Name: Murray Lachlan Young
Occupation: Poet, stand-up performer, broadcaster, playwright, screenwriter, author
Current release: The Virus Diaries, a collaboration between Murray Lachlan Young and Orbital's Paul Hartnoll is available now via Hartnoll & Young.
Recommendations: A poem: You hated Spain By Ted Hughes; A song: Tomorrow Never knows by Jr Parker.
Both old but hey.
If you enjoyed this interview with Murray Lachlan Young, visit his official website for everything you wanted to know about him and his work.
When did you start writing- and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about literature and writing that drew you to it?
How early? I guess bedtime stories, 33rpm version of Peter and the Wolf, (Prokofief) ,The hobbit, a bunch of records that for some reason my parents allowed me to ruin, including The Beatles white Album, Jonny Cash, Bob Dylan etc – all story tellers in their own right.
Being dyslexic, books were not really for me. I was a very, very late reader and writer so I was drawn to the spoken word. A huge moment was discovering Grandmaster flash and the furious five - The Message was a mind-blowing listen. I then found the blues and some jazz. I’d always been in stage plays as a kid and young adult so that was another non reading route to literature.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I guess I was in theatre and bands and drama education from a very early age. Kind of a bit like a kid that wants to be a footballer and really only ever does that. I had a few other jobs but I’ve never really done anything else – I guess this means I had a good idea of who I was from a a fairly young age.
But this got blown away when I was about 27 and I had to start again from scratch. Well, that’s what it felt like.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Identity is an interesting word because what is identity? A collection of thoughts that we think is us? A body that is made up of 90% other organisms? It’s an interesting area to go into (or not).
I guess trying to flow from the source of creativity and catch that wave and groove with it is where I try to get to - because anything that comes from the mind identity is usually substandard compared to the universal flow. I think most creative people are in touch with it and always feel best when it’s in play.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
At the beginning I wanted to be somebody and now I don’t. Other than that, it was confidence to begin with. I thought there was a way I was supposed to do things. It was such a relief to realise that there is no real way. Then dyslexia and not being able to read or write properly until I was in my mid 20s.
Observation and research are often quoted as important elements of the writing process. Can you tell us a bit about your perspective on them?
I love both. Conscious observation is a great practice. Really looking at and describing things is so simple and so effective. Hemingway is a great inspiration for this. Research makes everything easier, as long as it is seen for what it is – mainly just ideas.
Writing song lyrics seems to be very different from writing poems or novels. For The Virus Diaries, how did that work?
To write song lyrics it is easier and more difficult at the same time.
I’ve been involved with a musical libretto for many years and been working with a co-writer, Grant Black. His father is Don Black ("Diamonds are forever" etc), so I’ve been very well placed to learn some of the mysteries of the trade.
My son is also a recording artist and I’d been trying to explain how song structure worked, to him. So The Virus Diaries seemed to be an ideal place to try out my debut, solo lyric writing. Paul made some structural changes as and where he saw fit but that was fine by me.
When did the lyrics for the songs on The Virus Diaries enter the picture? Where did they come from? Do lyrics the need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Paul and I worked seperately. I wrote the lyric to a BPM and then recorded it to a click track. I then sent it to Paul. He then sent it back the next day, with the music. To which my only request was the same as all vocalists: Could you turn up the vocal?‘
What makes song lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Well, it seems that less is always more, inference and suggestion with a bit of mystery always goes down well. A very strong lyrical lead (hook) line is very important in pop. I guess the middle eight is where the meaning is gleaned and to do this consistently well is one of the hardest things.
I have no ambition but feel very grateful to have had a chance to have done it with someone as brilliant as Paul.
How do you see the relationship between conscious planning and tapping into the subconscious, between improvisation and composition? When dealing with the end of a story, for example, do you tend to minutely map it out or follow the logic of the narrative as it unfolds itself?
Map it out, then set off on the journey and be prepared to follow the flow. Put it in front of people and if they don’t get it – they don’t get it - something is wrong. Go to bed and ask guidance and usually one wakes up with the answer. Sometimes a ten-minute nap will do it.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do writing and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I have no routine, I seem to do almost no work but somehow I seem to produce loads of stuff. At the moment I have two films, a play, a new collection of poetry and a jazz spoken word album all happening at the same time, plus my weekly poem for BBC6 music. It really does feel like a mystery.
I guess the best way to do it would be to get up meditate, do yoga, write for three hours, breakfast, walk, a light bit of editing, a sleep then – whatever. But I’ve never really done that. I do meditate and try and walk as much as possible but there is never a routine.
Can you talk about a breakthrough publication in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I guess my last collection was "How Freakin’ Zeitgeist are you". It was crowd funded and it went to number one and sold out in an hour on evil Amazon. It was all my stuff in one book and it felt like I’d done it myself and I was so grateful that people wanted to read it.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think, fundamentally understanding that it does not matter, none of it is to be taken seriously and none of it is mine and nobody ever owns anything and it’s all just energy - as is everything else. Pair that with gratitude, a sense of fun and adventure then just take the hand break off and let go of the wheel. It drives itself, if you let it.
Words can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for literature and poetry as a tool for healing?
I have been hurt very badly in the past. I have experienced a lot of viciousness and jealousy. However, I have come to the realisation that everyone should be allowed to say whatever they like and I must allow that and not resist it in any way because it is ultimately meaningless. Resistance only creates blockage and blockage is no good for creativity.
Words can do tremendous work, healing, in so many ways. Unblocking mental contructs and fixed points of view, that people find themselves defending for no reason other than the thought that they think they should. Add music or melody or tone to wisdom and good intentions and mountains can be moved.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Personally speaking I think people should copy stuff if they like and they mainly will do anyway. They say there are only really seven stories and just about everything comes from that, so thematically and premise wise there is not much new.
I have been copied quite a lot. I have had ideas stolen on more than one occasion. My feeling is – I have more and will always have more and if you need it – you can have it. I think the more walls and rules we build around anything the smaller we will all become. Having said that I think the advertising industry does not apply to anything I previously said.
Literature works with sense impressions in a different way than the other arts. How do you use them in your writing? From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Senses are interesting because they run off the physical, but you then get into intuition and that’s where it starts to get really interesting because primary senses are making sense of the ‘near field of understanding’ and contribute to creating the sense of a shared experience.
However, intuition and knowing can do wild and crazy stuff that can send creativity into the realms of magic and deep connection with universal consciousness. So creativity through senses shows us a map that we all can, kind of, follow to have a shared experience.
But as they say, ‘The map is not the territory’ And intuition, I think, starts to show us something of the territory.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Trying to bring joy, trying to bring people together, in feeling things, offering hope, focussing on harmony (even if it’s by showing its opposite), showing the folly of fixed points of view and taking things too seriously, the benefits of letting go, kindness, fun, love, being, adventure. Simple things done well and complicated things made simple. Anything to improve mental health, self-empowerment and spread the love. We are all the same thing and maybe we should celebrate that?
What can literature or poetry express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
BIG question for the last one. I thought I was out of the woods. I think poetry will never capture life and death like ice dance can.