Alternating between spending time with his father, an evangelical Christian who was prone to speaking in tongues, and his mother, a neo-Pagan who dabbled in shamanism, the childhood of TJ Cowgill, known in certain circles as Luciferian folk singer-songwriter King Dude, was an interesting one.
A child of divorce, long before Cowgill was the writer of grim folk songs centered on themes of the occult, the Seattle native was a toddler splitting weekends with a father who rediscovered Christianity and a mother who encouraged him to meditate.
“It’s heavy to me,” Cowgill said. “Being told two different things that were very conflicting. Especially, in general, dealing with my parents aren’t getting along or whatever. You try and reconcile that and try to find some common ground and achieve some commonality.”
Though he eventually found that commonality, Cowgill said it wasn’t always easy.
“I suppose that the more hippie-dippie, peaceful power, crystal side of my mother’s religion was acceptable and sort of fun,” Cowgill said. “But it wasn’t even like I was identifying with it, because it wasn’t crammed down my throat, it wasn’t you have to be this way. It was a lot more open. It was a looser sort of parameter or dogma. So I guess I prefer that because I was allowed to do critical thinking.“
These days, through his neo-folk project King Dude, Cowgill is creating a brand of music that’s a unique amalgamation of country guitar playing and folky, story-based lyricism. This is an interest that was piqued by his father, an avid fan of bluegrass luminaries such as Leo Kottle.
Although his music frequently touches on themes of the occult and Luciferianism, Cowgill is quick to insist that he’s not writing music strictly for Luciferians.
“It’s not necessary to understand any of that to understand or enjoy my art,” Cowgill said. “I think if you do understand those sorts of concepts you might enjoy it more, but I believe that Christians can also enjoy my music as well as Satanists, because they tend to. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. And I’m not trying to exclude anybody from enjoying these songs.”
The last full-length King Dude release, “Burning Daylight,” a sinister romp through the macabre that intertwined themes of mysticism with the occasional love song, is rife with chilling baritone vocals and parables about visions and dark spirits. However, influences for the record extended far beyond just the mystical. Cowgill also found inspiration in the chaos of living during the turn of the century in the early 1900s.
“I was inspired by the gritty nature of the era and people living very desperately and intensely,” Cowgill said. “Consequences were higher. If you wanted to get money, you could literally take it out of the earth in the form of precious metals and trade it. Or if you wanted somebody dead you could probably kill them and not have to face these modern consequences. Also, religion in that time was a lot more — the stakes were higher. People really believed in it. It was easier to convince people of all kinds of things that maybe weren’t true.”
The king of dudes is a man with a surprising sense of humor. A self-considered Luciferian erring on the agnostic side, Cowgill has the ability to look inwardly and laugh at himself in a way that generally doesn’t go hand in hand with some studiers of Satan.
“It’s very important to not come off as too pompous or self-important, because if you really want people to enjoy it, there needs to be a sense of humor,” Cowgill said. “I don’t like humorless art. I don’t find it that interesting.”
The humor is even in the band’s name.
“It’s a horrible band name,” Cowgill said with a laugh. “But it doesn’t really matter what the band name is to me. It’s almost better to have a s—– band name because, in a sense, it’s something that you could transcend. It doesn’t really mean anything at all. It’s blank. You can impress whatever ideas you want upon it.”
Cowgill added that he sees the name as a way to ease people into a genre of music that touches on subjects they may otherwise be uncomfortable with.
“That’s another thing,” Cowgill said. “I think if you look at the sonic nature of humor it can allow ideas into your life that you might not have accepted if it wasn’t really sinister, or really, really horrifying. So humor is an important thing, especially in grand concepts.”
The latest King Dude release is unlike other music in his discography. Although King Dude is very much Cowgill’s brain child — he emphasized that he prefers his musical projects to be dictatorships — his newest record, a 7-inch entitled “Born in Blood,” features re-recorded arrangements of past King Dude songs and incorporates a full band, breaking the motif of just vocals and guitar created by his past work.
But this latest release, as well as an upcoming tour, is not all that’s on the plate of the ruler of dudes.
Cowgill is a man that wears many hats. In addition to the King Dude project, Cowgill was at the helm of several metal bands, including black metal outfits Book of Black Earth and Teen Cthulhu. But Cowgill’s artistic interests extend beyond music. Along with his wife, he’s the owner of Actual Pain, a clothing company that bases its designs off of themes from the occult.
“A lot of the time it feels more like the work chooses me as opposed to me choosing something, or being like, ‘I’m going to start a clothing company’ or I’m going to start this sort of folkier project,’” Cowgill said. “It’s more like it sort of just happens. I guess any artist is probably just hashing out some childhood trauma.”
Dave Zisser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.