The Cosmic Dead are Glasgow’s boldest astral travellers, harnessing the power of psychedelic rock to blast off into the furthest regions of the cosmos. The band have supported the likes of Gnod, Bong & White Hills, and even accompanied legendary Can frontman Damo Suzuki on one of his infamous improvised aural freakouts. Following hot on the heels of their scorching debut, the Cosmic Dead have released ‘Psychonaut’, a compilation of rarities and extended jams, as a free download through Bandcamp, so M3 set the controls for the heart of their inter-dimensional space station to quiz drummer Julian Dicken on the pros and cons of free music, the reasons behind the traditional album length and the band’s potential for psychic healing…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Julian – Hello there, I’m Julian and I play drums in the Cosmic Dead. I also design our artwork and record alot of our stuff on my trusty portable recorder.
I also feel at this point that I should take the opportunity to be an utterly shameless self-promoting whore and inform you all that I’m also a freelance illustrator. You can view my stuff here.
Sorry, but I’ve got bills to pay gawdammnit!
What inspired you to form the Cosmic Dead? What are your own musical backgrounds?
Well, James (guitarist) and I (along with our first bass player – who is now in an ace darkwave/gothic band called The Downs, go check ‘em out by the way) formed the band simply to create something that would be loud and fun.
The term ‘wall of sound’ was banded about a lot at the time, and was probably informed somewhat by James’ background in noise music, being a guitarist in folk/noise collective The Radiation Line. I had always wanted to play drums in a proper band, and I had gotten a bit bored with the guitar and my limitations with it, so took to the drum stool. We were listening to a lot of Psychedelic and Krautrock stuff around that time, (still are!) and that started to have a big influence on us.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I would love to be able to say vinyl, but I unfortunately don’t own any! I hope to start a collection one day, but it’s an expensive habit, and I’m rather poor these days. I do love the format though, its something about the smell, being able to hold something physical and tangible, and the process of taking it out of the sleeve and putting the needle on it. It feels more special than any other format. You can’t skip tracks on vinyl, which forces the casual listener to listen to the album as a whole, as it was intended to be heard, as opposed to being able to just skip through to your favourite song. I think vinyl also has a bit more value as an artefact, as a piece of art, due to the fact the cover artwork is so large. Unlike with any other format, you have a great (though not always of course!) piece of imagery to really scrutinize and absorb yourself in whilst you listen to the music. You won’t get that experience with a CD sleeve that’s about an eighth the size, or even worse, a tiny jpeg on a computer screen.
Why did you decide to make your ‘Psychonaut’ album available for free download?
Well, as we were a relatively new band when we released it, and were already selling our debut album at that point, we figured it might be nice to give people something for free, and we already had a huge collection of rehearsal recordings and jams, so we thought we might as well pick some of the best ones and make a little compilation album. People have seemed to really like it and appreciate the fact it was given away for free, so that was quite pleasing. I’m not sure it’s something we’d do again however, giving a release away for free. I think it can be a beneficial thing to do when you’re starting out as a band, as it’s another way of getting your music out there quickly, but I think if you’re a band who have already had a few releases under your belt, then you should value your musical output a bit more. I think people definitely value something more if they’ve paid out of their own pocket for it too.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
The whole download thing is useful in that it’s a cheap, quick & environmentally friendly form of distribution.
A big advantage of it is the way you can just record something, and get it up on the internet and ready to download all in the same day. The only downside I’ve come across is that there are always people who will want to own a record psychically, so they may be left feeling a bit alienated if you make a release exclusively downloadable.
Psychonaut is a good 90 minutes long, and would not fit on a single disc or vinyl record. Do you think we will begin to see more bands making use of digital formats to create lengthier pieces of music in the future?
Possibly, possibly. I do think that it can be a good form of discipline for a band to fit their album’s concept into the restraints of an 80 or 44 minute format though. I mean, there’s a reason that particular format has remained in use for such a large part of the history of popular music. It’s become generally accepted that a standard album shouldn’t be any longer than 44/80 minutes. Just like the way films generally tend not to exceed the 2 hour mark, as people often get bored or their minds wander or their suspension of disbelief wanes after a while. But on the other hand, I guess that idea only really applies to certain kinds of music. If your music takes a little longer to unfold and reveal itself, likes ours does, then obviously it works differently on an album than say, a bunch of 3 minutes pop songs would, but that said, I still think an album should not outstay its welcome. People lead busy lives, they often don’t have the time to afford to sit and nod out to an album for 2 hours! Anyway, the only reason Psychonaut was 90 minutes long, was simply because that was the length of all of the best jams we picked out combined. There was never an intention to make it available as anything other than a download, so there wasn’t really any attention paid to the length of the overall playing time. Again, because it’s not really a proper ‘album’, more just a compilation of sorts, there didn’t need to be a specific concept to hold everything together. Most of our future releases (which will probably mostly be physical) will probably have a central theme or concept behind them, so they will probably adhere to the standard album length. Unless the concept is to not adhere to the standard album length… who knows!
