John Power talks to LTW about CAST, remaining buoyant and making music for the love of it! Pt 1
Louder Than War’s Harry Mulligan interviews John Power from Cast.
Louder Than War: Playing John Lennon onstage in the production of LENNON in Liverpool how much do you think you have internalised this great man, and without sounding grandiose on your behalf, how much does he live on in the music you have been writing and composing?
John Powers: I didn’t do any sort of character research when I was performing for that theatre show because I’d already done, absolutely and intrinsically as a boy growing up on the streets, and I was born in Liverpool. I was very much from the south of Liverpool. I went to the same school’s as Lennon. I don’t think I had any greater insights than yourself, or anybody else who thinks they know his music, or has a love for the man, but, I was aware of John Lennon all through my life, as a musician, and even before I was a musician, I listened to Lennon’s music, and felt a certain connection with it, not unlike a great many other people. It’s just that maybe, the magic as a child, or a young teenager, a young artist growing up, you start to pick up the hallowed ground, the Port of Liverpool itself, and all started to add to some sort of a fairy-tale, or reality depending on how you view, how we see ourselves in this life that we live anyway. I knew all about John Lennon just being a fan of his stuff, just being a musician, growing up listening to his music.
Any musician in Liverpool, or any songwriter all over the world – you start to go through and listen, and you can’t help if you’re that way inclined, to be attracted to his music, his Spirit – Lennon as The Musician, Lennon as The Man, and all that. I mean, the Music – I think when you’re a child, when you are younger; your naivety, your innocence, you look for inspiration, you do throughout your life, back to Classics, as a true word of inspiration, the Spirit of something being passed on through a vessel, and generations, and by actions and interpretations. I think when any boy stands up in front of a mirror with a tennis racket, or an acoustic guitar, miming to Elvis or Lennon, or whoever is that is that’s turning that person onto music, they take a bit of that on with them, you know? So I already had it, didn’t play John Lennon as a character, I played John Lennon onstage much as I would have played myself. That’s kinda what I done; I put myself into the situation. I already knew the story of Lennon, I was akin to him, that Spirit as it exists within you and me, and everyone anyway.
I mean, one of the great things about people in general, from any walk of life whatever, the great Icons – is that they tune in – a Doorman part of our nature, but it exists within us all, and that is the beauty and magic of all great art, all great songs, people find it in religion, people find it in physics, in lyrics. There is a common structure to us, and I believe it is in a Spirit state as much as it is an a physical sate. Its something we can all connect with. There’s a certain emotion that brushes across us all. Playing the Lennon thing probably started off, the ideal was as an homage to Lennon because I’m from Liverpool, and obviously when I took it on board, I realized it was quite big thing to do ha ha There were a couple of days in rehearsal when I thought: ‘Well, what the hell have I let myself in for? It’s not a School Play, this is a real production!” All of a sudden you realize, if I do this badly, I’m going to get crucified. That was a word that was used in the the play. I just kind of went with it. The confidence I had in it, was that I believe that we all have an understanding of something. I didn’t even go an research it. I didn’t treat it as an actor would because I’m not an actor, so what I did was mimicking. I probably just interpreted what I thought, and what I felt was the Lennon that I know, or the only ‘me’ that I know exists in me, and its manifest by my actions and my words, and what I do in life. What is reality anyway? It’s perceived completely differently by every individual anyway. Really if you look at it like that, nothing is real, or exists as some sort of strange personal reality that overlaps other peoples reality. People are delude, turned on, people have clarity, people are chasing this all in their own way. It’s a state of mind, and a perception, and that can change, it can change in many different realms and many different kinds of facets.
So reality is a strange one and once you throw that one away, and realize that everyone who came to the show had their own individual interpretation of Lennon anyway, all I had to do was try and give them a little bit of something and they would do the rest. But that’s me talking to you about it, and the actual physical and mental thing of doing it was a kind of fucking strange experience. There were times when I was FUCKING SHITTING MYSELF, and there were other times when I was just rolling with it, and I’m thankful for the experience. Would I do it for a living? No thank-you, I wouldn’t want to put a white suit on every night!
How much of the Lennon thing lives on in us all? I think you see that little look in every one. Talking about young John McCulloch, his real inspiration is like a Dylan. What I’m trying to say is any great inspiration; Lennon, Dylan,Townsend – any great inspiration, people pick it up, and it lives on in their actions and their words and their views, and I think that Spirit of music being not just something that you write down on a piece of paper, something to be interpreted an played, I think music as an actual, – its more than music, it’s a Spirit, it’s a Life-Giving Thing, a generational flame that’s passed on. These great musicians or great people, or whatever you want to call them, they exist and shape their generation, and they were shaped by someone, by Elvis or someone, it’s an ongoing thing. Its just that there are luminaries that light up! It’s like a Buddhist thing really; no one is born with more potential than anyone else, whether Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Bob Dylan, Lennon, anyone. Do you know what I’m saying? Some people think they’re the acorn, and although it sounds a cliche, grow into a great massive Oak – great massive human beings, that cut through great swathes of masses, seem to become leaders and people follow.
