Words by Lisel Nichols - Published on June 24, 2013
Whitley’s Lawrence Greenwood has returned from his adventures around the world with a thrilling new album Even The Stars Are A Mess.
After releasing Submarine and then Go Forth, Find Mammoth in 2009, Lawrence decided to take an indefinite hiatus from Whitley. A couple of years later, he was on the Yuctan peninsula in Mexico and called his label, telling them that he was going to start recording a new album. From there, the album became something of an adventure, beginning in London, with pieces written in the wild Amazonian jungles of Peru, all the way to a rustic run-down house in sunny Tuscany.
You can listen to the brilliant new single “My Heart Is Not A Machine” and get a taste of Lawrence’s psychedelic jungle adventures in the video here:
We spoke to Lawrence about how psychedelics have changed his life, his existential childhood and of course, the new album.
The title of your opening track is “The Ballad Of Terence Mckenna”. A quick google search told me that he was a American psychonaut and writer. I’d never heard of him before but he’s seemed like a super interesting guy, with a tremendous interest in psychedelic drugs and the human consciousness, is he an idol of yours, why the recognition?
I wouldn’t say he’s an idol, but definitely a really inspirational kind of character to have in my book collection, I think the thing I admire about him is that he’s a very open minded thinker, who has a belief in humanity that we can survive this kind of evolution and maybe make it through to the next stage through free inquiry.
Do you believe his views about death and consciousness?
Yeh of course, a lot of them. They’re in line with things I think. Psychedelics is definitely part of it and being open minded about things.
Yeh, I think a more positive outlook. That sounds very simple, very easily dismissed but I think i had a tendency to lean towards a very negative outlook and a negative interpretation of the data I was getting from the world, I suppose that’s one way to put it. Yeh generally more positive and open minded, and being able to really enjoy things that i’d previously felt a distance to, like my family, my friends, not just engaging with them on a superficial level but taking care of the interactions and that sort of thing.
Do you think everybody should try psychedelics since it had such a positive influence on you?
Yeh for me it did, I wouldn’t say that everyone should try it, it’s not for me to say. It’s like me saying “Everyone should go to India”. For some it might be an amazing cultural experience, for other people who aren’t quite into that thing it might be a place where they got sick a lot. You know it depends on the person when you’re looking at this stuff. But for me: absolutely cracking.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but did you take the album name from the 1987 film “Burden of Dreams” by Les Blank? How did this come about?
Yeh definitely, that’s where it’s from. Somebody had it on in a house that I was in and that scene was on where he was talking about the jungle and my friend Monique said “you should watch this” and so I sat down and watched it and that was the bit where Werner Herzog talks about how he dislikes the jungle and he says “Even the stars are a mess” or something along those lines, so i kind of paraphrased it. I think its about accepting the fact that things are not as we would like them to be in a concept of whatever perfect is for us.Werner Herzog “Even the stars up here in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe.”
Do you think the new album is darker than the first two?
No I don’t. I think there’s always been a darkness, topically speaking. I think about “Go Forth” and the first track is written from Eva Braun’s point of view in the bunker in Berlin in the final stages of WWII. The second song is about extreme depression, the fifth song is about murder. It’s not darker, if anything its more hopeful, it has a strength that the other two albums lack.
Is there a uniting theme for the album?
Yeh I would say its curiosity and love. Not romantic love, more of life being an expression of enjoyment… Its hard to verbalise, because its such an abstract concept, but kind of something like that.
Did you get the chance to hike up Machu Picchu while you were in Peru?
No but I used to live near there. Before I was in Peru this last time I went, I used to live in Cuzco which is a tourist town that supplies Machu Picchu. And even though I lived there, I never once went up to Machu Picchu. I was too busy checking out Cuzco and it got to a stage where I had to leave really quickly because I got really ill.
Haha yeh, I kind of want to make some music with my friends now. I’ve got two really talented friends who play in Whitley and I think I’ve wanted to collaborate with them in a purely democratic band situation for a very long time and I think now I have the time and the want to do that, but its going to involve me staying in Melbourne definitely and I kind of just feel like having a settle down.
Do you have the same members in Whitley as there were back in 2008?
There are 3 members to our original, and that was me, Colin Leadbetter and Christopher Bolton, but theres 2 new members Tom Milekovic and Esther Holt.
Did you design the coverart for the album yourself?
No, haha I have no talent. It’s quite a well known artist who’s done all three album covers and she happens to be one of my closest friends as well. A lady called Becky and she’s quite well regarded in the visual arts and graphic design scene.
You seem to have quite a strong social media presence on both Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, do you feel the need to do this or do you enjoy it?
I’m bored you know, I get bored most of the time so I’m looking for something to do. I feel guilty at the moment because its been mostly junk posts about my own music, I like to post videos of people talking and stuff.
What bands do you think are really good and will get really big this year?
