Photo: Angel Marcloid (Fire-Toolz)
Angel Marcloid is a sort of John Zorn for the internet age: pathologically interested in everything that seems extreme and suspisciously good at mastering it herself as well as uncompromisingly radical in blending a wide array of styles while staying weirdly approachable. Having released seemingly hundreds of records under a few dozens of pseudonyms, the Chicago-based artist has in the past years received a lot of attention for her albums under the Fire-Toolz moniker. The recently released Eternal Home LP for the Hausu Mountain label is her most … most one. Over roughly 80 minutes, Marcloid offers a stylistic kaleidoscope that’s hard to describe without resorting to hyperbole and/or listing an obscene amount of genres most people have not heard of or usually do not wish to be reminded of, but therein exactly lies the charme: There’s just nothing in this world that sounds quite like this record, and it sounds fantastic, too. The same can be said, of course, of Marcloid’s mix for our Groove podcast, comprising songs she likes as well as some wilfully “jarring” transitions.
First off, how have you been doing these past year and a half?
The best way I can summarise it is that I’m on a miraculous path of coming to fully know and fully love who I am, and beginning to flow in harmony with life in ways I didn’t think possible. With that comes the uprooting of a lot of grief and trauma, but also the uncovering of gold mines and the clearing of rivers of catalysts for personal and interpersonal development and evolution.
You have been releasing music under numerous aliases since the end of the noughties, however put most of them to rest around 2015, when you adapted the Fire-Toolz moniker. Since then, you have started new projects like Angelwings Marmalade or Nonlocal Forecast while increasingly focusing on other newer projects like MindSpring Memories. What led to you starting Fire-Toolz and abandoning some of your older projects?
The way a lot of these individual projects work is that as they tend to consume other projects and spit out others. When Fire-Toolz came along, it became a catch-all for a lot of different creative tendencies of mine, so it began to render related projects as having lost steam. Almost all of the other pre-Fire-Toolz projects just sort of faded away around that time. What was really happening is that those projects’ modalities were combined and used in Fire-Toolz’ music. But then after a little while I would occasionally feel a pull to produce music that was more specific in sound than what the diverse Fire-Toolz palette offers, so I would create separate monikers again. MindSpring Memories is one of the most active ones, but compared to Fire-Toolz, it’s still pretty inactive. It used to be more active, but the more attraction I feel to the Fire-Toolz process and means of expressing myself, the less interest I have in these side projects. I am surprised that I have not felt a strong desire to produce another Nonlocal Forecast album since Holographic Universe(s?)!, but I think it’s because lately, when I want to make some kind of new-agey, proggy, or fusion-inspired music, I just want it to be within the Fire-Toolz matrix. Angelwings Marmalade is an occasional thing that I do where I focus more closely on the textural, abstract, noisy and sound-collagey. But no-one really pays attention to that stuff and it doesn’t have any traction and I don’t have a tonne of emotional connection to it at the moment, so I’m mostly just working as Fire-Toolz now. I’ve got five to ten new songs in the works that could easily pass as an Angelwings Marmalade track. The only way they’ll get released under a different moniker is if there’s a record contract somewhere pinning me to the wall.
You have previously said that most of the other projects, like Nonlocal Forecast – which is dedicated to prog, jazz fusion and new age aesthetics and compositional techniques – have certain underlying rules, while Fire-Toolz does not and is something that you approach more intuitively. However, you have mostly released albums under that moniker. How do you balance a potentially boundarlyless approach of writing music with trying to form a coherent whole out of the individual pieces?
I don’t. I just simply work without intentional boundaries and whatever that produces, it produces. Certainly I must personally feel like I’ve created a coherent whole piece for me to be satisfied with the production, but that coherence and wholeness is subjective. I think most people in the world would hear a lot of the songs and scoff at how seemingly “random” it sounds. Now I am not whatsoever shitting on any kind of pop music, or anything with more standard structure, melodic stability, consistent theme and mood, etc. I listen to and am inspired by tonnes and tonnes of music like that. However, I think more conventional music is fairly unnatural and inorganic in the sense that most of these artists are working within boundaries and limits they – or the industry, the record companies, or whatever – have established. I will admit that those kinds of things breed creativity. But at the same time, this absolute freedom I feel to make any kind of sound I want and have it fit in perfectly – which, again, is subjective – is the most natural and organic way I could possibly make art. My music making is simply Allowing. That is the process. My only objective is honesty and authenticity. I don’t work outside those confines. But, if I treat it as a Great Allowing, honesty and authenticity are found to be inherent in that.
