R Loftiss and I recently had a conversation about their music and life. I haven’t had the chance to have a conversation for the blog in quite a bit, but R has been a long time participant in the Anthology Project as part of Black Lesbian Fishermen, Karyæ, The Gray Field Recordings, and The Howling Larsons.
John Griogair Bell, Librarian: Take a moment to introduce yourself! Who are you?
R Loftiss: As you’ve mentioned, I’m in several bands. Other than that, I was a librarian myself for several years, a graphic designer for a publishing house, and a travel agent for the Iowa Tribe in Oklahoma. I ran (run?) the record label AntiClock Records. I currently work with refugees here in Greece and raise my daughter with my husband Alan Trench of the now defunkt World Serpent, the not defunkt Twelve Thousand Days, and the funky Temple Music. I live an entirely bohemian and leisurely life.
L: Can you share more about your work with refugees in Greece? Maybe a story about that you can share, or call to action for people to hear? Link to an org people can help support that you recommend?
R: I started off helping my friend Mary to distribute clothing in Ritsona. At the time it was a self-organized camp, meaning the Greek government had little to no involvement in it. At first it was really appalling. Some people were living in tents. There was no water or electricity. It got better over the years and became a kind of little village with shops, cafes, and diners run by the refugees themselves. It was an open camp and we visited it quite often. We had friends there. Journalists were visiting all the time. Politicians paraded around saying “look what we did” (though, in reality they had nothing to do with it). What really kept the camps healthy were their openness and the fact that a bunch of hardworking NGOs helped provide some semblance of normal life. But then the government took full control (this was early last year), kicked all of the NGOs out and made the camps “closed controlled access centres”. Now residents have cards and curfews. The camps were enclosed with 11 ft tall concrete walls with barbed wire. They said the walls were for the residents’ protection but why, then, is the barbed wire facing inwards? And, of course, things are falling apart. Some people are near starvation because NGOs that provided food are no longer allowed in. Though the government provides food to registered asylum seekers, there are those that exist in a gray area that aren’t provided with these meals and so have to depend on the kindness of others in the camps. People are bored because any entertainment previously provided by NGOs is gone. They are also scared because they are no longer treated like human beings. The camps are often overcrowded and missing the most basic items like soap. It’s horrendous and I could write a book about it. Needless to say, kicking out the NGOs caused a void that has yet to be filled. I doubt it ever will be- not completely. And I can’t believe it wasn’t by design. Especially considering the attitude of our current conservative government.
In 2021 we began a project called Means to Dream [Donate] to meet the need for school supplies for children in the camps. There weren’t many NGOs or groups doing this and supplies were NEVER provided by the Greek government or the EU. Though, by Greek law, the children are required to attend public schools. Can you imagine being an outsider, not knowing the language, AND having nothing to even write with or write on? And so we’ve managed to buy all sorts of supplies plus art supplies and musical instruments for the camps for the past couple of years. We’re about to make another purchase to provide supplies for the 100 primary and kindergarten school children in Ritsona. The funding for which was provided by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church so we’re very grateful to them. It’s been a really fulfilling project. The situation here is deeply depressing and frustrating but it’s cathartic to be able to do this.
I’m afraid things are only going to get worse for all of us before they get better and it’s important to do what we can while we can. It seems the method for those who would hold onto their power by any means is to start little fires everywhere. So we’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to look and we blame each other. Which is only compounded by the fact that we literally are living on a world on fire. Everything is reaching it’s tipping point. It is in our own best interest to make corrections, to restore some right to the world, unless we would have complete destruction as our epitaph.
I also curated a compilation album to benefit NGOs helping in the refugee camps throughout Greece called “In the Cities of Your Eyes” and “Where All The Lost Belong” by Karyæ appears on it. 100% of the profits (Bandcamp waves their share) are now going to METAdrasi, which runs foster care (among other worthy programs) for unaccompanied refugee children in Greece. You can donate directly or get an incredible music album for your efforts.
I also recommend The Aegean Boat Report which monitors and reports detailed, correct and neutral information on refugee arrivals, and campaigns to ensure that illegal activities such as pushbacks by governments, their coast guards and other uniformed state employees are highlighted and stamped out.
L: You’ve participated in several bands that appear on Hermetic Library Anthology Albums, which I mentioned in earlier but you’re part of The Gray Field Recordings on MMR 8, The Howling Larsons on MMR9, Karyae on MMR10, and Black Lesbian Fishermen on MMR 10, 13, 16 and TINAHLAA-3. Plus, if things go according to plan, there’s some tracks on the currently upcoming MMR18 people can look forward to. Tell me a little about these projects.
