Loud Fascination for Lord Fascinator, part II
An interview with Lord Fascinator
Profet's Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström talks to Lord Fascinator himself about making it, and what »making« and »it« really is. Topics such as Turkish psych, Swedish jazz heroes and ambition for the sake of ambition are also discussed in this transatlantic interview.
It’s past midnight on a Tuesday. In New York City, the time is around 7 pm and Lord Fascinator answers my phone call immediately. The Aussie in New York has taken a day off after an intense weekend of shows with the multi-project Fascinator. You see, when I first discovered the music of the Lord I misunderstood the concept. I thought Fascinator and Lord Fascinator were just two names for one person, but that is not the case. Basically, Fascinator is the project and Lord Fascinator, also known as John Mackay, is the one running it. At the time being, the Lord has more than extensive gigging going on.
- I’m helping out my friend with his project Promiseland, Fascinator stuff and DJ:ing, working on a different album. So, a lot of different things at the moment. The new Fascinator record is finished, I finished it a long time ago. It’s way better than all the other stuff that I’ve put out, more direct in the ideas. It’s a bit of a party album, I’ve been playing a lot of it live for quite a while now.
»It’s like getting punched in the face every day. For some reason, we enjoy that. «
His Lordship on living in New York City
Excited by the idea of a new Fascinator album that might top the seminal »Man«, I ask a silly and quite boring standard interview question, which I in retrospect blame on the late hour. Lord Fascinator is not a person that you, as an interviewer, should treat as a standard sample in any way. I find it unworthy to ask things that every other music journalist might ask, but thankfully the quality of my questions rose after this first dull one:
- Do you think your ideas evolve with time? I say and regret the uninteresting turn of phrase the second it leaves my lips.
- Yeah, I think any decent artist’s ideas evolve with time, Lord Fascinator says. There’s some people out there that make the same record over and over again and there’s others who explore. I would definitely put myself in the latter category. It’s informed by me DJ:ing a lot around New York I think, searching for new and different vibes within music. That came through in my writing, and continues to.
The last few years, Lord Fascinator has spun records at New York venue Baby’s All Right during Happy Hour, among other places. He lists some of the genres he has played, that may have inspired change in his Fascinator material.
- I’ve been playing some Turkish psych, afro beat or sometimes even Swedish psych. I don’t know if you know Bo Hansson, Lord Fascinator asks.
- I love Hansson & Karlsson, Bo Hansson’s experimental jazz duo. Did you know that Janne »Loffe« Carlsson, the drummer, is actually more known as a goofy comedy actor in Sweden? I ask, referring to the strange career move that »Loffe« made, going from being his generation’s most promising drummer to becoming a laughed at, yet beloved, actor in B-movies. »Loffe« passed away just a couple of weeks ago and will be greatly missed.
- I did not know this. I don’t know anything about Bo Hansson other than that I love the music. I think one of his records, the one with music inspired by Lord of the Rings, charted in the U.K, which is amazing for an instrumental record. I’m a big fan, there’s a few tracks of his that I’ve played a lot in Baby’s All Right over the years.
The late, great Janne »Loffe« Carlsson, may he rest in peace
I’m delighted to hear about the Lord’s fascination for psychedelic rock from Turkey, because I too am very fond of that music and the culture surrounding it. I have even started a series of articles on Profet dedicated to Turk Rock, called Det Turkiska Musikundret (The Turkish Music Wonder). Lord Fascinator and I even share some favorite artists from the Anatolian rock scene.
- I’m a big fan of Erkin Koray and Barış Manço, and that era, he says. I’ve been to Turkey a couple of times and I remember going in to this really hip record store and asking them for some Barış Manço. They looked at me like I was asking for Barry Manilow or something, like it was a really dorky thing to ask for.
»I was the governor of cities long before I moved out to this town«. That is the opening line of the powerful Fascinator song »Dead of the Night«. So how did this Australian governor of cities move out to the town of New York?
- I’d come here, and from the first time I came I knew I had to live here at one point of my life. I do love my home country Australia but I was kind of over the music scene there. I wanted something more, I wanted something broader and I wanted to go deeper I guess. New York is one of the scenes in the world where you can do that. I feel very free here. I always say, in New York you can leave the house wearing just plastic bags and around the corner there’s someone wearing transparent plastic bags.
- So artistically and personally you’re feeling more at home there? I wonder.
- In a way, says the Lord. But I’ve also realized that I can’t be here for more than a few months without leaving or I’ll go insane. It’s funny, it takes a certain kind of person to stay here because it’s like getting punched in the face every day. For some reason, we enjoy that.
- Well, it seems like New Yorkers are very special people, I claim, thinking of the cynical Woody Allen movie stereotype of a New Yorker – light years from the happy-go-lucky goofiness of for example »Loffe« Carlsson’s cinematography.
