Illustration by Fabio Vermelho*
Chris T-T is an English singer songwriter, activist, writer, public speaker, radio show host, and genuinely incredibly lovely human being, based in Brighton. He has performed on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar square for Anthony Gormely’s One and Other project, taken his one man show Disobedience to Edinburgh fringe (singing new version of AA Milne’s 1920s poems for children), written for The Dark Mountain Project, NME, and had a weekly column for The Morning Star, and spoken at Tedx. He released 9 Green Songs, his 10th solo album, on Xtra Mile in June of this year. you can visit his website here.
Illustration by Tim Easley
1. Do you actively do anything to keep your brain healthy, and if so what?
I constantly work with words anyway, so hopefully that helps. I play chess online with two friends – both roughly as good as me. I ought to do a maths app to keep up my numbers game but can’t be bothered. I have a coach (co-coach really – we take turns) who is an old friend and part of that is related to brains, although it’s mainly creativity and career.
2. What or who mentally stimulates your growth the most?
People I’ve met through the Dark Mountain Project – and also audio podcasts. I know you’ve interviewed Franz Nicolay for this series and it was Franz got me into podcasts on tour in 2011, which immeasurably changed my cultural life: I have (permanently) swapped music for spoken word as a default audio choice. Dark Mountain is a radical ecological cultural movement based on a manifesto written six years ago by Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine. Mostly they publish hardback book collections every few months (I’ve occasionally contributed). Through Dark Mountain I’ve got to know the most incendiary, challenging thinkers, writers and makers – far more earthily radical, visionary and mind-blowing than any other group or outlet I’ve come across in my life. Interacting with them and their networks, some becoming friends, made a fundamental shift in how I see the future and my life. It’s huge for me.
3. If you could add or take away anything from your brain what would it be?
More courage please. I’d speed up my decision-making and remove my instinct to hesitate before starting anything. I’d kill my fomo.
4. Are you more emotion or reason based when making decisions?
I think reason-based. I experience strong emotions around decisions but reason wins out most of the time.
5. In what situations have you learned the most about yourself?
Travel, taking drugs and challenging moments in my relationship. More recently gradual realisation of my lack of sustainable success – it’s late in life to be thinking about changing career (especially in the arts / creativity / self-employment). I’m wrestling with that right now and therefore learning a lot.
6. Do you think you have to learn good judgement? (Are people inherently self destructive?)
No I don’t think so. I imagine both good and poor judgement are a roughly equal blend of the learned and the genetic. Also, I imagine many behaviours that we collectively define as “destructive” are only like that because of their context within the brutally limiting structure of modern western society. A decision that is deemed ‘self-destructive’ in urban southern England might well be a key survival mechanism in sub-Saharan Africa or on the Mongolian Steppe.Maybe that’s what “culture” is: a ridiculous collection of unrealistic expectations that drives us to sabotage (i.e. art).
7. Do you have any daily or annual rituals? Are they personal to you or your family or are they related to your culture or religion?
I meditate 2-3 times a week. I love (and become dependent on) small rituals involving food and drink, such as making good coffee or scrambling eggs. Sometimes I think improvisation on the piano is a ritual: if I don’t do it for a few days, I’ll feel a powerful pull. A white poppy (and always watching Remembrance) is important to me in November. Apart from that I’m down with the usual family and social rituals through the year. I have Quaker connections but don’t often go to Meeting, so I like ritualised silence. Oh and if I get physically hurt I immediately use Reiki symbols for a moment to self-heal, though that’s more force of habit than a deeply held sense that it works.
8. Can you speak any other languages, and if so why that language?
Not usefully. A bit of GCSE conversational German.
9. Is it more important for you to speak or to be heard?/when making art is it more important for you to express yourself or to connect with people?
Until recently I would’ve answered that expression itself was more important. But now (struggling with not connecting with people) I guess the ‘being heard’ bit of the equation feels more important than I wanted it to be, or believed it was.
10. Do you think a time exists that is easiest to create? For instance, do you strike the muse or does the muse strike you?
These are two distinct processes that I think you’ve conflated into one: first the muse strikes you, then later you strike the muse. The muse can strike at any time, any place. Your sole job as a creative person is to capture that thought, that idea, that moment of vision, and note it down for later in a way that you’ll understand. Then the second, separate process – crafting that idea (or hopefully quite a few ideas that you’ve accumulated) into complete creative work – is the bit that might happen at a specific, preferred time in conditions you can control. By the way, off topic but: I think a key challenge (for creative people) from the rise of social media is the powerful instinct to instantly share that initial kernel of an idea, chucking it up on Twitter or Insta, rather than saving it and developing it properly. I wonder how many great songs or short stories are lost to the world every day because the person hit by the idea grabbed the instant gratification of tweeting their raw thought, then forgot about it, instead of writing the 21st century’s greatest erotic novella about cheese.
