Interview by Brandon Pestano
We discuss origins, inspirations, magic and mysteries with visionary musician and artist Lionel Williams of the Los Angeles based celestial-pop band, Vinyl Williams. Their six studio albums: Lemniscate (2012), Into (2015), Brunei (2016), Opal (2018), Azure (2020) and Cosmopolis (2022) have been described as ‘retro-futurism’, fusing esoteric themes with ethereal psychedelic melodies. Lionel is the grandson of legendary composer John Williams, the mastermind behind many of Star Wars’ most beloved themes. Vinyl Williams’ artwork and music videos are renowned for their mind-bending hallucinogenic nature.
How are you feeling so far in 2022? Any ideas/feelings that you’re tapping into?
The idea I’ve been spending the most time with is Musical Astrology – the music of our birthdays. I had a realization over a year ago that our birthdays resonate like musical notes, since there are 12 months in the year and 12 notes in the Western octave. I’ve been developing a book and an app that plays the music of your birthdays and gives qualitative descriptions of the emotions that might be most present.
Has your environment sculpted your artistic vision?
I essentially grew up in Utah, the place where they pray for water in 2022. When I moved to a rural area in ’98 from Los Angeles, it was a definite culture shock, both for them and for me. Almost all residents at the time were LDS Mormon, and believed the Jews killed Jesus – which translated to the kids that I personally killed Jesus, so they were pretty harsh on me for the first few years. It was ultimately beneficial for me to go through all of that, as a deprivileging mechanism. It also opened my mind up to ideas of multi-religious simultaneity, like how we all filter the ineffable truth with our various forms of symbolism and religious practices. I believe there are truths to be found in the similarities between all the religions – particularly the forms of the temples.
How did your first album Lemniscate come about and how does it feel reflecting on a decade as a musician?
I recently realized the 10 year anniversary is coming up in November… it’s quite surreal. When I was 19 I moved back to Los Angeles with just my pedals, jaguar, deville, and a one channel m-audio interface. I had so many ideas that I couldn’t really record or get down, so in the summer of 2010 I drove back to Utah to record Lemniscate. Many of the songs are written about various strange visions I had in the few years leading up to recording it. One of those visions was seeing a glowing, gold emanation when closing my eyes while meditating in Tsvot, Israel. In 2009, I was also initiated inside of a completely encapsulating space age red chair, by a descendant of one of the prophets of Mormonism. He had a magical room in his Utah house with an altar in it, and many big occult books on Thelema and The Golden Dawn. He played synthesizer and spoke into a microphone, which went right into the speakers in the red chair, surrounding me. I felt immediately transported to a land of endless multi-religious temples, connected by iridescent skyways. It gave me the gift of endless inspiration, where I could describe and depict this realm for many lifetimes, and Lemniscate was my first musical venture into doing that. I was still figuring out how to record, even though I had been practicing since 2006 or so. I put a lot of the drums through amplifiers – almost everything was run through an amp, which is something I continue to do. I didn’t have much, just a guitar, some pedals, a midi controller, and Logic. I have a history of just leaving recordings the way they are, no matter how messy or lo-fi they are. I love how a composition or an idea can transcend any level of production value.
Tell us about your love for Esoteric ideas such as BioGeometry and Russelian science, what stemmed these interests, and what continues to inspire you?
I naturally resonate with the mysteries. One of my earliest memories is asking why the Moon doesn’t move when we’re in motion. That’s when I first began to understand the sheer enormity of things. I’ve stuck on this path, obsessed with the proportions of Moon, Sun and Earth (the Moon being 400 times smaller than the Sun and the Sun being 400 times further away than the moon, creating the eclipses we witness), also constantly reading into theoretical physics, investigating the structure of space-time and the unification of the galactic and the quantum. Einstein was quoted in saying “Physical objects are not in space, but these objects are spatially extended. In this way the concept of “empty space” loses its meaning.” I’m completely with Einstein in thinking space is full of fluctuating, resonating potential. The density of a single proton is akin to the mass of the entire universe, unveiling the hyperbolic nature of the cosmos, where we have access to infinite potential found in the structure of space. Hmmm, I wonder if that’s where songs come from?
There is a fusion of the past and future in your music, could you explain the concept behind that and your views on the synergy between ancient wisdom and futurism?
