Interview with Zack Kouns

Interview conducted by Christopher S. Feltner

I recommend Zack Kouns to 99.99% of everyone I talk about music with. The problem is when people inevitably ask, "What does he sound like?" I am at a loss of words. I do my best, and stumble through explaining the blend of styles of music, and variance in performance. Then, I end up trying to explain the naked, free, tortured spirit of the main. Maybe this will help.

Here is what transpired through internet for 2+ hrs one evening.

Read to do this?

Yep, ready and willing. Kentucky Gentleman in hand. Sometimes my computer's screwy because I live in the wilds, and have to use satellite internet. So, forgive me if my responses are occasionally delayed.

Actually, that's a good place to start. Someone said that they thought you lived all alone in a trailer on the Ohio/WV state line. Is this true?

Essentially, although, technically, it would be the KY/OH state line. WV is rather close as well. I was born in Huntington (WV).

I like the idea of someone with such a unique mind coming from an isolated area, unsuspected. Of all of the places I have played, the Huntington crew were Top 5 for most hospitable. I can't imagine you came out of the womb with this wild mind! What were you like growing up?

Yeah, I believe there's something about being isolated and ostracized that makes you truly understand what it is to be a community. When we're alone, we understand our almost horrifying communion. I was a reckless, otherworldly child with boundless chaotic energy who eventually learned to destroy our dying civilization in himself and transform into a reckless, otherworldly adult with boundless chaotic energy.

Your music covers a lot of different ground. I hear elements of folk, country, blues, jazz, and other things I can't quite put my finger on. Did you grow up around much music?

No, not at all...or kind of. My family all listened to 90s country when I was growing up; I live in Appalachia after all. Around 16, I had two profound, existence shattering visions of the savage nature of God and redemption, and began writing and recording music obsessively every day since. I didn't have any real musical ability before then and have since learned to play over 30 instruments.

Will you explain these visions?

I can't explain them entirely without betraying something intrinsically hermetic and beyond language, but I can at least describe their genesis. I'd run away from home and had stolen away to this place called "Lake Kimberly" (which I'm unable to find on a map any longer and often wonder if it wasn't an arcane sphere beyond this world) to try and transcend my self, the false dream called consciousness, and all of my boundaries and borders.

I laid down in a field of prairie grass overlooking the lake for an immeasurable amount of time until I started having visions of a recondite world beyond this one that was eclipsed by the blessed light of a shuddering whole humanhood complete with agony, atrocity, sorrow, grief, outrage, disgust, longing and hunger. I learned that to deny these things is to sleep in the darkness of dogman, dead rituals and false suns.

Sounds like a heavy amount of catharsis for a 16 year old. Your releases vary a lot in sound and approach. Do you create as a selfish pursuit, or to fulfill a certain need; or is there a greater purpose (outwardly)?

I create because of a powerful compulsion to do so, or an inability to do otherwise. The origins of my output come from dreams or visions or an intense, incurable exploratory malady; all of my output is a tributary from those early revelations; fortunately (or unfortunately) these revelations were so macrocosmic and archetypal as to allow infinite variations.

So, there definitely is a source; a genesis, if you will; of your creativity. David Lynch often uses Transcendental Mediation to feed his creativity. Other artists have used everything from meditation to hard drugs to fuel their process. Do you now, or have you ever, used a particular method to inform your process, or is it all strictly a result of these early visions?

The early visions are the source, but I constantly use new methods based on the type of material I'm working on. I'll give an example or two, if you'll allow. A new project I've been working on is a film/soundtrack project called "The Guest with a Pomegranate in one hand and a Fiddle in the other" about an ancient cult whose members were written in the book of life, at the beginning of time but were always resistant because the path to salvation and deep auroral wholeness leads through abuse, pain, pitch black misery and loss.

To prepare for the recording process, I drank copious amounts of Nyquil so that I could forget that I'm a human being, and went out to abandoned places to perform the ritual/music. One evening, I went out to Lake Vesuvius to record a harmonium part for the soundtrack in a cave. I walked two miles in the dark carrying this 40 lb. harmonium and the other ingredients for the ritual to where this cave was hidden in the woods.

When I finally arrived, I surprised a group of high school students who had chosen this remote spot to drink. I started setting up the ritual: four red candles to enclose, a pomegranate and a fiddle on the northeast and southwest perimeters, streaked/terrifying semi-clown white makeup that I dash on my face, and a red suit. At the beginning, I cut the back of my neck to allow Divinity to enter my body, and I did so in front of these terrified children; blood running down my neck.

They were entirely/comically silent during this 35 minute set up time, and when I was finally ready to record the harmonium part, I offered them a choice: "You can either leave or site here quietly while I record this." One of the braver boys stammered out, "We'll just stay here; we can be quiet." I recorded the music while they looked on with complete silence, packed up my equipment, and disappeared into the wilderness; bleeding and disoriented.

So, is this the ritual that had a short video clip posted, recently? The ritual you performed on this last tour?