Everyone has that potential in them, that nature, whether we get a grasp of it, whether we allow it, we are habitual I suppose. We’re habit forming creatures that realize what works for them in certain situations and unless we continue to do that, we think that is our character, that’s our true nature, but deep down, I think young songwriters, young performers, young activists – young Sparks – they carry all of what we’ve been talking about within them and they are everyone who has been a legend, and they’re going to carry that a little bit. It’s as simple as that. I don’t know if this answers anything that you …
What stood out for me the last time you played in Edinburgh was the new composition Baby Blue Eyes and for me it foreshadows the possibility that the most recent album might be your Magnum Opus as a band. Can you tell me what that song is about?
Yeah, actually. Baby Blue Eyes, without putting it in a tin pot and defining too much, is about the illusion/delusion of what we consider our lives to be. The whole marketing from an early age of being told that, being brought up, a game that we play, it’s not really you… I think that people think that they are something, when they are so much more, and it’s not something that is not really promoted or taught in schools, that we have great potential to be free, and to be free from attachment, and free from this, and taught how the world runs, and bred step into an economy, a society, and not really ask too many questions, to be blagged by marketing, Shit TV, Shit Food and know-your-place, and don’t try and be something beautiful. Its more to do with all that, an understanding, of stepping out of yourself, of your person, or your identity that kind of say that you are, who people think that you are. From an early age, you are being bombarded with an impression of what you think and how you think you should act…
Is it about Self-Actualization then?
I would think so, yes, absolutely. I would hope so, yeah, and also it’s tough and quite upsetting to realize really, quite heart-breaking, that you are free from this; you are an equal being to anyone, and that really, if you’d just allow yourself to care for yourself and others, we’ve just got so much carrion on our shoulders. If you’re stuck in the Rat-Race, right, left and center, that’s the kind of vibe of what I was trying to say, but I don’t want to go into Big Politics, that’s the kind of sense of the song. Baby Blue Eyes, it’s just a kind of sad: ‘Baby Blue Eyes’ – then the chorus is kind of uplifting, its more wistful throughout life, because there is a certain degree of ‘Shit man, are we going to let it slip?’ I imagine twenty years ago I’d have said: ‘ Are we gonna do this? We gotta do this!’ Now it’s more about recognition of what’s going on, and maybe even if it was all in-vain, it was always gonna be worth trying, do you know what I mean?
The album is more like that, a more mature, relaxed… I hope this is going to be an album that we’re not going to force down your throats, and by doing that, there is some sort of space around each song, to be supple and to blow in the breeze and blossom. I feel that the band is much more at ease with each other in the studio now. It just doesn’t seem to be much of an effort to recognize each others wonderful talents and beauty within the band. I watch Skin play, and he’s such a wonderful artist in his own right, and Keith has just been jumping on the drums, and its not a problem! We’ve had too many problems in out lives, and going into the studio and trying to record a new album as CAST – and with all CAST has been through on our own little journey’s – this isn’t a problem. Why should this be a problem?
That kind of leads us onto the next question : Seeing who Skin and the Lads have gone on to become as your Wing Men in CAST, how much of your side-projects bleed into the new material?
I think CAST have a certain defined way, or they have done up until this album. At least they have done up until this album. We had a certain way of working. Now I’ve got off and done Solo material which is a lot more… there is no hiding the fact that I have a lot of love for roots, fifties and all that music. With CAST, Skin can play all styles, but he has to feel comfortable with his style of playing, and he’s been playing with Robert Plant; he’s been playing and mixing with very good musicians, and around the world bumping into very respected Country players, so Skin has brought that back to us, and I was watching him in the studio in the last session we had, and he’s in the Curve when he’s putting the tracks down, and when he’s standing by the desk, and he’s swaying, and I’m watching him play as much as much as I’m listening to him. I feel all that he’s bringing, and the same with Keith. I mean Keith’s drumming now is so much more together, I mean we’re all so much better musicians, there’s all bits n bobs that we bring in with us, but when we get together it becomes CAST; it’s not John Power’s Solo. It’s not Skin with Robert, its not Keith ding a Single. You know the story that Peter isn’t with us this coming year, and we’ll miss Peter Holden holding bass lines down, but like all little segments of life, there is an optimism with the situation at the moment, a lightness and buoyancy to what we’re doing. I think that is something we’re going to try and capture.
Can you tell me anything about the compositions on Kicking Up The Dust, your sixth studio album with CAST, now managed by Alan McGee’s Creation Management?
