Artists On Albums: AOA#31 (Fuzzy Lights’ Xavier Watkins on Tago Mago)

Fuzzy Lights’ Xavier Watkins on…

Can’s Tago Mago (United Artists Records, 1971)

Can - tago Mago

Can – Tago Mago

I’ll always remember the first time I heard Tago Mago.  I was 15, sat in my then girlfriend’s flat, trawling through her brother’s LPs. He had a few other Can LPs, Soon Over Babaluma being one, but somehow the slightly Aztec-looking mushroom cloud face on the cover of Tago Mago grabbed my attention.

As the rumbling drum rolls of the second half of “Paperhouse” blasted through the only speaker of the dusty record player, I felt as if something completely different had opened in me, a completely new realm of possibilities. Had I ever heard something like that before? No, or at least not exactly in the way the recently purchased and then favourite Washing Machine by Sonic Youth was hinting at in some places.  Hypnotised by the tape-delayed rhythm of “Mushroom,” I lie flat on my back, absorbing every sound like a microphone.  Eyes shut, I imagine myself a silent listener amidst the musicians, transcending in a crazed jamboree.  By the time Michael Karoli’s guitar provides a nimble counterpoint to Damo Suzuki’s obscure vocals and the refreshing synth-generated thunderstorm and rain of “Oh Yeah,” I begin to appreciate the importance of what I am listening to, both musically and culturally – Can, and their approach to making music, had such a major influence on music which happened after them.

At this time, the band were at a turning point, having lost their vocalist Malcolm Mooney and recruiting Damo Suzuki after seeing him busking in Munich.  Maybe it’s the day-to-day opportunities and jams resulting from their yearlong residency in Schloss Nörvenich castle, where their owner, an art collector, let them live free of charge for a year, but this is the album where all their influences crystallise together (a parallel can maybe be drawn with Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief).  Stockhausen’s imprint on Czukay, Liebezeit’s free jazz past, a young Michael Karoli and classically-trained Irmin Schmidt, along with newly-recruited Damo Suzuki here define what will become a new zeitgeist.

Not many albums have had such an impact on my life, but this one is one I find myself going back to again and again when in need for inspiration, if only to be transported again to that time on the cold tiled floor, in a sense of child-like wonder and excitement when realising there is still so much music to make and discover.

Notes On The Artist:

Xavier Watkins

Xavier Watkins

Since 2004, Xavier Watkins has been the guitarist and co-vocalist in Cambridge’s Fuzzy Lights.  Signed to the artist-driven Little Red Rabbit Records and drawing in everything from post-folk to post-rock, the band’s richly evolving repertoire has steadily unfurled across 2008’s largely instrumental A Distant Voice LP, 2010’s experimental Helm EP and eclectic Twin Feathers album, and the newly-released Rule Of Twelfths long-player, to increasing acclaim.

Outside of Fuzzy Lights duties, Xavier has also recently formed the blissful psyche-pop quartet Violet Woods.  The group’s sublimely addictive and limited debut 7” single – “Raw Love” b/w “Cyanide Suns” – appeared and disappeared late last year via The Great Pop Supplement (though it is still available to download with another digital-only single on Bandcamp).  With new songs in the pipeline there are plans to record a full-length Violet Woods studio set this spring, followed by some select tour dates.