11. Do you have an emotional state that you find it easier to create in?
I write prose best in anger or despair, late at night. Then I edit best in calm, almost robotic objectivity, days later. I’d be a great literary editor – I’m merciless with copy.
12. Are there certain elements that you employ to set up the perfect mental space for creating? For example: Music/food/smells/locations?
It needs to be quiet, there must be coffee (and nearby snacks) and I need to resist the lure of the internet. A hard deadline can be useful – discipline overcomes hesitation. For prose, anywhere is fine but the laptop needs power and the fewer distractions the better. For music I sit at a piano with notebooks and an unplugged electric guitar nearby. This isn’t waiting for ideas though; as I said, it’s toying with all the ideas I already had.
13. Do you think you have to have an elevated ego to be a artist?
Not at all, though you probably need an elevated ego to perform in front of people.
14. Are there particular books you find yourself buying for or lending to people close to you?
The Dark Mountain Manifesto, Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Ginsberg’s Howl, for performers Stewart Lee’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate. Even now, Berger’s Ways Of Seeing and I used to send people all the time Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society.
15. What smells do you most associate with your childhood?
Hot tarmac, wet woodland, a specific clean laundered clothes smell, the piano in my home now (which is the same piano I grew up playing). Brasso, which I hate.
16. If you had to only live on five ingredients for the rest of the life what would they be?
That’s brutal. Potato, coffee beans, avocado, butter, broccoli.
17. Do you have spiritual needs and if so how do you nourish them?
I don’t have spiritual ‘needs’, I get that exact nourishment from nature and music. I’ve got a set of beliefs – probably count as a bit spiritual – but they exist happily alongside science’s evidence-based understanding of the universe.
18. Do you have a place you go to, either physically or mentally, where you feel the most at peace?
The countryside, woods, ideally high up, in heavy rain and wind. Not often enough. I’d love one of those decrepit simple shacks high up in wooded hills somewhere. Like a unabomber type shack. If it overlooked the sea even better – but the woods and the height are more important than the water. The Isle Of Man, or the north Californian coast.
19. Do you think that people need some form of discomfort to make art?
No but I do think people who make art know better what to do with their discomfort. Artists know how to be merciless in utilising their pain even as they exist within it.
20. Are you more motivated by the promise of reward or the threat of punishment?
I don’t know and I’m ambivalent towards both. I hate the sense of competing for something, so if a thing is held up as a possible reward based on achievement (especially versus other people), I react badly. And even worse with the threat of punishment – my focus would probably shift to unseating the person or organisation that is somehow in a position to ‘punish’ me. It’s as if a secret hierachy reveals itself and what we should do at that moment is attempt to destroy it, rather than joining in with its game.
21. How much does your conscious/morals come into play when making decisions?
My sister has this brilliant phrase: “Do what you want, because you will anyway.”
22. Do you ever experience your emotions in physical ways? If so, how?
Like crying? Like a bad headache when you’re stressed? That sort of thing. Nothing more outlandish I don’t think. I don’t get sick from stress. Though that said, stress and boredom are my excuses to over-eat and my most pressing physical concern is being overweight, so there’s that.
23. Do you think a person has to understand art in order to be able to appreciate it?
No. Actually appreciation of art may be easier for someone who doesn’t know how it was done. I know how music is made, technically, to a great level of detail. And I find it distracting when trying to enjoy a new recording, because I’m listening to – and analysing – the process. Snare drum reverb gets in the way of hearing the intent. It feels to me like that happens in film too; because the atmosphere and techniques of the film set have become such familiar vernacular. Partly that’s why I prefer other kinds of art, like sculpture for example. I have no idea how people make big sculpture and I’d rather not know, just focus on if it looks amazing and what it’s trying to say.
24. Do you pick up on/connect more to the lyrics or music in songs?
25. What is your earliest memory?
Walking up some steps through a wall into a convent garden with my Mum. In the last few years, from my mid 30s maybe, early memories that were fixed have started to get unhooked and left behind. That was always my ‘official’ earliest memory but now, when I reach for it, I have the description of it, more than any real imagery. Ditto a bunch of my earliest memories.
26. If you got alzheimers or dementia what memory or memories would you be saddest to lose – or – which ones would cause the biggest loss of your personal identity?
Intimacy and sexy memories. Recording and performing music and moments of joy or drama with friends.
27. Do you expect happiness in your life?
28. Do you feel like falling in love is a spiritual or mental/chemical process?
All of the above, swirling around.
