Recording as “Eden” and “All Things Unseen”, and with German band Place4Tears, ex-Soft Machine’s Daevid Allen, Peter Daltrey of Kaleidoscope, and Love Spirals Downwards’ Ryan Lum…who is the “uncommon” denominator weaving his thread of otherworldly resonance throughout the above list? Meet Sean Bowley, ethereal troubadour and guide to your dreams. Sean believes music should transcend the mundane and pain of everyday existence and lift the listener to a place that is uniquely all their own. To quote Sean,“I love music – every day I listen to music, think about music, dream about music. I yearn to be at home with my hi-fi and guitars. I love to sit with my instruments and tinker with my amplifiers and guitar pedals in the quest for another ethereal expression or nuance. I’m at home in my world filled with music. It’s my true home. Without it I truly would not know what to do.”
Click here to watch “Suantraide” on YouTube http://youtu.be/y3AL-GsrLNc
Well Sean, first off thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Let’s go back to the beginning, in what city were you hatched? Relate some of your fondest memories of childhood.
I was born in a country town, called Bairnsdale, around three hours drive from Melbourne, lush green farming land with a beautiful river flowing to one side of the town. Visiting the ivy clad river banks and dreaming beneath the trees that lined that river features highly in the cannon of my early childhood. My earliest recollection of the magic known as music is connected with Bairnsdale. I’m around three years old and playing in my Nana’s back garden. Somewhere nearby there is a radio and I can hear the eastern flavoured guitar hook in the Rolling Stones song “Mother’s Little Helper”. The modulated ethereal nature of that guitar sound literally struck a chord in a special place and opened the door to what would become the eastern tinged personality of my guitar playing. I do recall that the setting for my early childhood years was completely magical and I feel that I was born into the most appropriate part of the twentieth century for the formation of my personality.
My childhood taught me that it was pointless to compromise a dream as creativity is freedom from restriction.
What do remember as your first interest in music? Any albums/45′s that began your record collection?
My first record was the 45rpm “Strawberry Fields” EP by the Beatles. Somehow I received this as a child in the 70’s. Musically speaking I have always ‘driven down the other side of the street’. At school I was one of a small group of teenage musical odd bods who were walking around school with an overflowing bag of records by such luminaries as The Electric Prunes, The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Doors, The Ramones, Sham 69, The Buzzcocks and many others. Most of the kids listening to what was more or less underground music were a couple of years older than me. I was the younger guy hanging out with the older musically hip kids. Underground or public FM radio broadcasting was a huge way of discovering music back then, really it was the doorway to the new music emerging from the UK. From the radio and hanging out with the older school kids I began to hear about Melbourne’s incredibly interesting music scene that existed in the 1980’s. There were many interesting Melbourne bands back then. The undisputed kings of that music scene were The Birthday Party. As a teenager I was only partially interested in the underground music of that era. My big thing at that age was music from the 1960’s. One evening while listening to the radio everything changed. The best public radio station back then was 3RRR FM. The dj’s were a very charismatic lot and were totally into the music they played. The major enigma among these dj’s was ‘Bohdan X’ the front man of the infamous Melbourne Punk Band – “JAB”. I was listening to his radio show and a song came on which essentially changed my life. That song was the Unknown Pleasures version of “She’s Lost Control” by Joy Division. The opening bars of the song immediately grabbed my interest. All of a sudden I was listening to this incredible droning eastern raga like riff tied down with a repetitive hypnotic mechanical rhythm. And then that icy Morrisonesque vocal crept in with its accompanying flotilla of backing vocal work which sounded something like Gregorian chant sung backwards down a long piece of metal tubing. This music was cathartic – there was something vibrational about it; I could feel it resonating inside me. I had found my perfect music – a music I could truly love and be inspired by. In the coming months I tracked down every seven and twelve inch vinyl release that Joy Division had released. When I first heard “Transmission” it had the same effect as “She’s Lost Control” – an incredibly haunted and ethereal slice of moodiness. ‘Closer’ was easily equal to “Unknown Pleasures”. The first LP, to me, seemed to convey a haunted vision of life in urban city scapes. The second LP felt like it was coming out of the aether – especially ”Heart & Soul” and the two closing tracks on side two.
From Joy Division I found my way to The Birthday Party’s first LP – now often called’ Hee-Haw’, though at the time ‘Hee-Haw” was a separate 12 inch EP. On a humorous note at first I thought that the Birthday Party sounded somewhat like a drunken Joy Division. Joy Division’s music was angular and of a stark meticulous nature. The Birthday party’s music could also be ethereal though it roared and writhed…the lyrical subject was surreal as opposed to Joy Division’s pure introspection. The first Birthday Party record that stopped me in my tracks was the 7 inch single of “The Friend Catcher”. That sonorous other-worldly guitar , courtesy of Mr Rowland S.Howard. Rowland to my mind is the most charismatic individual to have graced Melbourne’s stages. He is Cohen, Cash and Charles Baudelaire rolled into one huge mother load of talent. I had the good fortune of crossing paths with him on several occasions and the absolute pleasure of sharing the stage (gig line –ups) with him in the late 1990’s. He was certainly an example, mentor, fellow musician and an acquaintance. We exchanged humorous banter via various phone conversations, back stage and on the odd occasion when he stopped by my apartment. We shared similar interests and appreciations. I do regret that I did not get to know him better. It was an astounding moment when one night back stage when he commented on my playing and how I was able to do something unique with the 12 string and that he dug it. Obviously I shared this sentiment in regard to his guitar playing. Rowland had been a prime mover in igniting my creative spirit when I was a teenager. Receiving favourable compliment from him compliment favourably in regard to my playing was a high point in my musical career.
At what age did you really start taking an interest in creating your own music? What was the first instrument you picked up? Did you take lessons or were you self taught?
I started writing music when I was fifteen. Essentially I began writing crude songs and instrumentals within a few days of owning my first guitar. This was partially because I was untrained and unable to play songs written by other people. I began to make up my own songs; gently experiment with the guitar to see what I could discover. That process has continued to the present day. I have never had any guitar lessons, I’ve never known what note I am playing or what key I am in. For the most part I make up my own chords. I have a poor sense of timing and I do not count while I play. I think about the melody or the mood and not the timing. That said I have developed a sense of pseudo timing which for the most part keeps me in the right place at the right time.
