Lamp of the Universe & Datura interview with Craig Williamson

May 22, 2013

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 music…so 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, Hendrix…so 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 labels…so 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
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 up….so 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 –
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 here….so 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

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 world….no 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

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

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2013

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