Mark Thompson – Everything
Today I have the pleasure of talking with Mark Thompson, mastermind of Dispersed Ashes, a particular creature that we already met on our webzine, so let’s get more info on it.
Welcome on Aristocrazia Webzine, Mark. We are at the beginning of 2013, so how was your 2012?
Mark: Thank you for having me! 2012 was an interesting year for me with the release of the new album and the cementing of the relationship with Naturmacht Productions / Rain Without End Records. Over the course of the year my work developed in unexpected ways, and as the new year continues I am excited to explore these new avenues in greater depth.
You are a complete artist, you love music, you are a well known photographer and painter, how did you decide to create Dispersed Ashes?
Dispersed Ashes came about through necessity. The main body of my creative output is as a visual artist — primarily as a painter — but in 2009 I began having ideas that needed to be developed in another field. Despite my first steps being somewhat tentative, it quickly became evident that picking up a guitar allowed me to explore those ideas. I think of DA as a facet of my work rather than as a separate entity, and have found that there is significant crosstalk between my visual and musical compositions. In some ways they strengthen each other, allowing me to draw on sources of inspiration that usually only belong to their separate practices.
How did you meet this kind of music and which are the albums that made you love this music?
As a teenager I began listening to the early goth bands, but found myself wanting to find music that was darker and more intense. I started listening to things like the Misfits, and Alien Sex Fiend, and then Metallica entered my life! This was at the end of the Eighties, and suddenly there was Morbid Angel’s “Altars Of Madness”, Obituary’s “Cause Of Death”, and Darkthrone’s “Soulside Journey”. At that point I was hooked. Over the years, my interest in metal has been reignited by various albums, including Cult Of Luna’s “The Beyond”, pretty much everything that Neurosis have put out, and the first Tyranny album “Bleak Vistae”, amongst many others.
How do you create one of your works? Which are the steps that lead you to create the musical and visual concept that then will evolve into the album?
The writing process for me is quite constant, so I don’t set out to write around a particular concept or with an album in mind. That said, there are always certain ideas and questions that I am attempting to tackle in my work, and as the songs began to form themselves for “The Nature of Things”, a thread linking them seemed to automatically be there. Dispersed Ashes is still a relatively young project, so perhaps as it evolves the process may change. For now, keeping the writing as organic as I can seems to allow me the greatest freedom to push in as many directions as I can. The lyrical content of the songs was perhaps the deciding factor for the visual aspects of the album. They tap into how I try to understand memory and experience, what I take forward and what is left behind. By using a set of faded photographs I took whilst in Alaska several years ago, I sought to reconnect a little with my past, and they certainly seemed to be the most appropriate visual metaphor.
Which are the main differences between “An Arithmetic Of Souls” and “The Nature Of Things”? Can we consider the latter as the evolution of the first?
The main difference between the first and second album is one of confidence. As Dispersed Ashes has evolved I have started to find it easier to let the songs breathe a little more. Like most young bands, I initially drowned everything in waves of reverb, but as I have gained a little in experience I wish to reveal a lot more… Rolling back the gain on the guitars to allow the dynamics to be more present and to capitalize on the human aspects — string noise, etc. — the more analogue parts of writing/recording. That said, “The Nature Of Things” is a logical extension of “An Arithmetic Of Souls”, and I don’t wish to treat the song writing process in too clinical a way; thinking of each album as a separate project. I prefer to think of it as a continuing and ever evolving process.
I noticed that in both the albums the drumms are low, dilated and static solutions that leave enough space for the atmosphere, did you make this choice to emphasize the wall of sound created by guitars and vocals?
Like all musicians I tend to write for my dominant instrument, so the songs are necessarily guitar and melody driven. Allowing the music a little space to breathe rather than swamping it with a barrage of drums, feels somehow more appropriate to what I’m doing at the moment. The songs are a long way from being rhythmic exercises, and as you suggested, I hope to focus more on the atmosphere and feel of the work. As I move forward however, I foresee the percussion parts coming a little more forward.
Where did you get inspiration for the artworks of your albums?
