Interview with Daniel O'Sullivan, Guapo, November 2008

Daniel O'Sullivan is a multi-talented musician from London who is involved in countless musical projects and activities. Reading the list of musicians he was and is involved with is like reading a map of who is who in today's alternative and avant garde music scene. I wrote him an email and he immediately responded with some very interesting insights into Guapo, Mothlite and even more.

Daniel O'Sullivan

R.: You seem to be a really busy person. Can you tell me in which bands/projects you have been are and will be involved?

Daniel O'Sullivan: I play in Mothlite, Guapo, Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses, Æthenor, Grumbling Fur and Being. I also play with Alexander Tucker, Sunn O))), Chrome Hoof and Ulver when I’m needed.

Can you make a living with being a musician? What job do you have?

I make ends meet through musical means, but these projects don’t accumulate enough money to make a decent living. Making music for film, TV and the occasional royalty cheque pays the bills (most of the time).

R.: Matt Thompson, the former bassist of Guapo is not present on the latest Guapo release "Elixirs". Why did he leave the band?

You would have to ask him for a more detailed response, but I would say he left mainly because of artistic disparities.

R.: The last three Guapo records are referred to as a trilogy. Can you talk a bit about what categorizes them as a trilogy?

All three records are trussed by tradition. I would say mythology, but that term might be derogatory, as it could be perceived as something untrue. They are all the results of dead belief systems, one overshadowing the existence of an entire civilisation, one that exists perennially through folklore, and one that exists through solitude in a more clandestine realm. The magnifying glass moving closer in all the time. All of these things mirror the uncertainties and problems with designing a musical system that we are searching for. To “believe” in what you are doing simply because it is what you do naturally, no matter how oblique, is what these three records represent… I think?

R.: What connect s the last three Guapo records? What separates them?

Well apart from the overarching concept, I would say the presence of a core instrumentation of Drums, Bass and Fender Rhodes binds the three records, although perhaps less so on Elixirs, which is a lot more varied. Also the fact that Matt had little to no involvement in the last record changed the outlook quite dramatically. The logical thing would’ve been another large-scale extended composition, but I think fragmenting the pieces definitely reciprocated how we were feeling as a band at that point.

R.: The song "Arthur, Elsie and Frances" on "Elixirs" has an organic, ambient-sounding ending. It is beautiful yet surprising to be found on a Guapo record. Can you tell me the "story" of this song (in terms of ideas/title/meaning)?

Yes, the Klaus Schulze ending. It felt very un-Guapo as we were recording it, which is exactly why we pursued it in a way. I think there will be much more analogue synth orchestration and polyrhythmic sequences on the next record. The story behind that piece refers to Arthur Conan Doyle being duped by the Cottingley Fairies hoaxers Elsie and Frances Griffiths.

R.: Moreover, can you tell me where the song names on "Elixirs" come from?

They’re all based on outsider ideologies. Jeweled Turtle is taken from “Against Nature” by Joris Karl Huysmans. The central character encrusts the shell of a turtle in jewels in order to create an asymmetrical myriad of colour against his Persian carpet. He creates a universe entirely based on his own sensory associations and perceptions. The Twisted Stems pieces are based on the enneachordal theory of Athanasius Kircher, who was one of the last great polymaths. He believed that certain plants respond to frequencies transmitted by interplanetary activity, the radiant harmony of the sun and the dissonance of the moon. The Planks comes from the Book of Veles, which is a hoaxed text of ancient Slavic religion and history written on wooden planks. It’s still used as a sort of bible for many Slavic neo-pagans. King Lindorm refers to dragon hunters in Småland, which is an island off the coast of Sweden.

R.: This year also saw the release of "The Flax Of Reverie" from Mothlite, the project from you and Antti Uusimaki. When did you first think about making music with him?

Pretty much as soon as I met him… A profound soul engrossed in machines.

R.: I have to say that "The Flax Of Reverie" is already my favourite release of 2008. Not only do the beautiful cinematic soundscapes remind me of more than one of my all time favourite artists (e.g. Talk Talk), the music also evokes dreamlike pictures and a remembrance of mysteries from my childhood.
Can you tell me something about the development of the album and also about the meaning behind each song for you personally?

Thank you. I’m pleased it conjures those feelings for you. A big inspiration for that album comes from a similar state of mind. Each song has it’s own story, but they all belong to the sense of being overwhelmingly protected and vulnerable at the same time. Riverside and The One in the Water are kind of twin sisters. They both refer to the whale that found itself lost in the river Thames a couple of years ago and subsequently died. It was an avatar for me. The wilderness of life made itself visible, and you forgot about all of the triviality and emptiness of living in a city like London. As for the others, well the lyrics are there. It gets a little dull if all you hear is my side of the story.

