CLICK HERE to listen to a special edition of Aural Innovations Space Rock Radio that showcases Cilvilian Zen and the many bands that Keith Hill has been in. Scroll down to show #335.
Originally organized by Keith Hill and Mark Andrew Broster in support of the UK based Shelter charity, Civilian Zen started life as a multi-musician project that included such luminaries as Nik Turner, Bridget Wishart, Ron Tree, Judge Trev, Jerry Richards, Alf Hardy, Neil Whitehead, Phil Howard, Steve Swindells, and others. I reviewed Songs For Shelter and Return To Shelter in AI #35 and AI #37.
After the Shelter albums Civilian Zen morphed into a proper band, though not all the albums have been released yet. Astral Sea Shanties was recorded in 2008 by Hill and Broster with assitance from Chris Swift on saxophones and Neil Whitehead on electronics. This is one of the yet-to-be-released sets and I hope that’s remedied soon because the whole album is a smoker. We’ve got Hawkwind influenced Space Rock, Space Ritual style spoken word, Krel gone Metal Space Rock, surreal Space-Dub, funky cosmic Jazz, dreamy soundscapes, electro melodic dance groove alien songs, high energy space raves with swirling Ozric-like synths, and lots of fun effects.
Various Hang Up’s & Issues followed in 2009. Ralph Woerdenweber was brought in on drums, and along with Hill and Broster this remains the core Civilian Zen trio to this day. Also yet-to-be-released, this album is very different from all prior and subsequent Civilian Zen music. Clova Perez-Corral is the singer, and the combination of her vocals and the album’s musical style makes this largely a hard rock influenced set, albeit a damn good one. But there are cosmic moments to be found, like the spacey Dub infused Reconnected, with Perez-Corral giving the music a saucy soulful vibe, and the dreamy but thunderous Diamonds.
And then things went quiet for a while. Hill and Broster recorded the unreleased Temporal Solutions Inc. album in 2011, which they consider part of the Civilian Zen discography despite the “band” name being Continuum. A concept album that Hill describes as “kind of the missing link between Various Hang Up’s & Issues and just before New Worlds“, this is another one that deserves to see the light of day. The album has a strong Gong influence, plus Hawkwind, Ozrics, spaced out Jazz, cosmic tribalism, ambience/soundscapes, and freaky samples and effects.
As of 2012 Civilian Zen have been back in action and from this point on all their releases are available on their Bandcamp site: http://civilianzen-music.bandcamp.com. The New Worlds album and subsequent Other Worlds EP are dance floor sets of Space Rock and alien electronica. The Inner/Outerworlds-The Remixes EP consists of spacey, dreamy Dub/electronica. The free download Live Voids EP features the band in full blown Hawkwind inspired Space Rock mode, showcasing a portion of their set at the 2013 Hastrek Festival. And now we have the new album, set for release on September 1, 2014…
Civilian Zen – “Tell Lie Vision” (CZ / Intact Recordings 2014, Download)
Civilian Zen – “Tell Dub Visions” (CZ / Intact Recordings 2014, Bonus download album with first 50 purchases of Tell Lie Vision)
Having been immersed in the entire Civilian Zen catalog these past weeks I’ll tell you up front that this is the best they’ve done yet. The dreamy opening recalls Porcupine Tree’s Sky Moves Sideways, drifting lazily yet meditatively through space, and soon bringing in a variety of voice samples. Songs like Sea Change and Neon Sun feature the brand of accessible song oriented Space-Prog that characterizes much of the album. Sea Change has a metallic edge and is embellished with spacey effects, and while Neon Sun is similar it blazes along at a dance floor churning rhythmic pace. We Follow None is a smoker, injecting a heavy rocking Hawkwind edge and some killer wailing razor sharp gliss-like guitar licks. In fact, the guitar and effects kill throughout, other highlights being Decelaration and Host. Host is one of the longer tracks, consisting of intense Space Rock and tripped out instrumental segments and more really cool rocking heavily efx’d guitar. I like the punky spaced out Hawkwind punch of Golden Future and Too Much Information. Harvest Glitch recalls moments from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I dig the space-orchestral Mellotron-like strings and classic organ on Distance. And Deep Space Blues is precisely what the title says.
