Written by Isabel Corp
For Thomas Clark, the creative force behind the solo doom pop outfit Divingstation95, humanity’s uncanny obsession with violence and death is a major point of contention. As a person who’s dealt firsthand with addiction and PTSD — obstacles that have often interfered with his process as a songwriter, there’s nothing more disappointing than people who treat human suffering as a spectacle to gawk at for their own entertainment.
This tension is traversed at length on Divingstation95’s latest album he released last October, The Death of Sporus Part I. The album’s concept was inspired by the tragic story of the Roman historical figure Sporus, who endured a litany of abuse and public humiliation that ultimately led to his demise. Clark walks the listener through Sporus’ story with an abrasive production style that draws from a wide array of indie, electronica, and noise rock behemoths, including Radiohead, Boards of Canada, and Xiu Xiu.
I caught up with Divingstation95 to discuss the making of the album, his love of R.E.M., and the creative direction he plans to take in the future.
This album has been in the works for a while. Why put it out now?
It was finally done. This thing was a nightmare to put together. It's very dense and very long, and it had to flow and progress exactly right. I recorded the bulk of it during a time of heavy drug abuse, broken up by periods of withdrawal that made it impossible to work on. There was a month-long gap toward the end that I spent in rehab, and by pure chance, it came out the same day I checked into a mental hospital. My life basically felt the way the album sounds. It was exhausting to make but absolutely worth the struggle.
You often draw on the stories of tragic figures throughout history in your songwriting, and the concept behind this album. What drew you to Sporus in particular?
I get very angry with the cruelty of human existence. We live in a horrible, unfair world, and sometimes I feel like we are desensitized to it. The people who appear on this album have been the subjects of historical documents or true crime podcasts, but those are ultimately passionless and indifferent to their very real suffering. I wanted to make something more visceral and painful that faces the horror head-on and makes the listener truly feel it. I had a massive breakdown when I first read about Sporus. It was just so awful and unfair, and the fact that this boy who endured unimaginable suffering is remembered as a fetish object (if at all) enraged me to the point of obsession. It still does. I think of him every day of my life.
What would you say sets this album apart from its predecessors?
It’s a progression from where I left off with Fear is My Constant Companion. I think the production is better, the heavy parts are heavier, and it's more intricate and layered - I look at it like creating some kind of gnarled, fucked up sculpture. The second part of the album will continue down this path, and then I'm making a straight-up pop album. It's important to me that each release has its own distinct personality and character - Radiohead are my biggest heroes, and they taught me that.
Since this is marked as “Part One,” and ends with an intermission track, am I right to assume that this is the first of two full-length companion albums? And if yes, what made you decide to release them separately rather than going the double-album route?
Yes! Part 2 will be coming out later this year. I split it in half because I just had way too many songs to fit into a single hour-long album, and I don't have a big enough following to assume that people would be willing to sit through two hours straight of Divingstation95. It also gives me space to learn and grow as an artist and person between the two releases - recently, after a period of sobriety and some intensive therapy, I've had some revelations about sexual trauma that I had been repressing, and that has shaped the even bleaker and more disturbing direction of Part 2 so far. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Like I said, a pop album is coming after Part 2. I don't ever want to pigeonhole myself!
As someone who self-produces all of their work on a budget, what is the most important thing the DIY ethos has taught you as a creative?
You will never get it to sound exactly “right“ like someone with a studio and a massive budget would, so make it wrong in an interesting way that reflects you. If you don't have a big following, take advantage of the lack of expectations and try as many different things as you can.
When it comes to your influences, one of the most unlikely suspects is R.E.M. What is it about them in particular that affects you as a songwriter?
To me, R.E.M embodies the sheer joy of making music. There is something so pure about their work. They remind me that no matter how abrasive or disturbing my music gets, I can never afford to lose that spark, the thing that makes creative expression so glorious. I love R.E.M. I think they're the best band America has ever produced. Someday I'll make an album that sounds more like them.
How have you personally acclimated to live music spaces opening back up over the past year or two?
Unfortunately, it's had very little impact on me, because I can't perform live yet. My life has been so consumed by dealing with my addiction that I haven't had the ability to recruit a real band to perform these songs. I've done a few livestreams where I sing along to a backing track, but it's just not the same. The raw joy and energy of a real live performance is something I cannot capture without a real band. I'll get there someday!
If you could give any piece of advice to someone who wants to make music, what would you say to them?
As the great Jamie Stewart from Xiu Xiu said, always take it too far. Bare your soul. Put it all into music. You have no rules or record label, so don't compromise. That advice had a huge impact on me. I'm getting “I will take it too far“ tattooed on my arm.