Immediately after I was invited to write for this blog, I started thinking about folks that readers might like to see interviewed and that I would enjoy interviewing. One of my first thoughts was of Austin Lundr of the one-man anarcho-pagan blackmetal band Panopticon… but I had no way of contacting him. In what I can only see as a great stroke if luck, I received a private message on Last.fm later that same day from Austin complementing me for something about anarchism that I wrote in the Panopticon shoutbox. From there, it was just a matter of time… I thanked him for the kind words, for the genius music, and asked him if he'd be interested in doing this interview. Few Panopticon interviews are done, so I was unsure, but to my great delight he accepted. It was my great honor and pleasure to ask him some questions and to hear his responses, which I am now just plain giddy to give to you:
Can you talk a little bit about your history of both playing in bands and on your own?
I started playing music when I was a little kid. I always dreamt of being a musician and had an interest in drums and percussion. My biological dad left when I was a baby & my mother re-married a man named Ed Robertson who raised me alongside my mom, grandmother and Aunt and Uncle. He was a drummer and encouraged me to play. Essentially he is the reason I became a musician. Not to say that there isn't a heavy genetic predisposition to it (everyone on my biological father's side are all musicians of some sort) but Ed was the one who nurtured it. He sadly passed in 2005 .
I did some hardcore/crust bands in my home town and then later started moving towards darker styles, like bands like His Hero Is Gone and eventually wound up doing metal again (as a youngster i was really into progressive metal). When I moved to Louisville I did a blackened death metal band called Anagnorisis for a few years, but chose to leave the band after our debut was released, as the band was pressuring me to write in a style of music I didn't really enjoy anymore. They were wanting to go a more hi-fi and symphonic direction and that's really not my thing.
Your music is very pointed, with an obviously anarchist social critique. Have people told you that this has alienated them from Panopticon’s music, or have you heard more that it has brought people to your music?
I have been overwhelmingly accepted by folks from metal and punk alike. It's been a very, very positive experience for me as a whole. A lot of folks have been very refreshed by the different perspective I take on black metal, and a lot of punks have been happy to find a black metal project that writes about things they are interested in. There have been very few criticisms... only a few from folks who disagree with me on a political level, mud slinging and assuming I am some passive weakling, name-calling, etc. They are absolutely entitled to their belief whether I agree or not, but in general it's been a very pleasant journey.
Black metal has historically been a breeding ground for right-wing ideology. Have you ever been driven by a sense of duty to bring an opposing perspective to the genre?
Not really. Punk has had a lot of right wing shit in it as well. Think about some of the classic bands that everyone in the punk scene loves and some of the really offensive anti-gay sentiment in some of the lyrics (for example the Descendants calling people "homo" and" fucking gay" or the entire movie "suburbia", even some Crass songs had some pretty offensive language choices... not to say they were right wing in any way...). Punk has just as many issues and sects/sub genres of it that can be pro-state or right-wing, racist and homophobic. For me it was just about getting an idea across with music that I think sounds good. Now granted, I'm pleased to see metal heads getting exposed to some ideas that are relatively foreign to this sub genre, but at the same time, I don't feel a sense of duty to bring this message to that group of people. I try to make Panopticon pretty diverse so that a lot of folks can find something they enjoy in the project, musically as well is ideologically.
Your latest album is called Collapse. Talk about what that title means to you.
Collapse is a fictional story about what could have been. People talk a lot about "after the revolution" and such, but I don't think people factor in human nature into what it would be like if the state actually collapsed. There will be a very hard time and a rough transition into living without the state... not to say that it won't end positively, but people become very selfish and barbaric when faced with instability, disorder and change. It's funny, because as I'm writing this I'm hearing a section from "yes sir, i will" by Crass in my head ("if there was no government wouldn't there be chaos...") but the truth is I agree with Bakunin's statement on this issue, "anyone who plans for after the revolution is a reactionary." I think that there is an element of de-evolution to find true progress as a society and ultimately as a species. Our society has brought complexity and conflict along with our obsession with security and convenience. As we obtain these things, and "progress" in aspects of our existence, we digress in others, slowly destroying ourselves and our environment. The death of the natural world for a "prosthetic" existence.
Some elitists think it hypocritical for a self-declared anti-capitalist , anarchist band to release, market and sell music, while others contend that it’s important to get “the message” out there to as many people as possible, all the while acknowledging that compromising one’s sociopolitical stance is a necessary evil in the distribution of ideas. What’s your take on this debate?
I don't buy that at all (no pun intended). There is a lengthy history of trade in the anarchist movement, whether it be the anarcho-syndicalist unions during the time of the catalonia anarchists, and the CNT during the late 30's issuing union vouchers, the IWW workers that struggled here in America and so on. The issue isn't trade, it's capitalism. It's unjustifiable gain and profit. I think there is an element of sustainability that is often not considered by elitists. I have given so many copies of my records away to strangers at shows, or mailed them to people who wrote me saying they couldn't afford to pay, or given things to people just because they wrote me a letter that touched me. It's absolutely not about money, but I do like being compensated for my work, but no more than it's justifiably worth. I think it's much less hypocritical to live off of your craft than to work some bullshit job for a big corporation just so you can have enough security, financially speaking, to focus on your craft. Of course the ideal is to be able to be self sufficient, but I think that's not particularly an obtainable goal in today's economy...especially given the fact that most folks don't buy records anymore anyways. They key word is capitalism, and I honestly don't think that negotiable and fair trade of goods and services, even if it's using currency, would be considered exploitation on any level.