R.: Is there a concept behind "The Flax Of Reverie"? What is the story/intention behind it?

There is no one resolute concept behind the record. It’s just how I perceive certain things.

R.: What influences did you have when you created "The Flax Of Reverie"?

Musical influences trickle in unknowingly. There was never a point where we attempted to emulate anything else. Although I must say Talk Talk were a major paradigm shift for us. I was listening to either Spirit of Eden or Laughing Stock almost every day for a good two-year period. The only reason I don’t listen to them as frequently is because I like to be astonished by them all over again. There are many other influences… Numinous dreams, Rishikesh sunsets, The Singing Ringing Tree, etc.

R.: You played with
Æthenor on the last Roadburn Festival and Kristoffer Rygg (from Ulver) joined you live on stage and also contributed some vocals for the last Æthenor album. How did this collaboration come to terms?

We’re friends. We met on myspace, ha! It’s the mutual appreciation society coming to fruition.

R.: I tried really hard and listened to the last Aethenor album to figure out the position at which Kristoffer Rygg sung. I couldn't find. Would you reveal where that is?

On these recordings he wanted to be inside the room, like a shadow. He’s actually all over that record, contrary to some reviews I’ve read. There is a lot of acousmatic non-vocal like sounds. It’s Æthenor after all, not Ulver.

R.: Tell me something about your work in Miasma & The Carousel Of Headless Horses. When and how did you form this band?

I formed that band a long long time ago. I think it was 98 when we started. The original line-up was myself, James Blackshaw (who has gone on to make several solo records) and Francesca Bury. We were very young when we started that band actually. It wasn’t until I recruited Dave (Guapo drummer) and Orlando that it became a bit more active.

R.: I read that you are part of Grumbling' Fur. What can we expect of the upcoming album? How will it sound and when can we listen to some songs?

D::OS:: Yes, that’s an interesting project. Improvisations involving Alexander Tucker and myself at the core, which are then heavily edited and post-produced with Antti Uusimaki. This recording which is about to come out (Feb 09 I think) on Aurora Borealis features Jussi from Circle and Dave Smith. It’s very psyche.

R.: You have been invited to play with Guapo at next years Roadburn Festival. Will you also perform with Mothlite there?

D::OS:: We haven’t been invited as Mothlite, so probably not. We were personally invited by Neurosis to perform there as part of the day they are curating.

R.: Although you are involved in many musical projects I guess that one can always kind of recognize your "handwriting" in the music. Tell me something about your influences: Which artists/movies/art/etc. inspires you or what do you consider a contribution to your artistic vision?

D::OS:: It changes all the time. Do you mind if I don’t answer this question too extensively? It’s simply because I find it hard to contextualise my own work. I listen to a lot of music, and I love the multifarious nature of music and I love connecting the dots.

R.: Name some of the records/albums that recently got your attention (and what were the last records you bought)?

D::OS:: I’ve just been obsessing over Beatles for the last year or so. I still can’t believe the miracle of Beatles; how they achieved so much beautiful music in such a short lifespan. They were magical beings put here to change the world and they did. Who else can you think of with that amount of energy? I’ve also been dipping back into Low (Bowie) and Penguin Café Orchestra. Lots of Indian classical on rotation too… Shivkumar Sharma, Pandit Ram Narayan, etc.

R.: I already said that I used to host a radio show where I asked a band in an interview to select songs (from other bands) which I then played on the show. Although I won't play them - please select some songs you like.

How many do I get? I’ll give you 6.
Beatles – Blue Jay Way
Beatles – Julia
Scott Walker – Jolson & Jones
Beach Boys – Feel Flows
David Bowie – Subterraneans
Penguin Café Orchestra – The Sound Of Someone You Love Who's Going Away And It Doesn't Matter

R.: What is next in line for Guapo and Mothlite? Have you made plans for new albums yet?

We’re halfway through Mothlite’s “pop” album. We’re laying foundations for Guapo’s “afrobeat” album.

R.: Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer these questions. The last words belong to you.

I’ll give them to someone else…

"There is never any end. There are always new sounds to imagine; new feelings to get at. And always, there is the need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we've discovered in its pure state. So that we can see more and more clearly what we are. In that way, we can give to those who listen the essence, the best of what we are. But to do that at each stage, we have to keep on cleaning the mirror."

John Coltrane

The following is a list of recent releases from Daniel O'Sullivan:







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