Where does one start trying to write an introduction for this Cousin Silas interview? To some of us it seems inconceivable that the world doesn’t know the JG Ballard inspired alter ego of Dave W. Hughes from Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire. Since around 2000 he is credited with nearly sixty releases and appeared on over thirty-five compilations on over fifteen labels, including:
Fflint Central, Earthrid, Earth Monkey, BFW Recordings, Withering Trees, Just Not Normal Records, Acustronica, Free Floating, We Are All Ghosts (WAAG), Aural Films, Sucu Music, Treetrunk Records, Petroglyph Music, Kopp, Sounds For Good, Roach Clip, and many others.
There is easily enough music from Cousin Silas to challenge the output of J. S. Bach, G. F. Handel or W. A. Mozart. And yet, he is still one of the best-kept secrets of the Internet age. He has his fans and followers, probably numbering in the thousands, and yet he is only just starting to get some airplay on terrestrial radio (like PBS Australia’s The Art of Bleep!).
With the release of his first physical CD in over ten years (in fact, a double CD release) I conducted an interview on a wide range of topics ranging from the musical style(s) he likes doing, to his love of Science Fiction, and many other topics.
Part One: General Questions
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Cousin Silas and I have been creating music / whatever since around 2000. I do enjoy exploring new ideas and new areas (to me) but it’s not a secret agenda. I do it because I get bored with doing the same thing over and over. I find, because of this, that when and if I do return to a style then it all seems fresh and new again.
Do you have any other aliases?
I decided right from the start that Cousin Silas would be fine for all I do, even though some of it is very different. The bottom line is, it’s Cousin Silas, no matter what the ‘genre’ is. As I mentioned above, I used to review music, so when my first album came out I wanted a few people to listen to it. I wanted an honest opinion, so I chose Cousin Silas rather than my own name. It was, originally, going to be just for that first album, but me being me, I never got around to changing it.
Do you focus on specific styles of music?
Not really. Although I do prefer the more ambient stuff, I do venture out of the comfort zone. As I said above, there’s only one reason for this and I get bored with the same thing. Coming back to a style after a while really freshens things up for me.
What are you working on at the moment?
Apart from a track now and then, I’m sort of stepping back a bit. I have quite a few things due out shortly. Also, the Dronescape series has at least another 10 ready.
[Ed: 10? That’s stepping back?? 🙂]
Who are your musical inspirations?
Initially I guess the usual suspects like both Roger and Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Michael Brook and, of course, Bill Nelson and Peter Green. I do enjoy the music, though, of a lot of my peers in the ambient sphere. Far too many to mention and I know if I did, I would inevitably leave out a few, so I’ll just say they know who they are. Most of them are good and reliable friends on Facebook.
What drives you to create music?
I really have no idea. Simple as. I can’t explain what it is. Just hope I never lose it!
What role does community play in what you do?
With regard to some of the social community like Facebook and Soundcloud, a great deal. I have met some great people on Facebook. Soundcloud isn’t quite the same, but it’s like another facet, another route by which I can place my ideas and get feedback. There are one or two groups I am in on Facebook as well, where the feedback and interaction is superb. Others not so, but you have to try them out before you know.
You read a lot of classic and/or pulp science fiction. Who are your favorite authors?
The most endearing author has to be JG Ballard. I love Aldiss, Brunner, Moorcock, Mick Farren and Silverberg. Although I do enjoy most Science Fiction and rarely find a bad one.
How have these authors influenced your work?
Ballard for sure. I have always found that with almost all Ballard’s imagery and landscapes I somehow relate to them. I bet on every album there’s either a direct or indirect influence. Some of Lovecraft’s imagery is there in my darker stuff, but Ballard is just constantly there.
You are one of the most prolific ambient artists out there. How do you manage it?
My wife locks me in the Silas room.
You frequently work with other artists. How do you decide who to work with?
In the early days I did specifically ask certain artists. But these days I find I simply don’t get the time. With each new Silas & Friends album more people want to be involved.
