By Devana Senanayake
Lay The Mystic is a musician, performer and poet. Born to a Lebanese father and a Tongan-Fijian mother, Lay’s cultural heritage is reflected in his performances. Lay is also strongly influenced by mysticism and is a professional tarot card reader and hobbyist astrologer.
Photo by Laura DV
Lay, you are really interested in the idea of mysticism, so much so that it has infiltrated all aspects of your performance. Can you explain this?
I am interested in mysticism—the idea is to go deep into whatever you are doing, as long as you are completely focused on where you need to be for everything to come through. It’s just about going deep, paying attention to what’s happening and being present.
You explore the concept of mysticism through tarot card reading. What led you in this direction?
Honestly, it was a calling. It’s something that I have always done; from maybe three or four, I was finding tarot cards and little books about palmistry and reading them and hiding them in my drawer when no one was looking.
It continued as a personal interest separately, and then I was mentored by a tarot card reader. She trained me in reading tarot specifically and a lot of what she does inspired how I choose to practice. It was a learning process from there.
It’s weird to throw down some cards and then to just see something that I don’t understand at all. Everybody’s perspective, everybody’s life is completely different. When I am reading for someone, for the duration of that [reading], they are the most important thing in the world to me. Literally, they are all I can see and all I can see from. They are sitting in me and I am seeing everything from their perspective. It’s like trying on another brain for a minute.
One of your hobbies is astrology. What’s your astrology practice like?
So that part is completely self-taught.
[Astrology] is mostly about observations, [more] than it is about anything else. It is partially analytical and partially intuitive as well. I know what these planets symbolize and you go deeper and deeper into that and follow the way that they play pinball with your emotions.
With astrology, I keep journals with every kind of transit. I have ten or twenty friends whose transits I am tracking. So, I keep journals on everything that’s happening and make a prediction, and [I’ll] just be like, “this is possibly an assumptive prediction, but let me know what happens on this day because these are the kinds of energies that are popping up,” and at the end of the day, they’ll send me a Facebook message and they’ll be like, “this is what happened, those themes were correct and this is how it actually ended up working out.”
It feels like you want to immerse yourself but also create spaces of immersion as well. Are your music and art similar to your tarot and astrology practices for this reason?
A lot of the time it’s me just studying. I’m less versed with astrology than I am with tarot. So with tarot, I’m confident enough to say that I’m a reader and confident enough to do it professionally. With astrology, I’m confident enough to impress people as a party trick at a party and that’s about it. With astrology, I keep journals with every kind of transit. A lot of the stuff on the Internet is based off a culture system that’s completely expired or incredibly Eurocentric in a lot of different ways.
A lot of the time it’s just recognizing a culture and its difference to European standards. It’s also incredibly hetero-centric in every way, shape and form.
Has your mother’s Tongan heritage particularly influenced your poetry?
So, [my mother’s background is] mostly Tongan, my mother’s father was a Tongan poet. So, apparently, Tongan poetic dialect is a completely different dialect of Tongan. The poetic dialect is sort of classical— instead of referring to a village by its name, you’d refer to it through the flower that grows on its hill. It’s a distinctive feature that defines it.
[I feel like] English is a worker’s language – it is a largely economic language, particularly, the kind of English that we seem to have inherited. It’s like “this many, how much, what’s this”. We have a thousand different words to describe a cash flow. There’s only one word for love.
Are you a completely self-taught musician?
I didn’t have any cash growing up. I just gathered bits and pieces like coins from the back of the couch and stuff. It’s actually the first time that I saved things. I’m horrible with cash. I bought a guitar from someone I met at the train station and taught myself how to play through Youtube. I locked myself in my room for several days in a row and I didn’t leave except to eat a little food and go to the bathroom.
Glass Vacuum by LAY The Mystic
Are you also a lyrical poet?
The first person who coined it was called Wani. We were having a chat about how what we do is so different from spoken word or slam or poetry that’s designed to be written. It’s set to music typically, has rhythmic flow and I guess it’s softer.
It is confessional but because of how I naturally speak and the way metaphor naturally slips into what I’m saying anyway, it does not sound confessional.
What makes the local music community in Melbourne so tight-knit?
When you don’t have a lot of external funding or a lot of cash flow to work with things, you tend to operate on a currency of favors. Rather than having anything on paper or anything like that, its understanding that everything works on goodwill.
You have an event called the “A Body Gleaned” coming up for the Fringe Festival. Tell me a bit about this?
It’s just the idea that we are all constructed out of all these bits and pieces around us. Our lifestyle, our culture, our personal traditions and everything about what we do is inherited through our environment and our surroundings. If you are kind of born into a shitty story that you’d not continue, you can choose to not continue it, or you can choose to change it.
So the ultimate aim is to make immersive spaces for people. I tend to withdraw from recording all my stuff, from any piece I write ceasing to be a conversation or a dialogue. I don’t like recording a lot of the things that I do or poems or music that I do. I like that every piece that I do grows or changes with me and always acts as a conversation between me and whoever I am speaking to.
How is gender reflected in your work and various practices?
I do identify as a boy, but not as a man. I can’t figure out why man feels wrong to me as [being referred to a] woman does. But yeah, “I’m a boy, that’s what I am.” In terms of my practice, I choose to be completely honest about what my gender is or what my pronouns are without attempting to hate anybody. The idea is: “Ok, I’m here. I’m incredibly feminine but I’m a boy, you just need to get accustomed to looking at my face and thinking this is a boy.” That’s all the education that I’m going to provide to anybody.