After forming psychedelic rock/downtempo The Beta Band
in London, and mere weeks after signing a contract with Parlaphone
, Gordon Anderson
decided to leave the band and return to Scotland to combat his growing mental illness. After spending nearly a decade in and out of hospitals, recording only sporadically and receiving nearly 150 electro-shock treatments, Anderson went on to join former bandmates John Maclean
and Robin Jones
in The Aliens
. The band’s cheery, uptempo psychedelia, found on their debut Astronomy For Dogs
, sounds like the flipside to Beta Band’s slow, melancholic trip music. Yet it still showcases the members’ penchant for experimental music with accessible pop elements. Calling from a cottage in the middle of the Scottish countryside, Anderson is friendly, frank and surprisingly at ease with his past. He talked to Baeble about how the mind works with the creative process, dreaming of songs and how religion helped him conquer his demons.
B: You started working again with John Maclean and Robin Jones from The Beta Band after a long absence. What was the vibe like when you were recording? Did it feel natural?
Gordon Anderson: There was very little work done. It was mainly just giggling and laughing. It was just side-splitting laughter.
B: When you started recording with them, was it just for fun then or was there intent to put stuff out?
GA: They just arranged a time to come around to my cottage and we just started laying down some demo tracks. It was maybe late 2005. We got these done and then arranged to do some stuff in Edinburgh so we booked a little room there, kinda underground room.
B: Was the vibe similar to when you first started in the late 90s?
GA: No, no. Back then, [Beta Band’s] Steve [Mason] was always a bit more serious. Robin’s quite quiet and he tends to listen a lot. John and I are on the same level where we just giggle and talk a lot and Robin was suddenly brought into something. It was mainly comedy moments with some music in between.
Also, Beta Band was generally a more clutter of instruments ‘cause everybody would bring their glockenspiels and tambourines and just a multitude of things but [The Aliens] have maybe one drum kit, one bass guitar, one guitar and maybe a tambourine. There wasn’t a great amount of instruments to play with.
B: You’ve recorded stuff alone as Lone Pigeon and wrote most of Astronomy For Dogs. What are the main differences between writing alone versus collaborating with others?
GA: [With] writing alone, you can be a lot more intimate with the music and it seems a lot more warmer and [with] more depth and meaning. Just a bit more peaceful and richer. It has a quality that you can’t capture in a studio. I think the album was okay, but it was very rushed. It was our first stab at doing something and we didn’t have a lot of time, but people generally like it.
B: Does that mean you see yourself changing your sound going forward?
GA: Yeah, our next album’s gonna be a lot more electronic and experimental. With [this album], we didn’t really have the time to experiment with it. Next one, we want it to be darker, sadder and more experimental. A lot of my Lone Pigeon stuff is quite zany and mad. There’s not really any of that on [this album.]
B: As a creative person who spent years in a hospital for mental illness, do you see any link between creativity and an alternative mental state?
GA: Every day, things get stronger and life gets better and happier. I noticed when you’re very ill in your mind you are incredibly creative. I wasn’t as creative with music as I was with art. Music was quite a technical thing versus when I wanted to do with my art, which was more hands-on.
B: Do you worry about this creativity going away as your health improves?
GA: Obviously, I’d like to write better songs. In many ways, it’s a good dry-up. I don’t write half as much as I used to ‘cause I’m doing music full-time so I don’t get any time to do it. My heartbreak is the fact that I’ve written so many songs that I’ve never gone back to listen to or ever put any work into that are still as good as the day I wrote them. If I didn’t write another song from today onwards, a voice in the back of my head says, “Well, you’ve already written all these. Why don’t you actually work on one of them?
B: How many have you written?
GA: It’s kinda bits of music. With songs, probably only a couple of thousand.
B: It’s funny you say “only.” That’s enough to last many lifetimes.
