We recently reviewed, and fell in love with, the new album from Lux Interna, ‘there is light in the body, there is blood in the sun’. Filled with deep intrigue after surveying lyrics and accompanying artwork, we wanted to know more about the group’s sources of inspiration and their decade-plus journey together. Thus, we spoke to the founding duo Joshua Levi Ian and Kathryn Mary and picked their brains, provoking some very insightful responses.
Noted: On your website, it says that Joshua draws inspiration from intensive studies of Abrahamic mysticism – could you describe to the non-initiated what this means?
Subject: Sure. In addition to my work as a musician, I am a religious studies scholar by profession. For the last ten years or so, I’ve focused primarily on Western (for the most part, Christian) mysticism. However, although to a lesser extent, I’ve also focused on Sufism, Shiite mysticism and Kabbalah: all traditions that claim inspiration from either a mythical or historical notion of the figure Abraham. Prior to my engagement as an academic, my personal interests compelled me to pursue studies in this direction as well, so my life is pretty much saturated with imagery, language, and ideas drawn from theses worlds. However, the content of our lyrics remain deeply personal. The imaginal world of my studies helps to provide structure, imagery, and sometimes vocabulary to express what I wish to express in our songs; but ultimately, the songs are grounded directly in our own lives, not in the worlds and words of others, however compelling or inspiring they may be.
Noted: Where was your infatuation with the Sun and light born from? Is it just a reflection of your studies, or have you adopted it into your own mantra?
Subject: A great question. Light has always been at the heart of the project: Lux Interna literally means “the inner light.” For us, the notion of the inner light is not only an evocative image, but also a guiding principle, a creative method. Historically, the notion of the “inner light” has often been associated with the thought and practice of spiritual dissidents in Europe and North America; from early radical pietist movements in Germany, to visionaries like Valentine Weigel and Jacob Böhme, to the apocalyptic communities in colonial Pennsylvania, to William Blake, this principle has stood for a focus on spirited inspiration, distrust of formal, worldly authority, and the primacy of experiential knowledge over abstract reason. But it has also pointed to a creative way of being-in-the-world, an active embrace of the individual’s part in the ongoing creation of the whole.
However, despite its evocation of inwardness, our focus on the “inner light” should not be taken as pointing to a purely introspective path. And this album in particular represents a turning point in the life of the musical project. The earlier, perhaps more introspective, sounds of Lux Interna are (literally) amplified here, with the intent of creating a more ecstatic form of music; the title, which in a sense can indeed be understood as a mantra, alludes to an attempt at weaving together the inner light and the outer light, at finding oneself finally at home in the world, among it colors, sights, faces, and sounds.
Noted: Lux Interna as a band formed over a decade ago. How has your sound evolved over this timespan?
Subject: Lux Interna has always been a reflection of our inner world and the project has evolved with us over the years. The project began with Joshua, an acoustic guitar, and a 4-track tape recorder in his bedroom many years ago. He has always been a poet and a musician, but when we first met, I had never played music and was very shy about taking part. Eventually he coaxed me into singing on a few tracks, and after that I was hooked. Over the years, we have been blessed to host a shifting constellation of dear friends and talented musicians, and each has left their own personal trace upon the musical landscape that makes up Lux Interna.
Currently, Lux Interna has 4 official members and a few regular guest musicians. Kris Force (Amber Asylum) has been involved in the project since 2009 and has made numerous contributions to both our sound and aesthetics, which I discuss more in detail below. Adam Collins-Torruella (Pesanta Urfolk) began drumming for us in May of 2012, and his unique talents as a trained jazz drummer with metal roots had an enormous impact on our live sound. Kris, Adam, Joshua and I make up the core of Lux Interna. Over the course of this past year, we have had the pleasure of performing live with Rafal Jan Felber, Leila Abdul Rauf (Hammers of Misfortune), Marc Norris (The 80s Matchbox B-line Disaster), Erica Stolz (Dirty Excuse), and Sonne Hagal. We’re very excited that Jeff Linsenmaier (Wovenhand), who played drums and hand percussion for us on ‘there is light in the body, there is blood in the sun’, will join us for our first live performance together at Stella Natura this year, as well.
Noted: You were joined on ‘there is light in the body…’ by special guests Kris Force and Jeff Linsenmaier, providing strings and percussion respectively. How important were their contributions in achieving the sound you wanted?
Subject: Both Kris Force and Jeff Linsenmaier’s contributions were essential to achieving the sound we wanted on ‘there is light in the body, there is blood in the sun’. Before knowing them personally, we knew Kris’ work as a vocalist and string player from her project Amber Asylum and Jeff’s work as a percussionist and keyboardist with Wovenhand. Fortunate circumstances brought us together.
Joshua and I knew that Kris and Jeff’s respective styles would create the atmosphere that we had envisioned for the album, so when they agreed to take part in the project, we gave them just a very basic sketch of what we had in mind. The rest was completely up to them, and as you can hear, their tremendous compositions shine through on every track. These elements of the album evince both Kris and Jeff’s respective signatures ~ the strings and rhythm weave a tapestry of sound that we could never have fully envisioned prior to their creation ~ and we couldn’t be more honored to have them both as a part of Lux Interna.
