I first came across the music of US artist Spencer Clark via his Monopoly Child Star Searchers moniker and the 2018 reissue of his 2010 album Make Mine Macaw. At the time I suggested it was ‘really unique music, a celebration of the exotic without the cultural appropriation.’ In an imperfect world that would be the end of it, but the album continued to grow inside me and I found myself returning again and again, drawn to its lofi nature, ritualistic repetition and weird ill defined cultural otherness.
Recently it occurred to me that it might be rewarding to explore some of Clark’s other monikers, and there’s more than a few, Charles Berlitz, Fourth World Magazine, Monopoly Child, Typhonian Highlife, or collaborative projects like Egyptian Sports Network, Inner Tubes, Tarzana or even Skaters. It’s all pretty diverse, and more than a few of them are, lets say, odd. Joyfully odd, yet odd in a refreshingly genuine and inclusive way, often imbued with humour and a sense of mischievousness. His latest album Barbados Wild Horses, is an hypnotic sun kissed burst of energetic ritualistic abandon that sees him resurrecting his Monopoly Child Star Searchers moniker after more than a decade, and features a couple of wigged out contributions from Cameron Stallones (Sun Araw). Clark was kind enough to speak with Cyclic Defrost from his newish home in Greece and reflect on his unique approach to making music, in an open and enjoyably tangential conversation.
Cyclic Defrost: I’m keen to know how your travels interact with the music you make. Is it something conscious?
Spencer Clark: In my early days of being with The Skaters and doing solo projects like Vodka Soap and Monopoly Child, there was often this focus on a central image or place. With the Skaters I feel like James and I began to use the music to invent some presences or astral images in the room, and we would interact with them. Being on my own, I often work on an intense focus of an inner image and placing that image or feeling within a realm in which it can morph and grow. There is an outer world aspect of this endeavour, which involves actually going places and being influenced by them. I lust after being unable to physically enter into these other kingdoms, thus further powering the mind to go there on its own. When the places you think of, the temples or jungles of other lands, must be conceived of in your mind, then the power of Goethe’s Exact Sensorial Fantasy can take effect, where your brain beings to animate and morph the reality of these places and the image becomes as intimate to you as something that you then in turn have grown in your own dome.
But I have gone to other places in reality, my new album Barbados Wild Horses was created there. I was for sure influenced by the volcanic terraces and natural beach feelings, but then again, its like when Max Ernst entered into New Mexico and found that some of his mental landscapes actually existed there. There is a part of me that understands that my future has always been calling me, and that I end up at places based on my dream’s cast.
Cyclic Defrost: When making music, how important is a conceptual anchor point to you? Do you need to know what it’s about beforehand to assist with the musical decisions you will make, or does this come afterward or not at all?
Spencer Clark: There’s a bunch of different feelings about what’s conceptual for people and I don’t want to humansplain anyone, but for me there is no concept at all. There are visions from the creator, I don’t want to try and invent anything for anyone, and by enriching yourself to the worlds around you take activity in the growing of what the universe is. In some ways I am afraid conceptual behaviour can be satanic or and overly aggressive way to fill the void in the absence of spirituality and god. It is not me who invents anything but rather me who is indebted to the universe in praise of its fluidness. On the other hand there is the presence of the Trickster in me the one who sees these realities and then bends them anyway, because the coolest thing to do when your snorkelling at sort of random intuited moments to turn around and see the world behind you. The fish are there in a way not thinking of you anymore, it makes me feel the world is not thinking of me, and that feeling is so powerful and mystical that you can at will change your direction and give in to other elements of the progression of the growth of the universe. So to be more direct towards your question having a destination in mind is so important, but nothing is more important than the godlike power of reversing your fortune.
Cyclic Defrost: Can you talk a little more about using conceptual behaviour to fill the void? I’m understanding this as people grab hold of the conceptual to console themselves or reduce the uncertainty or anxiety about what they’re doing.
For me, conceptual behaviour is just naturally human. It’s the the universal being that is in itself a high concept. In a large part of our world it feels like scientific and pragmatic thinking dominate to such a degree that conceptual behaviour begins to mimic the mechanical world. Within Goethe, he learns about humans by studying nature, as he believes nature is closer to god. We live within the highest concept possible, but it is our nature to annihilate our creator to prove we are strong or alive. I think when living in your mind in higher worlds it can be, while there, important to cut yourself lose from the mind, and to live with your thoughts, and maybe even to take away some of your overt control over the concepts you are dealing with.
Cyclic Defrost: So you’re not working conceptually?
