For over three hours, I try to decipher the Saphin psyche. He’s a scene-stealer, whether playing on words with the waitress or addressing certain aspects of the menu. At first, I’m not sure if he’s trying to dazzle me with brilliance or baffle me with bullshit.
Wearing black everything, save for a bright orange scarf and a green-striped shirt, he stands out from the eclectic crowd at Veselka, a 24-hour Ukrainian Restaurant in the East Village. He looks a bit like Perry Farrell; clean-shaven and angular, with the same fearless confidence.
But the similarities stop there. Saphin’s voice is much deeper, and if you spoke to him on the phone, you might think he was an Italian New Yorker with bumpy knuckles.
This seems to raise a conflict between his attitude and appearance, leaving me scrounging for the best way to describe the man. I keep thinking of the last sequence in ‘Scrooged,’ in which Bill Murray’s character destroys the illusion of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by going in front of the camera during the live telecast. The façade of the fairy-tale is revealed through his genuine non-fiction version of the same story, which oddly enough has the same result.
So whatever fantastic or realistic components combine to equal Saphin, rest assured they both end in harmony. He is more comfortable with himself than staircases are with stories, and damned if he doesn’t have some good ones.
So you have the new album, A Star Called Earth, which is nearing completion, and then a separate one for Tim E.?
Well, Saphin is Tim Essquare, starring in Time of the Signs. But you can say it as either Tim Es-square or Tim S-squared.
Kind of like a Ziggy Stardust-type thing?
Many people have asked that, and for lack of a better reference…maybe, but not really? Tim E. is an ongoing character; I don’t plan on killing this one off. I think Bowie killed off Ziggy, and rightfully so, in many ways. I believe it’s better off that he did. Could you imagine David Bowie at 65 doing Ziggy Stardust?
Yeah, so I’ve taken care of that problem by not making him a trans-glam, semi-sexual, over-sexual, hetero, you know…hermaphrodite.
He’s not a static character.
Not at all. He’s actually a very interactive and inter-dimensional character, and in some ways, kind of flat. He’s not a conversation-horse. I’m not liable to lapse into Tim E. in an interview, like a lot of rock stars have done, you know? I either am it on-stage, or I’m not it off-stage.
At what time does Tim E. happen?
Tim E. doesn’t take place until 2012. Now, there are lots of references to 2012, the most of important of which is the end of the Mayan calendar. They say time is supposed to end then.
Time, as we know it, is going to end, not time itself. You may or may not have noticed, but time is already compressing. Before you know it, this interview is going to be over, and you’re going to be listening to it back, and hearing me say, “You’re going to be listening to it back.” It’s going to freak you out a little bit, but you’ll realize what I’m talking about. Moving up to the 2012 mark, which is supposed to be December 12th, 2012, the calendar is supposed to alter. Also, there is this program called the MERLIN Project, which was written by a couple of physicists, in order to track and graph time. (http://www.accessbest.com/merlin/timetrak.htm) It’s almost like astrology, but not really, as it has nothing to do with the planets. So, for example, they’ll take the birthday of a person, or the start-time of something, whatever it may be, and graph it out over a period of time, showing dips and peaks in energy.
The lifetime of some set person?
Exactly. And within these dips and peaks, they also show time itself doing a very strange thing in 2012, all based on very specific, though not related to, programming, with regard to the Mayan calendar thing. So, it’s kind of weird, as they’re both parallel. Anyway, Tim E. shows up in 2012, in Times Square of all places, after walking through a dimensional door. Since Times Square is kind of the epicenter of all media and all interest, it’s perfect for him. He doesn’t really have a name, and on his way to Earth, since he’s already learned how to speak English--but doesn’t know what to call himself– he sees a broken sign that says ‘Tim Essquare,’ instead of Times Square. You know, something came up wrong in one of the scroll bars. So he takes ‘Tim Essquare’ as his name.
His essential purpose, in showing up here at all, is really quite the antithesis of Ziggy. Ziggy was a messiah, and a sexual one at that. He changed the way people thought about the line between male and female. This is different, as it’s a spiritual thing. Tim E. arrives to find God, and it’s known everywhere in the universe, except on Earth, that God lives here. So, in his travels, while seeking and learning, he takes on a lot of the great religions, and soaks up the best of each—spiritual practices, magic, and everything else. By natural process, he starts exuding all this–you know, giving it back to people, which is another irony because he’s giving you what you already knew. There is no surprise ending to the story, or any of this; we are all God. Everyone realizes that we are all connected to the same mainframe, and there is no disconnect whatsoever, ever. It’s not possible. So, therefore, all he really does is drop the knowledge on the people, and prove it to them.
Kind of like a midwife.
A midwife with great information, sure, absolutely. That’s perfect. So, that’s what’s going on with Tim E. The thing is; it all doesn’t happen on one album.
I was going to say, it would be a pretty hefty album.
On the first record he only gets as far as becoming famous. The next record is going to take place in Vegas, where he’ll have his Elvis/Vegas time. You know; all schmaltz, all bull, all whatever. That should be a pretty fun record to record, actually.
What was the genesis of Tim E.?
I needed something to step on stage with that was a little more interesting than just having a TV behind me. Generally when I go on stage with my band, it’s a multi-media extravaganza. Honestly, all my greatest music influences have been character-based rock-stars. I always liked the idea of a highly-contrived character; to hide behind number one, to lie behind number two, and to be an asshole behind number three.
