*Sister Moon conducted this interview*
We caught up with Dean Mason of Gnostic Gorilla who is knee deep in all sorts of new projects, most notably a label deal with Cleopatra Records and three other labels. He’s an eccentric fellow and has a worldview that is quite unlike many of his contemporaries in the dark music scene, and he is anything but boring.
Dean, first of all, congratulations on the release of St. Basil’s Asylum with Cleopatra Records! That’s not a small accomplishment…what’s next?
Thanks man. Well, first of all, thanks for the compliment and I am very honoured to be a part of the Cleopatra Records family! VERY HONOURED! If nothing else happens from here going forward, at least that is true. Now, I’m no Justin Bieber (I’m much prettier…hahahaha) and, to their credit, Cleopatra Records have an interest in indie/alternative/niche bands (often with a scent of darkness…hahahahaha) so I guess I fit into that category—obviously. Mind you, it should also be said that they don’t sign any acts they don’t feel have the possibility of being at least ‘cult classics’ in the alternative/underground/underworld, so it’s a huge honour. As for what’s next? A whole lot actually. First of all, there’s going to be another album released by Cleopatra Records in the late summer. (probably August/September) That album is very industrial, and bizarre to say the least and will blow your mind. I don’t say that lightly. The album is called “Shaman Rave” and I can’t wait to unleash it upon the planet. Hahahahahahaha
St. Basil’s Asylum: discuss…
Yeah, St. Basil’s Asylum will always be a personal treasure for me. A LOT of work went into that album. Most of it was finished by 2015 and originally released on my indie label (LGP-ONE) which also included CDs. Cleopatra Records offered to rerelease this album (which I think they believe has a Gothic ‘cult’ classic potential) and it was released in 2018 with a somewhat different (and better) track listing. For example, “Cirque Nosferatu” was added to the album and “Psychedelic Cream Puff” removed. A few other adjustments as well. “Berkshire Masquerade” is the opening track and to this day, I’m always blown away by that song. It was actually written and recorded in 2013. “Nietzsche’s Cyborg” was written and recorded in 2012 and probably released as a single on my own as well. “Winter’s Mourning” is deeply personal. It’s personal, not in the sense that it’s specifically about me, because I never write like that, but because it addresses that moment in life where one realizes, life is fragile, life is short…
Sorrowful Mysteries has a bit of a Bauhaus feel to it: is that by accident?
More or less, yes, it is, because believe it or not, I’m not at all that familiar with Bauhaus. OH MY GOD…BLASPHEMY! Hahahahaha. But it’s true. I was often told that I sound at times like Peter Murphy, but I don’t know. I sound like myself…or a constipated duck…depending on the song. Hahahahahaha But that song is very powerful in my opinion. I’m very proud of that track.
I like the way it builds up and carries you into a storyline type experience, and then it bursts into a sort of expression of agony or deep angst and sorrow and that was the desire.
So, you’ve got two albums with Cleopatra Records, with one in the vault ready to be released (Shaman Rave), but you’ve also been asked to be on compilations as well as having three other labels who are releasing material you put out on your indie label, LGP-ONE—can you elaborate?
That’s a mouthful. I gotta grab some dark chocolate here to get me into this. Hahahahahaha. Ok but, seriously, here we go… First of all, I have a track on a German ‘sampler’ called “Electric Shock 02” which was released last year I think. This same label, KL Dark Records, that released this neat CD/Sampler is also releasing “Chasing Phantoms” which is a collection of Gnostic Gorilla tracks, not released by Cleopatra Records, they (KL Dark) felt were worthy of being released by their label. This will be available May 10th. I’m also on a compilation with “Nowhere Now Records” from Australia and they are also releasing a sort of best of deal, with remixes called “Lebensmüde”, May 17th. A UK based label called “Throne of Bael” will be releasing anew one of my best albums released on LGP-ONE called “Hide the Ghost (Burn the Diary)”. This will be released May 3rd. Finally, I’ve done some writing of lyrics and recorded vocals for an Australian band called CRIX IIIX for two tracks. They are going to release these soon.
