Brain Rays is one of the founder members of Devon-based party crew and record label Bizarre Rituals. The collective describe themselves as: “ten years behind and ten years down the line but we don’t mind as we’re out on our own arm of the spiral galaxy” – a statement that is disarmingly modest and yet – interestingly – needs a good part of the cosmos to contain it.
Brain Rays (who refers to himself as a ‘pathological optimist’) makes music that is also, in a good way, both down-to-earth and entirely cosmic. After the recent release of Dobwalls Gateway Zone, a series of hypnotic bangers intended for “DJ sets and listening to while riding in the cleanshirt whip”, we wanted to find out a little more.
We sat down to talk about beats, interdimensional portals, and substituting hypnosis for psychedelic drugs in the studio.
Hi, Ben. How are you?
I’m good thank you. Although I’ve developed this thing called Meibomian Gland Dysfunction where my eyeballs won’t lubricate themselves – because I’ve been spending too much time looking at my laptop screen. The optician gave me some drops but they made my eyelids hurt. I’ve been putting lanolin on them which is more often used as nipple cream by nursing mothers but is now functioning as “eye lube”, for me. It’s like a post-millennial version of Bryan Adams Summer of ‘69. “I got my first real laptop. Made beats ‘til my eyes dried up.”
OK, thanks for that. Sorry to hear about your eyes. So your new EP is called Dobwalls Gateway Zone. Where – or what – is the Dobwalls Gateway Zone?
Anyone who grew up in Devon or Cornwall knows that Dobwalls is a bleak theme park near Bodmin, but more recently when driving past it I kept noticing this road sign saying “Dobwalls Gateway Zone” and kept imagining it as the Cornish Area 51 or Bermuda Triangle. I actually don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s a wormhole.
How did you stumble across it?
Failing to get the right turnoff back to the A38. In that part of the world the road signs are mystifying. You can end up driving through the same village over and over and over again. Like that John Carpenter film with Sam Neill.
I just Googled ‘John Carpenter Sam Neill’ and it seems you are referring to In the Mouth of Madness, which sounds like a must-watch for anyone interested in interdimensional portals. Anyway, can you shed some light on what the ‘cleanshirt whip’ is?
When my last car expired, one of the mechanics at the garage (hold tight Dave), hooked me up with a Volkswagen Passat Saloon for £400. It’s the kind of car that you would imagine someone listening to the Lighthouse Family in. Pure motorway comfort, £50 dad vibe. I enjoy playing Machine Woman and Delroy Edwards mixes in it while i’m driving round the lanes. It’s done 270,000 miles. That’s further than the distance to the moon!
Passats are indestructible. My Mum had one when I was growing up. This is a strange interview. What are your thoughts on music interviews as a format?
Music writing is weird. You can’t really describe the qualities of music with words. Whether you like the sound of something or not is usually down to the context in which you listen to it. I guess with reviews you are relying on someone else’s taste.
For instance, I love reading The Wire magazine, but it can be a bewildering experience. Their reviews are beautifully descriptive, but then it usually turns out that the music sounds nothing like their description of it.
One way of experimenting with this could be to embrace it and write music specifically to trigger music journalism – and then rewrite the music to accurately reflect the review. Imagine that this interview is a review of the Dobwalls series. I’d have a really fun time writing that record!
Alternatively, maybe musicians don’t need to write music at all. Maybe we should just give people detailed verbal descriptions of what the music would be doing – as if we had written it, but without actually doing so. “There is a big drop coming up, get ready to go mental…”
Talking of creative processes, you have been experimenting with hypnosis. How do you use that while writing music?
My girlfriend is an artist and researcher and she fairly recently did some hypnosis training so that she could incorporate it into her arts practice. I was the guinea pig, so I have gone under a lot… a lot. It’s a great way of tapping into your imagination.
I’m also interested in revisiting past experiences… Like past rave experiences. I went down with the Wrong Music crew to Redruth for NYE one year for a Rephlex rave. It was in Aphex Twin’s old primary school. I had a real epiphany when this particular track came on. There was a real intense feeling on the dancefloor. I wasn’t in a position to ask the DJ what the track was at the time and Shazam didn’t exist yet so I had no way of finding out what it was.
When I got home I scoured the Rephlex back catalogue but couldn’t find it. In the end I tried to recreate the track myself from memory so that I wouldn’t lose it entirely. Someday I’ll put that track out and maybe it’ll have a similar effect on someone else. That’s how folk music is passed down – by word of mouth and live performance. But the songs slowly morph into different variations of the original.
Anyway, hypnosis could be a good way of tapping back into those kind of experiences and using them for writing and producing. My girlfriend assures me that hypnosis is generally considered to be a highly unreliable technique for memory recovery, but it makes more sense than taking psychedelic drugs and trying to write music. That’s pretty pointless when you throw any kind of complicated technology into the mix. Have you ever taken LSD and tried to use your computer? It’s problematic, to say the least.
Following on from that thought, if we could perceive your music visually instead of aurally, what would it look like?
Visuals are a big part of my musical production, whether it’s watching a couple of films to burn a few ideas into my brain before starting working on something (which as I type that starts to sound a lot like procrastination),
That said, I’ve never thought about what it would look like. I tried to write some tracks on the train home from work once, but had left my headphones in the studio. So I did everything by eye, with the sound off. One of them actually came out sounding pretty good.
Sounds pretty simple. So, what are you doing next?
Resting my eyes. I’m working on a follow up to the Enter the Fug mixtape I did with Stoogie Houzer a couple of years ago. I guess you could describe it as ‘stoner house’ music. Again, maybe I should just be describing it and then we wouldn’t even have to make any actual music!
We’re going to experiment with some EVP recordings for this one. The plan is to find a haunted building in Devon, set up recording gear, eat some hash cakes and see what happens.
You mentioned you had another recent odd interest, cryptozoology. What is that and what started your fascination with it?
I heard about cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and people getting super rich from that. When I found out about cryptozoology, I assumed it was like Bitcoin but for animals. That’s not true actually. I found out about it when my friend Dean Puckett gave me a copy of Fortean Times, which discussed sightings of these strange creatures that come from local folklore. (As you may be aware, Bodmin has its own Beast.)
Nice. We heard you’re writing a film soundtrack, tell us a bit more about that.
I just co-wrote the music for a folk-horror film called The Sermon which Dean wrote and directed. It was shot on 35mm down here in Princetown, Dartmoor, and I made a Giallo-inspired soundtrack with my studio pal Cape Khoboi. We’re developing a good line in folk-horror down here in Devon.
Horror films are all about death. What do you think happens after we die?
Maybe the real question is what happens BEFORE we die? Maybe if more people put effort into thinking about that then we wouldn’t be surrounded by so many assholes.
True facts. Thanks, Ben.
Grab two free reworks of Brain Rays that come courtesy of Blueprint’s Rommek and London producer Suso Flores below.
Words: Mark Edwards
Featured Images: Dom Moore