BAND OF THE WEEK: THE GOLDEN DAWN ARKESTRA

21 Aug

Throughout the stunning six-song debut from the super-sonic, solar-centric Austin, TX, cosmic collective known as The Golden Dawn Arkestra, the intent feels solidly unambiguous. “Come and join us” goes the call, both directly and discreetly. Manifesting itself in the form of album-as-invitation, this Arkestra offers an overture that’s both unassailable and undeniable.

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“Come and join us,” coos the Arkestra as they unfurl their bananas banner of interplanetary influences, under which we find the rhythm, the raga, the bop, the hop, the surf, the skank, the keys, the space-bass in your face, the sound of the funky drummer(s) and an absolutely magical, possibly inhuman horn section that couldn’t play a bum note if they tried. Forget one nation – this is the sound of the ten-thousand universes, wrapped tight under a million grooves.

“Come and join us,” is the enticement unleashed by The Golden Dawn Arkestra, heard clearly on the opening invocation, “Afropocalypse. The opening seconds are momentarily, solidly spooky (an entrance appropriate for a delicately-dancing Vincent Price), before the wheel turns and we’re thrust directly into a grandly grinding, slinky, serpentine slice of swagger – The Selecter by way of Saturn, all hail Ra and a “Rama-Lama-Fa-Fa-Fa,” too. The invitation has been made.

“Come and join us,” stands the invitation from The Golden Dawn Arkestra, though by the time the musical mirage known as “Oasis (The Legend of Nathanial Horne)” dissolves seamlessly into “Dimensions,” the listener may have the distinct feeling that they’ve entered into an alternate dimension. And you have. There’s no need to accept the kind invitation of the Arkestra – you’ve been along for the ride the entire time. Welcome aboard, shipmate.

The debut release from The Golden Dawn Arkestra is available here.

 

“However young,

The seeker who sets out upon the way

Shines bright over the world.

 

But day and night

The one who is awake

Shines in the radiance of the spirit.

 

Meditate.

Live purely.

Be quiet.

Do your work, with mastery.

 

Like the moon,

Come out from behind the clouds!

Shine.”

—From the Dhammapada

ANCIENT OCEAN

19 Aug

We could try to describe the music of Ancient Ocean. Really. We could.

We’ve done it before, on the occasion of Ancient Ocean’s split EP with the comparably indescribable Expo ’70. There, we described Ancient Ocean as existing within “the deepest realms of deep listening, droning soundscapes both ambient and astral in nature, weaved together with a sense of a serpentine stream of consciousness.” We also said the music of Ancient Ocean brings forth a certain set of emotions – “pleasantly puzzling, stimulating, and enthusiastic emotions, brought about by a warm exploration of individuals slowing time.”

The individual slowing time in this case is John Bohannon, the sea-worthy steward of the Ancient Ocean sound, and the occasion of us revisiting our inability to describe that sound owes its existence to the release of “Through the Fear of Aging” EP (via the always-excellent Fire Talk Records). It’s a truly extraordinary set of four songs, slowing time for thirty minutes or forever, and we found ourselves unable, unwilling to listen without feeling transformed.

Perhaps you’ll feel the same?

We could try to describe the music of Ancient Ocean. Really. We could.

But you can take a more direct approach and listen for yourself. And instead of describing the music of Ancient Ocean, we’ll focus on some words about time written by our friend Dan.

“In the realm of “being time” that is elaborated in the writings of the great thirteenth century Japanese Zen master Dogen, time does not only flow from past to present to future. Time moves in mysterious ways, passing dynamically between all ten times and beyond. Time is not some intractable external container we are caught in. We are time. When we fully express ourselves right now, that is time. We cannot help but fully express our deepest truth right now. We cannot avoid being time. Even a partial, half-hearted exertion of our being time is completely a partial being time.

When we realize that we are ineluctably being time in this very body and mind, we can choose to be and act from our deepest and noblest intention. We can choose to express our being of time in a way that connects with all beings here now, and also connects with all beings, all of our ancestors, throughout the generations of past and future. We can intend to be a time that accepts the support and guidance of all beings of all times.”

We are truly thrilled to present John Bohanon’s answers to our ridiculous questions below, and we truly hope you’ll take some time with “Through the Fear of Aging.” Enjoy.