Spencer Clark: When people discuss my music sometimes they discuss like ‘oh it’s world building and he’s creating this conceptual world.’ But I’m not really. I’m not doing that. I am just sort of marking down what I am learning about mother earth, and to return the favour of life I apply some personal twists…
Cyclic Defrost: It’s funny because I would have said you are world building. I would have said you like making up stuff that didn’t exist before – because it definitely didn’t exist before for me and feels so fully formed. But then there’s also, the element of why did I connect so much with Make Mine Macaw? Thinking about it there’s a connection to a feeling, not connection with the intellectual concept behind it because I had no idea what it is.
Spencer Clark: I mean, Make Mine Macaw was made in like 2010, I think, or 2009. And I was having a lot of cool experiences and romantic experiences. And I was trying to talk about how these two people would have try to create a union with themselves, an agreement that they both were in love. But then they go to nature to do that, or to this place that’s outside, the jungle or whatever. But as they continue to try to prove to themselves that they are in love with each other, nature kind of takes over for them and starts to morph and do things that prove that it’s actually that they’re in love with the world and nature, and not just between each other.
Nature is like, ‘no, we’re gonna communicate with you.’ It’s definitely musical, but there’s a huge element of creating a call and response between the symoblic sound effects and the musical entertainment.
Cyclic Defrost: That’s really beautiful. You mentioned earlier that nothing is more important the than godlike power of reversing your fortune. I have to know more about that.
Spencer Clark: It’s amazing to follow ones train of thought and to have it grow and build upon it, but at the same time, it is nice to break the hypnosis and turn around and stare at yourself behaving. To be able to stop immediately and to believe that you and your thoughts are nothing. When I say reverse your fortune, I mean to be aware of your trajectory to a high degree so that it can dissipate, be let go. Humans are so weird that you can say all these things and believe them and feel them, but then the idea of just like stopping that immediately and becoming something else is really cool to me.
Once I went to the Picnic At Hanging Rock movie. Hanging Rock is a crazy location in Australia that seems to be a gateway to another world. I wore a mask that I had charged with energy through playing wind sounds in its direction. There were a series of actions that led me to that moment, I was trying on my own to recreate what a wizard had told me in a dream of mine. The wizard had show me how to animate a frozen statue. The mask I wore made me feel, at the moment I wore it, that I could feel to not be myself, and then I felt to be another being entirely – like even a being not of earth, as ridiculous as that sounds. But I saw the world from behind the slits of the mask and I saw the world new without me, and then realised that for certain the world was a giant organism growing. In experience points I leapt very far at that moment. And in many ways the trickster or harlequin is doing that for us all when they dress up and behave unhuman, or differently than who they are. It is their sacrifice of our rational world. It is the defiance of all reality. They are stopping time.
Cyclic Defrost: It’s a pretty challenging position though isn’t it? Erasing everything that you know and things that you hold as dear or true or important. It’s pretty challenging to reverse over them.
Spencer Clark: Yeah, well, the idea would be that you should never learn to hang on to too much of what you think you’ve created, even emotionally, because it’s just happening to you. It’s not you doing it. It’s happening to you. So if it’s happening to you, then that means you could stop it and it could then just start happening again in another way. It’s just like you’re a vessel, they made your human body so that you can do certain things. And I think that that one of the things that you could do is go backwards.
Cyclic Defrost: How would you describe what Monopoly Child Star Searcher is?
Monopoly Child was invented me in a feeling of insane ecstasy where I realised that I had this persona in me that was like a tropical beach cowboy. It was insanely cool, we were giving everyone on this tour nicknames, RAZZLE, DOGHOUSE, all sorts of nicknames that personified one another, and everyone turned at me and was like who are you? And I was like I’m Monopoly Child, it just came out. From there I began to seriously invent some shit of making my own star charts that I would then make this sound to, which was and is a blend of stellar music and earth music. Variations on Tropical alien forms.
Cyclic Defrost: So much music sounds pristine these days, but a lot of the charm of Monopoly Child Star Searchers is its lofi nature. Is this about access to technology, lack of interest or a conscious choice?
Spencer Clark: There’s no concept for me, I’m just moving slow in some areas. Like I arrived at an 8 track tape player pretty late in the game, and I’m still into it. I think I can still improve on the tape sound. The more hifi I get generally the more comments I get that the fidelity is terrible. So I can’t really enter into that world, because I want to always try to make advances in my imagination and so that leaves the technical side a bit lacking. It’s a by-product of my nature. When I am at the beach I don’t want a beach chair or an umbrella so much, I want to find the beach trash that nature has warped into its own vision. Like the fidelity of tape is a world unto itself, and I want it to warp me into its nature. When I was in school for photography, the digital revolution was just happening, and a process that I used to make my final project became obsolete, like not possible to do any further. At that point I realized that in many ways the advancement of capitalism would always have me chasing new processes in order to keep up. It’s been so cool to be able to stay in one medium for so long and to explore my brain while that shit is stable.