And also to be a great guy behind, you know, to really use it as a personal developmental tool. Sometimes when you remove yourself, you become a little bit more objective, even through something false, like a façade. You get a better point of view, and a much better perspective on who you are and what you’re doing. I mean, Tim E. is not very much unlike me. I’m deeply into what God’s made of; I’m motivated by that. There’s really nothing greater as a motivator for me. I’m not on a crusade, or a missionary-type thing, or a born-again thing at all. When somebody says, “well I don’t believe in God,” I’m thinking to myself well, I got a funny feeling God believes in you, number one. Number two, I can take all the science and all the physics and I believe in it and it’s all great–I’m an immense fan of Einstein, Quantum Theory, all of it–but it comes down to one thing; the Big Bang. Who lit the fuse?
Cause and effect.
You have to have a cause.
I don’t think that information can be known.
I think that information is so obvious it’s hard to think that it can be known.
This brings it all back to Tim E.
Basically. In the place where Tim E. comes from, it’s accepted fact that if you want to go find your creator, you go to this place called Earth. So, Tim E. is essentially an innocent. I mean, you look at him on stage…I have a habit of being a little bit effusive up there, you know, really loud and brash at times.
In your face?
I can get that way. It depends on the audience. It does sound like a cliché, but I don’t really know what happens to me when I get on stage.
So it really depends on how the crowd is.
Oh yeah, no two shows are the same.
Essentially. That’s the truth; each show is a snowflake. It melts away over time but it is unique. Of course, they can be similar, as the backing tracks may be the same for certain shows and certainly the songs are the same, but, my attitude changes. Actually, I’ve been bored on stage too. It hasn’t happened recently, not since back in the day, when I played at this place called Sin-é on Saint Mark’s Place.
Where Buckley played?
Yeah, actually I met him there, once or twice.
What a sweet guy, oh God, what a fucking sweet guy he was. His hand was soft and warm, and that’s all I remember. He was absolutely the most welcoming, warm dude. He was here for a short time for a reason. I just love the fact that he would go down to Sin-é with his Telecaster and an amp. There would be people around the block trying to get into this little coffee house that held about 20 people, maybe. I played there a number of times, and had a moderate crowd, sometimes a packed place. Nonetheless, I remember a few really bad shows there—
No, no, not Buckley; me. Shows where I’d get the beret-wearing goatee crowd, you know, sitting there with their hyper-caffeinated brains, rubbing their chins going “Wellllllllllllll I don’t know what to think of that…”
They would just not respond. I wasn’t as good as I could have been, but I didn’t suck. I sang my ass off, and it was odd to see such anemic responses coming back from these people. I remember one moment, I was trying out a new rock band—and it was foolish of me to do this—I tried them out at Sin-é. I think I was probably the only rock band to ever walk into Sin-é and actually turn up all the way. We fucking slammed that place! The window was vibrating to the point where the manager walked by and said into the mic; “Turn it down!” And the guitar player that I was auditioning live that night—
Auditioning live? That’s crazy!
No no, he couldn’t tune his guitar! So in the middle of the song, I literally took my hand, put it on his guitar and said, “Stop playing! Just pretend like you are…”
What the fuck, why not? It was the best, I love stuff like that. My booking agent at the time was so angry with me…huh, I felt like Christopher Walken there for a second.
Saphin proceeds to do a spot-on Walken impersonation.
How do you prepare for your shows?
I meditate when I get up in the morning and before I go to bed. Those are my pre and post-show rituals. I meditate with same mantra, 20 minutes each time. I get my re-charge and walking orders each day that way. Whether it be consciously or subconsciously, my itinerary is written in those times. Then I report back at the end of the day, as to whether I’ve been in sync or not, and that’s it. Sometimes I get stuck in traffic on the way to a show and get really pissed off. I’d like to break that ritual.
Since we’re on the subject of shows, have you ever seen one and thought, “Damn, I wish I had thought of that!”
I don’t really look at shows or performances that way. A lot of the great performances or shows that you’re trying get me to refer back to, I wasn’t there for. A lot of them happened before my time, and can only be seen now on DVD. But as long as there is a start, a middle and an end, or some kind of value attached to the show that takes me away from the day, it ranks right up there with the best of them.
In terms of escape?
Yeah. Your job as a performer is not to remind people of their problems. You’re not a therapist, in that sense.
It seems there are a lot of bands that function like that.
But that’s what’s happening right now! It’s all very down and woe is me and “What the fuck happened to me?” It’s just ridiculous, and that’s not what it’s about. That’s not what going on stage should be.
There’s a large audience for it though.
There’s a zeitgeist basically, yes. They’ve taken a lot of people to this place, and they could have chosen to take them someplace else. It goes back and forth; one is suiting the purpose for another. You understand? There’s a zeitgeist desire and need for that kind of crazy shit, yet there is also the responsibility that the artist has to go “Ok, I fit this niche, I can take these people to another place now,” and they don’t do it… yet.
It sounds like you are taking up that responsibility.
We’ll get it to a higher place. I’m not here to bring people down, I know that. That’s not what it’s about. This is about learning how strong you are, not how strong I am. We’re all strong, all of us. We came here equipped with all the tools we’ll ever need, period. You want to access them, it’s up to you.
For further access to Saphin, hit up his website @ http://www.saphin.com/. Of course, you can always hear his music right here on BTR.