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Lamp of the Universe & Datura interview with Craig Williamson

New Zealand-based multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Craig Williamson has released a lot of solo projects in the last decade. He has also been in a band called Datura, which released two heavy psych albums. We talked with Craig about his latest album Transcendence and we also covered the whole career.

Lamp of the Universe has a brand new album out; the title Transcendence makes you think about many different things, but to say at least two words that come to my mind, are psychedelic & spiritual. Craig, this is your latest album. What can you tell us about recording, writing and producing this album?

Yes, psychedelic and spiritual is what i was going for with this album....maybe some say it’s on all of my albums...”Transcendence” was recorded over about 18 months, just on and off, in between what I've been doing with my band Arc of Ascent. Things had been proceeding pretty slow at times within the band, for one reason or another, and i had a fair bit of time to get things rolling with this album. The recording, as i always do, is done in my little home studio....all the writing is done there too. It takes a long time to record all the instruments yourself, but I've found that once i get on a roll things seem to happen allot faster, and i get a “sense” of where i need to go musically, what the songs need, and this time around i felt like it needed to be a bit more “song” based but still have something within the individual songs that flow together as a whole.

Did you have anything special in your mind while song writing?

No nothing any different really from other albums, thinking back about it now maybe just a “feeling” i was going for, which i hadn’t quite got to on other albums.....i had a couple of songs on the go around the time Arc of Ascent put out “The Higher Key”, and because we didn’t do anything to support that album gig-wise i had allot of time to write new I just went from there.

When did this kind of"hippie" music touched you and what are some of albums, from your teenage years that you like even now.

The first stuff i heard from the original “hippie” era and liked was when i was maybe 9 or 10 years old, Doors, Floyd, Beatles, this would have been in the early 80’s....the Beatles are still my absolute favourite of all time, maybe closely followed by Black Sabbath. But in the early 90’s i started really getting into the Psych and Prog stuff. So to start with it was bands like Gong, Yes, Hawkwind, Donovan, Grateful Dead etc then once Cranium Music started up more underground obscure bands and all that private press early 90’s scene was a big influence on me with Lamp of the Universe, so we’re talking stuff on labels like Delerium, Rockadelic, Xotic Mind, Acme, Akarma, See For Miles, PSF etc. There’s many albums i still like from my teenage years, American Beauty – The Grateful Dead, Close to the Edge – Yes, Waiting for the Sun – The Doors....way to many to list.

I think the latest album works as a concept. Am I right?

The songs are set out in a way so it’s kind of like a journey, and when you get to the end you’ve arrived at complete transcendence....well hopefully...but i guess it’s more like you can take it as you want, actively be involved or just observe the journey, your choice, both are fine.

Who is doing cover artwork for your albums?

The artwork on this album was done by an amazing artist form the USA Paul Heussentamm, but everyone that’s been involved in other albums has been awesome too, Andrea Frostman, Franz Landl to name just two of them.

Let's go back to your first band. I believe your first band was called Datura and you released two very fine trippy heavy psych records back in late 90s…

Datura band photo, 1998
(left to right) Jon Burnside, Craig Williamson, Brent Middlemiss

Yea Datura, that wasn’t my first band, but it was the first one that people heard about that weren’t in New Zealand. That was a crazy time back then, 14-15 years ago now, i was starting to get into the heavy psych thing allot so got a band together to, well, nothing was really planned, so probably just play some gigs, write some songs, see how it goes, hopefully do some recording - ended up doing two fairly cool albums, second one under a bit of stress and bullshit which split the band that led me to doing things on my own musically for ten years. But hey, you live and you learn right? I’m really proud of those albums actually, some fucken great music on those recordings.

Datura in the studio recording “Visions for the Celestial”
(left to right) Brent Middlemiss – Guitar, Craig Williamson – Bass/Vocals, Bostjan Gombac – Flute/Clarinet, Jon Burnside – Drums

How did Datura come along? It's quite different from the stuff you are doing these days?

Yea it is a bit different from Lamp of the Universe, not too different to the band I've got together now Arc of Ascent though, there are a few similarity's there.....actually after Datura split up i really really felt like getting away from heavy rock music for awhile, burnt-out you might say, and so went for something else that i was getting into as well, the hippie-psych-folk-whatever thing, man I love that stuff.

Since you are from New Zealand what's the scene there? In the past New Zealand and Australia had quite nice underground scene. How about these days? Anything you would recommend?

Maybe not too many psych bands or artists in New Zealand these days, well, that i can think of.....more the heavy stoner sludge thing that could be relevant at the top of the list would be Beastwars from Wellington, very cool band, Meth Drinker which is real dirty sludgy doom also from Wellington, a few others, can’t think of any names at the moment though.

