Deep, dark woods, LEGO and ‘The War Of The Worlds’. Modular synth maestro Stephen James Buckley, aka Polypores, reveals just a few of the influences that make him tick
GREAT CORBY WOODS
“Great Corby is a little village in Cumbria, and I lived there until I was eight. Our house backed onto these old, dark woods with weird, spooky caves, and I was fascinated by them. That was where I developed my interest in fungus, which is where the name Polypores comes from. Fungus is like the underdog, isn’t it? I was always interested in the baddies, never the heroes. Fungus is the Gollum of the plant world.
“The woods allowed my imagination to grow, and a lot of my music is inspired by a kind of fantastical reading of nature. At that young age, the trees seemed huge and that’s what influenced my album ‘Flora’ – they were embedded in my consciousness. I used to dream about those woods all the time, they were both terrifying and beautiful.”
“As a child, I preferred playing with LEGO than spending time with my friends. I loved getting the kits, but I made my own creations. I inherited lots of bricks from a relative in Canada, so I had weird Canadian stuff that no one else had, I even had Moon Boards with craters. I spent all my time making things – space stations featured heavily…
“LEGO really created a spark in me – it’s pretty much what I do now with modular synthesisers. You can take them apart and put them back together in a different way. You can say, ‘I’m a bit bored with this, I’ll just rearrange it into something else’. Finding LEGO at such a young age gave me a love for that kind of creativity.”
Across the gulf of space…
“When I was seven or eight, I was obsessed with the album ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds’. I used to sit and stare at the record sleeve. It was the first longform piece I really loved, and the idea of music telling a story gave me a real passion for records with a narrative. My dad taped it for me, and on every car journey I insisted on it being played.
“There are some pretty weird sounds on there, like the sound of the Martian cylinder’s lid coming off. I think that was a jam jar inside a toilet, mic-ed up really close. It planted a serious seed in my mind. As a child who was an avid reader, with a vivid imagination and a tendency towards obsessive thinking, I fixated on it. The scariest bit for me was the very end, where you think it’s all over, but then the astronauts start seeing the green mist, and you hear that ‘Wee-oo, bee-oo…’!”
“I got into Marilyn Manson when ‘Antichrist Superstar’ came out in 1996. I was 15. His music introduced me to so many other things. He used lots of lyrical and visual references to different artists. ‘Antichrist Superstar’, ‘Mechanical Animals’ and ‘Holy Wood’ were three concept albums with all sorts of cool artwork, weird symbols and esoteric meanings.
“They made me want to listen to music other than rock. His records also featured electronics, and from there I discovered Nine Inch Nails – essentially, one person making music on his own, with synthesisers. It was the germ that made me want to do it. Marilyn Manson got me into Bowie, Portishead, Radiohead, DJ Shadow, Aphex Twin… all sorts of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise listened to. It was like having an older, Goth brother saying, ‘Check out this film, check out this book, check out this record’.”
A PERSONAL VOYAGE
“In 1980, Carl Sagan presented a TV show called ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage’, where he talked about the creation of the Earth, the planets and the wider universe. I found it for the first time a few years ago, but it really inspired me. I love how he encourages curiosity, and puts great value on the importance of exploration.
“I think I’ve read all his books now, but ‘Cosmos’ is almost like a bible for me. The way he lays down his beliefs about morality and the environment awakened a child-like wonder in me that had been dormant for a long time. When you become a teenager, and listen to Marilyn Manson, you lose it a bit! I think it has influenced me musically, too, and made me want to explore. Sagan helped me to take more pleasure from life and to see some of the beauty in the world. Early Polypores records were quite sinister, but they’ve got lighter, more blissful and joyous. This feels a lot like talking to a therapist. You realise that, don’t you?”
“This is a self-help book by Dan Harris who was a newsreader and had a panic attack live on air. I’m quite an anxious person, and it was suggested that I try meditation, which I dismissed as a load of bollocks. Then I came across this book, where he approaches it from a sceptical, scientific point of view.
“Reading it led me to give meditation a go, and I found it really improved my life. It changed my work as well. I started making music that was slower, where things happened over a longer period of time. Meditation gives you a way of analysing your own mind. It hasn’t taken my edge away, but it has helped me slow things down in my brain, which has made me more productive. I’m far from perfect, but I can feel that I have changed and I don’t think that would have happened if I hadn’t read this book.”
Polypores’ ‘Chaos Blooms’ is out on Polytechnic Youth