Musical education never ends as it is always a process of discovery. The band I played in before Eden which was “All Things Unseen” was where I learned how to play with other musicians. We were teenagers all more or less starting out in our first band. We all loved alternative music and we were deeply immersed in Melbourne’s alternative culture. To us, there would have been no other culture. We would go and see bands like The Birthday Party, Laughing Clowns or Dead Can Dance play at the Seaview Ballroom St Kilda on a Friday and Saturday nights. After the gigs we would go back to our rehearsal room and sleep on big piles of clothes on the floor. The following morning we would simply stand up, light up a cigarette and start rehearsing. Music was our world 110%. We would see a gig by a given band, be inspired by the performance and write a new song because we were on fire. It was an exhilarating time. I am most grateful for all the fun creative times I had when I was in my teens and early 20’s.
My first instrument was a very inexpensive second hand Japanese made electric guitar. It was considered a relic when I bought it. A crappy cheap guitar was what it was deemed to be. Many years later I discovered that it was the same type of cheap Japanese guitar that Robert Smith had when he was starting out. When The Cure became a legitimate band and his manager urged him to buy a Fender Jazzmaster, Robert removed one of the pick-ups from his el- cheapo Japanese guitar and had it mounted between the Jazzmaster’s two pick-ups. He did this because he loved the sound of the pick up’s in the el-cheapo Japanese guitar. From what I remember that guitar actually did have a distinctive sound. In actuality the guitar was a piece of crap and I have no interest in owning another one of those…lol. My current 6 string guitar which is a 1961 Fender Jazzmaster is worlds above any other guitar I have owned.
Talk about the music scene in and around Melbourne at this period in your life.
Sadly I have completely lost touch with Melbourne’s music scene. I have faith that there are still interesting things going on as that’s how it should be. This said I doubt that there is much that is glittering and golden out there. In actuality there never was. In my lifetime, Melbourne’s most creative music scene existed in the 1980’s. Since then the returns diminished with each passing year. Not to mention that the size of the live music scene has continually dwindled due to the increasing gentrification of the inner city areas which were once havens for artists, musicians, migrants and workers on lower incomes. The areas of Melbourne that were areas of flourishing bohemian activity are now home to city based career professionals who can afford to buy into what has become exceedingly valuable real estate. That said – flowers grow in the most unlikely places. There will always be something special happening ; usually hidden away in a place where you would least expect something to be happening.
So basically there were not any local bands that were playing the kind of music that you appreciated.
It’s been a long time since I have thought about the Melbourne’s music scene circa 1988 when Eden began to play live. From what I remember there was still a decent sized audience for underground bands though yes most of the bands were I guess what you could describe as Alternative Rock in format. This is the problem with a given city’s music scene. The scene can stagnate to one where “what is popularly perceived to be cool can actually be incredibly boring”. So in short, yes we did not relate to other Melbourne bands. We could not get what we needed from the music of others so we created our own music to fill that need. We genuinely believed there was not and should not be any limitation placed upon creative vision. Obviously this attitude insured that we remained outside the music scene’s hierarchy. We had to build our own musical world. Fortunately there were plenty of people at the time who wanted to come and see us play. Our live shows attracted a decent sized audience. We gleaned decent attention from the street press and the size of the live audience increased. I can remember some very crowded shows at the Punter’s club in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. To sum up – Eden were a part of the music scene but did not relate to the Melbourne music scene. We did not consider or think about the music around us. We were not influenced by other local bands.
Your first actual band was All Things Unseen. Nice name. On your website you talk about this group of musicians quite fondly saying it was really nice working with a group of friends. What a unique experience that must have been.
Looking back it could be said that “All Things Unseen” was a unique experience. Like Eden we were writing and playing music which did not typically represent Melbourne. Sonically All Things Unseen was closer to The Cocteau Twins or Lowlife than Eden was. We were a four piece band; drums, bass, ARP Omni Strings keyboard and guitars/vocals. We used a lot of modulated delay effects on bass, guitars and keyboards. Carl Carter, William Carter, Ingo Weiben and myself were very close friends. We would rehearse three or four times a week plus go to clubs and venues on the weekends. We spent a lot of time “hanging out” together. I truly miss that high level of comraderie. It was a very special time. We were at the height of our creative and musical ability circa 1985 – 87.
It’s interesting you felt you reached your “creative height” with your “strongest songs” in 1985. I’ve always been of the impression that 1985 was the best year for alternative music.
1985 was an incredible year! Certainly one of the most wonder filled years of my life. In that year I didn’t so much reach my creative height; it was more like I began to write music and lyrics of much higher quality and crafting. I was at university undertaking a double major in Archaeology and Anthropology. I enjoyed my studies. I became fascinated with cosmology and the varied and different perceptions/interactions that various cultures had with the unseen world. One of my major’s concerned witchcraft and sorcery in Melanesia. I loved reading about the tribal Shaman and their journeys into the unseen world and their quest to bring meaning to the seen via communion with the unseen. A few years later I would develop a similar fascination with the western earth mysteries i.e. The Arthurian mythos and its incredibly rich tapestry of symbolism which has lingered in western culture up until the present day. Something else I received from my time as an Anthropology student was a deepening interest in the power of dreams and symbols on both a cultural and individual level. I loved the writings and research of Carl Jung. For a time I enjoyed the work of Claude Levi-Strauss. Many of the fascinating things I studied began to find their way into my music and lyrics in 1985. Songs such as “Dusk for the Dancers” or “Guardian of the Flutes” concerned Shamanism and taking the rite of passage into the unseen world. More importantly these songs concerned freedom and liberation of the spirit via faith’s ability to transcend belief systems. This theme kept maturing and eventually Eden had cd releases with titles such as “Gateway to the Mysteries” and “Wearyall”. A lot of the music I have written has focussed on being “beyond self”. The other style I work in has been one of pure introspection. i.e. “Fire & Rain”, “Earthbound” or “Midnight Sun”. I have oscillated between these two themes as they have been central in my personal journey.
Eden formed in 1988. Did you come up with the name?
I remember the frustration we went through in trying to find a name for the group. We spent three or four days writing down lists of names in the attempt to come up with something. The name “Eden” kind of eventuated after this intense filtration process. It was the fruit of an agonizing think-tank and I do not believe it was any single person’s specific idea. It was a word among many other words that made it through the selection process.