Cyclic Defrost: How conscious would you say your approach to music is generally?
Spencer Clark: Extremely conscious, like too conscious, that’s why you use the trickster to reverse your fortune. Consciousness is like all there is, but I’m very focused and aware of the inner image that I am trying to bring about, but not super focused on if I have enough power strips and guitar cables?
Cyclic Defrost: I got the sense that you seem to be balancing the consciousness and purposefulness with trying to open yourself up to the moment and the environment.
Spencer Clark: Yes for sure I agree with you. But in general this is what I do: I have been doing it this way since I made ‘Pinhead in Fantasia.’ I have a couple keyboards with presets and synthesis, and then I have a microphone. I sample the keyboards and the microphone (using my voice to mimic sound symbols) into the sampler. I’m trying to make sounds that like, represent my thoughts or symbols, especially symbols. For instance, making a symbol of a tree or you combine the feeling of a tree and wind, or the feeling of an alien’s voice and the wind. And so I make that.
I make a catalogue of samples. So I’ll make like 60 samples of this new thing that I’m trying to think of. For instance, in Avatar, I was trying to make this soundtrack to Avatar 2 the movie – before it came out. In order to create a world to conceive of something that doesn’t exist, I tried to pull together a lot of resources and then take two different images, two different things, like let’s say a fish and then a sense of a net, a fishnet in the water. And I try to combine the thought of a fish jumping and swimming through the water and a net and laying on the water or going through the wind at once. So I make samples of that and then I create about 60 of them and then I start to put them together, a grouping of symbols that create this whole feeling. And that feeling is like it’s an animal or it’s a being or something. That’s kind of that’s more or less always what I’m doing.
Cyclic Defrost: It’s interesting to hear how thought out and purposeful it is.
Spencer Clark: I don’t know how to play music. I’m not trained, but I’ve played a lot of music. It looks like I can play it but I don’t know that stuff. So this is my way of creating something. It’s like my way around something.
Cyclic Defrost: I’m interested in your use of repetition, which is pretty mesmerising, and feels almost ritualistic to me. Regardless its very satisfying, what role does it play for you?
Spencer Clark: Yes it is ritualistic, the repetition allows for me to stay in a state in order to bring about the true essence of my intuitions and the fully flower the image that is inside and wants to grow. Once it starts growing then I like to sever it and begin anew, its called reactionary meditations, a modern mediation that is embracing its polluted and unfocused nature. If it feels intuitive for me to alter the ritual because I lose focus I think that is also necessary to go along with. It could be seen as chaos and without mental stamina, but I truly believe that to embrace your polluted self can bring about other realms of experience.
Cyclic Defrost: Can you talk a little about the involvement of Cameron Stallones on the new album? What is it about him that made you want to bring him into the Monopoly world. I was listening to ‘Neopreno Antiguo’ and giggling happily at the epic wigged out synth solo, and then it dawned on me that it’s probably him and probably guitar. Did you give him any instructions/advice prior to hitting record?
Spencer Clark: Cameron and I have been friends for a while and I definitely am into the way he thinks about shit, and his music as well. I lived in LA for a while and we would go to this restaurant called BORNEO and grip Indo cuisine and talk about shit in a zoned way for hours. I sort of helped get him and his wife Erica over to Tenerife and then I was like in this banana plantation recording Barbados Wild Horses, aka Monopoly Hotel and he just sort of had to come through and jam on it. Basically the last Monopoly album was Bamboo For two, and James solos and plays on that one a lot, and yeah its cool to let others change the vibe when the vibe is so thick!
Cyclic Defrost: How do you know when the music you make is Monopoly Child Star Searchers? As opposed to any of your other projects? Is it something in the sound, structure or texture? Do you think about it as its own world?
Spencer Clark: Yeah Monopoly is a place to go, it’s like straight forward an area that I can grow into very quickly because my brain is bubbling tropical beach feelings all the time. Monopoly Child is like the beach cowboy mingling with romantic nature and using the stars to take the earth to new heights.
Cyclic Defrost: No one could accuse you of having a shortage of projects with interesting names for your musical endeavours. Is this a testament to your refusal to be pinned down to a particular style or project? Or do you just like building new musical worlds?
Spencer Clark: I think that its a testament and a faith to the images and ideas that exist in those ideas , their not mine, I am just practicing them, and I don’t feel the need to remind anyone or make sure people know that one person is doing all this music, after all its called Monopoly, The origins of the word explain the dual reality of the self and the plurality of life in the stars and on earth.
Barbados Wild Horses in out now via Pacific City Sound Visions/Discrepant. You can find it here.