Linus Roache is not a professional musician, but he does a captivating job of portraying a failed one: cult leader Jeremiah Sand, the antagonist in the film Mandy, and the musician at the center of the recent Sacred Bones found-artifact album, Lift It Down, that marks the character’s return.
The New York-based English actor — known for his more straightforward roles in Law & Order, Batman Begins, Homeland, and long-running British soap Coronation Street, among many others — unleashed a terrifyingly bewitching performance in Panos Cosmatos’ 2018 black-metal horror picture opposite Nicolas Cage’s revenge-fueled lumberjack. This fall’s Lift It Down, unleashed unto the world through an enigmatic marketing plan, expanded the Sand character into a more musical space. Though Roache isn’t known for music or even musical theatre, he had a blasting going all-in on the album — working alongside artists such as Angel Deradoorian, Milky Burgess, and Dan Boeckner to realize Cosmatos’ and crew’s vision for Lift It Down.
“I’m so in awe of musicians, singers, and songwriters, and I have so much respect for the art and the craft of it,” he told Vehlinggo this month. “I felt humbled and so excited to be part of it. After two days in the studio, I was like, ‘Don’t let me ever leave here. I love it’.”
Sand is a burnt-out psychopath and wannabe rock star. He’s high on massive doses of potent psychedelics and his own messiah complex, and leads a particularly depraved, Christianity-tinged woodland cult. Some have compared Sand to Charles Manson. However, the former is more of a glam Jim Jones than Manson’s Hillbilly Hitler. In other words, Sand’s still a dangerous, murderous cult leader, but you wouldn’t find him with a swastika on his forehead. I wouldn’t lock eyes with him, though.
On screen in Mandy, Roache easily became Sand, eschewing any lingering associations with the straight-and-narrow Thomas Wayne or ADA Michael Cutter. This is even more pronounced on Lift It Down. We’re treated to haunting ’70s psychedelia and Sand’s sinister but mesmerizing cadence. This is a fascinating (and well executed) project and shouldn’t be seen as a cynical ploy to create a Mandy Cinematic Universe.
In the face of that, I caught up with Roache one evening over Zoom to discuss the making of Lift It Down; Roache’s Mandy performance; his musical experiences; and questionable spiritual movements, among other things. Although I’ve edited and condensed the interview for clarity and to fit Vehlinggo‘s house style, it’s still essentially a long-form Q&A. I hope you’ll be captivated throughout.
But before we get there, let’s take a look at the backstory behind Lift It Down and how it fits into the Mandy world. Essentially, the story goes that before Sand decamped L.A. in 1974 to the Shasta Mountain area to form his cult, the Children of the New Dawn, he tried his hand at music. He self-produced and -released an album of psych-folk that was “unremarkable in almost every way, save for the unrelenting vanity and egoism on display in the lyrics,” says Sacred Bones’ official biography. “This early album is one of the only existing documents of Sand.”
The lack of commercial success became the key reason Sand left SoCal to “settle in a place where his ‘truth’ would be ‘received by pure and open hearts’.” The Children would end up occupying a recording studio outside of Redding — paying the owner handsomely — for about three years while Sand and crew recorded what would become a “lost artifact of the transitional period between the late 60s and late 70s,” even as violence and death ensued on the sidelines. Eventually, the tapes were ordered stored away and the Children left the studio to pursue cult-like things and never returned.
It wasn’t until the massive wildfires in 2018 that the tapes were found and Lift It Down began its release journey, with Sacred Bones putting out the album in October 2020. Or so the story goes. (For the full version, refer to Sacred Bones. I skipped over some colorful elements. Also, don’t miss the late ’90s-style website that kicked off the album’s marketing campaign.)
Vehlinggo: I’ve read that it was a pretty intense experience for you to get into the role of Jeremiah Sand for Mandy, which makes sense given his nature. With the Lift It Down LP, did you have to similarly dive in or was he less of a dark entity then?
Linus Roache: No, it was a completely different experience. And, look, I helped write his backstory with Panos and he’s dark right from the get-go. This guy was just this oddball, weirdo outsider — alienated, angry, grandiose, egomaniac. In the backstory, he killed his parents. He’s a maniac. So no, he was always a dark character. But it is an interesting difference doing the album, as opposed to playing the role in the movie, which had its moments of incredible intensity of just tapping into something and overriding your basic moral ground in yourself — just having to completely ignore it all and just be in love with yourself. But with the album, it just was like, “Well, look, the coup of this is, Jeremiah is a failed rock star.”
