Interview by: David Locklear
The 70’s rock music revival has been raging for some time now, with bands like Blood Ceremony and Ghost dipping into the mock evil of their favorite dark decade,. Among these, the self-proclaimed “Vaudeville Carny-Psych” band, Purson are far more wrapped up in the influences of David Bowie and early prog masters King Crimson than Alice Cooper. Purson’s first album, “Circle and the Blue Door” was a retro masterpiece of pop hooks, sinister Hammond organ, rollicking guitars and a healthy dose melancholy, attributed to singer Rosalie Cunningham’s ex-boyfriend’s bout with undiagnosed schizophrenia. Now, with the release of their new album, “Desire’s Magic Theater” they are moving beyond the sadness that haunted their first album and trying to explore a better state of mind and music.
MGM: When did you start writing Desire’s Magic Theatre?
Rosalie Cunningham: It’s kind of hard to say-probably from about 2013, but it really kind of came together about a year and a half ago. I was like, “Okay, I know where this sound is going now.” But I wasn’t particularly writing for an album, I was just kind of writing ‘cause that’s what I do during the day and then it kind of developed into something that was a fully formed album.
MGM: You’ve specifically cited David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” and the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper” albums as major influences for “Desire’s Magic Theatre”. Who are some of the lesser-known artists that also inform the record’s sound?
R.C.: Yeah, sure, there are a lot of influences. Everything I listen to seeps in somehow; a lot of psychedelic music, and prog. A lot of prog. And I think the pop sensibilities come from a love of bands like The Move and Small Faces-those kinds of late-sixties, slightly prog, but still very pop-based tunes.
MGM: How about King Crimson?
R.C.: King Crimson is one of my favorite prog bands! Along with Genesis, and Gentle Giant, too. That’s kind of like the bread and butter of the prog thing. Then there are always weird things like a band called Gracious, lesser-known kind of things.
MGM: I almost feel like I heard some flashes of the King Crimson album “Lizard” show up a little bit.
R.C.: Yeah, there is! I’m actually writing the next album now and it’s much more in that “Lizard” type direction.
MGM: That’s exciting! It’s funny, though, because “Lizard” was one of those albums that the first time I listened to it, I HATED it.
R.C.: Really?! Well, it does take a while and you really have to pay attention.
MGM: Yeah, it did have to bleed into my mind before it finally clicked and I said, “Oh, I get it.”
R.C.: I think people are getting that with “Desire’s Magic Theater”. A lot of people are just baffled when they first hear it, and they need a few listens. But they end up loving it more and more each time, which is good.
MGM: Well, the first one was heavily influenced by your ex-boyfriend who was diagnosed with serious mental problems, wasn’t it?
R.C.: Yeah, and the whole vibe at the time was very heavy, because it revolved around our relationship which was constantly falling apart. So that fed into it a lot.
MGM: So this album is a lot more distanced from that one.
R.C.: This one I was just doing it for my own amusement, really. I think you can kind of hear that- it wasn’t so full of anguish.
MGM: Well, it is a lot less dark than “Circle and the Blue Door”. From my point of view, hearing the first one to this one, it feels like the first album was the goth sister and the second one is more like the hippie, acid dropping, fun sister.
R.C.: (Laughs) Yes! That’s a good way of putting it, actually. My songwriting is like that. How I was feeling at the time of writing the first album is very much reflected in the sound, as it is how I was feeling writing this one. I was in a much better place, so I think the songs are naturally more positive and happy sounding. I guess, yeah, now I am the happy, hippie sister!
MGM: So, between the heavy prog influence and some of the sounds and imagery that show up on the record, is it safe to say Desire’s Magic Theater is a concept album?
R.C.: In a sense, in that it’s kind of set up like a theater show: the applause at the beginning, and the fact that it goes off in so many different directions, I thought that it could be like different acts, different bands, even. Like the Sergeant Pepper idea. And then with the audience sounds again at the end, those are the bookends of the record being a theater show-but it’s a loose concept.
MGM: Since we already know the musical influences of the record, are there any literary influences that have found their way into the lyrics of “Desire’s Magic Theater”?
R.C.: Yeah, Hermann Hesse, actually. His book, “Steppenwolf”, influenced the record’s title, as well. I love his way of writing and it’s always about very magical, philosophical and psychedelic type subjects. So, lyrically, that has definitely influenced me.
MGM: So when you explore those types of themes, do you feel some type of catharsis from it?
R.C.: It is exploring-trying to write about it is exploring. Constantly asking yourself questions, putting yourself in different situations and trying to explain them through poetry.
MGM: Do you feel like you’ve come up with any answers to these questions yet?
R.C.: It’s still an uphill battle. I think I’ll always be asking the same questions, really, and not getting the right answers, but getting some good lines out of it! (laughs)
MGM: The album has a track called “Mr. Howard” where a man is apparently on trial. Who is he?
R.C.: It’s a quite a long story, actually. [Guitarist George Hudson’s] dad used to empty out people’s houses after they had died; clear their houses of all their possessions. And he cleared out a house and found some really interesting stuff once and kept it in George’s family home attic for years and years and years. One day, George just stumbled across it, and it had been above his head for 27 years. From what we can figure out, this guy, Mr. Howard, was a Nazi spy, and he had settled in our hometown of Southend and had become a German teacher of a local school. But he was still into all the Nazi stuff; his house was full of Storm Trooper magazines, and some even more sinister things, like pictures of naked children and some hand typed erotic fiction. Really seedy guy. George was so creeped out by this, he was like “This has been above my head my whole life!”
MGM: You’re kidding! That’s not the answer I expected at all…
R.C.: I actually didn’t really go very far into the subject with the lyrics, you can’t really tell what it’s about. But, I think I will in the future because it’s such a weird story.
MGM: Did you feel any pressure making this album since “Circle and the Blue Door” was so successful?
R.C.: I didn’t, actually. Which is good, I’m glad I didn’t think about it because it would have influenced the way I made it. I didn’t think about it until I delivered it, and then it dawned on me: People are going to judge this really quite strange piece of work that I’ve made! Management had heard nothing. The label had heard nothing. So they had no idea what was coming and so at that point, it did dawn on me that it’s actually quite scary what they’re going to think. And lots of people didn’t like it. They’re like: “How are we going to sell this? This is not what we were expecting.” But after a while, they kind of figured out that it was better than they were expecting. In a way, I think they were just confused. It’s positive all around now, but it wasn’t that way at first.
MGM: That has to be really frustrating to feel.
R.C.: That was quite upsetting in the beginning, because I’d poured so much work into it and the response was: “What is this?”
MGM: Well, what is it about the 70’s sound and aesthetic that you and the band are drawn to do you think?
R.C.: I honestly don’t really know, it’s just been something that has always attracted me. It’s just like I feel I belong in that place and time. And I write in that style naturally, so it would feel wrong to write in another way.
MGM: One last question-With “Desire’s Magic Theater” being released, do you feel the band can move past the “Occult Rock” label that it has been given?
R.C.: I don’t know. That always kind of baffled me a little bit. I guess with the first album, we touched on that occult kind of thing, and at the time I was really into (70’s occult rock band) Coven, so that did really kind of influence the record, but that was never all that we were about. I think we’ve been bunched in with a lot of bands where that is all that they’re about. Which is a bit annoying, but I guess that’s just kind of lazy journalism, isn’t it? They also call us “female fronted rock”, which…I find a bit strange. As opposed to male fronted rock? Its just rock.