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Taras Bulba- Soul Weaver (2020 Riot Season Records)

I spent some quality time with Soul Weaver, the second album by Taras Bulba on a snowy afternoon. I wasn’t supposed to, because I have this “rule” that I only review “new” music, for fear of becoming swamped with music to listen to. However, Fred Laird (of Earthling Society fame) and his rich music background somehow convinced me otherwise, and I am glad I did. For Soul Weaver is a very rich album, that takes the listener on a journey through many different sound countries and colors, from heavy guitar driven psychedelic freakouts to contemplative shoegazer musings, even something that could be classified as “world music”, and more.

The production value and just sheer un-commercial approach in which the album is set up makes it feel like a tough little oister to crack at first; but once you have cracked it open it will reveal all its colorful pearliness and shimmery shine. It encourages you as a listener, to make an effort to join this trip, and once you are well and truly prepared, you are ready to explore this brave new Taras Bulba world.

Enter the Taras Bulba brave new world here…

Diving deep into Soul Weaver and a deep 50+ minute psychedelic experience later, it is incredible to think that one man made this in a small confined space during lockdown. It feels rather the opposite of that, and it is so comforting to know that you can really go anywhere in your mind through music. We are free when we have creative power.

Fred Laird

Thankful for the experience, I contacted Fred Laird to shed some light on his creation. This is what he said.

Hi Fred! Could you give a little background about Taras Bulba? I have listened to Earthling Society a lot, and we even shared a label (Nasoni) for a short while when my band No Man’s Valley released Time Travel in 2016. It seemed to me Earthling Society gave you plenty of artistic freedom, so why did you feel the need for a different moniker? 

In 2018 I decided to end Earthling Society. It was straight after our release Mo The Demon. The main reason was I felt that the line-up we had from 2014 to that time had basically done all it could without churning out the same stuff. Spacerock is a pretty limited genre and I fell out of love with it in a major way. I also felt the band was losing interest. We’d hit many obstacles along the way, struggled getting prime gigs and festivals and I think everybody started getting weary. Our live sound which was pretty formidable in 2016 was a shadow of it’s former self by 2018. You gotta know when to quit. The band members took it a bit harshly though.

Taras Bulba is just getting to branch out, experiment and not be boxed in by a particular genre. If any genre fits Taras Bulba then its ‘weird’. I think it’s a bit of a curate’s egg to some listeners but I’m fine with that.    

Could you describe your Corona experience and the effect it had on Soul Weaver? 

We had a very sudden bereavement in the family just as the first lockdown was about to start in April. It was a bolt out of the blue and effected us in many ways. When the lockdown started and we couldn’t work we kind of got trapped with this overwhelming loss. So to focus we tried to be creative as a family and as individuals. I converted the spare room into a DIY studio, bought a piano, new instruments and just started making more and more music and trying to develop my very basic production skills. I love those DIY albums from the early days of RNR like Hasil Adkins, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy and Link Wray’s 3 track recording debut for Polydor. That’s the kind of sound I try to replicate, raw and primitive.    

One of the things I love most about the album is that it feels really like a journey and that it kind of lacks constraint; it has a lot of different “feels” which I really like and which keeps it really interesting from start to finish. Can you explain that? Does your geographical position have anything to do with that? (being close to the sea?)

Yeah I think it helps by not being pigeonholed to a particular genre so I can venture anywhere I please and although the genre changes it still is un-mistakenly Taras Bulba. I think the geography of where I live has a lot to do with it. Fleetwood might as well be Nowheresville. There’s no music scene, no like minded musical souls and if you shut off what you hear on the internet then the music you make isn’t really going to sound like anyone else. It’s like being marooned on a desert island with some coconuts and a guitar made from a warthog carcass. You’re not going to sound like U2. That’s what Taras Bulba is. I’m Ben Gunn of the new psych scene.    

Can you shed some light on the lyrics? You wrote you were sub-consciously inspired by a novel? How does that work?

12 month’s before recording ‘Soulweaver’ I’d read this book called the ‘Sea Priestess’ by Dion Fortune. It was about this guy with a health condition who meets this occultist and through magick working he gets better, falls in love with her and discovers she’s the Egyptian goddess Isis incarnate; like you do. It’s a charming period piece but frankly it’s also a bit shit and as I remember a bit of a labour to finish it. Anyhow I started draughting these lyrics to ‘Moon on the Tides’ and ‘ Tethered on the Wheel’  and was like ‘Where have these ideas come from? It was all very automatic and very quickly written; I don’t remember pondering much on the lyrics. When I realised, I went back to the book and drew similarities to certain paragraphs. It was very odd.

I also live only a few hundred yards form the Irish sea and I think the early spring walks and the stormy weather at that time; with crashing waves and such definitely weaved a bit of magic.  

Playing psychedelic music, does drugs play any role in your art at all?

No I haven’t done drugs for a very long time. In the early days of Earthling Society there was a lot of amphetamine and magic mushrooms and lots of booze. I quit drinking a year ago and I don’t smoke weed. I did grow some magic mushrooms and was getting truffle microdose kits during the summer of 2020. I thought it was helping my creativity but when I stopped it didn’t change a thing. It’s left me with a lack of conviction to the whole microdose thing. I practice Martial Arts, do regular exercise which adds elements of yoga and meditation and that’s the best drug for me. A peaceful mind is the best for creativity.   

You have been at it for quite a while now, what is the highlight of your musical career so far? And what would you have loved to do differently?

We’ve had a few highlights. Roadburn was a good one in 2007, playing Berlin, supporting Julian Cope and Damo Suzuki. Damo and I sat together on the merch stall, selling his stuff which was fun and then he gave me a hug afterwards. There’s been a few good things.

Ah the things I would love to do differently, ha where do I begin. Never have a professional synth player. Never have synth players girlfriends as backing singers. Don’t travel down the prog rock route, stay close to your vision and don’t let anyone interfere. Don’t turn down a mini tour of Eastside USA and don’t enlist musicians who can’t play but you keep them in the band anyway because they give you free drugs and so forth.

Julian Cope sent me a great letter once. It was after the release of our second album for Nasoni which was also the debut of our first keyboard player. He wrote ‘ Your keyboard player ruined your album and made it cack – Love Julian’ haha brilliant.

What are your goals for the near future, and the distant? What is something you would still like to do as a musician?

I have just finished the third Taras Bulba album and I feel it’s the best thing I have ever done. Total control, freedom and plenty of time to do it to. It’s the first time I’ve spent over 6 months on a project. I have a wonderful female vocalist contributing to the vocal tracks and a killer saxophonist on 3 tracks. It’s a great thing that incorporates all the influences that have been close to my heart forever – from Rowland S Howard to Big Star, Cocteau twins to Bohren and der Club of Gore.

Final question: can you provide us with a list of your most important influences?

Here is my top 10 in no particular order

1. Dub me crazy — Mad Professor
2. Black Earth – Bohren and der Club of Gore
3. Room full of lights – Crime and the City Solution
4. Heavier than a death in the family – Les Rallizes Denudes
5. In den garten pharaohs – Popol Vuh
6. Low – David Bowie
7. Easter Everywhere – 13th Floor Elevators
8. Music for Zen meditation – Tony Scott
9. Cocteau twins – Head over Heels
10. Lucifer Rising – Bobby Beausoleil

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