“… You’re bathed in light, and you’re a god, with that microphone in front of you.”
I am not a real singer. All I’ve got to do is enjoy this as much as I possibly can and sing as great as I possibly can… and enjoy thinking you’re the one — the great rock star — and you’re bathed in light, and you’re a god, with that microphone in front of you. And to be honest, it was like a vicarious wet dream. For me, it was just like having so much creative fun. I worked really hard on the songs.
I was filming in Morocco on Homeland and… I’d get these scratch tracks and I’d be learning them. And I really, really learned them, because I wanted to go into the studio prepared, ready to nail it. I’d done so much work that when I got into the studio, I found out that apparently a lot of rock musicians don’t have it all sorted before they walk into the studio.
Part of the process is building and making up as they go, but we didn’t have a lot of time. I came in and we just went for it, and I was just loving it. I had singing lessons with Angel Deradoorian, who was also singing on some of the tracks. She’s an amazing singer. She helped me raise my octave level and my pitch. So, I did do all the work, but I thought, “All I’ve got to do is really be as serious about it and dedicated as I possibly can, and then it’ll work. Whatever mistakes I’m going to make are all part of the process.” So, that’s the way I approached it. After two days in the studio, I was like, “Don’t let me ever leave here. I love it.”
Was it hard at all to go between playing the buttoned-up White House Chief of Staff David Wellington on Homeland back to Sand while you were in Morocco?
Not at all. The way filming was working on Homeland that last season is that I’d shoot for a day and then I’d have five days off. Most of the character work you’re doing is in the moment on the set, in the scene. It was actually just wonderful to have a project to work on, to be honest, with all this downtime in my little apartment in Morocco.
The only thing I regret: I’ve got a little ukulele that I bring with me. I could have just knocked out a couple of my own little Jeremiah songs along the way, but I never thought to do it.
“Whatever mistakes I’m going to make are all part of the process.”
Overall, it sounds like it was a pretty fun way to balance your obligations.
I just was that hungry to go to work and do it as well as I could, and I had so much fun.
On “Taste the Whip,” for example, which is a completely wacky, out-of-control track — I don’t have the vocal chops to do that, but it didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. I’ve got to do it as if I am the best. So creatively, that was kind of fun to be able to do that. If I was seriously doing an album as myself, I don’t think I could [laughs].
Some of the most storied rockstars of the era that the Sand album would have been recorded in didn’t have the traditional chops, but they had a spirit about them or just an audacity, really. Along those lines, you’ve said you don’t have a musical background, but I think you’ve taken to this album’s songs really well and it sounds like you have some musical practice going on.
I play a tiny bit of guitar and ukulele… I love music. I listen to music. I sing along to stuff. I’ve sung in plays, which is very different from a song on film, but I’ve never actually done a musical. So, this was the first time I got to actually pretend to be a singer or a rock star, or what have you. Also, I loved being in the studio. For me [it] was very enlightening.
It’s so different from being on a film set. Because whatever you do there, it’s immediately out of your control and it’s months down the line that you get to see what happens with it.
Whereas in the studio, Randall [Dunn] would be there and we’d lay down the track. Then he’d go, “Listen to this,” and he’d switch a few things around and say “What about that? Why don’t we do this there?” And say, “Why don’t you go back in there and do this bit again, and then we’ll overdub this?” We’d done all the work. The songs were there. The words were there — for all of them but one [song], which I’ll tell you about. But we were sort of in the process of still creating it in the moment, and that’s so satisfying and so unlike filming.
It seems like a much more immediate or interactive process. What about the song without words? I’m intrigued.
Well, it was a very funny thing actually. I was getting all these songs… and sometimes I was trying to figure out the lyrics from the scratch tracks. They’d send me pictures of Panos’ notes and I’d have to decipher what the words were. But there was always this one song, and it was this spoken word song. We had thought, “Oh yeah, Panos is writing the lyrics. Right?”
And it just worked out with the timing of when we recorded — we started on a Monday and Panos couldn’t arrive till Tuesday. So, we were in the studio on the Monday, and because I’d done so much work, we banged out like two or three of the tracks in one day.
And of course, it was like, “Well, has the spoken word one been written yet?”