It’s also important to mention that Kris Force’s contribution to ‘there is light in the body, there is blood in the sun’ went far beyond her violin, viola and cello parts. She produced the album at Knobsnob, her studio in Pacifica, California, and Kris also designed the videos for Wounded Stag and Tongues, as well as the visuals that are projected during our live performances. She is a true artist in every sense of the word ~ we are blessed to call her a friend and a member of Lux Interna.
For us, the notion of the inner light is not only an evocative image, but also a guiding principle, a creative method.
Noted: Have any artists influenced your sound since you first formed, or do you still mainly draw from the bands that first inspired you?
Subject: As an artist I’m always trying to walk the fine line between influence and inspiration. In a sense, if I’m listening correctly, everything can potentially be inspirational. I have days where I feel that I’m so connected to my work that even hearing an awful song over the radio can point me in an interesting direction. Then of course, there are days where nothing seems to be speaking to me at all.
In terms of particular artists, I suppose there is a sort of core group of musicians and bands that, from my youth onward, have remained incredibly important to me, even if I don’t listen to them on a weekly basis. I’ve always been impressed by how a record, for instance Leonard Cohen’s “Songs of Love and Hate,” or Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” can still sound so fresh to me, even though I discovered it back when I was only fifteen. What an amazing creative accomplishment! On the other hand, of course all of us are always listening to new things, and our tastes shift as we grow and change. One factor that impacted this album quite a bit was my return to some of the music of my youth. I grew up surrounded by country music, from Hank Williams to Appalachian balladry. I loved this music as a child, but later rejected it as a teenager in favor of bands like Joy Division, The Birthday Party, and Swans. In the last five years of my life, I’ve rediscovered this music – along with a part of myself – and this has definitely surfaced in our work. An appreciation for the richness of the American folk music tradition, along with a background in “darker” underground music is one of the things that all the musicians in Lux Interna share. It’s perhaps an odd combination of things, but I think it works somehow.
Noted: Kathryn, you play the autoharp on this album – what was the process in learning this lesser-used instrument?
Subject: I received the autoharp as a gift when we were living in Amsterdam and fell in love with its strangely psychedelic sound right away. The next year we relocated to the Bay Area, and I had the opportunity to take a few lessons with Evo Bluestein, a renowned folk musician who specializes in Appalachian style autoharp. After learning the basics from Evo, I installed a pick up and began experimenting with the different sounds I could get from the instrument when I made it electric. Ever since I’ve been developing my personal style of playing, blending appalachian folk picking and rhythms with the tones and effects I get when playing through my amp.
Noted: With your music as expansive and droning as it is, do you ever get lost in your songs when performing live? Or are you meticulous with structures?
Subject: Our performances are all about getting lost. Speaking for myself, I would say that, when we are at our best live, we lose ourselves completely. For me, what distinguishes the bands I’ve always loved the most in a live setting is that something absolutely unplanned seems to be happening on stage: that point where you are no longer watching “entertainers” but people who are absolutely compelled, forced to be doing what they’re doing. And this must entail a certain loss of control. But, be that as it may, one of the things that is so rewarding for me – especially as a self-taught and not-exactly-virtuoso musician – is to be playing with folks so talented that they are able to keep form and shape within this chaos of expression. One of the greatest things about playing live with the current formation of Lux Interna is that we have such a strong connection to each other that we can improvise on the spot, when the spirit so moves us. Indeed, one of the most important things to us is that our performances never be too scripted. We want to be (hopefully pleasantly!) surprised by the end of the show.
Noted: The (amazing) album art for ‘there is light in the body…’ was created by David D’Andrea, an artist who has previously worked with the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Agalloch – how did this partnership come about?
Subject: Joshua and I have always had great respect for David D’Andrea and his work as an illustrator. We met for the first time last year at the Stella Natura festival ~ David attended our live performance and enjoyed the set, and after just a few minutes of conversation, he and Joshua discovered that they share an interest in Jacob Böhme, a 17th century Christian mystic. During the winter of 2013, Joshua and David worked closely on weaving together the symbols that compose the album cover image ~ you can read more about the process that went into our album cover design on David’s website:http://sonofenoch.com/Lux-Interna. We are very happy to announce that later this year there will be a limited special edition of ‘there is light in the body, there is blood in the sun’ on his new imprint, Samaritan Press.
Noted: Having been around for such a duration, with five studio albums under your belt, what are your main ambitions going forward?
Subject: Lux Interna has, in the last two years, undergone a rebirth. After our release in 2007, we took a hiatus for various personal and artistic reasons, including the untimely death of a member and dear friend. But this time afforded us the opportunity to grow and regroup. Aside from Kathryn and myself, the current lineup is entirely different from the previous releases and the sound has undergone a significant shift. We had even thought of starting over with a new name; however, the concept behind the project, the inner light, still remains true and relevant to who we are now. We’re already working on new material, preparing to play the Northern Californian Stella Natura festival in September, and looking eagerly toward the future. I have the feeling that this album marks an entirely new point in the life of Lux Interna. There’s a lot of energy in this camp, for sure, and I’m genuinely excited about what is to come in a way that I haven’t felt for some time. It all feels new, once again.