R: Yes, and thank you for allowing me to appear on those releases! Okay, well… The Gray Field Recordings was a band that I started in 2001 with friends from school, Justin Jones (an incredible violinist) and David Salim who is a great viola player. I was very lucky to work with them. Unfortunately, we all moved away from each other and working together became very difficult/impossible. So now, it’s mostly just me though I manage to rope in other talented musicians such as Alan Trench and Mike Seed.
The Gray Field Recordings, 2011
The Gray Field Recordings, Knives
I’ve also been in Karyae with Elizabeth S (from Eyeless in Gaza). We don’t really record together much anymore – distance and time have put it on indefinite hold.
The Howling Larsons is my folkish band with Alan. We’re mostly focused on Black Lesbian Fishermen these days so we don’t do much howling anymore. Which brings me to…
The Black Lesbian Fishermen is our Greek band with Nikos Fokas (Vault of Blossomed Ropes), Stelios Ramaliadis (LUUP), and Stratis Sgourellis, also guest starring Christos Pergamalis (Mantara) and Giorgos Varoutas (Vault of Blossomed Ropes) at times. Basically, we happened to meet up with like-minded musicians in Athens and we’ve been making mischief ever since. It’s really the band I always wanted to be in… you know, the kind you imagine as a kid, where everyone is just having a really fun time and making something that accidentally sounds fucking amazing. Well, not really accidental… all the other musicians are real musicians. But it’s wonderful… I’m really happy to be a part of it.
Black Lesbian Fishermen, 2019
Black Lesbian Fishermen, “a music box melody using sigils that were actually played through a music box”
L: Hahaha, yeah, well, I don’t know how much it was me “allowing” you to appear; more like I’m glad you have been willing and able to participate!
R: Thank you either way!
L: What other projects have you been involved in that you’d like to mention?
R: I was in a band before Gray Field Recordings called JUNK. I’ve recently unearthed the recordings and they’re not too bad, really. I was also in Language of Light and Anvil Salute.
I’ve played with Ctephin. I’ve mixed and produced all of my own albums, the last Black Lesbian Fishermen album – “The Metaphysics of Natron“, and the “Decapitation Compilation” for LUNG Magazine. I organized and released “In the Cities of Your Eyes“, a compilation to benefit various NGOs that were helping in the refugee camps here. I’ve organized live shows for various artists including Z’EV and Ctephin.
L: I’m wondering if you’ve have any realizations or breakthroughs in the time since, or if natural change has continued with growth of the same path. For example, what’s changed for you since your last release, or just through time in general?
R: In the time since my last release, I think, probably, the change is continued growth and just my own path…I’ve always been on it. But, I mean, the scenery definitely changed since my last album… I got married, moved to a different country, had a kid, and lived through a plague! Haha. I don’t know, maybe the biggest change is more confidence (?) in my work… or, maybe, “comfort” is a better word.
L: Lawrence Olivier was famously nervous before performances, even after a long career on stage, and was once asked about that. His response was essentially that if it didn’t make him nervous, it wouldn’t be worth doing any more. Personally, I’ve always taken that to mean both that one can use nervousness by transforming it into energy for the work, but also that there needs to be some kind of frisson for the work to continue, I mean, otherwise it’s done, yeah? But, there’s a grain sand in the center of each pearl. Do you feel like that too? Does maintaining the thrill to art become a struggle at all? For my part, I once observed years ago that I tended to write poetry when I was having negative emotions and paint or draw when I was having positive emotions. Hmm, I should probably have been drawing and painting more that I have been over the years …
R: I think the best performance comes when you’re feeling electric and it just goes through you like you’re a conduit and not putting any effort in at all. As for creating music or lyrics or whatever, I’ve never felt nervous about it. It’s more of a necessity but I feel more comfortable about releasing it these days. If I don’t do it then I feel depressed. Being depressed doesn’t really inspire me to work. I mean, negative emotions work as inspiration after the fact but in general not while creating something. I suppose anger does at times. But mostly I just feel like I’m experimenting and it either works or it doesn’t.
L: What’s your next project coming up?
R: There’s a wonderful remix album of tracks from The Gray Field Recordings’ “She Sleeps to the Sound of Knives” by Nikos Fokas, Vassilis Sardelis (Rendeece), and Alan Trench. It’s such a shining jewel, I’m really so proud of it! I have to find some way of releasing it into the wild.
I’m also producing Nikos Fokas’s newest album, soon (you can see it’s all very incestuous). And working on mixing and producing the new Black Lesbian Fishermen album.