In some ways digital media frees the concept of the album from physical length restrictions, and yet many online music platforms seem to cater to short attention spans with a kind of ‘quick fix’ listening. Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
I do think that the album has possibly been undermined somewhat in the ‘digital age’, but I don’t think that concept applies exclusively to music. I think the rise of the internet, and its ability to provide the ‘quick fix’, has probably narrowed peoples attention spans generally in all fields of perception. At the risk of sounding a pretentious arse, I like to think that our music, in its extensive length, is perhaps a reaction to this. To provide something for people to focus on, in almost a meditative way, might serve to remind people that to immerse themselves in an experience, fully and completely, provides a much greater appreciation of the inherent beauty of that experience, compared to say, just glancing at it from a distance for 30 seconds and then moving onto the next thing. Hopefully this will encourage our listeners to leave their computers and televisions, lay down in a field all day, thread flowers through their friends hair and listen to and appreciate the wonder and beauty of the birdsong. We’re essentially psychic healers, here to help undo all the damage the internet and technology has done to your fragile little minds… maaaaan.
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
I’m not totally sure, but I do think that it vastly differs depending on the ‘size’ or popularity of the band. What you’ve suggested is quite the opposite for us, as if we tour the UK, we can hope to break even at best, and hopefully make a bit of money from merch sales, but we can sell our releases physically and digitally and get a fair amount of money from that. At least enough to put into our band fund and help us cover the cost of rehearsals and merch and such. Obviously this is a very different scenario to that of stadium sized acts, who make a comfortable living from their music, but to be honest I couldn’t care less about bands like that, and I know we’re all very realistic about the possibilities of our band. We all know we could never make a sustainable living from our music, but we just do it for the love of it. I really couldn’t give two flying fucks about Lars Ulrich not being able to keep up the payments on his Beverly Hills mansion and 3rd Lamborghini because “piracy is killing the music industry”. I don’t know, I’m not trying to undermine the value of art at all, but I find something a little bit more, dare I say it, noble, about people who create art for art’s sake, not for financial gain.
Do you think traditional copyright laws are still enforceable in the digital age, or do you think we will have to rethink the concept of copyright itself?
It needs to be understood that the internet is basically a free for all. There are no real rules on it. Whether thats a good or bad thing, I don’t know. But this is why things like SOPA are starting to pop up now, the powers that be attempting to control and cage the feral beast. And I can understand that, I can understand the need for copyright laws to be protected in someway, what with filesharing and torrenting becoming such a staple of music consumption. But at the end of the day, copyright has never really been taken that seriously anyway. I mean, people have been sharing for years, “home taping is killing music” anyone? I don’t think you can really stop people from reproducing and sharing media, but should follow, as a general rule of thumb, that you should never try to make a profit from something someone else has created. I think most people who share music, films or whatever, have always respected this. It will be interesting to see how the vilification of the internet pans out though. Personally I think it would be a bit of a disaster for personal freedom if governments restrict and rather fascistically sensor websites and parts of the internet. I think it would have to take a very considered and careful approach to upkeep copyright laws on the internet, and whether things like SOPA are really the right way to do that, I’m not sure, but I do know that it’s a very complicated matter, full of grey area, so should probably be dealt with kid gloves.
To highlight a slightly different point, you could also argue that the prominence of music filesharing/’pirating’ on the internet only really affects the big business music models, which debatably, only really support the mediocre, mainstream, more unimaginative musicians & bands anyway. In our band, I know that ‘filesharing’ has very little effect on us (even though it does happen to a large degree with our music) and we’re quite lucky in that we’ve found a niche pocket of people who like our music and are willing to buy our stuff in order to help us cover our costs and keep it sustainable. If you are smart about how you conduct your band financially, and keep overheads low, its quite manageable to do. Maybe in the future, with the decline of the old record industry, we will start to see this small scale DIY model become more of a standard practice, and if so, I can only see that as a good thing to be honest.
What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
That’s a tricky one. If anything, I’d say that it’s probably now much, much easier for new bands/musicians to establish themselves than it has ever been before.
Of course, we can thank the internet for this, especially in the way it has helped more ‘niche’ bands (such as ourselves) to find their audience. If you’ve started a band, and want to try and make something of it, you’ve also got to realise that it will be a complete waste of time to try and get a ‘deal’ and go down the whole cliched record industry route. Do it yourself, put on your own shows, put out your own releases, build up your audience, keep it grassroots, and it will pay off in the end.
Finally, what does the future hold for the Cosmic Dead?
Well, we just recently recorded what will hopefully be our next album at a lovely little analogue studio in the West End of Glasgow called Green Door. We recorded the tracks to a specific length so the possibility is there for us to put it out on vinyl, so no 40 minute long epics this time! That should see a release this year hopefully. We’re also going to put out a cassette tape with a Canadian tape label called Dub Ditch Picnic records, that will contain some older live jams. I’m just in the process of finalising the artwork for that, but it should be out very, very soon. We’re also playing a few festivals in the UK this summer too, including Wickerman, Doune The Rabbit Hole and Supernormal. We’re also in the process of organising a small UK tour around the Supernormal date. All in all a busy year for the band!
For more information about The Cosmic Dead, you can visit their official website and Facebook page. You can also listen to and download their music on their Bandcamp page.