The natural world and therefore the natural, wild state of being of humanity is deteriorating very quickly, before our eyes, yet ordinary people such as ourselves are very limited, it seems, in what we might choose to do to resist authority in all its forms – state authority, educational authority, authority at our jobs, and of course the overarching authority of civilization that we are all forced to live under. In your view, what can we do to resist the oppression that seems to come at us from virtually every angle?
It is important to remember that government, nationalism, capitalism and the monetary wage system can't be destroyed in a year, or even in one life time. This problem is bigger than we can fathom. While we are living in this kind of social climate, it is important to remember that effectively, our dollar is our vote. "Lifestyle" anarchism is all well and good, but consider that separatism from other folk isn't going to expose them to ideas. Being an active part of your community, watching what you consume and who you consume from, being very astringent in your purchasing choices (based on the companies' ethics and policies, etc.) and generally treating people with respect and an approachable open minded demeanor will do a lot more than protests or traveling ever will. We have to be willing to make our beliefs an everyday art of our lives, not just a record in our collection or something we do at shows or protests. What I believe is it is not about what you say, it is about how and WHO you are. I understand that it's difficult to maintain consistency, and I don't think anyone expects that out of anybody all the time, but what's important is that we make our passion the way we live.
Your other band, Seidr, is doing some live shows in the Midwest with Velnias and Peregrine during January. Tell me a bit about Seidr. Who is in the band, what type of music do you play, what is the live show intended to communicate, and do you intend to release an album?
Seidr is a "ritual" doom band. On a musical level we sound like Asunder and Neurosis mixed with a bit of old school Katatonia (whom I absolutely adore) and early My Dying Bride. I'm a pretty big fan of the early peaceville doom bands. I love the heavy, melodic and romantic vibe of it all. Seidr is me, Crow from Wheels within Wheels, my dear friend Death Metal Dave, my friend and Gothi/spiritual advisor Patrick Flanery, and long time friend Tompa (from Avstrum). Our live show is meant to be meditative and ritualistic, focusing on the various forms of spirituality that our members practice. We are in the process of writing for our full length that will be released on Flenser records.
Could you comment on whether or not playing Panopticon material in a live setting is something that interests you? What do you think a Panopticon show would look like, and what would it sound like? Do you ever think about playing some of the material acoustically, to give it a more stripped down and organic sound?
I always think of a Panopticon show being very theatrical.....almost like a Crass show. Lots of banners and visual media, etc. Sometimes I think of it being very primitive, outdoors and such. Much like what seems to be very popular in the North American scene right now. But it's pretty much just a dream. I have yet to find a drummer willing to put forth the time or even have the availability to do the project. As far as acoustic shows, that's a nice idea, but not how I would want to start Panopticon as a live project. It would be cool to perform some traditional bluegrass and folk with accompaniment from my dear friends Joelle and Jack from "All in the Merry Month of May" and black-grassify some of my songs. Thanks for the idea!
There are obviously a wide array of musical influences on Panopticon –black metal, punk, crust, folk, even country and bluegrass. Can you name some bands that you like, or that are influencing you and your future musical direction? Do you see Panopticon changing its musical direction at all, and possibly doing something more adventurous? What do you have planned, as far as releases and other possible musical ventures, in the coming year?
It's funny that you asked this.
I'm always trying to stay spontaneous and unpredictable. Collapse was a big deviation from my previous releases, and my most recent work which will be released on CD in the form of 2 splits and on LP in its entirety, "..on the subject of mortality," takes a lot of influence from bands like Mineral, Sunny Day Real Estate, the Appleseed Cast, Mono, Yaphet Kotto, Godspeed You Black Emperor and slowdive. I have always been into many kinds of music. I know metal heads criticize folks for listening to "wimpy" music like emo and indie rock, but I swear allegiance to no form or style. For me, honesty and passion is what makes music relevant. It's not to say that this record is not black metal, because it most certainly is, but it deviates from everything else I have done. (Also, ironically there is some pretty shreddy parts on the record too!) It is the first record I recorded/engineered entirely myself, so it is much more raw. It's a less polished, lo-fi, atmospheric record.
It has truly been my pleasure and honor to be able to engage you in such an open and honest dialogue, therefore, I leave the closing comments to you: you may conclude the interview however you see fit.
I wanted to try and answer your questions with straight-forwardness and honesty. I hope that this gives you a glimpse into my creative process, even though I most likely understand what I do about as much as everyone else. I see all of us as folks just trying to find meaning in a world that is simultaneously wonderful and horrible. I must say, it's been a pleasure to get to know so many people and exchange ideas with so many folks over these past couple of years, and I look forward to running into more of you in my future travels through this life. Thanks for all you guys have done for me. I am very grateful.
don't let the fire burn out.