What is the first word (apart from the word “aging”) that comes to your mind when you think of the songs on “Through the Fear of Aging” as a whole? How do you think the final versions of the four songs on the cassette differ from your earliest thoughts in relation to that title? What evolution do you hear in the songs that excites or surprises you the most?

Nostalgia, I think would be the word. When I create something, it’s my way of kind of capturing that period of my life, and while many people don’t like listening back on their earlier works, for me, its the perfect recollection of a specific period of time in my life. The title didn’t really come until later. I spent the past two years creating music at a very slow pace because other aspects of my life got in the way, and I quit my day job to focus on creating music just recently. Listening to these songs now, several months after they were conceived and after major life changes, it really speaks to the healing quality they had on me at that time. I play things on loop for days before I let them out into the world, so they must have had a very calming quality on me at that period.

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Considering the time span from adolescence to today, as both a musician and a music fan, is there a certain period of time in your own life in which you’ve felt a deep connection to music – in a way that’s perhaps more intense than your “normal” obsession with sound? Is that period defined by an obsession with any particular artists or albums?

I think it comes in waves, to be honest. I wish I could go back and listen to everything with 13-year old ears, but that’s just not the way it happens. It’s almost more impactful nowadays when I hear something that blows me away because I still get that mentality from when I was a teenager of listening to something 300 times in a row until I wear it out. But again, that’s what captures certain periods in my life the best – I’ve developed a very intense emotional and physical attachment to music from a very young age.

What was your very first experience playing music with other people? How do you think that experience impacts the music you create today with Ancient Ocean? Is there an aspect of your own musical creativity that you would like to see change, or that you feel creates an obstacle for what you wish to accomplish?

I’ve played music with others since I was a teenager. Ancient Ocean is really a pretty insular project in that I rarely record with others. But that will be changing, as a lot of the material over the years has been largely improvised layers, while these days, I’m starting to develop greater frameworks that require the talents of others. I don’t think it’s an obstacle, its just something that wasn’t necessarily called for until now.

Can you recall your earliest recognition of what we might broadly term the meditative qualities of music? How have your thoughts about both the meditative and the improvisational elements of Ancient Ocean’s music (in the broadest possible definition) evolved over the past few years? How has getting older impacted your music in a way that you never could have predicted?

My earliest recognition of meditative music was a pretty young age. I bought one of those rainforest sounds cassettes at a target or something when I was probably 8 or 9 – they had the little sound stations where you could sample all these various sample cassettes. I used to listen to those all the time going to bed, and was always more interested in making mix-tapes I could fall asleep to than party to. As for the development, I had to create an identity that was my own through the project, and now I feel comfortable with it. Taking a few years off from really pursuing it has actually turned out to be for the best because I feel a lot more confident in what I’m creating than I did at the project’s conception. As for getting older, I think it’s allowed me to be a lot more patient with the evolving of pieces.

What is the significance of the name Ancient Ocean for you, and how do you think that significance has changed since the earliest days of the band? How do you prefer to describe the sound of Ancient Ocean to someone who has never heard your sounds previously?

The name came about years ago through the last monologue in the Jean-Luc Godard film, “Week-end.” I have a weird relationship with it these days in that I don’t feel I relate to it the same way I did then. To be honest, I don’t really like describing the sound of it, because it relates to everyone in a different way. I like for it to be accessible to a non-music diehard audience as well. I’ve played yoga classes and meditation courses that have been light-years better and more enlightening than many of the shows I’ve played. It’s just shown me that I can’t really box it in to one particular thing.

Can you tell us a bit about the origin of the song, “The Illusion of Being Eternal,” which we find to be an extraordinarily beautiful song? What thoughts led you to that title? Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “All things return eternally, and ourselves with them. We have already existed in times without number, and all things with us,” … but then again, what do you think was in his record collection?

I think it’s just dealing with this idea that a lot of people create for some greater purpose of becoming eternal. It all comes with the fear of death, which doesn’t particularly concern me; rather, the process of time passing is what scares the hell out of me – it’s something that has been very hard for me to cope with over the past couple of years, and has created a lot of anxiety in my life. Fleeting moments and the days go by a hell of a lot quicker than they did when I was younger, and I’m doing everything I can to capture them through my music. I look forward to creating relationships to other mediums that can help me deal with the process a little better. For the first time in my adult life I have the space of mind to really allow myself to grow creatively and let go a little bit, and it’s a very euphoric feeling.

