An incredible interview with the mesmerizing Bill Halsey a.k.a Cosmosis:
I was hugely inspired by the effect that music had on me as I was growing up. That magical power that music has to grab your imagination and be able to transport you into its world. To evoke joy, happiness, uplift and inspire.
I especially love the fact that music is a universal language and has the power speak to all people and unite everybody regardless of nationality.
Of course at the time I was being influenced I wouldn’t have articulated it in quite such grand terms. I was just sitting around in darkened rooms for hours with some mates with Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin on the stereo with the volume up and the lights down low, rolling jazz cigarettes on the back of the album sleeves. No screens to distract, just sound…
As an artist, what role do you think you play in society?
I guess I’m the modern equivalent of the medieval wandering minstrel. Except instead of the circus wagon I travel in planes. My role to create and perform music to inspire, uplift and bring colour into people’s lives. I mean, how dull would life be with no music? To quote Frank Zappa: “Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines and dates by which bills must be paid.”
Creating on a regular basis can be a bloody tough job, so what motivates you to press yourself into the workstation every single day?
Given that I am pretty relaxed by nature (read: lazy) and I’m my own boss, I regard anything that can be used as a spur to get me off my arse and force myself to create as a valid motivator. Whether it’s a release deadline, a big upcoming gig that I want to get a track finished to play at, or a need to make the money to pay the rent, as far as I am concerned it’s all just grist for the creative mill. So anything that helps me get work completed and into existence is good.
I also draw inspiration from the fact that by making and playing music I make a positive contribution to people’s lives. When I play my music in a live situation, my intention is to give people the opportunity to really let go on the dance floor and transcend themselves. At its best the whole trance-dance experience can be transcendental. That is to say that one can go beyond one’s personality and connect with the oneness.
Do you get nervous before a performance/exhibition?
In terms of being in front of people? Nah, not at all any more. Spending half of one’s working life in front of people as a performer will do that to you. In fact I reckon given enough time and repetition it’ll bring out the latent performer in even the most shy of people. I say that because I’m not particularly outgoing myself, but most people that see me play would probably think differently. In other words one eventually learns to loosen up and get beyond any personal self consciousness and start to enjoy performing. Once that stage is reached one can begin to use the opportunity for what it is: a great opportunity to contribute to people.
However, I do have a bunch of worries and technical considerations before I perform: Whether I have enough room to set up my kit? (sometimes not) Whether my equipment is going to malfunction? (happens sometimes) Whether I can get to and from the front of the stage with my guitar without getting tangled up in the deco? (happened several times – to great comedic effect ) Whether I have sufficient guitar foldback monitoring to hear myself play? (happens) etc. Making sure all that technical stuff is properly organized before playing is always a stress.
Kindness. Actually I admire the quality of selflessness in all the ways it’s expressed: compassion, tact, empathy, generosity, gentleness.
What quality do you like about yourself the most?
Hmm…. That I tend to encourage people to be themselves. To encourage them to follow their own bliss. To attempt to help them bring out their latent talents…
Which phase was the hardest/scariest in your life?
Adolescence: I was clueless, awkward and directionless – and without much real guidance.
Any embarrassing/funny moments? Yes, you’d hate to disclose your secrets but we’d love to hear.
How long have you got? 🙂 O.k How about this one: I was playing a Cosmosis set at a Alchemy Records birthday party on a big stage at a large London venue. During the last tune of my set, the whole party was kicking off and rocking bigtime and I was furiously jumping around, fist a-pumpin’ in the air. In an effort to add extra emphasis for that last minute or so my set, I got a bit carried away and clambered up onto the chest level DJ table. During the last surging climax,I began leaping up and down as high as I could on the table top, Pogo-ing almost, in time to the music, grinning out at the audience. As the music reached it’s climax I gave an extra high leap when glancing down for the first time, suddenly realized that I’d been jumping slowly to the right the whole time and that last big jump had taken me right off the edge of the table and left me in mid air about 3 metres above the floor. As I was having that brief, suspended-in-time Wile E. Coyote moment, I noticed that I was going to land directly on top of a wedge monitor directly below – which I did seconds later – and the angled face sent me flying off across the stage, smashing into the two keyboards on stands, sending synthesizers, cables and stands flying in all directions… slightly dazed, I managed to leap up from underneath the wreckage and, still tangled in cables, quickly ran to the front and centre of the stage just in time for the final chord of my set, to take a long bow to the 1800 or so people on the packed dance floor that had just witnessed me make a complete arse of myself. They applauded.
Tricky question. There’s lots but I’ll pick a relevant peak moment: It’s 1996 in Goa, I’m sitting astride an Enfield motorbike chugging in low gear along a road towards the ocean, I’m wearing tie-dye pants and have a woven multi-coloured hippy bag slung over my shoulder full of DATs containing my latest music and all my favourite tunes from other Goa artists. I’m heading to the Shore Bar where I’m DJing that night. As I ride due west along the road, the wind is warm and everything is bathed in a warm, golden light. I feel the sun on my face as I ride towards the light and watch as the big orange disc of the sun directly in front of me slips slowly into the ocean horizon…
Everyone starts somewhere, what was your first job before you got into music?