Both Datura albums were released on Cranium and Astral Projection and last year Krauted Mind released a vinyl edition…Will the band get back together again? You formed another similar project called Arc of Ascent with some of the past Datura members and you released two albums, both of them on your label and vinyl version followed again on Krauted Mind Records and Clostridium Records. Tell us about this two albums…

We’ve been lucky that those Datura records are still floating around, crazy really, but I'm really grateful for that, and that we still have fans all around the we won’t be getting back together, that boat has sailed long long ago, some peoples priorities change as time goes on which is understandable and each member is doing “other” things, I'm the only one who’s still playing music actually. So Arc of Ascent is really an updated version of Datura. The two Arc of Ascent albums “Circle of the Sun” and “The Higher key” have gone really well, some people seem to remember thee ole Datura and that i was in that band, and can hear some things that are similar, so all good. We’re very happy to have Clostridium Records in Germany putting out our albums on vinyl, and Krauted Mind too of course, things will continue be released this way, my label – Astral projection for CD, and Clostridium for the high quality vinyl.

Playing live with Datura, 1999

Maybe we can go through your Lamp of the Universe discography and comment each album.

The Cosmic Union

First solo album i tried to do....completely by myself....recorded on a crappy 8 track recorder. Songs picked from about a million demos i did on an even shitter 4 track recorder, many of which have never come out. Thought it would never sell, so i numbered all the first pressing, which was supposed to be the only press, was completely amazed that Cranium Music – the New Zealand label that put it out had to repress it. now it’s been repressed about 10 times. Realised that i might be able to maybe do another one.

Echo in Light

Recorded on the same crappy 8 track. Started to spread-out a bit more, jam a bit, instrumental at the end and all....crazy....went ok, then the label that put it out, Cranium Music, folded and took what money they owed me with them. Oh well, just carry on...with no plan!


First album on my new 16 track recorder because the 8 track died. Sat on this album after finishing it for over a year, not being sure what to do with it, being almost completely instrumental – something i had always wanted to do, ah, do an instrumental album that is...decided to start another lot of recordings.....Ended up getting it released on limited CDR at Barlfire Recordings in the UK, sold out in a week, so again amazed, had to repress it, this time on proper CD.

Earth, Spirit & Sky

Still with no plan, recorded this one, felt way better about it and somehow got it released on the legendary September Gurls Records in Germany on LP, and the equally legendary Timothy Renner's label Hand/Eye on CD. My only almost completely acoustic album.

From the Mystic Rays of Astrological Light

Finally got my shit together and started my own label, Astral Projection. Again, an instrumental album like “Heru” but without the eastern thing too much, more space jammin’ drone music. Had a blast recording it, confused allot of people with this one though i think, some aren’t too keen on it – i have been told by some fans it’s my best one!

Arc of Ascent

An experiment of the Kawabata eastern drone variety, no proper drumbeats, no proper vocals, bowed Sitar, violin etc, crazy album. I Released it as a limited edition CDR because i thought this would really confuse people, it did. Sold out in three days....Sonic Mediations in the USA re-released it on cassette, fuck yea, now that’s underground.

Acid Mantra

This one was written and recorded around the same time the first Arc of Ascent line-up was getting together,so around 07/08 so i was maybe a little influenced by the “band” thing, or the “regular song” thing a bit, ie no drone music. Took an age to feel happy about putting it out, but eventually got over myself and put it out. Looking back I'm very happy how it turned out now, after beating myself up about it for awhile thinking it was crap, I'm sure most musicians go through that.

I noticed there was another album under your real name back in 1999?

Yes, it was called “Craig – Lotus of a thousand petals”. Those are recordings from the 4 –track i had, i felt it was a bit too “low-fi” so i re-recorded it, changed a couple of tracks and that became “The Cosmic Union”. I hand made all the covers and booklets for that, man what a hell of a lot of work.

What's currently on your turntable? I'm just guessing you are a vinyl fan? Anything interesting you would like to recommend to our readers?

Yes I'm a vinyl fan. When i started buying music all there was were LPs and cassettes, so I've always mostly bought vinyl to listen to at home, to me it just sounds more “real”. What’s on my turntable today? Rush – Fly by Night. yesterday it was Cosmic jokers. Interesting recommendations? nothing that the readers wouldn’t already know about....

How about books?

For sure. I’m into reading about allot on history topics, Ancient cultures, religions, gnostic scriptures etc....also I'm big on the rock star biography, last one i read was either the Tony Iommi one or it might have been the AC/DC one.

What's your near future plan?

Writing and rehearsing the new Arc of Ascent album right now, third album, right on!

I guess we covered pretty much everything. Any last words?

Just to thank everyone all round the world who listens to what i do, and who buys a Cd, an LP, a T Shirt, it’s so greatly appreciated.

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2013
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