It's a long way from Kiss's Dynasty to the Mystery School and the Golden Dawn lodge, but guitarist/vocalist Lance Watkins has traversed it and lived to sing the tale. That path from ultimate superficial rock 'n' roll spectacle to occult spirituality has culminated in This Blinding Light, a Seattle foursome that is making some of the city's most ritualistically rich, transcendent trance rock.
Watkins was 4 when his father bought him Dynasty, and it sparked a lifelong love affair with rock. "That same year, I got to see [Kiss] live," the 34-year-old musician recalls. "And it's still the best moment of my life—getting to experience the drama of it all, and how it was like these superheroes were making music. It just set my imagination wild. It wasn't really until my later teens and being introduced to the Flaming Lips, that I started to refine my tastes to psych and shoegaze. Coincidently, that was about the time I started doing drugs fairly heavily, from around 19 to 24, so I'm sure that affected my taste, as well."
For the last eight years, Watkins has ploughed a Lips-like seam of panoramic psychedelia and shoegaze rock with Hypatia Lake, a band that included This Blinding Light bassist/vocalist Shane Browning. TBL are heavier sounding, more psychedelically inclined, and more about inducing feelings of transcendence and ecstasy through repetition. Watkins further differentiates between the two outfits.
"Hypatia Lake needs to have different 'voices' for the different characters and events that are happening in the town. It's a sonic schizophrenia. It's also a means to push myself to my technical limits as a songwriter and a means to test the limits of the producers we work with. Every album has been a progression in that sense.
"This Blinding Light is about creating a mantra," he continues. "It's about tapping into the groove and pulling people into that zone with us. I think the volume we play at is also a big part of knocking down people's defenses and making them just be there with us in that space."
Speaking of space, This Blinding Light (which includes drummer Mary Genova and keyboardist/guitarist Michael Sterling) follow in the astromaniacal tradition of bands like Hawkwind, Loop, and Spacemen 3 (TBL cover the latter's "Hey Man"), peddling a kind of "enlightened-brute psych rock that wallows in the fuzzy murk while aspiring for a higher state of consciousness," as I wrote in a review of TBL's live show on Line Out. Even as they launch their sound into deep space, TBL also strive to drill into your mind's inner recesses.
At the start of most This Blinding Light gigs, Watkins performs what he calls the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and Purification by Sage Through Smudging, which involves recitation of a Hebrew Qabalistic prayer, as a recording of Native American tribal chants and drums plays. "The ritual is very important on many levels, but its main effect is clearing the space that we'll be performing on and in, and removing any personal energy blocks that we may have developed during the day before the show. It's creating a lens for us to focus the Light into and out of, and effectively allows us to channel ourselves toward the audience."
The last time I saw TBL play at the Comet, somebody threw a copy of The Stranger and a beer can at the band, but nobody onstage even flinched or acknowledged these provocative actions. "Ha! That's just Hate City love being given to Shane," Watkins replies. "I'm surprised they didn't spit on him."
While playing, TBL avoid any Kiss-like bombast, instead channeling their energy into an obliterating sound that crushes urges for ego aggrandizement. Similarly, the band's MySpace page lists a Qabalistic Cross prayer instead of their names; the CD-R TBL sell at shows boasts no group photos or credits. TBL, says Watkins, "are about shifting the focus away from the trappings of the negative ego and onto the magick that is inherent in the music. I think, very often, images and credits skew people's perceptions and draw them away from just listening."
Such selfless creation is admirable, an extension of their involvement with occult practices and commensurate with their unconventional search for cosmic meaning. This Blinding Light aren't trying to coax you into a cult; rather, they're using their art as a bridge to help you perhaps attain the enlightenment they've achieved.
"Michael [Sterling, from Joy Wants Eternity] and I wanted to develop a project together that integrated our interest in the occult with music," Watkins explains. "We are both initiates in a Mystery School, and I am an adept in a Golden Dawn lodge, and we wanted to bring the energy that is available from such practice to the stage. Hypatia Lake has been a beautiful and frustrating project. I needed to do something that was free from all of the expectations that started to develop out of investing as much time and energy as I have in Hypatia Lake, something that wasn't so involved in my ego and that has had so many ups and downs.
"This Blinding Light often has very little thought put into it, in terms of the actual performance," he continues. "I'm not saying that it's thoughtless; what I mean is, that it's a vehicle of the Now. We can just get up there and play on a couple of chords and just be free in that moment. Hypatia Lake is much more complicated and involved."
As for next year, TBL plan to release a vinyl LP called Light in Extension, tour in April, and, says Watkins, continue "to develop ourselves, musically, magickally, and spiritually. I would say I've always been a seeker and interested in connecting to the source of being. That's what has always made me so enamored with music—its ability to completely transport you to a place that's beyond this plane. It's what it was originally designed to do—to be a means to amplify spiritual experience. I think it's important to bring that aspect back into popular culture. I'm just trying to do my part to remind people that they are all part of something bigger than their ego.
"The most important phrase in esoteric teachings is a simple one: 'As above, so below,'" Watkins summarizes. "We all mirror the divine because we are divine. Creating music is just one aspect of our right as divine beings, and it's the means I've chosen to use to communicate that message."
Now if we could only get Gene Simmons and company to listen to This Blinding Light and renounce the trappings of the ego.