Peter Matthew Bauer (The Walkmen) Premieres ‘Mount Qaf (Divine Love)’
Before releasing his first solo record Liberation! in 2014, Peter Matthew Bauer played bass and organ in New York band, The Walkmen. Now, he’s out with his latest album, Mount Qaf (Divine Love), premiering exclusively on TIDAL one week before its official release.
Bauer sees the album as a collection of “esoteric love songs,” inspired, in part, by Henry Corbin’s writings on the Sufi master Ib’n Arabi. No stranger to higher powers, Bauer is also the founder of the Laurel Canyon Center for Consciousness Studies, which delves deeply into astrology, Eastern philosophy and Islamic studies.
Take a listen to the new album, and make sure to check out the musician’s track-by-track breakdown of Mount Qaf.
‘Wild Light’ was written as the chaos of our present time started to become more and more clear last summer. It’s about apocalyptic moments and how they all seem to arise from this hidden aliveness, this kind of strange electricity that people are always chasing. It comes from esoteric understandings of eclipses, archetypal energies of evolution and revolution, of psyche, of everything that is hidden coming up to the surface. I kept on picturing a great snake eating the sun and the moon, everything becoming shadow.
“Hold on to Someone”
I recorded a demo of the song on my computer’s internal microphone with a couple of guitars and some fake drums. Later, I tried to recreate it with a real band in a studio but couldn’t shake the feeling of the fake, ‘out of time’ band I’d first imagined. Nick Stumpf, who ended up producing the LP with me, really kicked off the process of working together by leading me to back to the original. His idea was that everything you hear should just be the weird imagined versions of songs that arise from the start. So that’s what you’re hearing now. My hope is that it sounds like a great party in a nightclub with all these characters from a band that never once existed. The song is about getting by when things start to get real desperate and scary. But you still have each other.
“Full Moon in the Sky”
I wrote this song a couple of years ago now. The guitar riff was recorded on four or five electric guitars each tuned to different ringing open notes. The final recording of the song is also the fourth or fifth version. Like many of the others here, it’s a pretty down and out love song. More than anything, I was trying to make something American-sounding, but in my own light.
So that brings me to thinking of the great American artist who passed away just a few days ago on writing this. There’s no doubting his influence on this one. But these days, people talk about influence in a funny way. You never know when they’re trying to raise you up or put you down. On certain paths, to name your teachers (to name your influences in other words), this is itself an entrance into cyclical time, into another world altogether.
To me, your predecessors are your mirrors. To be influenced means to commune with them, to enter into conversation, whether they’ve been gone 100 years or just four or five days. That sort of conversation supersedes history and that concrete rationalism which will be the death of us all. On my last record, I had a song called ‘You are the Chapel’ which was so named for ‘Selassie is the Chapel’ by Bob Marley and the Wailers, which came from Elvis’ ‘Crying in the Chapel’ itself written by Artie Glenn and originating with the Rhythm Raiders in 1953. In that strange and magical way, everything arises from tradition. So this one is for Tom Petty.
“Divine Love to Kill Fascism”
I finished this song the day after the election, a year ago. I imagine the title feels explicitly political, but it comes from a notion of love as the only true, unmediated doorway to knowing yourself and the world. I guess it’s an idea that you can only find yourself in another person or in search of that love in yourself.
I had this image in my head of a wrathful goddess arising over New York City. More than anything it’s an anti-fundamentalist stance on things and a belief that searching for direct, immediate experience awakens people and cuts through every form of power and dominance. So, in that sense, it’s very political now. It’s about not needing a master, not believing in masters outside of the one that resides in you.
“Khidr (American Drifter Music)”
I was emailing with another musician named Bill Baird up in the Bay area maybe a year ago. Bill is just an incredibly odd and original artist, a real one-of-a-kind type character. I hope he doesn’t mind me mentioning him here (we don’t know each other very well). We were talking about how terrifying it is putting music out in the world now, wondering if anyone will ever hear what you’ve worked on day after day and just wondering if there’s just any point to it whatsoever. He said that he spent the making of his last record as if he were writing it to ‘something imagined and unseen, angels or something’ and that really struck me.
