Sidney Allen Johnson - Babylon Mystery Orchestra

February 28, 2005

First of all, how did you get into music and what were some of your influences?

The single biggest influence on me musically is KISS. Although Babylon Mystery Orchestra is intentionally a way more serious type of music lyrically, I like pretty much all of the music that some people like to malign as "hair metal". I think it was the best and last great period in rock music where it could be said that people were really having fun with it. I have a huge collection of KISS toys. But I am very well schooled in all the areas of heavy metal and hard rock so the list of influences is massive. I don't like much of the current metal music that the so called '"underground" is trying to push on us. Their high speed, drum dominant music with uncommunicative vocals is ruining metal for me. I think Therion is the best band in the world today. That is metal as art in its highest form. A lot of the gothic metal bands are really good (Tiamat, Lacuna Coil, Moonspell, etc.) But my influences go way back to Blue Oyster Cult, Rainbow, Deep Purple, etc. Outside of the metal realms I really like bands like The Doors and The Moody Blues. So I come from a belief that the songs on a record should not all sound the same. To think in terms of the album as a whole and not just a collection of songs. That's not the currently popular way to view music but I don't care.

I listened to the CD several times and I'm amazed that one person could do all this and have it come out so well. What inspired you to do everything yourself?

Necessity. If I could get a band of musicians who would be willing to commit to big projects like these BMO records, I would probably be more than happy to use them. I have known lots of musicians in my life. I tell you there is no more short sighted a creature on this earth than a musician. Here in Alabama there is hardly a music scene at all. The bands are all cover bands that play the same songs. The same songs you will hear on any classic rock radio station if you stay home rather than go see them. But musicians want to be seen, so they join up with these cover bands and tell each other how great they are and wonder why no one is interested in them. I play all the instruments on these records but I do not consider myself a musician. I am more of a composer. I am far more interested in the overall big picture of these projects. A musician can allow himself to worry over one instrument and his own self-importance within the structure of a band. That creates that tension of fighting for his "space" within the music. I am not interested in creating that "space" for anyone. I only care about what is needed to convey the message powerfully. Musical virtuosity is no reason to make music. With the affordability of good quality recording gear there is no reason for a band to limit themselves to only playing covers but it's the shortcut to a stage and musicians love a shortcut. A band should have a vision and a purpose to be more than a human jukebox. Finding musicians with that vision, especially here, is critical and difficult. The world does not now or has it ever NEEDED a musician. So there must be something interesting, other than a musician's desire for attention, to make it worthwhile. I have always thought of music as a creative art more than a performing art. I prefer a good record to a good concert. That might be strange coming from a KISS fan, but I love their records. The visuals, even with them, were always second. As far as actually doing everything myself, I have found that to be so tremendously liberating. It allows me to write songs about touchy and deep subjects that other people wouldn't go near. A band would not want to cross religion and politics as much as I do. Unless they just generally, and ignorantly, trash both. It's not so hard to do everything myself since I know what I want this to sound like. It would be harder to convey those ideas to someone else. Even if I did have a producer and a big studio to work with, I would come in with the songs done up as much as I could myself to make sure everyone understands what I am wanting to project.

How is the CD doing so far?

So far it's doing quite well. It has attracted a lot more attention than the first one. But that can be somewhat attributed to the effect of building interest from one record to the next. It has received more positive reaction than negative by a long shot but when people dislike it, they dislike it a lot. There's really no apathy where it's concerned. Mostly people find it quite interesting but then so do I or I wouldn't have done it.

Your music comes across as very bold and your vocals come across as rather intense. What inspired the idea to do this project and what is your purpose in doing it?