There’s really good and really big and they’re not often linked so I would say “really good” artists this year- there’s a band in Brighton in England called “Kins” and they’re actually from Melbourne, they’re fucking awesome, I would check them out. I think Seagull is coming out with a new album and he’s always pretty incredible.
Who would you like to collaborate on a song with?
A guy called Mason Jennings from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I would love to work with that guy but its one of those impossible dreams, he seems like a really sweet guy and I met him once in Texas, it’s just.. ah fuck it maybe i’ll try it haha. But I’ve wanted to do something with him for a long time, just cause I feel like he was very instrumental in my formative years of how I view music and what it can be used for, healing people personally and connecting with people, its just too human.
He really taught me that. Really makes me feel like i’m not alone in what i’m doing, not that its any crazy great pursuit or anything new that i’m talking about, but he makes me feel like there’s somebody out there on my team even though I don’t engage with him, it’s just that the themes are so similar and strong and he just seems to think about the same issues that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about of existence and human affairs and things like that. Maybe everyone does, but he’s the most clear representation of the way i think.
DId these existential thoughts come with the psychedelic drugs, or have you always thought them?
I can remember when I was a kid, just freaking out! All the time haha. I think I was 5 or 6 and I was watching a documentary and I realised that everything dies and your brain stores all your memories and so I was like “So I’m not going to remember something about this life at some stage”. I think the absurdity of life hit me at a really young age and I just fucking freaked out completely and became a really weird kid.
Do you think many other artists think about these things?
I think there’s a scientific curiosity amongst a lot of musicians I know i think maybe because they have a lot of spare time on their hands and there’s a lot of scientific content on the internet, but a lot of what they post online has to do with scientific discovery and quests for peace for humanity as a whole. It’s uplifting.
Would you ever switch to writing philosophy?
I would not back myself to write philosophy. I know what I am and am not capable of and philosophy is something that you would have to be fucking way more crazy than I am to do it well. I think I could probably write a novel or something, I’ve been considering doing that. But I think the way that I work it would be very difficult for me to do that and remain healthy over the 5 years that I would allow myself to do it. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do work that I think is good and my expectations sometimes outweigh my talents and I end up going insane haha.
Are you going to make a video for every song?
No no, that’s way too time consuming. I’ll leave that to bands that have lots of youthful energy and a videocamera. I want to go and play music with my mates in the garage haha I’m way too selfish.
Are you excited to play Splendor, and the live shows again?
I think the two shows will be really different, hopefully people going to both won’t be bored. The first will be me and seagull playing in a duo and the second one will be obviously the full band at Splendor playing some of the old songs, some of the new songs.
Prefer intimate sets or festivals?
It doesn’t bother me either way, I think it depends very much on the day, on the crowd. I can play a big tent and if the crowd is receptive and respectful and I’m playing well then it seems to go very well. Sometimes these moments just happen that you can’t explain, and then it can be a small room and the audience are just dicks and I become a dick and then it just destroys itself and the evening’s shit. Or it can be the other way round, there’s just no rhyme or reason for these things. I think now I’m probably less likely to let a bad crowd bother me, but it happens pretty infrequently to me, I’ve been very lucky to have really good, receptive crowds.
Do you hang out with a lot of local melbourne musicians?
Yeh I’d say my friends are half musicians and then the other half are people from all walks of life. Some of my mates are labourers, some are really amazing musicians, some of them are incredible scientists, some of them work in a factory or an office. I don’t think it really matters what people do. I don’t relate to anybody better or worse for what they do with maybe the exception of somebody working in like PR for fucking McDonald’s, I don’t really I think I have somebody’s job effect how I would view them or engage with them. I get a lot of satisfaction hanging out with a broad range of people. I find people interesting full stop.
Have you always been into music, what did you listen to growing up?
I was obsessive about music when I was a kid and I would listen to anything. Anything, I wanted everything at once. I’d listen to old time country stuff and then Paul Simon and then fucking ABBA and Madonna and then Leonard Cohen. I just love music as an idea. I remember the first song I was really obsessed about was “Obvious Child” by Paul Simon but then as I got older, I wanted to get away from the piano, which was my first instrument, and start becoming a rebel haha so I listened to really fucking heavy metal, a band called Sepeltura, and would listen to them over and over again and just play really loud distorted guitar in my suburb and home. Then I started going back to more ambiguous genres, specific genres, and started to enjoy the art of songcrafting.
Whitley is touring in July:
Fri 12th July: Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
Oztix: 1300 762 545, www.oztix.com.au
Sat 13th July: Jive Bar, Adelaide
Moshtix: 1300 GET TIX (438 849); www.moshtix.com.au
Thurs 18th July: Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Moshtix: 1300 GET TIX (438 849); www.moshtix.com.au
Fri 19th July: The Hi Fi, Melbourne
www.hifi.com.au / 1300 THE HIFI (1300 843 443) or Oztix: 1300 762 545, www.oztix.com.au
Fri 26th – Sun 28th July: Splendour In The Grass – SOLD OUT