My choice of imagery so far has been concerned with either the ephemeral or with decay and change. Thus far I have kept a certain distance between my visual work and the images I use for Dispersed Ashes covers. I have worked together with a few bands to made the cover art for their albums, Agalloch’s “Marrow Of The Spirit” being the most notable, and it has seemed like too easy a solution to just use my own work for a DA cover. I think that may change as I plan the next album – the two strands of my creative life are inevitably getting closer together.
One of the features of Dispersed Ashes is the simplicity of the songs, sometimes people underrated the power of simple solution. Is simplicity something important in your everyday life choices too?
I agree that simplicity is generally underrated. If I think about my favourite pieces of music or my preferences across the arts generally, I find that they usually have deceptively simple or concise themes and yet somehow manage to say more. It’s as though they hold up a mirror and allow one to experience oneself in relation to the work. I do seek simplicity in my daily life, and in many ways I consider myself lucky to be able, for the most part, to achieve it. Living and working as an artist certainly has its complications, but my time is generally my own and in that sense I am able to minimize distractions and keep the level of focus I require.
What makes a difference in the art world today? People talk about a flattening of ideals and ideas, do you agree or is it just another excuse to give importance to the media ideas that impose stereotypes?
The art world is generally a reflection or commentary on the current state of the world, and it appears to be quite an anxious place. The global financial crisis hit it very hard and in some ways is reshaping it. The flattening of ideas/ideals… Well, I think there is always the temptation with contemporary art to take a very short-term view of it, seeing the cold cynical irony and inflated prices of recent years as being indicative of the state of art generally. I think the complete picture is fortunately more complex, with all manner of artists doing all manner of things away from the media gaze. Sure it isn’t news worthy, but that may be its saving grace. If there is a problem of ideas/ideals I feel it is the concept of artist as celebrity. We are not pop stars… And debasing ourselves for public entertainment as such isn’t, to my mind, a good way forward. Still, things inevitably change, so we will see what comes next.
So there is a news about Disney forbidding a metal band to play, I’m talking about Exodus. Which is the problem with this “unconventional” musical world? Why people thinks that it is anti-cultural?
I think metal deals with an area of the human experience that is the antithesis of Disney ideals. In that respect it is little wonder that such a clash should occur. We seem to live in the grip of a cult of happiness in which “negative” emotions or darker themes are seen as unhealthy and frightening. Disney apparently embodies a world view that is very fragile, and is becoming increasingly right wing in its attempt to censor music. Should metal bands be playing at Disney world alongside Mickey Mouse? Probably not. Should Disney censor bands from playing at the House Of Blues in Florida merely because it owns the building? Again, probably not. Perhaps they should rename the venue too considering the negative themes that are also present in the blues — can’t have the kids listening to songs about making deals with the devil, now can we?
Will Dispersed Ashes always be a studio project? Did you ever think about making a live show connecting all of your artistic works (music and visual art)?
I can’t really imagine how a Dispersed Ashes concert could be achieved. I don’t have aspirations to perform live personally and I would have to essentially employ session musicians to back me. I think for the time being I am happy with keeping it confined to the studio. In a similar vein, I am not sure that combining my visual and musical outputs could be made to work. I’m trying to imagine the collectors of my paintings getting to grips with the more aggressive parts of Dispersed Ashes, and frankly I can‘t picture it! I think it is also possible to over present something, if you see what I mean.
Which are your project for the future? Do you already have some new stuff ready?
I have numerous things planned for the next year or so, including several exhibitions of my paintings in Europe and America. Musically, I already have the raw material for the next Dispersed Ashes album… I am letting it develop at its own pace, but I‘m quite excited by the changes and new elements that are creeping in. I will be uploading excerpts from new tracks to the DA Facebook page as they are completed.
Thanks for the time spent with us, the last message for our readers is up to you.
Mostly I wish to thank you and Aristocrazia for supporting Dispersed Ashes in this way — it is appreciated. I would also like to thank Naturmacht Productions for their vision, and frankly their bravery to put an album so genre unspecific as “The Nature Of Things” out into the world.