Yes and no. My view of the ritual for the tour radically changed from the cinematic idea I had to one of cosmology and the creation of the material world. As I developed and practiced the material, I started to realize that it had a radically different meaning for me, and my true intentions were to emulate the sexual creation of the universe and matter. This is the nature of true art, in my experience, and the only way in which I've found that I can understand God.

We are frequently unable to understand mercy or love or tenderness or justice in any way aside from the temporal (in other words: false). I believe we can only comprehend God through an understanding of the creative process. When I imagine a Creator in the wilds of eternity bringing about the unspoken, wild and dark things inside Himself in the form of universes, solar systems, planets, vast continents, seething oceans and the broken human animal, I believe I begin to understand God's ecstasy and love.

We approach his throne cosmologically; bleeding and bruised after years of wandering in the wilderness. So, I developed a set based around creation of a world that involved bloodletting, violence, and arcane sexuality because I believe so-called "aberrations" are the beginnings of authenticity, and the world without end. Eventually, I developed a side act dedicated to these conceptions called, "Swallowing Poison and Ocean Water and Rising in the Dark Night."

Ok, so you performed these rituals and recorded them for this film. Is the film made up of video footage of you performing/recording during these rituals in different locations, or is there a more conceptual basis beyond it, for the visual aspect?

Here's where it gets rather confusing (even to me, as if it wasn't confusing enough already). The film is something entirely different than the rituals I've developed although they began as the same project. The film is "a film" in the classic sense in that there is plot, dialogue, scenes, actors, etc. The ritual is savage musical performance, and has split entirely from the film.

Ok, so what is the plot of the film? AND, if no one gets to see the rituals being performed, visually, for the score/soundtrack, then why go through such extreme ritualism for the audio recording aspect? And, lastly, where did the idea/blueprint for the rituals come from?

The plot for the film is as I mentioned earlier: An ancient cult is headed by a nightmare god called "The Guest" who inhabits members who have been ordained since the beginning of the world, and instructs them that the dark and lost things within them are actually their salvation and mankind's salvation. The members are always resistant and are only won after passing through the initiation of three "wisemen"; a crazed, murdered priest, a succubus and a child.

Regarding the extreme methods of recording: I don’t think that the material could be captured in another manner; to record it in a stultifying place like a studio betrays it’s recklessness and so makes it a lifeless thing as well. It’s my belief that the ethereal and violent nature of music recorded with care and difficulty reverberates in a remote and unconscious area within us and so the mania and delirium of the piece of music is successfully transmitted. The destruction of our civilization, our conditioning, our race memories and ultimately ourselves and the loveless, ghastly, small, beastly way in which we live in this world (which I believe is necessary if the lost creature called man is going to continue on this fallen earth) calls for unhuman acts and the annihilation of reality.

When can we expect this film and soundtrack to be available?

I expect to have it done before 2014 rolls around. I'm nearly finished with the screenplay, and the soundtrack is finished. Going down to work on it with my friend in Chatanooga this Summer.

So, where does Mr. Midnight come in to play? Who is Mr. Midnight, and why is he here?

Mr. Midnight is another character entirely. Between 2-3 years ago, I became aware of an intense urge to die. I started gambling a lot, taking wild risks with my life; Mr. Midnight became my way of understanding why I wanted to die.

Why did you want to die? And, due to your current usage of the word "wanted" vs "want," I ask, why do you no longer wish to die?

Well, eventually through writing material for this alter ego, I started to understand that my longing for death stemmed from my profound desire to transcend all my boundaries, my fears, my failures, my doubt, my limited consciousness and to venture out into an everlasting light that shocks and awakens. I found that it wasn’t a nihilistic or negative death wish; it was more of a longing to live in a more liberated, whole and otherwordly manner. In that way, I suspect I still attempt to perpetuate my death; I learned that the nature of death is a kind of dying to yourself daily; dying to your race memories and little pain and sorrow so that a new being wakes up to a profoundly ecstatic and entirely different world every morning.

I remember reading that, statistically, men tend to use more violent methods of suicide (i.e. gunshot), while women tend to go with less violent means (i.e. overdose). The reason I mention this is that I wonder is you really wanted to die, or if you felt a need to punish yourself for some reason.

I'd say neither. Again, death means something entirely different for me. More ghastly than the so-called "end of man" is the frequently meaningless ways human beings live, and my desire to escape that by whatever seemingly inuman methods are available to me.

Ahhh, understood! Have you released anything as Mr. Midnight?

No, we're working on an album now. And, I write reviews of 90s country classics/attempts to understand horrors of childhood under his name in my monthly magazine "...And some of his sons were horses." I'm working on a book under this pseudonym as we speak.

You are also doing a release for us at SEVEN1878. What can we expect?

Well, it's quite in line with Mr. Midnight actually; the album is called "Thanatos" and is a transgressive, unstable rockabilly/50s ballad record about the urge to die. I've reworked some of the material into Mr. Midnight tracks, but this album will be more painfully a part of myself because I recorded all of the instrumentation myself, whereas I have a full band for Mr. Midnight.