GA: Oh of course. I think I’ll probably work on 100 songs in my life if I’m lucky. I’ll have a song in a dream and it’ll be something brilliant. I dream a lot of my songs. Mostly ones I’ve not written but sometimes it’s something I wrote quite a while ago and in the dream, it’ll sound excellent. You never remember all of them once you wake up. I’ve got lots of sounds that I’ve gotten in a dream that I’ve gotten up and recorded there and then. I’ve got an album’s worth of dream songs.
B: How did you first become aware of your illness?
GA: I knew right away when I suddenly became ill. I was in London at a girlfriend’s house. I was looking in the mirror and I just felt this thing come into me; this kind of spirit. Back then, I was following Jesus quite wholeheartedly, so I was aware of spiritual dangers and dark stuff. One night, I felt this thing had gotten into me. I don’t know what it was. In the Bible, demons enter people all the time. The next day, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m not myself.” It felt like something was controlling my own mind. Within a week, I left the band and got back to Scotland and lay in a bed for three months and then went to a hospital. One moment, I was just sitting in the seat of my own mind controlling my thoughts. You can imagine sitting in that seat and then losing control of your own mind and slowly getting eaten away by this horrible, evil, dark thing.
B: How do you explain it?
GA: I believe it was evil. I believe it was demonic. After that length of time in the hospital, a couple of Christian friends I knew quite well said, “We’ll take you back to your house and pray for you every morning for the next month or so and see how you get on.” I was there for three months at their house and I was fine. I got a record out. I got my own flat and started going out with girls. My life suddenly became brilliant. A couple of months with Jesus and I was fine.
B: Do you think the medication had any effect?
GA: Naw, I never really took the drugs they gave me. I threw them outside or hid them in plant pots. I thought they were so bad for you. They made my eyes go back and forward. You can’t stop walking in that kind of staggering, “mental hospital” way. It’s a terrible thing to see people in there. I’ve seen people go in there for depression and end up looking like mental patients.
B: During this time, were you conscious of what was going on?
GA: Well, what’s happening is that you’re in the room of your own mind and your thoughts get abstracted. It’s almost like there’s other rooms between you and the world. You’re quite far away. So you come out with a word, but it comes out as a mumble. Or you see somebody doing something and you look again, and they’re not doing it. I felt like my mind was slowly becoming locked in rooms. This was all the time. You’re 100% aware of what’s going on, but at the same time it feels like you’re getting controlled by something. I saw a doctor battering a patient, then I looked again and he wasn’t.
B: You sound very comfortable talking about your illness, almost as if you had a broken leg or something.
GA: Yeah, I think once you’re through something, it’s fine. I think if I was still very ill, I might talk about in a more knotty kind of way or I might talk about things you might not understand. I was ill. I understood my illness. No one else did. The doctors would come up with terms like schizophrenia.
B: Are you skeptical now of the mental health industry?
GA: I find it terrible. I mean, they gave me 144 electric shocks to the head. A young man having to go through that in that macabre kind of way. You don’t put electric shocks to somebody’s head.
B: Do you think it helped at all?
GA: No. Within a couple of days, all the problems came back. It’s quite an archaic thing. Even the equipment they used was quite old stuff. The hospital I was in, they mainly keep the people in there on tobacco. And that’s a weird thing to see. They’re completely addicted to the stuff. It’s a criminal thing. They could really go in there and help these people and all they do is give them these mind-bending drugs that simply nullifies them.
B: Do you worry that this will come back in the future?
GA: I think if you do things wrong, something probably will go wrong. If I’m at a festival and everyone’s taking drugs, I’m conscious that maybe if I smoke some dope, I might start getting ill again. So I have to be careful. Like anybody, you’re not gonna walk along a cliff right along the edge and expect to not have the danger of falling off. If I keep myself centered, every day seems to get better in many ways. - Jason Newman
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Astronomy For Dogs
is out now on Astralwerks
. For more info, check out The Aliens’ site HERE
and Myspace HERE