Thomas Clark of Divingstation95 classifies his music as “doom pop,” a label that is extremely fitting for his hauntingly melodic and equally disorienting catalogue of hard-hitting pop songs. The Memphis-based indie artist already had several other full-length projects under his belt, including the albums Lonely Souls, The Gospel of Prosperity, and Fear is My Constant Companion. His music often tackles the disquieting malaise of internal battles against the self, with lyrics juxtaposed against walls of sinister, abrasive textures and washed-out vocal effects.
What makes the music of Divingstation95 so important is the way that it tackles trauma and tragedy – especially when it pertains to true crime – with the layers of sensitivity and self-awareness that are so necessary to tackling these often bleak topics; a sympathetic tone that is severely lacking in media representations of mental health and tragedy.
Divingstation95’s newly-released album, Black Lodge, is a collection of singles in his repertoire from 2015-2019 that have been re-worked. It is very clear that a lot of work and care has gone into the making of album, which has just as many haunting, ambient earworms as it does ear-splitting bangers.
We chatted about the incentive behind reworking some of his older material, alleviating the pressure to constantly churn out new projects, and of course, David Lynch.
Since this is a compilation album of songs you’ve made over the past few years, were the songs reworked or re-purposed in any way?
I slightly altered the mix to sound more professional, and removed a few sections of tracks that I wasn’t satisfied with or couldn’t legally use (“Hell” originally ended with a sample of “The Ballad of Grim and Lily” by Bree Sharp, and “Normalpornfornormalpeople” included a snippet of “Annie Dog” by the Smashing Pumpkins). Mostly, though, these songs are untouched. I wrote many of them during a period of experimentation, as I was trying to figure out what direction to go in – there are musical decisions I made then that I probably wouldn’t make now, but that’s why they capture a certain place and time for me, and I think it would remove some of the soul if I polished them up too much.
I understand that you have gone through several different cycles of recording different sequences of material for an album that you were not entirely satisfied with. Walk me through a bit of what it has been like, if you’re comfortable.
It’s immensely frustrating but totally necessary. I don’t have a particularly big audience, so the most important person to try to please when I release music is myself. There’s not some insane hype machine banging on my door demanding that my next album drop immediately, so if I rushed it and threw together a bunch of tracks that didn’t go together, it wouldn’t benefit anybody. I wouldn’t be happy with it, and what audience I do have would probably be able to tell that I had put out a slapdash work. If I don’t think it’s a masterpiece, I have no reason to release it.
Also, I hadn’t thought about it until you asked the question, but most of Black Lodge comes from a time in my life very similar to this one: I find myself with a ton of ideas and half-finished tracks but no clear path to putting them together, and I’m facing the possibility that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. My solution at the time was to temporarily ditch everything I had made and focus on a completely new collection of songs, but I don’t think I’m going to do that this time. This current batch of unreleased songs could be something truly special and better than anything I’ve put out before. I just need to figure out how to pull it all off.
Are there any artists you are listening to now that you wouldn’t have thought you’d be into before?
There are a few artists who I kind of wrote off as uninteresting who I’ve since become a huge fan of – Too Bright by Perfume Genius came out a few months before I started work on Black Lodge, for instance, and I dismissed it as an album of half-finished songs that resembled watered-down Xiu Xiu more than anything else. It wasn’t until five years later that I listened to the rest of his work, which put Too Bright in a very different context just in time for “Describe” to drop and blow me away. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is probably in my top 10 albums of all time, if I had to make a list.
I really loved “A Hole In the World,” because it was totally unexpected from what I’m used to hearing from you. What made you decide to have that track open the album?
Thank you! “A Hole in the World” was basically the first Divingstation95 song. I had recorded plenty of music before under a different name, but nothing I had ever actually sung on – it was all made up of spliced and edited vocal samples, in the style of Burial. It took years to figure out how to write songs with my own vocals, and this was the result. The first few lines are actually based on a song I wrote when I was 12, originally dealing with the severe depression I was feeling even then (I’ve been a miserable bastard since day one!). I reworked it my freshman year of college and it was going to be the second-to-last track on the original Black Lodge album, but when I was unable to find the files for the intended opener while re-assembling it this year, I decided to move “A Hole in the World” to the beginning. It felt fitting to start the album off with my first song.
When you’re writing and recording now, have any new influences crept their way into the process for you, or have they been more or less the same?
As I’ve gotten older I’ve developed more of an appreciation for music off the beaten path – I’ve always liked weird art but my interest in artists like Swans, whose music requires a lot of patience because the songs are very long and very unconventional, is a relatively recent development.
At the same time I’ve also become more passionate about and appreciative of relatively straightforward indie rock. There are two things I try to remember and live by as a musician: Jamie Stewart’s quote about how you should always take it too far, and that at the end of the day, no amount of experimentation will amount to anything worth listening to if there’s not a great fucking song at the core. Bands like Okkervil River, the New Pornographers, and Shearwater are proof of the latter. I could put together a 20 minute collage of guitar feedback, and it might sound kind of cool, but would it make me feel the way “Down Down the Deep River” by Okkervil River does? I could easily make something more experimental than “Pale Kings” by Shearwater, but would it be as good? Almost certainly not, because those are two of the best songs of all time! My music is often abrasive and abstract, and it’s only gone further in that direction over the years, so remembering this has become very important. I never want to be noisy or disturbing for its own sake. There must be a reason and it must serve the song. Approaching it any other way can only harm the music.
This also ties into the fact that I’ve developed a clearer understanding of what I do not want my work to be. In that sense, I have taken influence from repellent films like Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built (probably my least favorite movie of all time) – it’s a piece of art that deals with many of the same things my hero David Lynch writes about, but in a manner I find to be morally bankrupt. It pretends to be an artsy meditation on the nature of evil or some bullshit, but the truth is that it’s an exercise in sadism, a movie made by a shock-value hack who obviously gets off on the thought of women being tortured and killed. It’s phony. If I had written the Junko Furuta song on the last album from a perspective of “dude, this is so sick and twisted, you’re never gonna believe this happened bro, haha” I would deserve to be shot.
I understand you’re a massive Twin Peaks fan and from what I’ve seen, the show has definitely influenced certain elements of your music. What does the work of David Lynch mean to you?
To me, Lynch’s work is about the things we aren’t supposed to talk about, and those are of course the most interesting things to discuss.
I had a ridiculously sheltered childhood – I was homeschooled, kept away from anything with even minor violence in it, and my mom disapproved of nearly everything that was popular among other kids my age – until she suddenly became very sick and fell into a coma when I was 9 or 10, and I was forced into the ‘real world.’ So it was this sudden, violent loss of innocence rather than the gradual process that most kids go through. When I discovered Lynch (much, much later) it felt like he was a kindred spirit, somebody who was also obsessed with shattered innocence and the hidden ugliness of the world. Like Thom Yorke, his work made me think “oh, somebody else understands.”
When we last spoke we discussed the artists that you think very highly of (Xiu Xiu, Radiohead, Perfume Genius, etc.) When it comes to DIY music-making, were there any other artists that you feel had really opened the door for you and showed you that you could do it as well?
Burial, as I mentioned above, was a huge inspiration when I was first starting out and making strictly electronic music. He makes music with virtually no resources other than his laptop, and I took huge influence from his method of creating new and often haunting melodic lines out of re-arranged samples from other artists. Until “A Hole in the World,” that’s how I did all of it. His influence eased me into more traditional forms of songwriting and I don’t know where I’d be without him.