Captain of the Lost Waves – interview
Louder Than War’s Eileen Shapiro interviews Captain Of The Lost Waves.
There are really no words created in the English language to describe the Captain. I’m sure that even if the Captain of the Lost Wave sailed the seven seas, he’d still be lost within a magical trance of music and song. Always in character, the Captain has just released some new wizardry entitled, Hidden Gems Chapter 1, a collection of nu-vaudeville, rock, mysteries, that are lyrically fascinating and melodically intriguing, a complete hidden treasure.
“An uncompromising vision shall always divide opinion, for such is the I answering conviction evident in the creation itself”. Based in Yorkshire, the Captain never does the same gig twice. Each show is unique, much like the Captain himself.
In order for someone to become a character, they have to bring something of their true self to the party. This guy is the real deal, but he’s more than that. He brings positivity into the darkest moments, through his prophetic powers, and self endured philosophies.
I was extremely fortunate to have a chance to speak to the Captain, about music, magic and the mysteries of life. If you’ve never read anything that I’ve written, here is a miraculous place to start. It’s spoken by the Captain, almost like a strange, yet inspirational kind of poetry.
Louder Than War: I know that you’ll be playing in Leeds on 25 May, so I’m going to try and catch your show. I know that all of your gigs are different, how long do they usually run?
Because this thing is intuitive a lot of the time, the album launch was nearly three hours. That was with backing musicians. I’m a bit like a casino, I have no exit sign or clock. I just go with it as I feel it. If the energy is good, the audience interaction, you feed off it. It’s a symbiosis. Often I have no concept of time, but I’ve had to be very disciplined with that too as well. The other musicians are usually dying on their feet at that point.
I realize that I don’t like anything routinely set out. That’s why I call the album, Hidden Gems Chapter 1, because I’m always creating so much that I thought if I just do one thing no matter how successful it might be, it was a thought to me that if it became successful, it might become like an albatross around your neck. The one thing I fear as a very free form artist, the fact of having to gig something because it gained some traction. I always thought to call it Hidden Gems Chapter 1, then you could have Hidden Gems Chapter 2. So that’s the one trick.
I can have a very disciplined idea of executing something to the spine of it, but I love to be able to figure and create songs on the spot with people. I love that. I suppose we all have to understand our own madness, and certainly mine is there. I never make it easy for myself. Sometimes I do say, ‘Why did I do that?’ It’s wonderful. It’s sort of messy in the most beautiful way. There’s a sense of cohesion in the sense that I’ve gone with the pure instinctive approach. It’s almost like an altered state of consciousness. Once I’m in that zone I don’t always recognize what I see, but I go with it. Usually I trust that process.
The people that have come to see me so many times, know that it’s always different. What it is, is what it is, so it’s the kind of idea allowing it to be free form, allowing it to be organic, but still being a little bit more structured. I have a strange fear of that word, and I always have. It’s always been there. These guys in the theater that do the same thing for three years in a row, it’s done beautifully, but it doesn’t hold any appeal for me. Doing the same thing night after night. I think it’s a curse for a lot of artists. People want the hits when you’re really big at one point. Nobody wants to hear new work, and you’ve got to play that. Everything has its own sense of polarity doesn’t it. No matter what we see it’s equally blessed and cursed. I always want it to be what I perceive it to be. It’s like an out-of-control puppy, that greets me with love.
You are probably up there as one of the most creative people that I have ever spoken with in my entire life.
Well, that’s an accolade isn’t it? I’ll take that with the grace it was sent. I had this from the creative point of view, little bits of industry stuff where I again felt straitjacketed by people. So I thought maybe I’d have to be a less successful artist, stick to my guns in some way because I didn’t think I could fit in.
People like Adam Ant, Culture Club, all those bands, had their own movement at the time. There was a lot more being steered by the artist. I think that wasn’t the same homogeneous thing now, generic idea of what they think we should be. I love so much darker, and the worthiness of how art is executed. But equally I look back to things that I loved as a kid, and remember things that I inherited from my uncle, like Laurel and Hardy. We’ve become so worthy of humor.