This is a concept album and Civilian Zen tell their story and tie the tunes together with lots of between song transitional bits that are impressively crafted blends of soundscapes, effects, voice samples and narration. But wait… there’s MORE! The first 50 Tell Lie Vision purchases receive a bonus album, Tell Dub Visions, and a nifty companion it is, giving selections from the album the Dub remix treatment to ultra cosmic grooving effect.
Wanting to know more about Civilian Zen and Keith Hill’s other projects, I conducted the following interview by email…
Aural Innovations (AI): Tell me about the origins about Civilian Zen. The first two albums were benefits for the Shelter Charity. I got the impression they were compilations that various musicians contributed to rather than a “band”.
Keith Hill (KH): Mark and myself wanted to do something for the Shelter Charity, as it’s a great charity and needs all the help and donations it can get. We had some basic songs down and thought it’d be a great idea to get some artists from the space-rock/psychedelic musical field that have inspired both Mark and I, like Nik Turner, Bridget Wishart, Jerry Richards, Ron Tree and the late great Judge Trev Thoms, who I have to mention was quite influential and motivated in getting some of the aformentioned to get in touch and to work on tracks (thank you Trev). So we had a lot of material recorded to have both the Songs For Shelter and Return To Shelter albums released in 2006 & 2007. I think both albums are more of a collective yes, with Civilian Zen finding it’s own identity shortly after that with the Astral Sea Shanties album with Mark and myself as the core of the band.
AI: Civilian Zen has mostly been Space Rock and a spacey brand of dance/beat driven music. But Various Hang Up’s & Issues went in a very different direction. There were some funky electro spacey songs, but it seemed to be largely a set of accessible Hard Rock tunes, and Clova Perez-Corral’s vocals certainly gave the band a different sound.
KH: We’ve always been a progressive band in the sense that we’re open to incorporate new and eclectic styles into the band’s dna along the way, as we kind of had an electronica influence too later on with the 2012 trilogy albums (New Worlds, Otherworlds and Inner/Outerworlds).
But the Various Hang Up’s & Issues album in 2009 was written as a bunch of songs to just to get out and play live really, as we’d been pretty lazy regarding doing Civilian Zen gigs. Clova joined, along with our drummer Ralph Woerdenweber, and she did give us that push of taking Civilian Zen live. Personally I like the album and it was nice to step back from the vocals and just do the guitars for it. Clova has a great, distinctive voice, which I think really suited the characters of those songs. Lyrically it’s Clova’s album with a more harder edged attitude lyrically, and with a punk-metal driven style, but there are some spacey, majestic moments on there too I think. But the album has the character of the band and is part of Civilian Zen’s musical evolution through to today too in a way. For instance, one of the songs from the new album,Sea Change, is similar in the feel of the track Diamonds from the Various Hang Up’s & Issues album, but just a lot spacier, which is what we returned to I guess, the core character of the bands sound.
AI: After Various Hang Up’s & Issues there was a 2009-2012 gap between albums. What was going on in this period?
KH: after the album’s initial underground success (of 18,000+ plays and hits) we did some live shows, which were really good actually, and then we all had other things going on musicially. Clova left the band as she was busy working hard on her solo album which I guested on and we played some live shows too. Ralph was busy playing live shows and sessions with some rock-blues bands. I was busy with my main band Signified and Flesh Resonance stuff, and Mark with working on his poetry, although Mark and were still working musically on bit’s and pieces here and there. One of those was a concept idea of Mark’s about a character called Justin Case, a time agent from a ficitional 23rd century time intervention company who is hired to rewrite history while rewriting his own at the same time by default. It was interesting working up the songs and that became the Continuum Temporal Soloutions Inc album.
AI: Probably tied in with the last question, but I understand you recorded the yet-to-be-released Continuum album during this time, which is a really cool album. Tell me about that album and why call it something other than Civilian Zen?
KH: Thank you and glad you like it. By the time we completed it, Mark, Ralph and I were back working on new Civilian Zen stuff, so it kind of got put back on the digital shelf (laughs). It’s under a different name because it was just Mark and I and Civilian Zen is Mark, Ralph and I. Mark called it Continuum. I guess it’s kind of the missing link in the Civilian Zen disography if you like; a different side of the coin of the band in a way. It’s a very concept driven, quite progressive jazz album with some tribal percussive world music in some places.