I don’t feel this sort of urgency I used to because I have a funny feeling that every time we go into the studio we knock a track out. I’ve got the ideas, but I don’t have this sort of zeal, must get it out there, finish it attitude. What I’m doing is taking ideas, they might need lyrics but I’ve got an idea of a song, and I’m taking them in and the band are picking up on where it needs to go without much fuss. What that’s shown us is that there’s a coming together of our personalities, and we have all wanted to make this album, and there is an acceptance of where we’re at, and we’re not trying to force or put on any sort of Puppet Show. We just want to reveal, to feel where we are, on the album, in the Studio, with all this time that we’ve served together, as we have been at it for a while, and somewhere along the line, just about now, we feel, I feel, very at ease, to be in the Room with the Lads. So what I’m trying to say to you is that the tracks that we have, its about five tracks, there is a maturity to them. I can’t define it, they’re not tired, and it doesn’t feel like we’re trying to reclaim old ground because that would be just be a parody, to write that sort of album. To perform that sort of energy, you’ve got to be true and in it. We’re revealing something else, its been a long long journey and a lot of people have come along with us. We are continuing down our path and we’re reaping what we’ve sown. I just think CAST will be getting this album done and it will be another great achievement for us. I don’t want to always go out and do the old tracks. They’re great tracks as they are. We’re always going to play ‘Walk Away’, ‘Sandstorm’ They’re amazing songs and they bring amazing energy to the Show’s and if they weren’t that good they’d be at the end of the Line, but they’re not. They’ve already proved They’re Classics, but we’re all gonna be mixing it with new material. We’re looking forward to it, its sounding great, and we’ve no idea and it feels very rich. We’re not trying to use loads of guitars, but trying to find real rich textures, and the Songs quite moving…some are quite sad, not all them are buoyant because we’ve all been through Life, do you know what I mean? and Life has dealt what its dealt and we’re all dealing with it. It’s a beautiful, sad, wonderful thing that we’re involved in, day-to-day living like!
Would you say that without any Industry, Major Label driven, Protestant Work Ethic, for lack of a better way to express it, that the new stuff is more authentic?
I’d say its a lot more authentic because its totally where we’re at and we’re just being totally true to the Sessions and trying to be something else. You know that’s a fair point because when you are signed, and you are a certain style of something, whether consciously or subconsciously, you start playing to the audience or you start playing to the Climate, to the musical climate, not in an easy sense. We are out of the Industry in that sense, and the Industry has changed. We don’t have anyone telling us what to do. We’re making Music for the Love of it, we’re making music for the Celebration of CAST! We’re all making a real fucking effort to get together. It would be much easier for CAST to just tour here and there. Skin is flying in, Keith is cancelling stuff, we’re all putting in that effort, and when we get three days when we’re all in the same place, we’ve been going into the Studio. Now that is when we’ve already been away. We’ve made the decision this year to hand out as much as we can and its a very simple plan: Make this new album, play together because we’re fucking great and we love each others company, and by doing that it will lead us into next year and who knows?
Well, we sure got to where we needed to go there John, and I got my Soundbite: ‘Making the music for the Love of it!’ So, I only have one more question: What’s on the horizon for John Power’s and CAST?
Well as I said, I’m finished recording and producing this John McCulloch and The Escorts album, and I’ve always only produced my own stuff to a degree. It was a great little vibe with John, getting in the studio, watching the band come together, and start to become a band, and we’ve had this album finished for a while. It’s been exciting, and I mean exciting for the real reason of his process, and the fact that we had an idea, and we put it into motion and finished it. We have the album done and that is sort of the whole success, that we have the project done. Where that leads I don’t know. I kind of getting into doing a lot more writing. I’m a lot more open now, just me in the room, get lost every morning, this is what I do, as I said I’m a lot more open now. I’ll pick a guitar up and start strumming, sit back and listen to other people’s ideas. There is a whole new part of me that has opened up. Withe my Solo stuff, there’s my box set that came out in the last year, with recordings from 2015, and |I’ll get the box set up to you, and you can get a little listen. I listened to it the other day with a bottle of wine, and I was quite shocked with the material. There is an abundance of material; three albums, another CD I recorded, a little documentary. There is a real body of work there, and some of it is bloody amazing. I’m quite proud of it. When I go out and play the Solo stuff, people who were shouting for Sandstorm or for Willow Weeps, or Mariner, I can now give them a copy of the album. There’s all that going on, and we’re getting together and playing.
It looks like we’re going to be busy, but in a good sense. More productive and creative, is what we’re going to be. Where it is going to lead Harry, I don’t know. Every year is the same to me. I roll in on Christmas at the end of the year going: ‘Isn’t it great, we paid the bills, made some great friends, made some great music, and I’m still in Love!’ rather than January the 1st, or 2nd, and thinking: ‘Oh fuck. here we go again!’ I don’t know what the future holds, I suppose is what we say. I’m allowing myself to be actively turned on and to be buoyant. Buoyant is the new me! I just need to step out of the dregs and the sediment of my own life and just lift myself above the shit in our lives that can really fucking bring you down. And when you look out there and you see the War and the Politics and the injustice all over the place. It’s State Sponsored and it’s Corporation run, and we are fucked and I’ve had it. You just have to stay buoyant and retain that belief in your fellow man like, and hope that somewhere along the line, we can turn our back on Primark, and consumerism, we don’t fucking need it. That we start to have the strength of character to stop being fearful of ourselves.
John it has been brilliant talking to you, thank-you so much.
Is there anything that you want to put out there that I haven’t asked you about?
Ha ha ha ha… Oh fuck Harry….
I’ll see you again in Scotland!