[Randall] said, “Yeah, Panos will be here tomorrow, he’ll be bringing it.” I got up the next day and I was heading down to Brooklyn to record. I remember I just thought for a moment, “What if Panos hasn’t written anything?” … On the subway I wrote down eight lines of just shit. We call it “negative yoga.” I arrived and saw Panos. We had a big bear hug and then a little chat. And I said, “So man, have you got the words?”
And he went, “Dude — I thought you were writing it.”
And I went, “Oh, fuck.” I said, “Well, I’ve written eight lines, [but] that’s not enough for the thing. Let’s go and listen to the music and I’ll just speak these lines and let’s just see.” So, I went in the booth, they started playing the music, and Randall cued me in and I started doing my eight lines very quickly. They’d run out and the music was still playing — so I just started talking. That first track is all just one take — one improvised idea — that just came out of me.
After I ended it, Panos just went, “Dude.” [laughs] We had a big hug and that’s it. What was beautiful about it: so much love and care and creativity went into it, you couldn’t go wrong.
So, would you do another Jeremiah Sand album?
Well, I would. I don’t know if the other guys would.
This question is a bit more about Sand in general, and you might have fielded your share of this question around the time of Mandy. What drew you into the Mandy project and Sand himself — the opportunity to work on a project that’s as batshit beautiful as this? It’s such a vastly different role from Thomas Wayne in Batman Begins or ADA Cutter in Law & Order, for example.
Well, that’s a beautiful way to describe it: “batshit beautiful.” I’ll steal that one. When I read Mandy, I didn’t get it. I had no reference point for this movie [or] Panos Cosmatos. I knew Nic Cage was batshit crazy and talented. Andrea Riseborough is amazing, and Johann Johannsson was doing the music. So, I thought there was something going on here. But when I first read it, I literally was like, “I have no idea if this is a pile of shit or a pile of beautiful creative whatever.”
That night I watched [Cosmatos’ pre-Mandy film,] Beyond the Black Rainbow. I had a couple of beers and I re-read the script. And suddenly, it just lifted off the page. And for me, particularly with Jeremiah, I got the archetype of the role. I got what the function was. And I got this journey of the male ego — the extreme, enlightened narcissism and the whole demise of that character; how it’s a revenge story. I just got it at a very core level.
And so, when I talked to Panos the next day, I still didn’t know who I was going to be meeting. I found this beautiful, witty, funny, sweet, smart, visionary dude… We just had that thing where… we were talking in the same language about the function of the role. I hadn’t officially been offered the role at that point, so when I came off that call I was like, “Oh my God, I really hope I get asked to do this.”
When he did offer you the role, was it a big psychological lift to dive into someone so unhinged?
Why it was hard, without going into a lot of detail… I’ve been a bit of a spiritual seeker in my life and I’ve gone on an interesting and pretty wacky journey. I’ve met a few of these so-called “enlightened” or “awakened” individuals, who are in their own ego. So, I actually knew firsthand a bit about that and I’d been on the other end of it as well.
Let’s get it straight, [it was] nothing like Jeremiah Sand. I’m talking about that energy of that individual who just believes that they really know everything, and they really are the center of the universe. And so, in a way for me, what the challenge was, was actually going down in there and realizing just how in one individual in particular, how much denial there is. And that’s where the challenge was.
How have you fared during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Well, it’s been tough for everyone. It’s been challenging and it’s been interesting, and it’s been sort of enlightening and difficult — all of that, really. I think the first part of it was that I just thought, “Right, okay. Got lots of free time, let’s start doing stuff.” I started doing courses on things. And my wife and I have written a script that we’re still working to try and get made. I started that — I’m working with a coach on that. That’s quite a serious endeavor and that’s a creative outlet.
“Mandy was a challenge [and] I’m better for it.”
I’m going to close with a more general question about your career. Across all of these different projects you’ve done over the years, what are a few things that you’ve learned about yourself — as you’ve played all of these different types of characters?
Well, I’ve learned that I’m actually better when I’ve got a challenge. Mandy was a challenge. I’m better for it. Not every time do you get the opportunity to really play something and be a part of something that’s just really soup-to-nuts creative. We all thrive better in those situations, but I really love that opportunity, and they don’t come along all the time.
Lift It Down is available now via Sacred Bones on vinyl and in digital form. It was also initially offered on 8-track tape, but you might need to hunt for it on Discogs at this point. You can also buy an earlier single, “Amulet of the Weeping Maze,” released in 2018 by Lakeshore Records, around the time that label put out the Mandy soundtrack.