What’s with the masquerade? There’s another band on Cleopatra Records, “The Batband” and you sort of look like you’re from that scene…
Other than the fact that they, “Batband”, and I are both of Cleopatra Records, there is no other connection. Some of the pictures/artwork you see of myself actually date back to 2001! I chose a bowler hat and mask (a bit like The Green Hornet) as part of my image and there are some reasons for that. Batband strike me as sort of a neat combo of punk/Goth/rockabilly with a campy look, sort of in the spirit of the 60’s Batman series! I really think they’ve got a cool thing going on. My image has nothing to do with ‘B A T M A N’ even though I am a fan of the legend and some of the movies. If I had to explain my image, I’d say it’s more of a ‘phantom of the opera’ type thing. I now use (mostly) a full face mask as opposed to the ‘Lone Ranger’ style mask.
What do you look like under that mask?
I look like a cross between Eminem, Trey Gowdy, and Cher. Hahahahahahaha. Ok, maybe not Cher but if you need a visual, the first two might help. I’ve also been told I look like Peter Gabriel when he was younger. Who knows? I think I look like Phyllis Diller. hahahahahahahaha
Any new projects?
Actually, work has begun on another project, not ‘Gnostic Gorilla’ but a project called “Luna Melancholia” which is more or less a Black Metal Ambient pursuit. Marcel Lecker of “Battlemoose”, an excellent producer and artist is actually doing most of the music along with Patrick Masters of Summertime Daisies, a death metal band from the late 90’s will be playing guitars on the album. The title of the album, or working title is “Das Problem des Bösen”. More on this later.
Kind of off topic, but maybe you have an opinion either way, did you see the movie “Lords of Chaos” about the Black Metal band “Mayhem”?
Yeah, I did. Not sure how accurate some of it is, and I won’t debate that here because I simply don’t know. Varg Virkernes seems to have a strong reaction to what he sees as falsehoods in that movie. Who is surprised at his reaction right? He’s probably got valid points, I mean he was there, but others also have a point of view, who were around that don’t agree with his. I don’t know. None of my business I guess.
Ok, but, what are your feelings on the Black Metal movement and the acts of violence etc. because you mentioned that you are going to be involved in a “Black Metal Ambient” project: where do you stand in all of this?
Um, well…first of all, I have to say quite honestly that I am not into Black Metal in the sense that it’s a part of my regular auditory ‘diet’. I love the energy and atmosphere of a lot of these bands but that’s as far as it goes. You mention “Luna Melancholia” and that’s fair game. Unfortunately in this day and age, you just can’t say, “oh, I’m recording music” or even “I’m doing a rock album” because that could mean a lot of things. Like it or not, people expect you to label yourself, to fit into a genre and that actually makes me gag. So, “Luna Melancholia” is being pursued as a Black Metal Ambient album, simply because that’s the sound that inspires us, but we’re not into the whole philosophy or ideology of ‘Black Metal’. Diehard Black Metal devotees will surely protest, and that’s their right.
What DO you think of the philosophy/ideology of Black Metal or even other extreme bands that refer to themselves as ‘dark’, like you do?
“Dark” can mean many things. It doesn’t mean, necessarily ‘evil’ or satanic. For some, that’s what it means. For me, I like a heavy and dark mood in music because it speaks of the fact that there’s a lot of nasty shit out there in the world. Also, the reality of mental illness and depression or oppression and injustice and war…these are all ‘dark’ realities we human beings struggle with. THAT’S what I write about. I have been inspired by powerful songs like “Shame on the Night” by Dio and “Down in the Park” by Gary Numan and “Diary of a Madman” by Ozzy Osbourne and of course “War Pigs” by Sabbath. One of my favourite albums is “World Coming Down” by Type O Negative. These are all examples of what I’m talking about when I mean ‘dark’. These are songs that remind us that it’s not always “business as usual and oh happy days” in life. Even religion addresses darkness like that: read the Psalms for example, like Dei Profundis.