29. Do you try and avoid feeling negative emotions or do you feel it is more constructive to experience your emotions fully?
I don’t try to avoid feeling any emotion. I embrace (or at least acknowledge) whatever is provoked. This week I’ve cried every day watching the Olympics and Rifa finds it awkward and slightly takes the piss – but it’s very rewarding.
30. What flaws do you think you have when it comes to communicating with other people?
God, loads. I have all the usual challenges: the volume and certainty of the middle-class white privileged man who can’t shut the fuck up because history never made me. I do care for and empathise with other people a great deal – so it’s not disinterest or selfishness – but damn straight I could do with taking a breath.
31. How do you deal with situations or individuals that fail to stimulate you creatively or emotionally? Do you avoid this situations/have a set of tools in which to navigate them?
I’m rubbish at walking away from those situations, so I often stay too long in places / with people that don’t fit with me creatively or emotionally. To this day I’ve not built an adequate toolkit to counter that instinct – and it sucks.
32. Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares? If so, what do you think they mean?
People dig up the corpse of someone I murdered and buried years before – and they begin to investigate and slowly figure out who did it. Also, a complex political (revolutionary) adventure and physical battle (usually with guns, occasionally bows and arrows) through an enormous rickety old horror film house, always with someone sexy. I’m not good at analysing my dreams. At the moment I’m playing (a lot) this online computer game Tanki (a tank fighting game) and I’ve noticed the background maps are showing up in my dreams as settings, although the dreams aren’t tank- or battle-based at all. It’s just the background landscapes that show up, like I’m on location there. Just when you sent this Q&;A, photos were floating around online of Nigel Farage’s new moustache, I dreamt he gave me head with David Bowie lightning makeup painted on his face. But it was definitely Farage. In the dream I didn’t seem to mind (possibly it was even transactional) although obviously in the morning I was grossed out.
33. If you have ever taken psychedelic drugs, did you have any interesting hallucinations on them? Do you feel changed from having taken them?
Yes, quite a bit when I was younger, always positive, never once had a serious negative experience. I’ve not tried DMT but I’d love to. One time walking home, early dawn, after being very high with friends in the small field above my sixth form college. As I walked down the hill to my house I tried to make snowballs out of the snow everywhere and got freaked out because I couldn’t grab the snow properly and my hands wouldn’t pick it up. I woke up later that day with bad scratches all over my fingers and it turned out they’d re-paved my street the day before and I’d hallucinated it was snow. I feel changed but only in a very mild cheddar ‘gently expanded’ sort of way, where I feel as if sometimes I’ve seen the world out of a different corner of my eye than normally exists. But that shift feels small and comforting, not big.
34. Do you find your mood affected by different colour palettes?
No. On the whole I like all the colours.
35. If you could live in a world where the aesthetic was controlled by a particular visual artist or film director, who would you choose?
Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki more than Takahata but either will do.
36. What’s the most unbelievable thing you’ve ever seen?
I’ve seen a moonbow in Joshua Tree. Huge storms, meteors and comets. Some visual hallucinations with a ‘space’ feel, like once an enormous Saturn rising over fields that was probably really a night-time cloud formation. A man hit and killed by a car on Vauxhall Bridge Road. I want to write that Rutger Hauer speech from Blade Runner here.
37. Have you ever seen something which you feel has directly resulted in certain elements of your personality today?
Key times that I got told off unfairly, when I was very young. I went to a Catholic junior school though I wasn’t Catholic and I can think of three or four incidents where that happened, in a big noticeable life-altering way, that definitely shaped me long-term. Going hunt saboteuring and especially seeing cruelty to animals made me vegetarian.
38. Would you rather lose your sight or your hearing?
I’ve always have answered sight but now I think hearing, for basic logistic ease of survival: it’s much easier to operate independently if you’re deaf than if you’re blind. And computers.
39. Do you feel like you surround yourself with the people who see you for who you really are?
No. I don’t have a clear enough idea of who I really am to do that. Also I don’t feel as if I ‘surround myself’ with people at all. I’m quite isolated; often alone or in a pair that is very self-contained. I’m not the centre of any crew, I don’t have an entourage, even if I’m the frontman and instigator of a lot of stuff. Friendships that feel the closest are often with people who I rarely see, or only see because we’re doing something together that’s separate to just chilling out and ‘being’, such as making music with a fixed goal in mind. In a mainstream job, that might just be ‘colleagues’.
* Fabio Vermelho is going to be working with us on all of the brain maps now, illustrating the heads we are attempting to pry open. He is a fucking great artist and we are massive fans, and very excited to be working with him. Check his stuff out here or here.