Winding through stone corridors down a dungeon-like turret, I placidly follow post-punk musician/academic Drew Mulholland outside into the shocking damp air under the Hogwarts-like maze of a university courtyard. We had just left his spanking-new corner desk at the University of Glasgow's School of Geographical & Earth Sciences, where he has just been appointed as Composer-in-Residence and Research Fellow.
Not a bad gig for the avant-garde godfather of hauntology and psychogeography who credits The Clash, Patti Smith, Beatles and Sex Pistols as major influences in his music.
Mulholland has just released The Norwood Variations, his first album in 11 years after his last release with the Mount Vernon Arts Lab. As founder and the only permanent member of the cult electronica band, Mulholland released eight albums with Mount Vernon Arts Lab, including one recorded live in an underground nuclear secret bunker outside St. Andrew's in Scotland.
"It was a bizarre thing. There were 15-feet concrete walls. You had to enter through what looked like a farmhouse down a long set of stairs that brought you 150 feet below ground. It was the Scottish seat of command in case of a nuclear attack," Mulholland recalls over a steaming cup of cocoa. He had repeatedly written to the Ministry of Defence for permission to hold a concert and record a live album for Mount Vernon Arts Lab. Over 160 people trekked into the wilderness, looking for the location based on National Grid coordinates. Isobel Campbell, formerly of Belle & Sebastian, played cello.
The Norwood Variations is an eerily entrancing compilation of six tracks. "Gangen,"a word that alludes to walking, was created by plotting a map of neighborhood points, like Mulholland's childhood school, home and other pertinent pinpoints, against musical composition paper. The score is shocking because it's surprisingly melodic.
Based on the discovery of witchcraft and Latin texts about the first principles of antiquated maps found in the university library, another track "Geographia Mundi" celebrates how the past - even the ancient past - influences how we encounter circumstances in the present.
Which brings us back to the subject of hauntology. The word comes from a play on the French pronunciation of ontology, explains Muholland. Hauntology is the "study of the persistence of the past. We can never escape. The dead are still with the living. We can't possibly escape from them because it's the thing around us. It all connects together," he explains.
Timing is everything and it's probably no coincidence that we scheduled our interview right before Halloween, which has its centuries-old roots in Gaelic and Celtic regions, like Scotland where we meet.
Psychogeography is a related field that Mulholland has given lectures in all over the United Kingdom, including the esteemed Cambridge University. "Think of it like a Venn Diagram," says Mulholland. He continues, "Psychogeography is the study of environment, rural or urban, which affects the memory or mood of an individual. It can be in writing, photography, filmmaking and music."
Mulholland has finally elevated from the ashes of the Mount Vernon Arts Lab, raised in resurrection with The Norwood Variations. More albums will follow, provided he finds the money to release them. He's also writing books on psychogeography, folklore and hauntology. Avant-garde composer and musician, one-time guitar tech for Patti Smith and academic lecturer, Drew Mulholland has graced his fans with his first album in 11 years. Drew Mulholland is back.