It may seem odd to say that a record coming some 40 years into an artist’s career is their definitive, defining record, but you could argue that’s the case with John Beckmann and his Mortal Prophets debut Stomp The Devil.
A longtime staple of the indie and blues scenes, Beckmann is pleased to unveil this new musical adventure he is on, a record that in some ways has been in the works since the early 1980s when he was living in New York City, studying at The Parsons School of Design, and fully immersing himself in the local New Wave scene, spending much of his spare time at the Mudd Club, Danceteria, and Area. Little did Beckmann know at the time, the seeds were being planted for what would become the grand musical experience that is Mortal Prophets and Stomp The Devil.
Explaining his intentions with this first Mortal Prophets release, Beckmann tells us:
“My goal with the first EP Stomp The Devil was to combine two strong influences of mine, very early pre-war blues with experimental electronica, groups like Can, NEU!, Harmonia, and Cluster, and even Suicide, in a new way.
“You can think about it in this way: in the introduction of The Raw and the Cooked (1964) French anthropologist Lévi-Strauss writes of his confidence that certain categorical opposites drawn from everyday experience with the most basic sorts of things, e.g. ‘raw’ and ‘cooked,’ ‘fresh’ and ‘rotten,’ ‘moist,’ and ‘parched,’ and others, can serve a people as conceptual tools for the formation of abstract notions and for combining these into propositions.
“Or as the surrealist André Breton discovered, the singular phrase that became foundational to the surrealist doctrine of objective chance: ‘as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.’”
Producer David Sisko played an integral role in this album coming together. Last year, he and Beckmann started working together, before Sisko introduced Beckmann to the historically acclaimed guitar wizard Gary Lucas (Captain Beefheart, Gods and Monsters). Lucas really was integral in aiding Beckmann in finding the right sound for this record, harnessing the spirit and sound of pre-war blues from the 1920s and 1930s. Using that form or pattern, the two were able to tap into a truly unique sound that really stands amongst today’s music without equal.
To accompany the debut of this fascinating new record, we had the opportunity to ask Beckmann a few questions about the conceptual cornerstone of this project, working with Sisko and Lucas, and the album’s most important influences.
When writing this new project, where did you start, conceptually? How did things progress from initial ideas to the end results?
John Beckmann: “I was looking for songs that had a timeless quality, that were deep and soul-wrenching, yet would be possibly open enough for a new interpretation. I distinctly remember the effect of the compilation album American Primitive, Vol. 1: Raw Pre-War Gospel 1926-36 had on me when I first heard it. It’s 77 minutes of gut-bucket, early gospel from the collections of Gayle Dean Wardlow and John Fahey. I wanted to tap into that early sound but create a new landscape that was a collision with German electronica with groups like Can, NEU!, Harmonia, and Cluster, and even Peter Murphy, with a New Wave electronic edge. I always start with my own demos to establish the general character of the sound, then we bring in musicians as needed, on a song-by-song basis.”
Can you describe your relationship with David Sisko and collaborator Gary Lucas? What brought about these two becoming involved in this project?
“David and Gary had worked together before on several projects, and David thought that Gary would be a great fit for this project. Gary liked the concept and understood where I wanted to take this initial grouping of songs. He imbued the songs with a psychedelic experimental edge, with his looping and long-delayed guitar riffs and effects. We pretty much just turned him on and let him loose in the studio. To have Gary on board for my first five songs was surely a stroke of good fortune, he’s such an amazing guitarist.”
Sonically speaking, The Mortal Prophets seems to take inspiration from a lot of different areas of music. What/who do you think had the greatest influence while writing this EP?
“That’s a tough question to answer really because the music does pull off from a wide variety of influences. I would say early spirituals there is a quality to that music, which is so pure, so primal, and universal, that I think we all can relate to it in one way or another. To me, music is a kind of exorcism in the sense that you must rid yourself of a song that haunts you. That’s why I incorporated the four cover songs into the EP.”
What about this EP are you most excited to share with listeners? Do you have a track that you’re particularly proud of?
“I wrote ‘Stomp The Devil,’ so I would say that’s my favourite. I also love the way ‘John The Revelator’ turned out, it has a spooky feel about it that I like.”