What other bands were your contemporaries in Australia at the time?
There were plenty of contemporaries but no one you could accurately compare us to. The late 80’s was a state of flux. There were still bands from the mid 80’s floating around and we played a few shows sharing the bill with some of them. Most of these bands I can’t remember. Our first gig was with a friend’s band – “Captain Cocoa”. They were an upbeat good time band with a ska based flavour. I went to University with Glen and Dave O’Neil – two brothers who founded that band in 1983. It was very kind of them to help out and assist Eden in beginning to develop a reputation on the live scene. When Eden was starting out, the Melbourne Bands I had once loved had either broken up or moved overseas.
Again referring to your website you mentioned you had a hard time finding the right engineers and producers to get the sound you wanted on the EP “The Light Between Worlds”. Did you consider travelling to England to record?
We did not consider travelling to England to record. Professional 24 track recording was a very expensive proposition back in 1988. Obviously 1988 was before the era when home recording became an option. We self financed the recording of “The Light Between Worlds”. I had not had any previous experience with professional recording. In the eighties, Melbourne bands did not usually have the opportunity to record unless they were signed to a record company as recording time cost a premium. Because none of us had had any previous professional recording experience I felt that we would be more likely to get an excellent result if we choose to record at a studio which was widely used by Melbourne bands. The theory being that a well known studio would be capable of producing some audio magic for us. Sadly I could not have been more mistaken. Looking back, obviously after now having experienced many years of professional recording working with incredibly good gear I am quite shocked when I recall the first recording experience. The quality of their recording console was fairly average and they literally had no outboard microphone preamps etc. They did not even have a reverb unit. All they had was a single AMS digital delay. OK the AMS is a classic but we didn’t need a delay. The Eden sound required reverb: Lexicon digital reverb to be precise. We spent four days in this “professional” studio expecting to come out with a completed EP. We were wrong – we came out with one finished track – being the instrumental “Dark Beneath Trees”. The other tracks were in various stages of completion. We were extremely disappointed with the first 24 track recording experience. In short – we were amazed at how badly the session went and that not only did we not have a finished EP in hand – we were $3,500 poorer. We certainly did not get value for money…lol. The producer believed that he understood our music and how to translate our vision – if he did he was unable to do so during the sessions. In hindsight it was obvious that this studio did not have the expertise or hardware that we needed for our sound.
After licking our wounds we booked ourselves into a different 24 track studio. We spent another three days in the studio. This session was far more fruitful as we completed the “Light Between Worlds”.
Is this what lead you to think “hey maybe we should try our own hands at producing the material ourselves”?
You hit the nail on the head! We were so incredibly amazed at the belligerent attitude of the producers towards our recorded work. Particularly because they had forced their decisions upon us resulting in our recordings sounding less ethereal than we wanted them to be. Eden’s music was not only uncommon in the Australian live music scene; it was also uncommon in the Australian recording studio.
So yes after two disappointing experiences in the studio we came to see that we had to produce or at the very least co-produce our recording sessions.
I did not know you signed to Nightshift Records, the home of Lowlife – a band I have long admired.
Even before we signed to an indie label in Australia we were first released on Nightshift records in Scotland. We too were fans of Lowlife’s music. I bought my first Lowlife LP in 1986 – being “Diminuendo”. One of the very best things that came to me during our time with Nightshift was having the opportunity to become friends with Will Heggie (Lowlife’s Bass player). Will’s obviously a great bass player. In a way it was quite surreal to become friends with the guy who wrote that amazing bass part on “Wax and Wane”. Being a song that my previous group – “All Things Unseen” would occasionally jam on at rehearsal. Will had a lot of heart. He was a very rare personality in that he was exceedingly supportive in his role at Nightshift. He had this thing about him. He was always an incredibly easy person to get along with. Definitely my kind of person. It’s a shame he lives on the other side of the world as he is one of the very few musicians I have met whom I could relate to. He was very complimentary toward my guitar playing and we did intend to write and record something together. Sadly that did not fall into place due to distance and the defeatist attitude of the record company.
Talk about your promo visit to the UK in 1990. Why did you feel British music was on the decline?
The visit to the UK in 1990 was a gas. I enjoyed most of it. I remember being incredibly excited when the Jumbo Jet was landing at Heathrow. It was very early morning and the sun had not come up yet. I was looking down at the city lights and thinking – Wow I am in London! Visiting England can be a special experience for Australians as our heritage is heavily linked to the UK – Oz being part of the Commonwealth etc. In my Childhood, I was heavily exposed to the tales of merry old England. The topography of my imagination was littered with visions of longships buried in barrows, Roman Britain, The Magic faraway Tree, The Children of Greeneknow, The Wishing Chair, The Water Babes etc. So many magical stories from England which were somehow a natural and meaningful part of the world I grew up in. Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson were alive and well in the leafy gardens and hedges of the Edwardian style home I grew up in. Rooftop terracotta dragons and gargoyles watched over me and my childhood while I played “make believe” in the gardens of my dreams.
But England and the English were not the people I had imagined them to be. London was fascinating but it was also a hard edged place. The UK culturally speaking was quite different to Australia. I must have thought that Australian and English people would be similar in nature because we had shared the same cultural and genetic background. I was mistaken. There are distinct differences. Not that these differences really matter; it was simply that I was amazed that the two cultures can be quite different. Back in 1990 the standard of living in Australia, generally speaking, was a lot higher than in the UK. It was quite an eye opening experience to see a much more severe poverty level in the UK. I did have the opportunity to visit a few university student households in London. Believe me – they were living a frugal lifestyle by comparison with the Australian counterpart.
Explain the experience in Glastonbury and how this stoked the creative fire for Eden.