AI: The Live Voids EP consisted of Civilian Zen’s set at the 2013 Hastrek Festival. This was full blown Space Rock. Was that just a reflection of Civilian Zen live, or a deliberate move from the more beat driven style?
KH: we’ve gradually since the electronica trilogy of albums in 2012 got back to the basics of the space-rock, progressive style of the band, as with writing the new songs in rehearsals it just flowed out that way I guess. But there is also definitely a new, fresh, individual sound to what we do now as Civilian Zen.
AI: Is what’s available on Bandcamp the entire set? If not, do you plan on releasing it in full? It’s good stuff.
KH: It’s just three tracks from the Hastrek Festival set as we only managed to get that part of it as audio. There are bit’s and pieces of Civilian Zen from that festival up on YouYube however. We’d like to see more of that show ourselves actually (laughs). It was a great set though; a kind of rebirth for Civilian Zen as a band really.
AI: Had Civilian Zen been playing live all along or was this a first?
KH: We’ve not done too many live shows so far really, but we’re looking to change that these days. But as with the first three albums we kind of kept it a studio based thing. Plus with me being on guitars and vocals for Civilian Zen instead of my main instrument, the drums. We didnt have a band to do it until we met Ralph and Clova, which is when we started to do live shows in 2009. We’re looking to play as many as we can nowadays and we’ve got some supports coming up later this year with The Hawklords and some more in the works.
AI: You mentioned playing live with Alan Davey and Pre-Med. How did that come about?
KH: Alan mailed me on the myspace site back then asking would I be interested in trying out for a band of his mates, which turned out to be Danny Faulkner and Pre-med. I was only really a kind of stand in for live shows and we did two Sonic Rock Solstice Festivals together. I grew up listening to Alan Davey’s bass playing and music so it was supercool to do it, the same as when I played with Nik Turner. I just thought ‘hey wow!’ (laughs), but I first met Alan around 1996 when he’d just left Hawkwind (the first time) and he was playing with Bedouin at a show in Chester, England. It was a great set, although I ended up getting a little too out of it afterwards, falling over into tables and stuff with the obligatory psychedelic yodel. Years later when we were in rehearsals for Pre-med he mentioned it! (laughs). But I think Alan Davey is an amazing bass player and songwriter and I’m pleased that we got to blast out some space rock ‘n roll together.
AI: The first four (pre-2012) albums aren’t available on your Bandcamp page. Any plans to reissue them?
KH: the Shelter albums were a limited run for the charity only really. The Astral Sea Shanties album will be remastered for reissue release at some point as we’d like it to be a better mixed and edited down representation of that album. Possibly the Various Hang Up’s & Issues album too. We just need to schedule some free time to get all that stuff happening at some point but from Astral Sea Shanties onwards the Civilian Zen disography will be completed.
AI: Tell Lie Vision is the new Civilian Zen album. You said it’s a concept album. Can you talk about the story it’s telling?
KH: it’s a concept myself and Mark sketched out. It’s subjective I guess, as it’s just looking at the way of how vacuous, empty, new low programmes seem to distract some people’s attention away from the real things that need addressing, like the environment and the state of the planet, the economic problems. We’re just kind of channelling all this into one piece of work and I think we got there with this album. It’s as much satirical as it is environmental an album and I guess you could almost see the songs as different programmes being watched by the person changing the channels throughout the album. The channel switching edits between most of album tracks keeps this cohesive thread of said subjects running throughout the album.
AI: I know it’s going to be a digital release, but you mentioned that you would like to do a double vinyl edition. Any chance of that happening? I think this would make a killer vinyl release.
KH: It sure would. We actually paced the album like it was a double vinyl album. We used that as a template for the running order of the album I guess, like if it was on vinyl. Side three would start with Harvest Glitch, that kind of thing, but who knows? We’re planning hard copy digipack CD’s of the album at some point. It’s all down to sales to finance that kind of thing, as we’re putting the album out through our own digital label called Intact Recordings.
AI: I think the first time I heard your name outside of Civilian Zen was with Neil Whitehead’s Vert:x. How involved were you with that? Did you ever perform live with Vert:x?
