Three Great Things: Illiterate Light

The duo’s choices run the gamut from socks to spiritual thinkers to anime.

Three Great Things is our series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. In this installment, Virginia duo Illiterate Light share one thing — socks — then go off on their own to talk spiritual guides and anime.
— Josh Modell, Talkhouse Executive Editor

1. Darn Tough Socks

Jeff Gorman: Eight years ago, Jake and I were living in a more or less intentional community in Virginia — very back-to-the-earth centered, and somehow everybody got hooked on these really incredible wool socks, Darn Tough Socks. You can get them at REI and camping stores and stuff, and they have a lifetime guarantee. If you put a hole in them, you can write this mom and pop shop up in Vermont and tell them, “I put a hole in these socks,” and you send them to ’em and they’ll send you a replacement pair. I’m wearing a pair right now that I’ve been wearing for seven years straight, and they feel just as good as they did when I got them. So me and Jake started really digging these socks and then as the band started to grow, as our team started to grow, specifically anybody that comes out and joins our crew… Whenever you join the Illiterate Light road crew you get a pair of Darn Tough Socks that we gift to you because we believe in them, and it’s cool to have something to give people and keep their feet warm if it’s the winter or cool if it’s the summer.

Jake Cochran: I also am currently wearing a pair that I got six or seven years ago. I’ve actually expanded into, it’s not Darn Tough, but merino wool underwear as well, year-round. I have about four pairs of very expensive underwear and the ability to wear them for a few days in a row, which might sound a little grungy, but they’re kind of made for that, made for like camping and hiking and I can wash them in the sink at a hotel and hang them up to dry. 

Jeff: It’s like safe grunge, it’s like being grungy, but knowing you’re not going to reek like an a-hole.

Jake: Literally an a-hole.

Jeff: You also then become really protective of them, because the problem is they don’t replace lost socks. It’s really easy to lose socks. So if I have one sock missing, I freak.

Jake: Yeah, we’re at the lobby in a Holiday Inn Express like “Hi, I was doing some laundry last night, I lost a sock. Please let me know if you find it. It’s urgent.” Maybe one day if we’re big enough where we’re out running around playing arenas and we’ve got like 50 or 100 people with us, we’ll have a sick line of Illiterate Light crew socks that we can make with Darn Tough. But we can only dream right now.

2. Ken Wilber

Jeff: Ken Wilber is an author, a philosopher, and somebody that has had a tremendous impact on me. We were on tour in 2015 and we stopped into this bookstore in Boulder, Colorado and I saw this book called A Brief History of Everything, and it looked really fascinating and it was written in Socratic form. So it’s kind of like a conversation, question-and-answer conversation. I just fell in love with it. It’s kind of a general theory of everything, which I won’t expand on that too in depth. But I went on to read probably five or six of his other books.

I started with A Brief History of Everything, and then did Grace and Grit, which is about his wife — 10 days after getting married she was diagnosed with breast cancer. So they were married for about five years and the entirety of their marriage was figuring out how to live in the midst of knowing she was going to pass away. In the midst of becoming a fan of Ken’s work, I actually joined his website. They’ve got all these exclusive interviews and stuff like that, and I came to find that there’s this kind of whole community of artists and musicians that have also been really inspired by him. I just started his kind of seminal work called Sex, Ecology, Spirituality.

And when I joined the website to get this content… I was like, “I don’t know man, 100 bucks a year. I really like this guy, I like his teachings, but that’s just a lot.” And then I found out that he did an interview with Jim James and I was like, “Oh my gosh, two of my favorite people in the world — what are they going to be talking about? This is so cool.” And so I joined when I found that out. Saul Williams and Ken are also really tight and I’ve listened to some interviews they’ve done together as well. Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam is a big fan of Ken’s, Serj from System of a Down, Alanis Morissette, Billy Corgan. So there’s kind of a bunch of weirdo eclectic musicians that are also big fans of this guy’s work. But one personal takeaway from his books, because he covers a lot different stuff as far as spirituality and culture and how groups develop and a lot of developmental psychology sort of stuff.