When I was in London I was doing as many interviews as I could with fanzines and the music press. One of the interviewers was Tracy Jeffery (later to co-found a band called ‘Orchis”). She was a wonderful person and very much interested, as I was, in the Earth Mysteries. We became friends very easily and before you could say “Marybignon” we were planning a car trip to Glastonbury for the upcoming Beltane celebration. My brother, Simon was with me for the Uk trip and, at her invitation, we both caught the train out to Falmouth where Tracy lived. From there we drove down to Salisbury plain for a contemplative visit to Stonehenge (where on a humorous note I bought a Stonehenge Chocolate bar from the souvenir kiosk as I thought that the concept of Stonehenge Chocolate was hilarious. As it turned out that chocolate Bar was delicious and I often wondered if that rather isolated tourist kiosk is still selling those delicious Stonehenge Chocolate bars J. Anyway Stonehenge was fascinating ; it certainly has a presence. I remember looking outward from the Stone circle and noticed the many burial mounds or barrows circling Stonehenge – that was a blast.
The township of Glastonbury was even more impressive. To get there we drove down many country roads, passing fields of flowers. The spring weather was heavenly and we had a cassette deck in the car. I remember Tracy playing The Waterboys. It was a idealic. Not long before visiting the UK I had read Dion Fortune’s “Avalon of the Heart” and was about half way through reading “The Mists of Avalon” when we visited Glastonbury. Can you imagine how amazing it was to visit the location of the historic tale I was simultaneously reading? I mean – to sit on top of the Tor on Beltane eve and look down over that very green ancient location. It’s an experience; very liberating for the mind’s eye. This is how the creative fire was raised. It’s little wonder that “The Unveiling of Brigid” was written soon after that trip. Every moment of the Glastonbury visit was magical and provided me with creative fuel for the next eighteen months. High points were sitting on the Tor looking out into the haze as the sun went down on Beltane Eve. Glastonbury town was a-buzz with Beltane vibe the following day. I can recall singing 12th century troubadour songs in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. I can still picture the blossoming flowers and spring perfumes in that amazing Abbey. The visit to Chalice Well was wonder filled. Not far away is Wearyall Hill. We walked up to the top of Wearyall and sat with an aged farmer who was walking his dog. I recall him telling me “Glastonbury is just a farming town and nothing special happens here”. Meanwhile I am looking past him at the very special Holy Thorn bush that sits atop of Wearyall – the very thorn bush which legend states sprouted from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff when he planted it in the soil at some point after Christ’s death. It was a beautiful moment as I was being told that there was no magic in Glastonbury just as I was personally witnessing a living piece of historic magic of mystical significance.
Why did you move to Third Mind Records for ‘Gateway to the Mysteries”?
We moved to Third Mind because we had come to know the label via the CD released by “Heavenly Bodies”. We loved that album and listened to it a lot. Obviously In the Nursery were also on the label as well as Attrition and Edward Ka Spel (Legendary Pink Dots). Third Mind appeared to be a very good record label with quality artists. Third Mind were aware of Eden. We were offered a recording contract when it became apparent to Third Mind that Eden was attracting the interest of the American alternative music press. Third Mind had been sent 4 track demo’s of new songs such as “Heads on the Hearth” and “Saint Genevieve’s Dance”.
There was a shift in the late 80′s to broadening your instrument base, dropping the guitar, picking up the hammered dulcimer, lute, harp, “saz” and “oud” and adopting more of a Middle Eastern/Gothic feel. First tell us what a “saz” and “oud” are.
Well the Saz is a long necked lute. It consists of three double or triple courses of strings. In essence it’s a little like playing a 12 string guitar (which also uses double course strings). The Saz is a modal instrument and lends itself to droning eastern style melodies. It is the key national instrument for folk and popular music in Turkey. That said this instrument is not exclusively Turkish. The Armenians also have their own version of the Saz as do various Eastern European countries. You will also find it in various parts of the Middle East. There are Saz makers and players in Israel where this instrument plays a role in native Israeli Oriental music. The Saz is a bardic instrument well suited to the singer songwriter who has a poetic heart with oriental sensibility. The Oud is the large pear shaped lute with four sets of double course strings made from nylon or gut. It has that distinct “crying tone” you hear in Middle Eastern music. Personally I prefer the sound of the Saz.
Was this movement style including adding members for live shows somewhat mirroring what Dead Can Dance was doing?
When I first read this question I wasn’t quite sure what to say as I have not thought about the ambience of my past creative life circa 1989 for many years. In addition, it has been many years since I have thought about Dead Can Dance as I do not listen to their music these days.
Dead Can Dance, like Cocteau Twins, have been a prime influence and motivator for many musical artists. Meaning that in the 1990’s through to now we have seen various niche musical movements develop which have moments of brilliance but for the most part, quality wise the output is second or third rate. Cocteau Twins and DCD sounded great because they wrote quality music, worked with a record company which ensured that they recorded in professional recording facilities and worked with talented sound and production people. The magic of their releases was an overall process where every stage, including cover art, involved creative visionaries and craftspeople. Whereas, in the musical sub genres inspired by the early 4AD artists we mostly see small independent record companies releasing music that does not have the same crafting. The resulting product often sounds something like a 4AD karaoke concept – a sequenced backing track with a non-descript soprano warbling along with the music. And yes most of these cd’s are recorded at home or in small independent studios where sonic magic rarely happens. I’m describing this possible scenario because I found it quite disillusioning that Eden had to release its work side by side with artists whose artisanship was not on the same page. Time and time again we would submit a track to a cd compilation. Sonically and musically speaking the Eden track would be a world above most of the other artists on the cd. Our recordings sounded good because it was important to us to create something of aural beauty. To aim for anything less would be musically and philosophically disparate with Eden’s work. Highest achievable production standards was always a key central philosophy of Eden’s work. We always wished to improve the standard of production on each successive release.
Going back to your question, my point is that there was only one ‘Eden’. Picture an alternative reality where there are only two groups playing the blues: one being “Dead Can Dance” and one being “Eden.” We were two different but stylistically related groups, which had come from the same Melbourne music scene. I began playing in groups in late 1981. I am a contemporary of Brendan and Lisa. The key difference being that I was a teenager when they were in their twenties. Back then both Brendan and I were inspired by Joy Division, The Jam, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Walker Brothers and more. As a teenager, and in my 20’s, I was certainly inspired by Dead Can Dance, initially by their live work in Melbourne.
