The remote country cottage that The Duke Spirit vocalist Liela Moss shares with her husband/producer/band bassist Toby Butler is quite the pastoral paradise. Located in Britain’s Somerset district, it’s surrounded by deer, rabbits, even an occasional snake, and the only mildly disturbing sound is a church bell tolling the hour in the distance. But there’s one serenity-squelching snag, she says: the couple’s rambunctious 2 1/2-year-old son, Sonny, who spends most of his waking hours playing the drums. Loudly. “He’s a neat little human being, and he’s awesome on the drum kit,” mom says, in a whisper. “But I’m hiding from him right now, because if I try to have a conversation with anyone — like his father or even someone on the phone — he will not let me talk.”
To complete her new solo album “Who The Power,” her second, Moss discovered that she required mind-clearing quiet and the inner peace it entailed – something seemingly opposite the record’s thunderous, bass-heavy songs, including the anti-narcissism commentary “The Individual,” a climate-change warning “Turn Your Back Around,” and the sinister anti-Trump parable “Watching the Wolf.”
The music took root over two 10-day stays at a local Vipassana Meditation Center, which require a vow of silence. “I first got interested in it 10 years ago and did a course,” she says of the non-denominational, Eastern-based practice. “The technique has been handed down over the generations, and its centers of learning are quiet and safe places to do this work, because it is work. It can be quite boring to meditate for long periods of time”
The Vipassana method is simple, the singer continues. It’s essentially free; those who can afford donations may contribute upon departure. Practitioners are assigned a numbered meditation cushion at the outset, mealtime hours, and a private cell to return to each night. There’s no interaction between guests, just eye-shut, audio-guided introspection.
“When you first do this, it can take a whole week just thinking how uncomfortable you are,” she says. “But then you find your sweet spot and that’s it, you can finally sit still. It’s a challenge, but you feel so great when you’ve conquered it, because you realize that you can abide within your own company and not overfeed the mind constantly with diversion or novelty.”
Moss — a former fine art student who formed The Duke Sprit in 2005 with fellow classmate , guitarist Luke Ford — was sensing something off balance, creatively.
She and Butler have all the convenience of a plush home studio, but she had grown tired of entering it every day simply because that’s how a rock singer was expected to behave. “That was bulls—-,” she decided. “So much of what you think you need is just illusory, so how about you just be? Just be in order to contact those songwriting reserves deep within you and find out more about the illusion that that you project about yourself, and just check, like, ‘Am I being the best person I can possibly be?’” Only then, she adds, will new aesthetic ideas start to coalesce.
Waiting for inspiration proved easier than chasing it, the ex-Alexander McQueen model recalls. She never intended to become a political pundit, but society’s callous disregard for the environment — spurred by global-warming deniers in the conservative parties of Donald Trump and Britain’s Boris Johnson — prodded her into lyrical action. The predatory lupine antagonist in “Watching the Wolf” makes decisions based on greed, not any altruism. In it, Moss snarls, “… you’re considered a complete c—-.”
She says, “I wrote that in the summer of 2019, and I had no idea that (Trump) was about to outrageously mishandle a pandemic. So now it just jars me and creeps me out.” Of using the dreaded C word, she says, “It rhymed with ‘front,’ and I think it’s very pertinent and appropriate. And in the U.K., good swearing like that is enjoyed by all, men and women alike.”
Looking back, Moss says Vipassana techniques echo the clarity provided by contemporary cognitive therapy “without having to pay some expensive therapist’s bills.”
She’s also has found that no subject is too grim to tackle in song. She says, “If we don’t shine a light on the darkness, it can be overlooked and it can creep up and bite you in the ass later. We should always just tell it like it is, so we can all end up laughing about it, and just gasping at the horror. Then maybe it will filter into the mainstream where we can talk about it more casually.”