Are there any specific collaboration pieces that really stand out to you?
I do have a few but I won’t mention them as it’s a little bit unfair, the implication being that the others don’t!
You post a lot of “Silas Guitar Spank” pictures on Facebook. How large is the collection currently?
I have ‘The Meaning Of Life’ (re: Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy) plus two.
[Ed: Any Science Fiction fan that doesn’t get that reference should be well ashamed of themselves. Others will just need to go read the books. You can find them at your favorite local bookseller.]
Do you have any specific guitars you really love?
Probably a cliché but all of them. Whichever I decided to play, I think wow! this is a great guitar, glad I got it. As for eye candy, the Gretsch and Peerless Deep Blue Custom look the dog doodahs.
How do you have your recording studio set up?
I use Reaper on a PC. With that I use a variety of synths and effects via either a keyboard or the Fender Strat that has a Fishman triple Play pickup on it. The guitars go through a gizmo that converts analogue to digital without any latency. In Reaper I use more or less Guitar Rig 5 all the time.
Are you involved in any other forms of artistic expression (photography, painting, writing, etc.)?
I used to write a bit, but I find now that all my daydreaming and creative whatnot is going into the music.
Part Two: Creative Commons
How did you get into Netaudio / Creative Commons?
I used to edit and publish a magazine called The Modern Dance (after Pere Ubu’s debut album) and did music reviews. I had an email sent one time about a netlabel that was interested in submissions, so I basically sent them some material I’d been doing. I liked the idea of the whole free thing, less ties, no worry about ‘sales’ and especially no one demanding their money back. 🙂 Anyway, they liked what I sent and it kind of mushroomed from there really.
Do you release all your work under a Creative Commons license?
Apart from my first two albums, it’s all done under Creative Commons… or is as far as I’m aware.
Any neat things that have happened because you used a Creative Commons license?
I’ve had a few folks use music for videos, which I find interesting as it sometimes shows how other people perceive the music.
Any negative things that have happened because you used a Creative Commons license?
Not that I’m aware of…. yet!
Part Three: The Future
What is next for you?
I never know.
Are there any artists you would like to work with in the future?
I am happy with the ‘pool’ of artists I know! Most of those who’ve come on board I work with now and again.
Do you have an upcoming event / release / etc. that you want to mention / promote?
Well, obviously there’s the Sound Of Silas double CD release. That has to take precedent because it’s my first ever double physical CD release. Indeed, the first physical release for over a decade. It has about six or seven existing tracks that have been remastered, and the rest is all new material.
There’s ‘Standing On The Edge Of Decay‘, which is out around the same time. This is an album I donated to the MacMIllan Cancer trust that Martin Boulten is running. As far as I know it’s a pay what you want, but it would be nice to think a few quid could make its way towards the cause.
Then there’s probably a Dronescape due out soon and a new album on Sucu Music.
[Ed: The Sucumusic release is ‘Weaving Portraits‘.]
Again, a few albums out all within a short period. To be honest, this doesn’t bother me as maybe it should because more often than not, you get the albums for nothing anyway!
In the year or so that I’ve chatted with Cousin Silas about his music, SciFi reading and other topics one thing has become clear: you cannot find a more humble, generous, and humourous artist on the Internet. His artistry comes from a place of honesty which his followers well understand. And, his humor is almost legendary. For example, he recently posted a comment that he “fell” onto his keyboard and produced another drone piece. Yet, he is also serious about his music, producing pieces that he dedicates to people who have supported him, and for friends and family.
But, what is it that really makes Cousin Silas special? That is actually easy to answer, believe it or not. He is the kind of artist and person that is a joy to work with, and he makes his collaborators (whether musical or non-musical) better. His listeners have the same experience: they feel better for the experience of listening to Cousin Silas. All of the music, all the collaborations, and all the work that goes on behind the scenes appears to have a single goal in mind: to leave something in the world that makes it a better place. We need more people like Cousin Silas in world, at least we have this one for now.