Your new album Eternal Home is likely the most ambitious and definitely the longest one of the project and focuses on spiritual and philosophical questions, but does not refer to or takes its cues from a specific religion or belief system. What informed the album’s topic? You’ve previously said that usually, your albums pick up on the themes of the one you had been working on before.
Firstly, I will preface my response by saying that I am not a fan of the term “belief system.” If you’ve got yourself a solid “belief system,” then you are closed off to being wrong, closed off from growth-catalysing insights, closed off from facing any new potentially transformative truth that may arise out of the up close and personal experience of living your life. If you consider some doctrine to be impervious to what your own heart may be saying, you are not spiritual. You are trapped. If you believe in some idea of God, but believe that God is out there in books and church rather than a synonym for your own unobstructed intuition and divine presence, I don’t think you can say you have a spiritual inclination. To me that’s just dogma. And I try to reflect this idea in my work, in the way that I appropriate and approach spirituality in the art realm. My understanding is that religion and spirituality are not supposed to be about beliefs. They are about experience and inner or inter-transformation. That is what gets so lost in our modern age. The term religion, even in myself, naturally triggers thoughts of coarse and nuance-less rules and required beliefs about particular historic events and the meanings of things. But you’ll be surprised to see that many of the great saints and sages of various traditions throughout history don’t seem to care what did or did not physically occur. It is the honest inner-knowing, inner-sensing, inner-transforming that is confirmed by the philosophies, theologies, stories, and myths that have been written down. It is a visceral, symbolic, metaphoric, experiential confirmation. Back to Eternal Home … you are right in that the album isn’t based on any particular spiritual tradition or philosophy, but that doesn’t mean it does not draw from many in particular. Christian mysticism (particularly Franciscanism and A Course In Miracles), sufism, daoism, hermeticism, stoicism, the Law Of One, vedanta (early hindu), and various forms of buddhism. With them all together, one can start to discern traces of the perennial tradition, which are the threads that tie them all together. Eternal Home doesn’t quite have a specific, single topic. I’m always floating all over the place. My last album, Rainbow Bridge, seems at first to be primarily about the passing of one of my cats as well as the possible mystical or metaphysical implications of such an event. However, that subject is really only roughly half of the album, while the rest of the subject matter fans out in the directions of consciousness studies in classical and quantum physics, PTSD, psychology, somatic experiencing, some politics and social issues, and even some references of and dedications to others who have also passed away. The title Eternal Home refers to a state of being, or just the nature of Being itself. You can think of it as the Kingdom Of Heaven if you’re translating Jesus’ words mystically, the way many orthodox, contemplative, or non-dual Christians might. Or, I guess you could think of it as nirvana, according to some Buddhist traditions. Similarly, in vedanta, you could recognise it as sachidananda (existence/consciousness/bliss or contentment), but that is more so the nature of Home. More directly, you could simply call it the divinity within. Eckhart Tolle, a world-renowned non-religious spiritual author and teacher, simply calls it The Now. But this Now is not just 1.56 p.m., the time I write this. It is not just the plane flying overhead, my computer monitor shining, and my heart beating. It is a Now in which we have recognised the peace and joy that is the centre of being, underneath all content, phenomenon, experience, past and future. The absolute core. The Eternal Home is Heaven, and Heaven is now, here. It is not a place you go or are rewarded after you die (though I do think our souls continue to incarnate until it’s time to move on). So, although much of the album actually deals with grief, suffering, death, fear, inner torment, the dark night of the soul, and even contemplation of voluntary passing … you could say that my pontificating on those things are representative of my path to recognizing that I’m Home, and always will be.