KH: Yes I did lots of live shows with Vert:x. I was involved with Vert:x for around four years and around three releases think, plus the stuff on the Fruits De Mer Records albums on the psychedelic coloured marble vinyl releases they put out which was cool. I had a blast playing with Vert:x, though I decided to leave after a not very good (i.e. awful) show that I didnt want to play in the first place at all. My thinking was that the Onboard The Craft Festival in late 2012, where we had Nik Turner guesting with us onstage, would be a good one to see out the year with, but Neil had this gig already happening and set to go I guess. It was an awful sound and not the right type of venue as it was a pub; no lights and all that. Although some of our good friends from the festivals came to see us which was nice. But after fighting our way through a shrill of a sound through a cut short set there were a few arguments after it (laughs), so that was that really… I thought I brought a lot to the band with my guitar soundscapes and style, but i think Vert:X is Neil’s band and vision really and I respect what he does with that focus. It’s kind of always been a loose band of players I guess with Fred Laird on guitar before me too, but with Vince now on guitar, who is a great player, and their new EP sounds really good so I wish them all the best and long may they continue. Civilian Zen had Rich Om (Vertx) on FX with us at the Hastrek Festival last year so that was really cool and we’re hopeing Rich can do more with us in the future.
AI: You’ve released a few solo albums under the Oceanfire moniker. These albums covered a great deal of stylistic ground, some of it dramatically different from one release to the next. Is Oceanfire intended as an outlet for various creative needs?
KH: Going back to Vert:x (laughs)… it was basically all my demos I had written for Vertx, some of which we played live but never recorded (apart from 44khz‘ on the Live Transmissions EP), so, I just wanted to put them out really with a collection of other stuff I had recorded along those lines. Some Oceanfire stuff is collaboration, with Rob Pullan guesting on the KHZ4 (glissorchestrations) album which was cool and gave some of the tracks a different perspective. Most of the Oceanfire music is free too on the bandcamp page and the Elevations track was on the Strange Fish Vol.5 CD on Fruits De Mer Records this year. I’m not sure if there will be any more Oceanfire releases in the future, but if there is enough bits of music left around which would be suitable for the Oceanfire project as an EP or album then maybe.
AI: I was reading one of Jeff Fitzgerald’s Oceanfire reviews and he mentioned another band of yours, Signified, which he described as Metal. Tell me about that.
KH: Signified is my main band where I play drums. I would say we have a metal edge but incorporate electronica and different styles. We’ve released two EP’s and currently working on new material. We’ve toured the UK extensiveley, and Europe, with recently a tour and recording on the East Coast USA a year back, but lot’s of new stuff happening.
AI: Anything else you’ve been involved in that we should know about or future plans you care to share?
KH: Lots! (laughs) I recently completed a track for the forthcoming Spirits Burning & Cyrille Verdeaux / Clearlight album which I think will be released early 2015. I’m looking forward to that, having guested on the Spirits Burning Bloodlines album in 2009. Theres also been a new Flesh Resonance album, Carrion Worlds’ Vol.1, just released with Tony Longworth and myself working on the following Volumes 2 & 3.
Some more that come to mind recently are Gene Serene. She’s an influential electronica artist who I’ve been working on and co-producing. Some tracks with that so far sound fantastic. And some musical ideas with Ian O’Brien, a singer-songwriter who amongst other bands was in The Action Transfers (80’s indie alternative rock legends). And we’re planning on working on some songs together at some point soon for an EP or even an album. There’s always something in the works pretty much (laughs), which always keeps things fresh, forward looking and interesting to me.
Thanks for the interview Jerry.