Dead Can Dance utilized the Yan Ching, Hurdy Gurdy, Concert D whistle, Saz and Harp. Eden worked with a European hammered dulcimer, a Rebec (Medieval violin played horizontally), The Oud (Middle Eastern gut strung lute), Bowed Psaltery, Steel Strung Bardic Harp and Saz. Speaking of the Saz, I was playing and writing with this particular instrument before Brendan. Brendan and I chatted about this instrument back in 1989 and 1990. When I visited the UK in 1990 I was going to stay with Brendan in Ireland. Instead I hung out with him in London as he and Lisa were finishing the recording of ‘Aion’. Brendan had bought a Saz from an ethnic music shop in London. He was asking for a few tips and insights about the instrument. I was horrified when he showed me his Saz because he had removed the frets and was putting them back on the Saz neck so that the instrument would only play in a Western scale. In one way this is a feasible approach. On the other hand a part of the instrument’s charm is working with its Eastern scale.
Obviously Dead Can Dance are the parent of a particular musical form. Eden was a sibling as opposed to a child of Dead Can Dance. They were a sister group. Lyrically DCD often came from an intellectual or theosophical stance. My lyrics were quite different. I concentrated on the sensual, dreaming, mysticism and the greater or lesser aspects of love. Personally speaking and from the perspective of the present, I was and still am more inspired by Robin Guthrie’s work. Even so I do not meditate on Robin’s work. I’ll hear his recent cd’s and think “yeah that’s great”. I’ll take that inspiration away, sit down and write an unrelated guitar riff or spend hours refining the unique personality of my guitar sound which these days is based on a deeply reverberant baritone twang or soaring ragaesque delay runs. Equally my inspiration comes from other sources; many not relating to music. What do I enjoy listening to at the moment? Early Durutti Column – I adore LC and Another Setting. I have had a returning love affair with these two LP’s since they were released when I was a teenager. I love Hope Sandoval’s two solo cd’s. I’m crazy about Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61” and Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman”. At this time I love Donovan’s song “Hampstead Heath Incident”. I also love the Israeli artist Efrat Gosh, especially her second LP “Forgiveness and Me”. Serge Gainsbourg, Air, Beck, John Martyn & Charlotte Gainsbourg are my greatest musical loves of the moment.
In 1992 you had enough material for a full length to be entitled ‘Wearyall’. The failure of Third Mind to release the recordings as a CD was disheartening to say the least.
Yes I would agree with that statement…lol. Most of the material for the “Wearyall” full length cd was recorded on 24 track tape, though the recordings were never finished or mixed. Three instrumentals featuring Middle Eastern percussion, Saz and bardic harp were scheduled to be recorded but never were. Some of the pieces on “Healingbow” were actually intended for “Wearyall”. Wearyall would have been a very interesting cd and would have showcased an excellent phase of Eden’s musical development that in retrospect is under-documented. Third Mind indicated that they were intending to send an advance for the recording of “Wearyall”. We waited for the advance for a number of months and decided to start recording the cd via self financing the recording sessions. We had been playing the Wearyall material for a good twelve months before we went into the studio. The situation dragged on another six months and by that stage the material had become stale. We were starting to write new material for the next phase of Eden’s musical evolution. Wearyall had started off as something incredibly progressive but became something incredibly stale (to us). Obviously the music should have been recorded while it was still fresh and exciting. In hind sight it would have been better for us to have not waited for a recording advance. But you can’t blame us as we believed that we had a recording contract and would be supplied with a recording budget. We were becoming tired of the burden of having to find thousands of dollars for recording; financed from our pocket. Meanwhile Third Mind had been bought by Roadrunner which obviously signalled the end of Third Mind.
You contracted glandular fever in ’93 and were ill for several months. However, being sick did not stop the creative juices, eh?
No it didn’t! I literally came down with glandular fever during the 24 track recording session for the first ‘Sunwheel’ song. I was recording the guitar solo and began to feel incredibly weird. After I had finished recording I lay on the couch in the studio’s control room. I was wearing my beloved black fur coat while shivering and sweating. That night I was horrified to discover that the glands on my neck had swollen to nearly the size of a golf ball. This began three months of being intensely sick. After the first few weeks when I was completely incapacitated I sat in my bed and began to write songs on my acoustic 12 string. The first one was “Why?” When I wrote that song I was thinking that it might be a new song for “All Things Unseen” as we were thinking about reforming to record a full length cd. Obviously “Why?” became a track for Eden’s “Fire and Rain” cd.
Throughout the life of Eden you witnessed various personnel changes. If you could put together your A-team of players, the best of the best, what would that band look like?
Eden’s life has not ended yet. Not unlike Mazzy Star, Eden has been on a sabbatical for some time but the story has not finished yet. There will be more to come… I’m writing and demoing new Eden songs as we speak.
The new Eden will consist of new players. Ronny K. Bowley (my wife) and myself will be there for sure. Ronny is a keyboard player with a unique feel I admire. I’m also pretty excited about a bass player I may be working with as he has an incredible musical history including touring and recording with Bert Jansch, who’s work I greatly admire. Not to mention that Bert at one point was a musical colleague with an artist I have long adored – Nick Drake.
My ‘A-Team’ of players? That’s an interesting question. The Eden line ups which I personally enjoyed the most were the following –
Sean Bowley – Vocals and 12 string guitars
Tracey Ellerton – 12 String guitar
Ewan McArthur – Bass
Peter Barrett – Drums
Sean Bowley – Vocals and 12 string guitar
Maria – 12 string guitar
Stephen Wattie – Bass
Peter Barrett – Drums
I liked these two line ups because they were line ups which utilized live musicians who played well together. I don’t like the idea of stating who should be in the Eden ‘A team’ as I appreciated everyone’s input and no doubt each member enjoyed the experience to a greater or lesser degree.
But this is a light hearted fun question and I will put together a line up. If this where a perfect world and there could be an Eden built from past players I would like to try the following –
Sean Bowley – Vocals, 6 String Fender Jazzmaster guitar, 12 String Rickenbacker guitar
Maria or Tracy Ellerton – Acoustic 12 String guitar, 12 String Rickenbacker guitar
Carl Carter – Bass
William Carter – Arp Omni Strings Keyboard
Peter Barrett or Ingo Wieben – Drums
Interesting as this Eden would essentially be “All Things Unseen” with an added guitarist.