I was determined to not get too entrenched and lost in my own melancholy, which I think is my natural factory settings sometimes, and kind of go in the light, and let’s find a mix. Let’s take Stan and Ollie, and all those aspects of vaudeville and things that I’ve always loved. Music people that I’ve worked with just never got…you can’t do all these things…you’re trying to fit too many things into one box. In essence you end up as an outsider. You have to except that musicians sometimes don’t have that vision. It can be very frustrating, and there’s never been that sense of arrogance about that. It’s just who you are and if you perceive things a certain way.
I find there are very few visionaries in the industry, and even people who have been around in the industry. Where have all the visionaries gone? I do think things have become watered down. Going back to people like Adam, music had a vitality. That’s the beauty, I think it’s finding your own voice. Not being steered by these corporate boys who tell you to be like that. There is still great music being made, but I do find so much of it is very generic. Debra Harry, Talking Heads, they were brilliant. They had so much soul. Music has been very well technically made these days. I see a lot of great technical work, but I don’t feel a lot of soul.
Maybe with all of the free downloads, the artists feel in order to make money they have to create more, kind of like a factory.
I think it’s become so watered down. I have a friend who’s an old blues player, and he’ll always say to me: ‘don’t do anything that you can cut and paste’. You try and resistant it and that’s what Hidden Gems is all about. The idea of making the album, my ideal would have been possibly vinyl. How realistic is that? It’s a kind of truly bohemian venture as to how I’m going to do this as a smaller artist. I don’t mind though, the connection is true, because that’s what it’s all been about to me.
I use the word spirit. I’ve always believed from a young boy we are spiritual beings having physical experiences. That’s always been my feeling, so what was it that I was reaching for? What was it that music has brought into my life? It’s not any sort of religious infinity, it’s about the fact that when I talk about the spirit or a spiritual experience it can be that connection. I always felt that corporate things never worked for me. And you do go through your own beating up of oneself. Your self talk can be rather punishing, because I thought I just don’t fit in. These artists tell me it’s all about inclusion, it’s actually about exclusion. We call ourselves artists but then we create our own rules and rigid expectations about how it should be performed, you can’t mix that with this, you can’t do that with this. I think probably people like Adam and Bowie before him, said he was never a rock & roller, and I’ve always felt the same. You know rock & roll can be confined by these ideals as well. I think we’ve all become diluted along the way, and actually some of us wonder why, who and where is our audience.
I think that you are a very old soul.
That’s been said many times. That’s the connection I felt with you actually. The energy of what I see and what I’m feeling, I went ‘Oh wow, this is from some other place’. That’s what I mean by connected to spirit. You’re coming from a deeper dimension than most of the music writers.
Well I was excited to speak to you. There are no words to describe you. I haven’t found them yet.
That’s a quote worth it’s weight in gold. I always find with Captain gigs, people who come and become real fans, they say, ‘But how do I tell my friends what this is?’. Maybe that’s part of the beauty, and the fact that it’s hidden to the masses. One fan said, ‘it’s like my own private secret, I don’t want to share it with too many people’. I love that!
I’ve never been a drug user. I always felt that the trips that I take creatively always took me to another place. I joke with people and tell him that I’ve never done it to reach this place. People that see me at a gig, ask me how long I’ve been on mushrooms. Sometimes I felt that we were all but mirrors, that feeling of a lot of emotional narcissism. Being a frontman people have to compete because if you can work the energy in the room, and bring it together….then get two frontmen in a room and it’s like two strutting peacocks. I never felt that it should be a competition. But we’ve all been brought up to think that there’s not enough to go around. So again I felt very, very unplugged from that scene, to have a number 1 record, what would that mean? I kind of self-sabotaged.