But you wouldn’t espouse violence or burn down churches or kill people or anything like that right? This is what some of these extreme bands, like members of Mayhem have done.
First of all, I don’t think the present-day members of Mayhem would promote such behaviour, even if their philosophy is clearly not one I agree with. But, yeah, to answer your question directly, I have NO USE for ANY sort of violence, verbal or physical or otherwise! People who resort to this sort of behaviour reveal they are either incapable of an intelligent approach to life or choose to ignore what deep down they know to be right or wrong. I have little use for the fuckin obsession with being ‘super masculine and tough’ and trying to prove one’s manhood by hurting another person or persons. That’s not being a man! You know, do these people realize that when they are on stage shaking their ‘stuff’ and playing power chords and growling (which grandma can do) that most of the people admiring them are other males? Dee Snider once remarked that he found this to be an interesting phenomenon.
I remember that interview.
Yeah, so, good point he makes obviously. And look, I don’t give a shit about that. I understand the human reality and the almost primal need to dance around in war paints and strut your stuff and that whole fuckin alpha male stuff…whatever man. Live and let live. That stuff doesn’t bother me, and I will defend everyone’s right to express themselves. It’s when people take it beyond the stage or video and go out to inflict pain on someone else, or to kill someone or burn down another’s sacred buildings—that’s total horseshit! That stuff is for people who are unable to have an intelligent debate about the philosophical questions or deal with being on a planet whereby there are many different world views. Now, many of these dudes are often just seeking attention or have severe anger or psychiatric issues. You know, related to all of this, and I know Dani Filth wouldn’t promote physical violence, but if I were to be face to face with him (or even on a phone call) I’d ask him, “yo…tough man…your whole Jesus t-shirt thing…imagine if you did the same thing but did it using the name of another religious figure of any other faith other than Christian? What do you think would happen?” I find their (many musicians) constant obsession with attacking Christianity and mocking the Christian symbols both offensive and spineless. Christians won’t fight back. How fucking brave and tough is that?! Go wrestle a lion with a pocket knife… you want to be tough!
But, as even you have said, Christians are not always a bargain either.
Absolutely. It’s like the same virus, different manifestation. Yeah. I find people of faith (or so called) who are constantly attacking others, teaching that certain people are ‘evil’ just because of who they are, are just as sick as the pricks lighting a church on fire. In many ways, their hatred and what has been done in the past has fueled the hatred some people have towards institutional religion especially. The Church has done unbelievable damage to Native cultures the world over. Even the present Pope has addressed that. But also, the sheer hatred that can come out of some of these people who call themselves ‘Christians’ towards those who are either not of their ‘tribe’ or are not fitting into their pre-enlightenment and pre-scientific world-view of the righteous ‘life style’ are sickening. There’s a lot of blood on the hands of a lot of religions and that’s a fact. And it’s not about ‘God’. It’s pure tribalism. You can also get atheists and secularists who can be just as vile towards those who differ from their worldview as any so called believer. The problem is a human problem. Have we truly evolved?
You’re pissed at everybody today aren’t you?
Hahahahahahahahahaha. Well, sort of I guess. I find hatred and violence appalling, regardless of where it comes from. I always say, we need to just leave each other the fuck alone! Seriously. But I guess tribalism is more deeply ingrained than we might have imagined.
What do you think of the political climate in the US? Or even in general?
I’m very opinionated about some things as you just saw, but I won’t get into another country’s political debate. None of my business that.
One last item: apparently you were involved in writing a book about Type O Negative back in 2005 but you canned the project, is that correct?
Yeah, I wanted to pursue writing an ‘honest’ biographical type book about Type O Negative or just Peter Steele but Peter told me point blank he felt very uneasy about such ventures. I am glad I didn’t pursue it further. Now, Jeff Wagner eventually published a book called “Soul on Fire” which is an unauthorized biography about Peter Steele and some of my interviews that I did, most notably with Keith Alexander (RIP), and Mark Pionvanetti (from Carnivore) were used in that book.
Thanks so much Dean for your time and good luck with the future.
My pleasure. Thanks.