The entire idea behind the approach to the vocals in a majority of the songs is to be as heavy handed in the delivery as possible. There is no room for questioning in most of the songs. A particular point of view is expressed with the complete commitment of someone who believes every word of it. That creates a sense of drama and power that might not sound like most of the rest of the music out there, but BMO is often called original sounding even by those who don't particularly like it. Overwhelmingly this is lyrically dominant music which in today's metal music scene is completely unheard of. Most metal and hard rock bands treat their music more like an athletic competition. Its all about speed and dexterity, which is really only appealing to other musicians who are trying to compete with them. BMO is all about ideas, and big ones. I want to do big records about big subjects. God, Satan, religion, and politics. That is life! That’s the world we live in. Other people talk about "getting real" with their music. Well, as far as I'm concerned that’s what is going on with BMO music. Just from a different point of view than you will get from anyone else. The idea for "On Earth As It Is In Heaven" goes back to a seminar I attended in the early 80's about the evils of rock music. This story about a form of music that resembles current popular music was first relayed to me then. I never heard it before or since. At the time I didn't believe it, but over the years, as music has evolved into an ever more divisive element in our culture, I have come to believe the story is true. It is locked away in the books of "Enoch" and "Secrets of Enoch" which are among the biblical text included in the dead sea scrolls. I have always thought it would be a great subject for a record. To musically tell the story of how music played a large role in the destruction of the entire world. The fact that so many people will find it so hard to believe is actually the best part of it to me. It’s so preposterous that you couldn't make it up and everything about the evolution of music in our lifetime is running parallel to its previous visitation. Just add to that the fact that Jesus said that "and as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the son of man," and you have the element of music as a sign of the Biblical apocalypse. That brings an entirely different way of looking at music and how it infests our culture.

What do you think about when you write lyrics for your songs?

The songs are built around the subjects and lyrics rather than the other way around, making them the driving force of the music. The subjects of the individual songs usually are divided up around the main points the record is trying to make. Most of this is actually based on just observing the world through my particular viewpoint. I concede that there is a grand conspiracy against mankind as proposed in the Bible and simply write about it. Where some people see things one way, I see another. I believe there is actual spiritual conflict going around us all the time. As to this record and its subject about the origins of music, it is interesting to note that music only twice has ever been so major a force in the culture of society. Now and in the days before Noah's flood. Most of the history of the world most people had very little contact with it and even then only a few localized songs. The rich could sponsor musicians but the average person would never hear that music. Music was the tool of sorcerers and...the military. Think about that awhile.

Does Christianity play a heavy part in your life and why do you feel that rock and roll has basically been around since "biblical times"?

Having grown up in a Baptist church I would have to say it is largely how I see the world. Though I have come to the conclusion no one denomination can possibly retain the integrity of the gospel or intentions of Christ. That is clearly spelled out in prophecy as well but you will have to forgive the churches for "overlooking" such self incriminating messages. The music described in these ancient texts is obviously not called rock music. However the similarities are all too obvious. The association with sex and intoxicants, tattoos and the ability of the music to inflame the passions of the listeners. Clothing being particularly flashy and colorful. The fact that violence against each other was multiplied so very much by music is another thing we clearly see all over the place today. From violent death metal to gangsta rap. Originally seen as something that brought people together, music later was not just an indicator of the divisiveness of the people but the very source of that divisiveness. That Satan gave the knowledge of military weaponry to the world’s first musician is another one of those things you should think long and hard about. Music taught him how to motivate people. War gave him the purpose to kill on a larger scale. And always marching off to war with a song. Things are no different today.

Do you personally feel that metal music somehow conveys a powerful dark message or do you think it can be uplifting as well?

Heavy metal is the best form of music for expressing the idea of power. Especially the exercise of power. No other music form can come close. However power almost never manifests itself in a positive manner when under dominion of man. Heavy metal has ALWAYS centered around this expression of power. Be it sexual, spiritual, or just plain animalistically violent. The "hair metal" eighties saw a very male dominant sexual expression of power over women expressed through the music. It was all built around the idea that no woman could resist these Adonis-like rock stars and the lyrics boldly implied that women should (and often did) throw their bodies at them with an expectation of the greatest sexual experiences of their lives. This is certainly an expression of a male fantasy of power over women. The other forms of metal usually employ more violence in their conveyance of the power ideal. Now how much of what these bands believe of what they sing about is of course another story. Everyone likes to hide behind that belief that this sort of thing vents their aggression safely through these "fantasy" lyrics. But "dominance and submission" are themes that are ever present in heavy metal. Dominance is idolized and submission vilified. One of my main gripes against "christian metal" and or "christian rock" is that they fail to take this relationship with power into consideration. Christianity is all about submitting to the will of Jesus. It’s not about the individual but the relationship to God. To stick those themes into a heavy metal format is as doomed to failure as water-skiing on cement. That is why the themes explored in Babylon Mystery Orchestra music are always not about true Christian themes of repentance and salvation but the expression of God's power over those who choose not to follow his will. That is a huge untapped well of themes that can only be delivered in a metal/hard rock format. When it comes time to talk about the alternative to self- determined destruction in the form of Jesus and his merciful salvation, the acoustic guitars come out. You know there actually is something out there called "christian death metal“? I don't want to criticize anyone else’s motives or their music but I don't see how you can have such a thing.