That’s what I mean by the self-punishing thought, Eileen. Over the years I thought, maybe it’s just not going to happen for me, because I can’t seem to compromise. I’m very poor at compromise. I lost my father, he was 29 when he died. I was one. I grew up as somebody who was around death a lot, so I was aware that you can go at any time. Actually we are only bouncing on this earth for a short time so none of this really means all that much to me. So if you’re going to argue with someone about a headline spot, why waste all that time and energy on an exercise where in 100 years from now, nobody will probably remember who we are.
I couldn’t get into the drama enough. I’d probably get lost in it. Eventually I can start looking in the mirror at myself and go, ‘what’s all this about, it’s nonsense isn’t it’. That’s what I mean, it was always a self-sabotage of my own. Maybe that’s the path I had to take, I don’t know. People like Adam still had a certain amount of control in the arts. To me it’s like walking into a fridge. It doesn’t resonate with me. I feel a little bit of narcissism which had been caricatured through the idea that we’ve become greater than gods, our own self-importance. It’s never about me, I always say, ‘I’m here to serve you’. It’s giving myself up to a greater force. Far greater than my physical pursuit on this planet. Which is what I believe in anyway, whenever any great beauty of artistic expression comes from, which cannot be tangibly aligned to some idea that we are in control of it. Because I’m not and I never have been.
You should write a book.
Maybe. Maybe that’s the next thing. Combining those aspects of my life, maybe I should go be a monk in the hills. A lot of the aspects of Zen and a lot of spiritual aspects which I wanted to feel are embraced through music and have become almost dilute through music, so I thought where is the pure expression of all of that feeling? We find it in some music, haven’t we? I saw a fascinating documentary on Gary Newman. Again a lovely sweet soul, who seemed to be battered by the industry for years. But generally lovely man if you could feel it.
You’re the real deal.
What’s interesting for me again is it’s been a learning curve. I got involved in part of the steam punk community. The magic about steam punk is because someone said, ‘what genre are you?’, I’ve never had a genre. I reinvented myself anyway. This new invention came from having glandular fever. I was really, really unwell. I started to write things, and I put down this story, I’m a Captain, a Captain of the Lost Waves, and it was almost like, where am I going with this? What is it about that we’ve lost so many things?
I thought about community and people, and I thought the mad thing about this is the steam punk community. Here I am dressed as this character, and this role, it feels so real to me. Yet the people that connect with the authenticity of it are saying, ‘the outfit and the character is an introduction to what you are’. I thought that was absolutely intriguing.
Someone like Adam, he was dressed as a mixture of native American Indian and pirate, his passion for all those things that he went through when the band reformed Bow Wow Wow. All the Malcolm McLaren story, and what he created authentically, a fragment of all these pieces, somehow there was something real about what he truly felt about it. That’s what I feel about this journey. I always felt there’s no joy in it anymore. When you bring the joy and the madness and the child-like innocence, suddenly people truly see the whole thing. I find it absolutely fascinating that once you put a top hat on, people think ‘oh this is an act’. Actually it’s more real.
That’s been a learning curve for me. It’s intriguing that people from the steam punk scene say. ‘What was that?’ You make a connection with someone so deeply. People on the outside that are looking in, say ‘It’s a dress festival, isn’t it?’ The people on the steam punk scene remind me of those old music scenes where people were so organic. Because steam punk has no genre, it goes through all facets of anything is allowed. You can be whoever you want to be. You can wear a dress, make-up, not like the acoustic scene that I’ve been part of. It’s very prescribed. It’s curated by people who thought folk music should be this… Who are people to tell me what I should and shouldn’t be? I’ve never been aggressive. The only time I feel it in myself is when people tell me what I should and shouldn’t be.
You know what, I can’t buy into it. I feel restricted, like I can’t breathe. I walk away again. It’s like a child who recognizes the people who want to spend time with them, and the people who don’t. Children and animals recognize that greater than anyone. That’s why kids are so honest and so brave. They just connect to the Captain, it’s so great. The Pixar experience one reviewer called it. You can be eight-years-old and connect to it. We have this separation between adult and child. How we talk about things like sex. But the truth of it is, it hasn’t been validated. Children know we lie to them. My son is 12 this year, but Harry has always been to as many gigs as he can. We talk as truthfully as possible, while trying to retain the magic of what it is.