I left school when I was 15. Actually I was asked to leave (but let’s not go there 🙂 ) I wanted to make my own money so I found a job soon after as an Arborist ( tree surgeon) so I was working full-time at 15. For a few years after I had a whole string of crappy jobs, such as working on building sites, working in factories, working in a restaurant kitchen etc. which I did just to support myself. Fundamental character building experiences I reckon, and essential for fully understanding what it means to work hard to make your living – and what most people have to go through every day.
Also this experienced turned out to be very useful to use as a spur to help me focus my mind on finding and creating an appropriate career for myself. To find an activity that would be a self-expression and that I found enjoyable, rewarding and satisfying. – because I sure as hell wasn’t going to continue to do things I didn’t enjoy for a living. 🙂 Music won out and I’ve been a fully professional musician – which is to say earning my living purely at music – ever since. It is a rare privilege to be in a position to make a career out of what one most enjoys and I make sure never to let myself forget that.
Flash-forward in time. You are now really old. What would you tell your children/loved ones?
The scene is a post peak-oil world in the year 2074. Western civilisation has undergone a couple of major economic steps downward from its late 20th century global economic peak. My great, great grandson, now himself an old greybeard puffs his pipe while telling stories from the old world to the children sitting around the communal fire on the village green in a small rural village in England – where most of the population now live, working the land.
“Did I ever tell you about the times your great, great grandfather used to fly in an aeroplane to Australia, which is a country completely on the other side of the world just to play music for 90 minutes to a bunch of people to dance to? After he’d finish, he used to fly all the way back again the next day.”
The children look at each other for a moment. One starts to giggle, then suddenly they all fall about laughing, “Ha ha ha! Pull the other one Grandad, we’re not that stupid!”
I honestly cannot think of one thing I genuinely miss. Perhaps long summer nights playing over the park climbing trees? But that’s just the rose-tinted spectacles of time and nostalgia. If I were to transport myself as I am now back into that time and person, I’m sure I’d find the experience constrictive and unpleasant, like wearing shoe that are too small. i think I’d find lack of freedom to be and to an inability to think and understand because of a lack of an experience base.
Excessive chopping dulls the axe. Time-outs are a must. What do you do when you take time off from creating? Got any hobbies? (Books? Movies? TV shows?)
I play acoustic guitar a lot. I‘m completely fascinated by how music fits together so I’m always figuring out pop or jazz songs or other pieces of music on guitar: figuring out the chord progression, how the arrangement is structured, how the melody fits with the notes in the chords. I listen and pick up new tunes all the time. This week it was a couple of Isley Brother tunes.
Oddly enough I like the limitations imposed by a low tech string instrument – it’s just tight wires stretched over a wooden box to make it louder – yet in the hands of a good musician it’s capable of the most sublime music. It’s the complete opposite of my hi-tech, computer music tweakery side which I enjoy too. One could say I’m musically schizophrenic.
I read a lot too. Mainly a lot of history these days. It’s my preferred way to feed my mind – as opposed to watching visual media. I haven’t owned a TV for two decades. I find most modern TV programming idiotic frankly.
The genie comes out of the lamp and grants you one wish that will change the world. What would you wish for?
That everyone suddenly woke up to the disastrous environmental destruction we’re causing, and suddenly realized that our species is an emergent property of an incredibly fragile ecosystem on a tiny home planet in deep space and our life and prosperity and our very survival totally depends on the biosphere’s health and that our job is one of active stewardship of the planet and living in balance with nature rather than rampant exploitation of resources for short term gain.
How do you connect to the spiritual side of yourself?
I sit down in a quiet place and meditate. I then sink slowly down through the surface of chattering serial word-processing mind levels. Then in time gradually through the realms of feeling and parallel connection processing and toward the more deeper and subtle depths of wordless understanding…
Do you have any belief/beliefs that you cannot do without?
Possibly, but none that I’m currently aware of. For me, beliefs are temporary and provisional, rather than something to be clung to. Best held only until something better (that allows greater understanding) comes along to replace it. So I consider my belief system a work-in-progress. It’s only ever a temporary structure and I regularly tinker with it, adding newer pieces and deleting older more restrictive patterns as and when newer ideas that have a better fit to the data become available, i.e they are a better approximation of “truth”
For me, building one’s worldview or personal cosmology is a fascinating process and one that best remains ongoing and dynamic through life rather than being frozen into dogma early on. For me that’s ripping yourself off from where the real fascination in life lies. There again, some people are more comfortable and dare I say happier with a fixed belief system. So, each to their own I guess…
At the end of the ride, everyone’s looking for some form of success (tangible or not), what does success mean to you?
The word success implies a goal (to measure your success against) So, in order to be successful you must have a goal. In my view the big question is; do you unconsciously accept the pre-fabricated idea that the media and society brainwashes you into thinking is a worthy goal to strive to be successful at? Or, do you perform some degree of introspection and find out what is actually important to you and decide to create your own goal based upon your own priorities?
In my case I value: 1. The freedom to spend my time in the manner I choose. 2. Working at a creative and meaningful activity/career 3. Making music 4. Having time to read and ponder life. 5. Travel
We are almost done. Give us a nutshell of you the life philosophy/motto/mantra that you clutch close to your heart.
“To thine own self be true…”
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Everything in moderation, including moderation…