In a perfect world I would like to make music with -
Sean Bowley – Vocals and 12 string guitar, Mellotron and Arp Omni strings
Ronny Kramer – Keyboards
Andrew Kutzer or Ryan Lum – 12 String Acoustic guitar
Will Heggie on Bass
Des Hefner- drums
I’m sure that this line up will get you going as it includes a past Cocteau Twin/member of Lowlife, Dead Can Dance’s original drummer and Ryan from Love Spirals. This players would make an impressive ethereal cd.
A recording from this line up would likely be something that ethereal music lovers would be waiting and dreaming for.
I find it intriguing that you cite Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” as an impetus for you to fall back on the guitar more so in your writing and performing.
It was Joy Division who inspired me to truly want to become singer/songwriter. I was in my mid teens when I first heard them. Before that moment of revelation I had been listening to bands from the 60’s whom I would describe as instigators of the ethereal psychedelia. I’m speaking of bands such as The Doors and The Electric Prunes. I was a teenager who shunned the popular music of the time and looked back to the highly evocative music of the mid to late 1960’s. Discovering Joy Division brought many elements together. It enabled me to see that moody evocative music had a part to play in contemporary music. Further to that the post-punk music movement was all about breaking rules and that anyone, who wanted to, could play a musical instrument and be in a band. It was a very self empowering time. It was the spark that led me to believe that I had the right to write music and lyrics. I had this creative desire burning brightly and insisting that I do something. That wild creative energy has remained by my side ever since.
Tell me about the recording of the “Fire and Rain” CD and the newfound technology of high end equipment used. All in all, were you pleased with the sound that you attained?
Ah you are an insightful one, aren’t you – always asking interesting and valid questions. Actually I don’t think anyone has asked me this question before and it’s a central issue in my musical development. The short answer is “YES”. I was extremely pleased with the sound of that cd. For me; it is the best commercially released example of the sonic magic that I seek to attain when making a recording. “Fire & Rain” was a major life experience of a Cathartic nature for me. Eden’s earlier work had had a wonderful mystic spirit. Sadly the earlier recordings missed the sonic mark I had dreamed of due to the lack of the required outboard gear, and access to capable sound engineers. I have had a deeply passionate love of music since I was a child. Eden was not attaining the sonic mark I could picture in my mind. During the earlier recording sessions I had repeatedly played cd’s of artists I loved to sound engineers and asked them “how were these sounds created?” They would repeatedly give the impression that they had no idea how the sonic magic I admired was created, nor were they interested in equalling it. To the contrary they would make comments to the effect that the extensive use of reverb or compression was a sign of bad engineering and they wouldn’t do it. I guess they had their way and they wished to stick with that. At the end of the day I was not playing them examples of bad engineering. I was playing them recordings that were character driven. These recordings obviously were highlighting creative engineering…something Melbourne could not offer its Artists at that time.
Talk about Adam Calaitzis’ willingness and indulgence in creative production.
In regard to “Fire & Rain” more was at play than just the engineering. Before that point Eden had been a band which relied heavily on sequenced backing tracks when playing live. In 1994 Eden ditched this format and re-imaged as a four piece outfit that rehearsed frequently striving to be a very good totally live ethereal outfit. This in part was a personal rebellion against the earlier version of Eden which relied on sequenced backing. My formation as a musician had been with “All Things Unseen”. That band was all about playing live ethereal music. I had missed the drive and flow of playing in a fully live band. Ethereal guitar bands are a very rare commodity. Those which play in a completely live fashion are even rarer. In late 1993 I saw Siouxsie & the Banshees play live in Melbourne. Their performance was absolutely amazing – incredibly powerful and they demonstrated a professional orchestration to their set rarely attained by the majority of live bands. I went away from the show feeling incredibly inspired but also a little depressed because I no longer wanted to play in a band relying on sequenced tracks. Melbourne had several bands at that time who were heavily reliant on sequenced backing tracks when playing live. To me, live music was becoming a little like karaoke. Around this time I saw The Prodigy. They too seemed like live karaoke. Compared to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ performance, in my eyes, they were incredibly underwhelming.
The Siouxsie & the Banshees show was integral in inspiring me to begin writing new material designed for a fully live band. I began work in earnest on new songs. Initially I was writing these new songs thinking that they may be new material for the reformation of “All Things Unseen”. In actuality these new songs became “Fire & Rain”.
As a side note, circumstance enabled me to meet Siouxsie after the show. I was very impressed with her. She was a very interesting character. I ended up going on an all night drinking binge with Budgie and Martin McCarrick. Martin McCarrick was the pick of the bunch though. When he discovered that we had a mutual friend in Lisa Gerrard he launched into a wonderful discussion reminiscing his part in the recording of “Spleen and Ideal”. I related well to Martin – he was my kind of person. In a perfect world he would be someone I would love to work with.
Getting back to Adam Calaitzis, as previously stated, Eden was hard pressed to find a producer or engineer in Melbourne who could render the rich atmospheric setting our music required. Luckily we discovered Adam’s small home studio. These days he runs an impressive fully equipped professional recording studio. “Healingbow” onwards his studio was geared up quite well. For “Gateway to the Mysteries” his studio was more like the traditional old school home studio – it looked something like the inside of a Tardis. He was running an Akai 12 track recorder in his living room and recording the musicians in his adjoining dining room. The two rooms were divided by blankets hanging from the ceiling. The great thing about Adam, right from the start, was his interest in experimenting with the recording and production processes. He understood where we were coming from. This may have partly been because he had played in a band in the 1980’s and was familiar with the English school of sound engineering During the recording of “Fire & Rain” Adam recounted that he had been working on a cd for a Death Metal Band. All of a sudden the band were freaking out at the way he was producing their music. Adam realized that he had begun to give this death metal band the “EDEN treatment”. So he turned down the lexicon reverb etc to give the metal heads what they needed. At that point in time the creative and unusual had become the usual for Adam – working with Eden had that effect on him. Both Adam and Eden mutually enjoyed a continual creative flow when working together. With each release we worked hard to reach creative heights not previously reached. We made good use of everything on hand. Meaning we would create ambient textures spontaneously by hand. For example it was raining one session and I had this idea to play rain drenched vines growing outside the control room’s backdoor. We placed microphones near the vines and I played them with drumsticks. We then reversed the 24 track tape, increased the tape speed and applied loads of Lexicon 224X reverb. When the tape was played back at correct speed (and around the right way) we had an ambient texture that worked for a given track. We experimented in a similar fashion on a number of occasions and came up with great results. We used to love thinking up these scenarios and seeing if they would work. In most cases they did. You can imagine that this sort of creative play is far outside the usual rock band recording setting. In summary Adam Calaitzis called his studio “Toyland” for good reason. He has a passion for working with quality audio gear. He enjoys pushing the sonic boundaries and in constantly improving the sonic qualities of his work. In any case, this is how I found him to be when I worked with him.