What was the inspiration behind "War Anthem"?

In the story of the world of the pre-flood peoples, this was their natural next step. As the angels they followed convinced the populations they were in fact gods. It was naturally presumed that they would gain separate groups of supporters and combat each other. We really shouldn't have any problem understanding that today. Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, etc., have more often than not failed to coexist peacefully. Religious beliefs have historically been the best motivators for war. I find it interesting that in the story, Satan personally saw to it that his chosen musician be instructed in military weapons. The other rebel angels were themselves arming their populations but Satan armed the musician. Strangely music and the military have always been linked. “War Anthem” is essentially about the first wars men ever fought but the lyrics are written in a way that sounds like it is straight out of modern times with its references to terrorism. War is seen as the ultimate "correction" to foolish people. I suppose it is. You can't be foolish if you are dead. Ancient warfare was a lot more vicious than it is today. Annihilating entire populations was the order of the day. You could not send soldiers off to war and then go about your daily business. If your soldiers did not prevail you would have no daily business.

What will be your next project and is all of your music Christian oriented?

The next CD is 8/12ths of the way completed. At least as far as the recording process goes. It will be called The Great Apostasy and I hope to have it finished sometime this year. I don't think I am moving as fast as I would like on it but I hope the extra time taken on the songs will prove worthwhile. Its subject matter is Biblical again. About the compromise and collapse of true Christianity and how it happened just as it was prophesized. It is flowing with controversial themes. Mostly controversial to "comfortable" Christians. Let’s just say I don't agree with the premise of the "Left Behind" series of books and movies and this CD will directly address the dangers of some of those doctrines as well as make some observations about a lot of other things going on lately that I think need to be seen in their proper perspective. To be sure, it's my own point of view. When in doubt, blow the dust off your Bible and see if you agree. You shouldn't put yourself in the hands of churches and their "comfort" doctrines, read it for yourself. You can understand it just as well as a preacher. Churches inevitably have their own agenda and, unfortunately, a large portion of it is manmade...or worse. Having said all that, I don't feel that BMO is necessarily going to only Biblical or Christian themed songs. That is generally the lens I view the world through but I might do something with another theme. Or even some cover songs. I am going to record some soon for my own amusement and they may one day be let out. I am making a list of songs I think I could add a new approach to the presentation rather than just rehashing some of my favorite songs. Although obviously I will like the songs I choose. I am possibly thinking of doing a non-conceptual release after The Great Apostasy is finished. I haven't made up my mind. I already know what the next conceptual story will be. I just might want to do a collection of unrelated songs as a change of pace before I get into the next one. I still have to finish this one though.

Have you thought about putting a full band together to play shows?

I have but that’s not really important to me. I have always wanted to make records and that is what I am doing. Performing this material could be a lot of fun with the right visual presentation, but I am afraid the themes of the music would not go over well in bars and clubs. You generally don't start out playing other places so that could be an issue. But I would perform it in bars and clubs or churches as well. The way I see it, if BMO gets to the point where it is attracting enough attention to merit performing, there will be an apparatus of support that will make assembling a band relatively easy. Until then I will concentrate on new material. There are plenty enough bands out there begging for scraps of attention. Perhaps in the Internet age, bands ought to rethink things. Instead of going out and developing your band in front of a crowd, develop it through recordings and perform when there is a demand. But then again musicians need attention so I don't see that happening too much.

Any other thoughts or comments?

I appreciate the opportunity you have given me to do this interview. I hope everyone who has read it found it at least a little bit interesting. I intend for Babylon Mystery Orchestra to always be oriented to material with a serious lyrical angle. I have a tendency to view things from a "conspiracy theory" point of view. I believe there is a lot more to the world than meets the eye. I hope to shine a light on it with these records.

Babylon Mystery Orchestra