Keith Hill Disography
* KH: drums, electronics, vocals, some guitars on later works
Evil Cares For It’s Own (EP 1991)
Permanence In Dark Earth (vinyl single 1993)
The Obscue Depths Of Light (EP 1994)
The Obscure Depths Of Remixes (EP 1994)
Delirium (single 1996)
Deliriumixes (EP 1996)
Morbid Symphony vs Skinflick (EP 1997)
Seasons Past (album 1998)
Unto The Labyrinth (bonus album 2015 with the forthcoming ‘Delirium’ documentry)
Morbid Symphony The Collecction 1 (album 2001)
Morbid Symphony The Collection 2 (album 2002)
SCF (Spiders Can Fly)
* KH: drums, guitars, programming, sampler
The First Five SCF EP’s
(1991-1993) Collection (album upload collection 1994. As yet not reissued)
Cor Blimey (EP 1995)
Live Blimey (album 1995)
SCF Give It To You Good And Propa! (EP 1998)
Final Spiders (EP 2002)
The Worst Of Spiders Can Fly (selected tracks) Vol.1 (album upload on YouTube 2014)
The Worst Of Spiders Can Fly (selected tracks)
Vol.2 (album upload on YouTube 2014)
The Tree Trunks
* KH: drums
Fancy A Hoot Neef? (EP 1992) (lost tapes)
We Arrrr All Eee Unnks (EP 1993) (lost tapes)
* KH: guitars, vocals, programming, keyboards, drums, percussion, soundscapes, fx
The Dark Between The Stars (2002)
The Feast Of Shadows (album 2004)
The Aeon EP (free download EP 2005)
Alchemy The Remixes Vol.1 (2005)
Scriptures Of The Black Sea’s (2010)
Carrion Worlds Vol.1 (album 2014)
Carrion Worlds Vol.2 (album 2015 forthcoming release)
Carrion Worlds Vol.3 (album 2015 forthcoming release)
* KH: drums
Generation 2k (EP 2000)
* KH: drums, electronics
Spiral Wound (the live Studio Sessions) (EP 2001)
Guilty Opinion (promo EP 2001)
Adjust…Then Control (album 2002 unreleased)
* KH: drums, percussion, electronics, occasional backing vocals
The Invasion Of Piracy (EP 2006)
TwentyTwelve (EP 2012)
Detour (single 2014. forthcoming release)
* KH: guitars, vocals, programming, fx, soundscapes
Ggantija (EP 2009)
Transmissions UT (EP 2011)
Roqueting Throgh Space (Fruits De Mer Records 2011)
Head Music (Fruits De Mer Records 2012)
Unwashed Territoritys Compilation (2010)
Live At The Fellfoot Wood Equinox Paradox Festival 2011 (live bootleg on dimeadozen website 2011 )
* KH: guitars, programming, synths, fx, keyboards, drums
A Set Of Songs (part 1) (EP 2012)
A Set Of Songs (part 2) (EP 2013)
Exit/Rejuvenations (album 2013)
Khz4 (glissorchestrations) (album 2013)
Telex (EP 2013)
Strange Fish Vol.5 (Fruits De Mer Records 2013)
* KH: guitars, vocals, programming, fx, synths, keyboards
Songs For Shelter (album 2006)
Return To Shelter (album 2007)
Astral Sea Shanties (album 2008)
Various Hang Up’s & Issues (album 2009)
Temporal Solutions Inc. (as Continuum) (album 2011) (unreleased)
New Worlds (album 2012)
Other Worlds EP (EP 2013)
Inner/Outerworlds-The Remixes (EP 2013)
Live Voids EP (free download EP 2014)
Outerspheres/Austerity Axe (free download single 2014)
Tell Lie Vision (album 2014)
Tell Dub Visions (limited album bonus 2014) (a limited bonus album of the Tell Lie Vision album remixed by Citizen Zen in dub. Limited to the first 50 downloads of the album.)
Other Collaborations/Guesting on:
* KH: guitars, programming, fx
Bloodlines (by Bridget Wishart & Spirits Burning) (album 2009)
ClearLight & Spirits Burning (forthcoming album 2015)
* KH: programming, fx, synths, guitars
Synergy (album 2012)
Forward Through Reason (promo upload single 2012)
Egopolis (forthcoming album 2015)
Forthcoming collaborations with: Gene Serene,Ian O’Brien & more in 2014 & into 2015.
Karl Bartos (Kraftwek/Solo) -15 minutes of fame – KH mix) (an upload remix on the official audio visual gallery on Karl Bartos website gallery 2009)
Jesus Jones -culture vulture – (KH remix) (an upload remix on the official Jesus Jones website 2004)
Skinflick – The Reckoning (KH remix) (halo of flies album 2005)
Roman Jugg – she is (upload YouTube remix 2012)
Civilian Zen Bandcamp site: http://civilianzen-music.bandcamp.com
Civilian Zen on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Civilianzen
Signified East Cost U.S. representation: http://www.transitmusicgroup.com
Flesh Resonance: http://www.fleshresonance.com
Reviews and interview conducted by Jerry Kranitz