You call the 1996 recordings “Midnight Sun” CD and the companion EP “Stone Cat” more angular in design. Explain.
Well maybe I once described those cd’s as sounding ‘angular’. Time passes and I’m not completely sure what I meant in using that expression except maybe I was conveying that the material on those cd’s was harder edged/harder hitting. The production ethic was taken to greater heights and I certainly gave my all when those cd’s were produced.
Do you think the engineers/producers in and around Melbourne were beginning to bridge the gap a little between their capabilities and your vision for sound?
Absolutely not. I do not recall hearing any recording made in Melbourne in the 1990’s that made me think “at last Melbourne has a recording engineer of the same calibre as John Friar, Martin Hannett, etc.
Aside from Eden you have written for and performed with various other artists. Talk about how you met Daevid Allen ex-Soft Machine founder and how you contributed to one of his albums.
I first met Daevid in 1984 at ‘the Cafe Jammin’. This was an old school Hippy Cafe and Daevid ran a night at this cafe which I think was called “Dreamtime Dub”. Essentially anyone attending the night was invited to get up and perform.
It had been a happy accident that led to me discovering that Daevid Allen was in Melbourne and running this weekly event. A mutual friend supplied me with Daevid’s phone number. I rang him and told him that one of my favourite LP’s was “Now Is The Happiest Time of Your Life”. Much to my surprise Daevid told me that he had not performed any of these songs in years. This surprised me because as music listeners we all have an immediate response and relationship with music we love. You don’t stop to think “Hey this music is no longer performed by the artist who created it”. I turned up to the next “Dreamtime Dub” night. Firstly I was amazed to see Daevid Allen in real life as he had been a musical hero and all of a sudden he was a tangible entity as opposed to a face on record sleeve. Meeting people whose music you love can be a really freaky thing; it’s usually quite uncomfortable. Not so on this evening as Daevid performed “Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do” as a result of me getting him thinking about “Now Is The Happiest Time of Your Life”. I don’t quite recall how but some months later I ended up at a restaurant with Daevid Allen and his girlfriend. David recounted wonderful memories of Soft Machine playing gigs with Syd Barrett &Pink Floyd & The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at the UFO Club, Roundhouse etc. He spoke of one gig (may have been the Roundhouse) where Soft Machine and Pink Floyd played simultaneously at opposite ends of the venue. I remember Daevid saying that Syd had a wonderful demeanour. When playing live he had this look about him which appeared to convey that he seemed to be in a permanent state of embarrassment; a coy and endearing shyness of a sort.
We go forward many years to 1992 and I walk straight into Daevid Allen outside the Supermarket in Auckland Street St Kilda. Daevid remembered me even though by this point I had transformed from a middle class high school student into quite a way out individual sporting purple bell bottom trousers, silver paisley shirt and wild long braided hair. He invited me to play on a recording session for his new cd the following week. I turned up and waited outside the studio door. I remember listening to Daevid singing in the studio and was amazed that I was in this crazy situation where I would be playing on one of his sessions. When invited into the studio, Daevid sat me down and instructed me to be as silly as I wanted because he was going to be even sillier. Daevid as a personality is nothing short of inspirational. He is a global treasure and has given the world a lifetime of innovative thought through music. He deserves to be highly rewarded. I wouldn’t say that he has spent his life dwelling in the fringe as he really is the fringe. He’s the monarch!
Another curious teaming with Peter Daltrey of the late 60′s band Kaleidoscope and the more progressive Fairfield Parlour. You’ve co-written a couple of songs with Peter and possibly more in the future. By the way I have the re-released double cd “White Faced Lady/Home To Home” and both are fabulous. Not a bad song in the batch. Very much underrated band.
The 1960’s was an intriguing decade. We experienced creative revolution on a culture wide scale seemingly impossible to attain these days. Rules were broken and for a brief period of time creative expression became an everyday norm. The powers that be did not fully grasp what was happening. Counter culture was simultaneously under and over estimated.
In the 1980’s we began to see the re-release of all manner of seemingly forgotten recorded works from the 1960’s. It became very apparent that there were scores of wonderfully unrecognized artists from this era. Among all these gems surfaced several amazing discoveries. The catch phrase “Oh my God; how did this artist get overlooked” became quite common in music loving circles. Nick Drake is a now a well known example of a once overlooked super-talent. Arthur Lee and Syd Barrett were well known in their day. Peter Daltrey’s band, Kaleidoscope were known but for seemingly for no apparent reason they were overlooked. Peter Daltrey’s talent (and enigma) is equal to Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, Daevid Allen, Bert Jansch etc etc. OK that’s a bold statement but its true enough. He still hasn’t had his day in the sun…surely it will come though. And if it does not, it is most significant that his music has and will ignite the creative heart of many a listener. And really this is the single greatest thing any artist can achieve. A few years ago Peter Daltrey, myself and Andrew Kuzter wrote two songs together. Peter was at the helm in regard to the writing and arranging. Both of these songs are wonderful shards of haunting introspective beauty. I hope that we eventually have the opportunity to record and finish these songs. Let’s see what happens…
You moved stateside for collaborations with Love Spirals Downwards, another one of my favourite bands. Was this sort of a sharing and uniting of label mates’ visions based on the Projekt Records common denominator?
When I was in the states in 1996, Ryan Lum invited me to stay with him. The idea was to write and record an album together. We did not get to the final recording stage as we did not have enough time to do so. Years later Anji Bee heard some of the demo’s and saw potential in them. A couple of the tracks made it onto a Love Spirals cd. In a perfect world it would have been great to have rearranged and re-recorded those tracks. In hindsight I would have suggested that Anji sing the lead vocal. At the time, as a writing team, we did not have the opportunity to think this equation through.
How did you come to work with the German band Place4Tears?