If you look at the lowest foundations of most ancient structures all over the world, they’re masterfully masoned, unable to it a piece of paper between stones. On top of the oldest most ancient foundations, are each next generation’s masonry, which is rarely as advanced or as carefully accurate as the first initial layer. It’s now confirmed that a meteor hit Greenland 13,000 years ago, beginning another global cooling event at the end of the last ice age. I believe we had major advancements in our far ancient past, such as heliocentric awareness, math and astronomy, and masterful geometry. Everything works in rhythms & repetitive loops. We’re recycling the ancient knowledge into further more complex & harmonious forms. When I make music or art, it has to feel tactile for my senses to be happy. It has to feel like an artefact, representing a time when everything was done by the heart and the hands. I’m further creating more and more textural and lo-fi landscapes, to provide an oasis away from “Top 40s” production. It’s always refreshing to hear something human instead of artificial.
Have psychedelics inspired your musical process and personal growth? If so what insights have you gained from those experiences?
No psychoactive experience has ever really given me any major realizations. It’s when I’ve been motionless and sober that I’ve experienced the most profound things. Psychedelics may be a good way to reflect on who you are, bringing up all the subconscious layers to the surface, and hitting the reset button on your self awareness. While many choose to ignore the critical messages it can provide, you can’t really lie to yourself or ignore your deepest recesses forever. Actively evolving and further perfecting your practice can only really be done in non psychoactive states, unless you’re a psychonaut. I’m personally very sensitive to psychedelics, and only need a little bit to transform space and time around me. Two years ago I met someone who rehabilitates sea creatures (like Orca whales) and is a biochemist. Her biochemist colleague and friend synthesized pure MDMA, and she was hell bent on giving it to me. I’m not a fan of any hard drugs of any kind, but I trusted her. After an extremely bad come-up, I felt an empathic explosion like I’d never thought was possible. I felt an overwhelming appreciation for being alive, and immediately knew I had to treat everybody with absolute kindness no matter what. For me, this was helpful in having a reset of the heart. I believe it can have therapeutic applications. Though it’s an amphetamine, it’s extremely addictive, and has terrible side effects. So it’s honestly better to become a better person without it… but for those that are intensely calcified, it might be useful.
Your artworks are all amazing! Is there anyone specifically who does them?
Thanks! They’re all my original works, except for the Opal album artwork, which is by James McCarthy, and the Into album art, which is a 360º fisheye photograph by Omid Jafarnezhad of the Nasir Ol Molk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran.
Are there any books/albums you would recommend to people? What ideas/musicians have had the biggest impact on you?
I’ve been reading The Mysticism Of Sound & Music by Hazrat Inayat Khan lately. It’s confirming a lot of my theories on the musical nature of our relationships. Nassim Haramein’s theoretical physics have really resonated with me for the last 10 years. He’s found really creative ways to conceptualize the unified nature of the cosmos. lasos has also been one of the biggest influences on me. Being the first Western self-proclaimed celestial musician, he depicts all of these higher octaves of emotions and harmony that continue to fill me up every time I listen.
Tell us about your new album Cosmopolis.
“Beaming” was the first song I wrote for it, right after I had that heart-opening experience in June 2020. The rest of the songs were recorded throughout the next year, basically one every month until the end of 2021. I spent almost all of December finishing it, doing all of the vocals, adding all of the extra instrumentation, mixing and mastering it, until it was done at the beginning of this year. I have this Magnavox camcorder setup with a separate tape deck which powers the camera. I’ve found some timeless results by re-amping upright piano or guitars through it, and because of its auto-tracking mechanism it makes the most incredible warble sound. The piano on “Probable Cause” was recorded onto it, and a bunch of the guitars and synths on the yet-to-be-released songs. The whole album turned out sounding like a raw fire opal oar, a textural fossilization of melodic compositions. I’ve really been onto the magical realism kick, creating something realistically and humanely magical, rather than by any form of trickery or illusions. I love when deep thoughts can transcend any form of showmanship or pizazz. For me it’s all about real, deep connections.
With thanks to Lionel Williams for his participation.
Cosmpopolis is due for release 26/8/22and available to purchase on limited edition vinyl here.
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