L: Tell me about your esoteric studies and influences. What path are you on? What’s being on that path done for you?
R: Gosh, where to begin? I thought Crowley and the O.T.O. was all kind of romantic until I actually joined the O.T.O. and found it really wasn’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t like some of Crowley’s ramblings. And I really like Israel Regardie. I’m a huge fan of Lon Milo Duquette, as well. I think A.E. Waite is a total bore. Then there’s the writings of Robert Anton Wilson… he was wonderful! St. Thomas of Aquinas, Carl Jung, Agrippa, William Blake, Adam McLean, Peter Carroll, writings attributed to John Dee, the Chaldean Oracles, Jacob Boehme, the I Ching, BOTA, alchemy, Goetia, Leonora Carrington, etc etc., fairytales, folklore, fiction, poetry, art (I mean, all that has magic in it, right?)… all of these things have influenced me. I was in the Theosophic Society for a while but I didn’t like it. I think I just don’t like being part of any society. I’m basically a generalist with a short attention span.
Currently, I’m practicing lucid dreaming. I highly suggest this if your reality has become a bit too real. It totally loosens the gears.
I think that doing art in any form is like a strange alchemy. It transmutes things into something more meaningful. As for what it’s all done for me… I guess it has helped me see a bit of the world behind the world…if only for a little while. It has definitely moved my imagination!
L: I know that we talked about this before, and that it wasn’t an involved process, but you have used tarot to help jump start generating music and lyrics on some Black Lesbian Fishermen tracks. Can you talk a bit about how that worked?
R: For some of the songs on the newest Black Lesbian Fishermen album, we used tarot to create the melody and inspire the lyrics. We only used the major arcana. We assigned different diatonic notes to the cards. The first card we chose was the key it would be in. So, because there are 22 cards in the major arcana, anything above 12 was added together (card number 13 would be 4, etc). A card that adds up to 4 would be C, as a keynote. Everything that you subsequently draw is relative to C being 1 so 4 (if your keynote is C) would be E flat. For “Biting Through” we chose 1 keynote card, plus 6 subsequent cards and built the melody around them. We were using the Visconti Sforza deck, which has some cards that have cracked earth in the image and some cards without so I based the lyrics on an I Ching reading in which cracked earth equaled a broken line and solid earth meant a solid line. It ended up being 22 (Grace) one way and 21 (Biting Through) when reversed.
L: Has your esoteric work informed your music and life in other practical ways? As what I’ve called a rich language with which your Self can talk to you self, or maybe other specific benefits in practice or technique?
R: I don’t usually use esoteric practice directly in my music. The tarot thing was a one-off. I’ve used quotes from various sources as lyrics. I did do part of a ritual from the PGM during a live performance of To Sic A Goddess, the lyrics of which are directly from the PGM. [n.b. To Sic A Goddess appears on MMR 13—Librarian] I also created a music box melody using sigils that were actually played through a music box (it’s hard to explain). “To Sic A Goddess” is a ritual designed to make Hera angry at an your victim. The sigils were intended to bring us good fortune. But none of those rituals had the result they were designed for. The magic we use in performances is created mainly to captivate. In that way it is practical and has results. I did, however, once perform the Invocation of Thoth with Ctephin and the electricity for the entire city block went out right at the crescendo. It was spectacular!
L: What do you know now about your particular esoteric path and study that you wish you’d known before?
R: Not to be too disappointed. I wasted some of my early years being angry at various systems for not being what I expected them to be. And that’s just silly. Do your own thing. Also, try lots of different things. Try things that make you uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to be crazy, to be an idiot.
L: I like to point to Cole Porter’s song Experiment: “Experiment, be curious … If this advice you always employ The future can offer you infinite joy And merriment, experiment and you’ll see.” Let there always time to fail fast and often with new things, so mote it be.
L: What do you suspect is true, but can’t prove, about your particular esoteric path of study?
R: I suspect it’s all true. All of it, in one form or another. As for my path, to me that just means the journey I’ve been on and it can’t be anything other than what it is. My path has been true. Whether it’s grounded in truth or not, well…I’d say a little bit of both. Talking animals will certainly lead us home by the light of the moon.
R Loftiss and Goliath
Thanks to R Loftiss for taking the time to talk with me about their work. Be sure to check out the anthology profiles for all kinds of work, and watch for R to appear on again on the upcoming release for 2023. Also, follow the threads to all the other bands and artists mentioned. And, last but not least, consider helping support the work of Means to Dream with a donation and METAdrasi by picking up the benefit album In the Cities of Your Eyes.