‘Khidr’ reflects this idea directly. It’s a love song to my wife and my children but also a love song to this idea of an invisible guide, a mirror on the other side, the Khidr in the title. I found a copy of an old book called Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi. The author was a French phenomenologist and a mystic named Henry Corbin. I returned to it constantly while recording the album. This song and even the record title comes from it. Mount Qaf is a cosmic mountain found at the end of the world.
I recorded the song several times in both Los Angeles, California, and Austin, Texas. The final cut takes moments from both and grafts them on top of one another. Nick Stumpf plays the drums and mixed the song. My wife, Marisa Brown, sings the female vocal parts. She and I made the video as well. It uses public domain footage of the planet Saturn from the recently destroyed Cassini satellite. The song and LP focus on its archetypal dimensions.
There is a lot of American imagery of deserts and hitchhikers and so on in the song. In forms of early esoteric Islam, light and imagination are experienced as an almost unrelenting hierarchy of different angels, Zoroastrian in origin and just so strange and terrifying, noted here because they are so oddly present in the Americas now. I think these are the hitchhikers I’m singing about.
“You Always Look for Someone Lost”
I called this record an album of esoteric love songs and that notion started here. This recording comes from the very first demo I made for the album. Sometimes I forget it’s even on here. It sounds kind of lonely and like it’s feeling its way through the world, trying to figure out what it could be. I guess it’s important because so many of the sounds and ideas from the other tracks seem to have come from here. It features my wife Marisa and her friends singing the backup parts. The same group showed up and helped out a lot on the album. For the most part, though, I recorded this thing with just me in the house, wandering around with the microphones pointed the wrong direction.
“See You in the Streets (Desolate Town)”
I imagined “See You in the Streets” as a kind of a West Side Story, 1950s era musical, filled with these dirtbag greaser characters made up of some of my old friends. At the same time, the music has a strangeness to it that stuck with me. The recording was made on a Hammond S6 organ, an out of tune upright piano, a tambourine, a 1957 Gretsch Corvette and a loop of two drummers playing live in a room together. Everything was slowed down or sped up on tape. I used to call the song ‘Down & out in Beverly Hills’ but I heard someone yell, ‘See you in the streets,’ one day in Los Angeles and that just seemed to capture the feeling best.
“Will You Still Speak of Love”
‘Will You Still Speak of Love’ was the last song completed on the record. I would imagine it is the most direct song of the bunch. It was written on a Harmony acoustic guitar upstairs at my house. One image comes from seeing my wife in the distance in the dark in a beach parking lot in Malibu. The rest comes from feeling like you’re growing old, having a couple of drinks and hoping you can figure out what’s important for the rest of your stay here.
“Transhistoric Cycles of Time”
When I first made a record under my own name, I figured it should be about formative experiences: where I was coming from back at the beginning. With Mount Qaf, my second record, I set out to write songs from how I see the world in the present, something like an essentially symbolic understanding of things.
I don’t mean to make that out to be more high-minded than it really is. It just seems to me, everything arises in symbol and image and all of it is really just an impulse to creativity and imagination. In Sufism, there is the idea of ta’wil: a cutting through the rational and the empirical into what is hidden, into the ’ālam al-mithāl, into the realm of the creative imagination. One can take that rather relativistically but I don’t view it that way. Instead, I mean it very wholeheartedly.
This song is about that cutting through: creation as an entrance into a different dimension filled with light and being. This light of the imagination is the light of what someone might want to call God or might also call consciousness or awareness, and it supersedes the rational and the concrete, and it is profoundly anti-fundamentalist in every way. It is something that is entirely unique and alive and is a constant struggle to invoke and to hold. One way to go about it is to open your throat and sing.
“I Ching (Álam al Mithal)”
I ended the record here hoping the last minute or so evokes the whole story of what I’ve been rattling on now for 10 songs and several pages. While writing it, I was reading Carl Jung’s Introduction to the I Ching, The Red Book, and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s book on tarot (all Christmas gifts, two from my wife, one from a friend in the neighborhood), each teaching a different form of divination.
One night I went to a concert, saw some old friends and stayed out almost until morning. The next day, I felt like I hadn’t slept at all. I wrote and recorded the vocals that morning and have left them pretty much as they first appeared to me then. The feeling of everything as it was, passing through from another place.
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