I met Tyves from ‘Place4Tears’ via myspace. One thing led to another and he invited me to add vocals to one of his songs. Eventually he sent me the digital multitrack and “Tears of Avalon” was remixed in a wonderful high end recording studio owned by Simon Bowley and Tristan Upton. Hence the fat analogue luxuriant sound that eventuated for “Tears of Avalon”. The song was mixed on a classic mid 1970’s British recording console and treated with a Lexicon 480XL, Urei 1176 compressors etc. The finished recording of that song has an absolutely wonderful sonic quality absolutely impossible to attain from digital recording software on its own.
Along with song writing, playing and performing you also write some very nice poetry. Is there a difference in the way say you write poems vs. how you compose lyrics for a song? In writing poetry do you have in mind the words being put to music some day?
Yes there is certainly a difference, for me, between writing poetry and writing song lyrics. Poetry is a far less constrained form and in essence it is very ‘stand alone’. Poetry is at the heart of the Troubadour’s soul. It can be read, spoken or sung. Yes many of my poems become songs. I rewrite poems so that they may work in the song format. For me – in song – less equals more.
What is the most challenging musical instrument you have played? What is your all time favourite?
The Oud would be the most challenging instrument I have sought to play. This would be why I don’t play it anymore…lol. Second to that would be the Harp. I played medieval steel-strung Bardic Harp for around three years. It was quite challenging to play but I loved the instrument and I kept working at it until I had established the basic stills of a self taught harpist.
My all time favourite instrument has been the 12 string guitar as it feels natural in my hands. I have always had difficulty in playing six string guitars, though I may have remedied this problem as I finally fell deeply in love with my Fender Jazzmaster. I now feel very comfortable on that guitar and I’m creating the tonal textures that I need for the ‘here and now’ with this instrument. Consequently I have not played 12 string guitar in nearly a year.
Where is the most unusual place you have ever recorded a song?
When writing songs I find that melodies or words can come to me at anytime. I used to carry a mini recorder with me and I would quietly sing words or hum melodies into its built in microphone as I was walking along, taking a train etc.
The inspiration to write music – where does it all come from? Do you write lyrics to compliment the music or vice versa?
Where does inspiration come from? This would have to be one of the classic age old questions. I have read comments from many creative people and many have said the same thing that I believe. Creativity comes from a place beyond time, space and ego. When you create you transcend the everyday and for a time you are in a place where you are free from yourself and everything surrounding you. One of the interesting things about being creative by nature is that you keep finding yourself creating something. The “you” has little say in the process – it just happens when it happens.
Yes I do write lyrics to compliment the music. Though it can work quite differently. I have begun with the lyrics then written music. I often write lyrics and music independently of each other and work out how they will work together at some point further down the track. I like to write a series of related pieces of music as though they are simply instrumentals. Later I will reshape these musical ideas into songs. Often this is because I find the creative process for writing words and music related but different. Often the inspiration for writing lyrics strikes at a different time to when I write music. Though it can also all happen at once. I have set ways of working but I seek to remain open to the possibility that an entirely new way of writing a song might suddenly make itself available to me.
The essence of creativity originates beyond self ; of this I am quite certain. The diverse terrain covered in the progression of life we might describe as the map of experience. Engaging with life is central to the creative process. Life experiences are like little sparks which ignite creative fires. Life experiences can prize open the door that the poet dives through to seek out pearls of creative euphoria. I find that many experiences make their way onto the palette of creative experience — the look of the sky, frustration related to the lack of the humane in situations, through to the bliss of a special love found in a secluded and special space which is able to remove daily distraction. I regularly return to certain themes. For example, my life with my wife Ronny K. Bowley is a place where I often find inspiration.
Has Sean Bowley come full circle artistically, creatively and musically? What’s up the old sleeve for the immediate future? What avenues have you not yet strolled down (musically or otherwise) that you would like to?
Have I come full circle? If you had asked me this last year I would have said that I couldn’t find the circle meaning I was not in creative mode. In the second half of last year I began to play my Jazzmaster guitar after experiencing a long break of not playing at all. At first I just simply wanted to play the guitar; enjoy the moment. This meant being free from the pressure of feeling obliged to write music. I found myself playing every night and for longer periods of time. I looked closely at my Jazzmaster and worked out that I needed to use very heavy gauge strings to get the nice wiry twang that I like. I also realized that an essential tool for enhancing the rich ethereal nature of my guitar playing was to be found in the Fender 63 Reverb tank, Strymon El Capistan tape delay emulator and a Retro sonic compressor.
Interesting that you ask what it is that I have not done that I would like to do in the future. You hit the nail on the head here as this is exactly how I’m feeling at this time. I want to explore certain things I have not done in the past. Meaning to explore musical formats quite different to what I’ve done. I like the idea of doing a full length cd which comprises four or five songs and several instrumentals. I love how this format works for the Durutti Column’s second LP titled “LC”. LC has been a personal favourite of mine since it was released
Secondly I would like to make an instrumental cd. I listen to a huge amount of easy listening music recorded in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I love the rich cinematic orchestration, the period vibe and I’m fascinated with the tone palette they could capture in the recordings that is for the most part lost or non-existent in recordings today.
I’m mentioning instrumental easy listening as I want to create a cd of ethereal echo laden guitar music. I love James Wilsey’s cd “ El Dorado”. He was the guitarist who originally worked with Chris Isaak. James was responsible for creating that wonderful haunting guitar which was the signature sound for “Wicked Game”. James touts himself as a “Guitar Slinger”: the modern interpretation of retro artists like Duane Eddy, Billy Strange, Link Wray etc. I guess I would like to create a Darkwave ‘guitar slinger’ cd. Picture atmospheric twang delivered in a post Joy Division soundscape and you might just be picturing the cd I want to make. The good news is that I have already started writing material for such a cd.
Lastly, do you still have your Siamese cats?
I still have Tiki; He is sixteen and a half years old. He used to sit beside me when I was writing songs for Eden all those years ago. It is absolutely amazing to see him still sitting by my side when I’m writing in the present. He’s an amazing soul; my best animal friend ever. When you invite an animal into your heart there’s nothing like it – a very special and profound love affair that likely transcends life itself.
For more info on Sean Bowley check out his website here http://www.blurredlipstick.com/sean/