“I think almost everything in life is beyond words, I think that all words are limiting,” you’ve said last year in an interview with Leah B. Levinson for the Tone Glow newsletter. How then do your lyrics tie in with your music, though?
Reality is like a 8K video. The individual experience is like 4K. Words are 360p. Words pixelate, they put nuanced things in little solid-colour boxes, they collapse wave-forms of potentiality into particles. That is why poetry and metaphor dominates ancient scriptures. It’s why so many deeply spiritual people are so poetic in their writing. It’s why even the most non-spiritually inclined creatures, who know how to live in the moment, are able to describe their experiences and thoughts with such prose. They’re all lies, and they all know it. So they make art out of dancing around the truth. I believe the Buddha said that the moon, and the finger pointing to the moon, are not the same thing. Our words, lyrics, poetry, are all just fingers pointing to something that cannot be explained in any accurate sense. Especially when everything is filtered through individual and collective experience. And informed by culture. And physics! My lyrics, like any words, will never satisfy me, because they are always so imperfect and far off from the indescribable truth of even the simplest thing. Even the most precise and stable of equations in quantum mechanics will never ever be able to faithfully portray reality. At least not in this lifetime.
For the record, you have collaborated with other musicians, but also asked friends to record their dogs barking. What significance do these specific sounds have in the context of the album?
I was working on the end of one of the last songs on the record, and there were distant dog barks coming from multiple directions in my neighbourhood. It zapped me right back to my early childhood when I used to hear dogs barking in the distance at my old home, in the quiet evenings, while laying alone in my bed or playing in the backyard. Those sounds were woven deep into my psyche. Distant, muffled, echoing dog barks coming from locations I cannot see, while in relative solitude, make me feel some way I cannot explain. So when I heard these incidental sounds while working on the song, I noticed they felt and sounded so perfect for the vibe I was going for. So I asked people on Twitter to send me some recordings of their dogs. With some processing and manipulation, I was able to bury them in the droning ambient parts of the song in the way that I heard them before. When I listen to that part of that song, “To Make Whole, Be Whole,” I am instantly teleported to my old bedroom, engulfed in mystery and eagerness to continue exploring the world.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
I kinda just … picked songs I liked. I tried to make the transitions a little jarring. Very strong contrasts between styles. Kind of like Fire-Toolz.
Last but not least: What are your plans for the future?
At this point in my life, I just have to listen. I am not sure where I am going. But there is a breeze, and I do have a sail. These days I’m just enjoying taking long walks, sitting in my back yard, having really uncomfortable meditations, panicking because I need to eat something and I don’t know how to cook, gazing into my cats’ eyes, vaping cannabis oil. I also do a lot of mixing and mastering for clients, and obviously I make lots of music. I’m fine with all that for now.
Stream: Fire-Toolz – Groove Podcast 314
01. Fire-Toolz – Awakening™ Fantasy II
02. Eko – Compass Rose
03. Garry Hughes – Dead Sea
04. Winger – Rainbow In The Rose
05. Born Of Osiris – The New Reign
06. Bob James – Obsession
07. The Elusive – Park Seat Swing
08. Louise Cyphre – For Those About To Destroy Pig
09. HEALTH – Before Tigers
10. Orbital – Planet Of The Shapes
11. This Will Destroy You – Black Dunes
12. Abyssal – A Casual Landscape
13. Sixun – Kirk
14. Happy The Man – Ibby It Is
15. The Van Pelt – The Good, The Bad, & The Blind
16. Peter Manau – Warm Sound In A Gray Field
17. Rubber O Cement & Truck Van Rental – Bacterial Toxin Belongs To Someone Special
18. Spencer Brewer & Paul McCandless – Wishes Come True
19. Shadowfax – Changing Of The Guard
20. Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano – Odd Man Out
21. Fire-Toolz – Odd Cat Sanctuary
22. Nonlocal Forecast – Interactions Between Brains & The Foam Of Potentiality
23. MindSpring Memories – Blankets Of Thoughts
24. Necrophagist – Diminished To Be
25. Reversal Of Man – Get The Kid With The Sideburns
26. Head Hits Concrete – Apparatus
27. Pulse Emitter – Jupiter
28. t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 – 永遠 b l u e