But one personal takeaway for me is I got hooked on something called the Enneagram from Ken’s work. Ennea is Greek for nine-sided, and gram just means symbol. So Enneagram just refers to this nine-sided symbol, but it’s kind of a modern personality typing system. And so it’s a way to kind of better understand yourself, and understand your ego and defense mechanisms and your strengths. We’ve found it very helpful. I identify as a type nine, Jake identifies as a type seven, and it’s a helpful framework for us to be able to create together. And you know, if you’re feeling pissed off about something it’s a helpful framework to come back and be like, “How am I interpreting this? How is he interpreting this?”, and it’s a really great kind of relationship cleaner-upper if you will, if you’re willing to do that work on yourself. So I appreciate Ken Wilber’s work because it turned me on to the Enneagram, which is really helpful for us as a band.

Jake: I’ll say also, just before we move on from that, I’m also because of Jeff a big fan of Ken’s work, and a lot of times as we’re driving around the country we’ll put some of his stuff on as audio books, or interviews he has done. Jeff and I have gone through so many stages of life together at this point, we’ve probably been working in one way or another together for about 10 years. And some of the language that he uses to talk about what we’ve been through together and where we see ourselves going, and it’s been a really cool experience for me as well.

3. Neon Genesis Evangelion

Jake: And yeah, so on to Neon Genesis Evangelion, which I’m pumped to talk about.  I’ve really come into watching anime; I’m almost 30 now and I probably started when my wife and I moved in with some roommates that were really into anime and they just started showing us all this stuff that we had no idea existed.

Jeff: And they have walls of DVDs of anime. I went to visit Jake one time and it was just whole rooms dedicated to anime.

Jake: I’ve always been a nerdy kind of dude to a certain extent. But yeah, anime was kind of taking it to a new level. This one in particular I had always heard about; it’s like one long season and then kind of the controversial part is that the last two episodes of it ended in a way that was just completely different than the whole season built up to, and very confusing. They also followed up with a few movies that sort re-envisioned a different ending of it.

I learn and digest stuff through fiction and through storytelling a lot more than I do reading somebody’s ideas on something. So for me this anime kind of brought together a lot of really weird and unique kind of mystical, psychological, spiritual, sexual, all these things that are inside of me and I also often don’t know how to express. I felt like the show does a really incredible job at mixing a lot of that together in a way that’s unbelievably complex, and you can watch it and just be like, “Oh, this is cool.”

The director or kind of the main creator of it, Hideaki Anno… I’ve read some about him, and he talked about in the midst of creating this series he sort of discovered his own mental illness and health problems and really that’s kind of where the whole shift about halfway through happened. The last couple of episodes being so weird is because he was having a shift in his life, and just sort of started doing all this research into Freud and Jung and all of these interesting thinkers, and then combining that with weird Jewish and Christian visuals that really are just like, you’re kind of grabbing things from here… I think the few people in my life that understand anime to the extent that we’ve been able to talk about it, I’ve not had been able to sit down with somebody and be like, I need to unpack this—

Jeff: That’s why we’re trying to tour Japan so bad right now.

Jake: It came out maybe early or mid-’90s, and it pretty much revolutionized anime. The main plot point concepts are pretty straightforward. It’s kind of just how the story is unpacked that make it wild. But it’s basically set 15 years after a post-apocalyptic, there was sort of like a strange world-ending apocalypse that involved these giant monsters that were referred to as Angels, and this Angel came to destroy the earth. 

And then the whole story is based around sort of like a father and son. The father has become the head of this sort of extra-military unit that created these huge half-mechanical humanoid things. But then it’s also half-alive. It’s like a combination of the two and, but it needs to be piloted by a child because of the way that the interaction between a child’s brain and psychology links with these kind of beastly things. And those are called the EVAs. And so it’s about him sort of being estranged from his son, but then forcing his son to pilot these things.

The son is kind of the main character and there’s a few other children that are the supporting characters. But the son particularly is just constantly, he’s not at all like a powerful, “I’m going to be courageous and save the world,” sort of thing. He’s constantly terrified and hates himself and doesn’t want to do what he’s being asked to do. He doesn’t want to be violent, but he is violent. So it kind of unfolds from there and gets far more complex, but that’s the basic summary.

Illiterate Light is a Virginia duo made up of Jeff Gorman and Jake Cochran. Their self-titled debut album came out late in 2019 on Atlantic Records, and 2020 will find them on a big headlining tour as well as playing festivals like Osheaga and Firefly.