- I’ve met some pretty amazing people here. The three people I have playing in the Fascinator band at the moment are all really amazing and have lived here forever. I don’t know if I would have met them anywhere else.
- And would Fascinator have been the same without New York?
- Definitely not, definitely not.
Lord Fascinator, photo by Brendan Burke
Before moving to New York, and before knighting himself Lord Fascinator, John Mackay played in the indie rock group Children Collide in Australia. He hatched the ideas and early music for the Fascinator project, but had never done it live. The move to New York marked a changing point.
- I guess that was me getting my head away from other music I had been doing and other things I’d been involved with. I was able to sit down and be really free with it, and do little shows to no people. I still do little shows to no people. There’s a weird freedom in New York because no one is getting paid anyway, that element is taken out of it. You’re doing your art for art’s sake. There’s not really any other reason to do it.
- That’s a beautiful perspective on it, I tell Lord Fascinator. Here in Sweden there is always an underlying focus on making it and getting paid for what you do, which is important of course, but it puts a certain kind of pressure on art, I think.
- Well, I think everyone forgets that there is no »it«, there is only making, the Lord tells me wisely. Once you’ve been through that cycle you realize that there is only really the present, there is only what you’re doing right now. If you’re constantly creating, thinking of moving towards some imaginary goal, be that financially or some weird status, I don’t think you’re really enjoying what you’re doing.
Photo by Brendan Burke
Speaking of finding and focusing on the joy of what you’re doing, the Lord tells the story of the time when he supported Tame Impala on a cemetery in Hollywood and got to play »Nothing Compares 2 U« by Sinéad O’Connor with some good friends, including Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa. He remembers making himself enjoy the moment.
- I think I, ages ago, stopped thinking about »making it« and just tried to be doing what I’m doing and existing in that.
I’m sent into contemplation by Lord Fascinator’s ideas of success, applying them without mercy to myself and the way I look at what I’m doing. I open up to the Lord for advice.
- I’m in a period of my life where I’m thinking too much about »making it« or »getting somewhere«. Maybe I should just think a little bit more like you started thinking at that cemetery.
- It’s weird, says his Lordship, because it has sort of driven my ambition more than when I would be worried about that other stuff. It’s making it real at the core. We’re getting deep and philosophical here. I think being ambitious is still really important, but you can be ambitious in your work. Being ambitious in your work is probably more important than being ambitious just for the sake of being ambitious.
- Without that ambition, the other ambition is impossible.
- Or it’s empty and you might find yourself getting somewhere but it’s not even what you intended to do or be. I had an experience like that with an earlier project, I took a lot from that. Now I make sure that everything I do is fun and that I would like to watch it or listen to it. I think you can’t really go wrong if you’re doing that.
Lord Fascinator’s insightfulness surrounding creativity is followed by his characteristic laughter, a short but effective Shaggy-esque sound that concludes almost every other one of his phrases. He is eloquent and his thoughts seem free, marked by lessons he has learned during times when the factors of his creative outlet haven’t been ideal. These hardships are something that any person trying a creative venture will go through, and I can’t describe the importance of people like the Lord, who has surpassed the difficulties, passing the teachings forward – to people in doubt, like me. Maybe »doubt« is a strong word, but I definitely need to listen to Lord Fascinator when it comes to the fun of creating. I started writing for my own sake, just like His Lordship probably started making music and art for his, and I’d hate to see that initial spark go wasted just because I’m worried about whether or not I’m getting paid. That would be a mistreatment of everything I’ve done, spoiling something that I enjoy more than almost anything.
Photo by Brendan Burke
As mentioned, I earlier believed that Fascinator was merely an alias of Lord Fascinator, or vice versa. Obviously, Fascinator is not only one person, which the Lord describes in detail.
- There’s probably been more than a hundred people in Fascinator since it started. When I first started, my girlfriend at the time was playing oboe and a MIDI wind controller called an EWI, there was someone playing percussion at times and I had people dancing in costumes. I went from there to where I had a full air band for a while, I had an air drummer, an air bass player and an air keyboardist. I remember a guy yelling at us once for people not really playing their instruments, we kind of annoyed this person. Fascinator has gone through so many incarnations, it changes all the time. At the moment, there’s a drummer, a keyboardist named Aku and a guy playing oud, which is a Persian lute, and the violin. His name is Jesse. I probably should give them all funny names, because I’m Lord Fascinator so I should come up with better names for them.
The ever-changing Fascinator project has several possible ways to go in the future. Part of its charm is the chance of seeing something completely different every time. One of the Lord’s many plans for live shows is filling an entire room with people masked as Lord Fascinators, all playing his part. Right now, he is playing with the most standard band he has had this far and he’s loving it. Whatever form it will take, I would gladly welcome Fascinator to come over to dazzle and inform Sweden at any time.
All photos of Lord Fascinator taken by Brendan Burke26 September 2017