“If you thought about it in a straight-forward way it would be nailbiting,” says 11Paranoias bassist/vocalist Adam Richardson of the band’s unpremeditated, alchemical approach to making music. “You’re basically tightrope-walking on a massive razor blade.”
Luckily, 11Paranoias don’t think in a straight-forward way. That’s evident from the hypnotic, mind-expanding exercises in free thought, astral travel and narcotic experimentation summoned on the trio’s spellbinding third release, Stealing Fire From Heaven. Boiled down from two 12-hour jams, it is powerful evidence of the state-altering possibilities of spontaneous psychic and psychedelic communication; three souls bonded by drugs, drones and doom, channeled into esoteric wavelengths toward the attainment of a dynamic metaphysical apotheosis via strings, valves and sticks (plus the odd synth and sax)./o:p
This blank-canvas art rewards total immersion and invites the imagination of the listener who, subsumed in the trance-like repetition of swirling primordial tones, swears blind the record is teasing open the portals to inner and outer space. It’s an ancient ritualistic impulse, feverishly glimpsed in such exploratory beacons as Hawkwind’s Space Ritual, Loop’s A Gilded Eternity and Monster Magnet’s Tab, but 11Paranoias take the listener – and themselves – on a far darker and more unsettling trip, as their name affirms.
“When we formed, it was proposed by astrophysicists at the time that there were probably 11 dimensions,” explains Adam, “and imagine being paranoid in all of them. It really stuck, and now every time we do something it feels like a glimpse behind the veil, like a snapshot of what’s going on somewhere else.” /o:p
That snapshot is further sublimely depicted in the record’s hallucinatory sleeve – The Temptation Of St Anthony (1945) by German Surrealist painter Max Ernst – which instantly registered with the band as the perfect visual representation of their sound. “There was a unanimous and gasping moment: ‘Look at the colours! Look at the creatures!’“ exclaims Adam. “It’s mindbending.”
First gathered in a jam room on the auspicious date 11/11/11, 11Paranoias emerged in the wake of Dorset sludge kings Ramesses, with Adam and drummer Mark Greening reconvening alongside kindred spirit Mike Vest (guitarist with prolific psych-drone dope-worshippers Bong) to rip holes in multiple dimensions with an experimental, improvisational chemistry whose cosmic potential was instantly evident.
After recording the Superunnatural EP and Spectralbeastiaries LP, Mark left to rejoin Electric Wizard, and although his renewed tenure in that band proved brief and acrimonious, Adam and Mike forged ahead with new skin-pounder Nathan Perrier, whose CV includes bands as disparate as anarcho-punks Conflict, prog-doom artisans Capricorns and occult black-thrashers Satan’s Wrath. For a band fuelled by instinctive, automatic musical interaction, it can’t have been easy to assimilate a new side of the triangle, especially as Adam and Mark had spent a decade as a unified rhythm section. How did such a change affect the band’s still-developing sound and methodology?
“It is difficult, you can’t prepare, you have to blank your mind,” Adam ponders. “But Nathan’s fitted in great and risen to the occasion. It’s been inspirational watching him let himself go. He’s still a bit bewildered, like, ‘I can’t fucking believe this is how you make a record!’ There’s a lot of eyes closed trying to see colours and lights, and if they’re bright and the vibe’s good, you just keep going. Then a change will occur, that’s when we start looking at each other. But just getting lost in it, disappearing, is almost the whole point.”
“We’re always thinking of concepts,” adds Mike, “and there are always riffs around them that we’re thinking of, but it’s not a preconceived thing, it’s just a conscious, ever-changing present going on; an endless jam with endless possibilities. When I was a kid my dad told me I should listen to live albums, because that’s exactly how it sounded; it wasn’t cut up in a studio, it was more unhinged and in-the-moment, so doing it live in the studio seems the best thing. It makes being in the studio a magical experience. Most people complain about it; maybe they should jam out more.”
The band admit having no memory of playing most of the material, lost as they were in the moment, zoned out in the throes of creation. How much of that is the drugs?
“It was a heavily medicated recording session, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary,” reasons Adam. Neither he nor Mike can remember ever playing without being ‘heavily medicated’. “It’s like turning up without your guitar,” the front-man reckons, only a little in jest. “You get that buzz going and everything else starts to buzz in tune with it, then you don’t have to think about it. And now we’ve got to play this album live, we’ve weirdly got to learn these songs that we just bashed out and didn’t prepare or think about!”
11Paranoias’ automatic process extends to Adam’s lyrics and vocals, often extrapolated from the most minimal and abstract of starting points.
“I go in with a word on a page and illustrations of symbols and sigils,” the singer reveals, “then it all comes out. I’ll do two versions, then a third one whilst both are playing in the background, with harmonies or something more sinister, which you can only hear on certain headphones. It’s like a blur, as per [English occult artist] Austin Osman Spare’s descriptions of automatic writing, which alarmingly struck a chord with me; it’s what I’ve always done but I just thought I was mental and didn’t tell anyone about it.”
On some level, the crackling interplay between humans united in spontaneous musical expression – opening and synchronising frequencies, embracing and focusing the chaos – seems to have a supernatural element. Do the guys believe in paranormal activity? “I’d like to!” insists Mike. “I do, in a way, believe in magic and the idea of persuasion, but I can be a sceptic as well, so it’s frustrating. But there are definitely forces at work.”
“It is a pouring out of souls, minds and wills,” asserts Adam. “It is for any band, anything creative, but it seems so unhinged when the portal opens with this outfit, it does raise a lot of questions: what’s going on? What have we done? We aren’t about pretending to be into witchcraft and smoke-and-mirrors. We’re really interested in the supernatural, but there’s no weird ceremonial stuff. It’s a glimpse into another dimension.”
Mike draws the threads together: “It’s all about the idea of ancient forgotten worlds, other dimensional consciousness levels, but as well as supernatural it’s psychological; lysergic dreams, Weird Tales, dimensional possibilities, mind expansion, infinite improvisation. It all sits in together on a grand scale.”
STEALING FIRE FROM HEAVEN IS OUT NOW VIA RITUAL PRODUCTIONS/o:p