while we were pleased to have great distribution through Warner’s tentacles, we felt as if we had lost some creative control. The imagery of an aggressive bear and lightening are two of the most powerful symbols I know. And we are definitely not that happy hippy go lucky band that is so known for the use of bear imagery. So this artwork was about reclaiming our work.
debil magazine: What are you future plans and wishes?
Jon: My only plan right now is to spend as much time with my daughter as possible. I never thought I would see her born and seeing her joyfully and fearlessly exploring this beautiful world is enough to give me hope.
debil magazine: Thank you for the interview. Hope to hear from you soon!
PS: Due to the lack of photo material, pictures were taken from the bands website. The introducing picture was created by using the image available from the National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Site Office Photo Library under number XX-33 from the 11 Mt atom bomb test named „Romeo“.