John-Paul Pryor meets us in Soho’s Society Club to talk capitalism, art direction, social-media addiction and scare-mongering in the mainstream media. He’s someone that’s hyper-aware – full of opinions and facts, he speaks about the stark reality of how much society has been moulded over the past ten years, arguing that the youth of today struggle with radically different issues than the generations that have gone before them, with validation taking place solely through Instagram likes, resulting in disconnection and loneliness creeping into the masses.
John-Paul is insanely talented. His creative outlets seem to know no bounds and he smoothly shifts from authoring novels [his debut novel Spectacles drew comparisons to Jean Genet and Kafka] to making magazines and writing music. His fierce belief that nothing should be over-produced has meant his band The Sirens of Titan are a truly stripped-down affair, and their debut album Apocalypse Sessions has the ‘live in session’ feel of classic albums, such as Beggar’s Banquet, while also feeling vital and modern, with shades of post-punk.
Everything John-Paul does appears to be driven by his desire to impact culture. Depression, anxiety and everything else that comes with today’s hyper aware society are topics he focuses on in all of his creative outlets . Simplistically, John-Paul gathers together groups of people, collectives as he calls them, and uses them to comment on things he believes in – no over-produced sounds or over-edited pieces of social commentary, but real and stark reflections of what the world is telling him. He is captured here by photographer Cecilie Harris, Instant Analogue by Impossible encapsulating his retro-fetishist aesthetic.
Would you like to do a quick introduction?
I’m John-Paul Pryor – author and singer-songwriter.
How would you describe what you do?
I’ve done a lot of different things but I’ve always been a musician. The Sirens of Titan are a natural coming together of things that I’ve been into for a long time. My novel is a certain kind of cathartic expression, but this project is collaborative and about working with both Sami Salo and Jez Leather to try and create something that is very organic and, hopefully, uplifting. We went back to a very old-school recording process, recording together live in session, with different musicians coming in to complement what we were creating – it was important to the three of us to vibe and not record to a click. We wanted to make a document of what we were doing that was very pure. It harks back to the recording techniques that went into making a Beach Boys production. There’s a value in just creating art that you believe in and putting it out there, and not feeling that it has to exist in the parameters that are set up within the paradigm of capitalism. Most public identities are very constructed– there’s a lot of fakery and projection out there – but we just wanted to create something honest.
You call it more of a project than a band don’t you?
Yeah. It’s a visual project because each song on that album is having a film made by a different contemporary artist, photographer or filmmaker, featuring one designer and one siren. Two of those films are in production right now – one by Katja Mayer, featuring Ava Roeg in the designs of Melissa Tofton, and one by Tom De Freston, featuring Katie Ball in Conchita Perez; the next one is going to be by Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, but Martin Sexton, David Shama and Brando De Sica are all lined up. It’s exciting.
Is one of your key drivers collaboration?
I’m always keen to create things from nothing. The way we’re approaching things with The Sirens of Titan has a long-view that is literally just about the quality of the work itself and our desire to express ourselves. It has nothing to do with solipsistic punk posturing or pop music or wanting adoration or recognition. It’s about us and it’s about our friends and it’s about bringing people together. There’s a lot of women in the wider collective, such as the blues singer Phoebe White and saxophonist Emma Cooper, and that female energy being present in the sound is really important to us. It’s very male and female. I’m a bit of a connector, a bit of a lightning rod for different energies to come together, which can be both positive and negative, but in this sense it’s certainly positive.
What advice would you have for our younger readers?Man, I don’t know! I guess just do what you love or what you want to do. You don’t really start to realize until you get a bit older and your friends start dying that life can be very short. You should use your time to try and enrich your experience of life and avoid getting too involved in the idea of constructing your identity from outside sources, because although that’s a process, and we all take on different references such as being a Goth or a punk or a torture garden person, or whatever at different times, it’s very important not to get too divorced from the core of who you are because eventually it’s the core that you’ll come back to. I guess the best thing you can do is try and be centered enough and in tune enough with yourself that you can cope with the total fucking chaos of the 21st Century.
What kind of messages lie within the actual songs? What do you write about?
It’s just painting the colour of the sky in my world and seeing if anyone else recognizes it and says, ‘I kind of get that!’ It’s not radically experimental. We’re working in a tradition of the music that we love. I think we’re definitely looking forward to experimenting much more with the mass vocal aspect to the music. There’s one track that has a lot of different harmonies on it. It’s all recorded live and it takes fucking ages to make sure it sounds okay because you don’t want to auto-tune. We live in a very fast-paced click culture where it’s all about ‘the track’, and we’re saying fuck that – we want to make an album as an album, you know.
What is key about the creative process?
Well, I think you need to learn not to let anxiety control you. We live in a very extreme age and anxiety-feeding stimuli from every possible direction – we’re seeing a pandemic of mental health issues. So, I think the thing to try and do is don’t think for a minute about who you’re creating for, or what the opportunities are, you know? Maybe don’t ponder over it too much, because it’s never going to be perfect but if you are open there may be something else you learn from it. It’s also true that if you become too inward looking and self-critical – and basically about ‘the self’ – you won’t get anything done. The best thing to do is not give a fuck what anybody else says and to just create.
You also said earlier that anxiety is more prevalent now days, but considering we’re so lucky, why do you think younger people are suffering with it so much?
Well, the kingdom of fear is so pervasive in the media. I think there’s a lot of things that are set up in our culture to make us complicit in politically sanctioned murder and perform a series of Pushwagner-esque tasks designed to feed the consumer-capitalist machine rather than being genuinely alive. That creates a paradigm of feeling empty and shallow. I think that is especially true in London. London is now a property investment bank, properties are being bought for investment and no one’s living in them. It’s truly difficult for your average person to do anything other than survive. Although, of course, in many ways the standard of living is very high, the standard of the inner-life of people in our society is arguably not very rich. We are living in the capitalist meltdown suggested in All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, and that can be very lonely and isolating, and you can feel very much on your own. It also fuels narcissism, and contemporary anxiety is exemplified by kids’ art directing their realities on Instagram and Facebook– people need digital validation, and if they don’t get the validation they feel worthless somehow, and that’s kind of tragic.
Previously you said your ultimate goal was peace of mind. Talk to me a little bit about that…
On a personal level, yes. My mind is a bit like a bunch of firecrackers all going off at once, and too much thought zigzagging around can disable you, and cause a meltdown. It’s something I definitely try to achieve, but it is a daily thing of checking your ego, acting with compassion and trying to do the right thing by others.
Check out all things The Sirens of Titan. Including their new music video The Devils.
Interview by Cecilie Harris
Words by India Opie Meres.