Is your son like you?
Yes, very much. He has a fascination about the whole Captain thing. He’s a wild energy actually.
Maybe I should be interviewing Harry.
Probably won’t be long, he’s very profound. Kids are our teachers. It’s not measured by a lifespan of years. It depends on how your experience is. Talking about prisons, they were far more people probably free in prisons. Self-imposed prison as we create for ourselves and our own mental issue. You go with personality and depression and all these things we have to deal with. I think I’ve always, I don’t know if it’s bipolarity but I always had that delving within me. So I gotta be aware of that within myself as well.
You want to know what I like best about you, I don’t even have to ask you a question.
There are always questions I guess, without even asking them. After I had glandular fever, there was this post counseling service. This doctor helps people on the physical aspects of dealing with an illness. He had an album of mine. His name is Leon. He said to me, ‘I have a lot of people that come and sit on my couch, and sometimes it could be really difficult to find the inner child. A lot of people tend to hide it. But you are an inner child, I’m struggling to find the adult’. He said, ‘When I asked the question, I never heard somebody give such an in-depth answer’. Then we got into past lives. He said that he believes there was a time in my life where I couldn’t speak. There are no boundaries. I’ve always felt very feminine at heart. I have a connection to what the feminine is. I’ve always been a very nurturing, to touch, to hold people. I’m always very physical in that sense, but also very aware of the British reserve, and people that I can read, that don’t want to be touched. That’s why I think that mothers have a job that a lot of women do, which goes unheeded. Mothers are another hidden gem. Often they are not as respected as they should be. I’ve got a 70% female brain, I did the secret of the sexes test. I remember with school friends would ask me if I was gay. I told him that if I was gay it will be no issue, I never had a physical attraction to other men. They would say, ‘You are a woman’, and I would say, ‘What does that mean?’ I see women give up so much in light of their families.
You know what, you are probably one of the most positive people. Talking to you, it seems that you turn all of your negative ideas into positive ones.
I said to you earlier that there has always been this polarity in life between a natural factory setting, melancholic and me. I lost many things in this life, so I try to see the beauty in things. I always felt like I was on borrowed time, which could be quite exhausting at times. In other ways though it would allow you to see things for the first time.
My battle in myself has always been this thing, even all the songs I’ve written over the years, as dark and despairing subject as it may have been, I thought, ‘How do I turn this into a positive’. We can’t wallow in our pain. This melancholy, that pulls me, it’s kind of romantic, like Wuthering Heights. That beautiful romantic nostalgia steeped in real pain is part of the human journey.
That mortal part of me, in this physical vessel, I feel completely and utterly restricted by the physical experience. I’m boundless somewhere. I always felt this since a child. I’ve never explained it. If I try to reach her through physical experience, it’s always going to frustrate me, so I have to find this in a boundless way. I know somewhere deep down, we are more than this. It’s the Beauty and the Beast, literally, can I still find beauty in the beast. Yes, yes it’s there! It wasn’t about what I can achieve, it’s about how I can serve others that I meet along the way? What’s the imprint we can have on each other? That’s a far greater thing than my name being on a plaque somewhere.
Again, that goes back to the album. I thought Eileen, at the start of this whole Captain adventure, and the tales I was coming up with, I thought they are all about the Captain, and that they were hidden. It wasn’t history that people where acknowledging. Then more and more I’ve realized over the years, that it wasn’t just the Captain’s tales, it was everyone I’ve worked with. It was some amazing artists, very sensitive souls. My favorite quote ‘be as powerful as the ocean, and lay just as low’.
I have to remind myself in an industry that obscurity is such an enemy, the artist has to be sane, you have to be selling out, and I thought where is the truth and beauty in all of this. We get lost in that journey. Part of my show where people stumble across me, fall in love with it. They think, ‘how come I’ve never seen this, or heard this?’ Maybe that’s just the point. You’re not supposed to know who the Captain is. Maybe this is your own private joy.
All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.