What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite Danzig album of all time and why?

I find myself going back to the same things a lot. A lot of early country and bluegrass, Brazilian music from the 50s and 60s, things like that. All the modern incredible guitar players like William Tyler, Glenn Jones, Daniel Bachman, Bill Orcutt – that stuff inspires me tremendously. Recently, I have gotten a lot more into early industrial music and darker music – I’ve been a metal fan my entire life, but a lot of the stuff like Coil and early Swans didn’t hit with me until a few years ago, and it hit really hard. Tons of amazing dark music going down in NYC right now; it’s really inspiring, and coming out a lot in a bunch of the things I’m recording.

How was your experience playing as one of the campsite artists at Austin Psych Fest earlier this year? Were there any bands in particular that you got to see perform during your time there that made a particular impression on you? Did you happen to meet a strange man in a monkey mask, handing out Revolt of the Apes stickers?

It was good! I was the first person that made sound for the weekend so I played a particularly ambient set so that the people that saw it could feel some sense of peace and positive energy going into the festival. I had a bunch of friends playing there, which is my favorite thing about Psych Fest – real strong communal vibes. I think I was most blown away by Bardo Pond, who I’ve seen a ton, but just the fact that their dedication to what they do is so unwavering and timeless, really hit me hard that weekend. I somehow managed to fall asleep during the two loudest sets of the weekend – Liars and Loop, but both were some kind of demented lullabies that just knocked me clean out. And yes, you gave me a sticker! But you didn’t have the monkey mask on – ha.

Author Susan Moon wrote the following:

“Impermanence is what gets us old. And thank goodness for impermanence. If we just stayed the same, like a plastic flower that gathered dust and never wilted, how attractive would that be? How much fun? I’m here now, petals curling, alive.”

Your thoughts?

I think there is a lot of truth to that, specifically in my current state of life. I was very much feeling the routine of life creeping up and it really ate at me harder and harder as the days passed. It’s really the first time I’ve let myself live a life with freedom to create, travel, and live the way that I want to. Don’t think I’ll ever be able to live a life of permanence, which is a huge blessing, and a huge curse!

What’s next for Ancient Ocean?

Touring in the fall with my good friends Woodsman in the UK/EU. Some more US dates to come, but I’m going to hole up a good bit and record and work on what’s coming together as likely the first proper Ancient Ocean full length. I’m working on a record of all acoustic guitar compositions that I will likely put out under my own name in 2015.

Ancient Ocean’s “Through the Fear of Aging” is available from Fire Talk Records, both digitally and as a limited-edition cassette.

THE MOVEMENTS

16 Jul

Graying memories not withstanding, we’re confident that it was during our initial introduction to the band’s music that these apes fell in love with The Movements, a love affair brought upon by the relatively unassuming release of a seven-inch on Crusher Records, entitled “The Death of John Hall D.Y.

Over and over we listened to “The Death of John Hall D.Y.” And while it’s slightly tempting to follow convention with undue humility here and declare that from such humble, two-track beginnings, we never could have imagined the not one, but two, magnificent, magical full-length albums (“Like Elephants 1” and “Like Elephants 2,” conveniently) that would soon manifest from The Movements, never could have imagined that the music of The Movements would soon approach a place of true, unsurpassable resonance in our hearts, minds and ears, never could have imagined that the two albums would be joined in holy record-nerdery as the debut release from Sunrise Ocean Bender Records, the recently animated venture of long-time honorary ape Mr. Atavist.

Actually, we did know. We knew … something. We knew from the very first time that we heard The Movements that their sound was special, that their songs would remain in our lives for years and years to come, that we would be compelled to keep an eye on their musical path for as long as The Movements remain in motion.

That’s not said to sound pompous – this is no humble brag. This is simply an expression of how wondrously moving we find the music of The Movements, and perhaps you will, too. We couldn’t be more proud to have Thomas Widholm, drummer of The Movements, and guitarist Christian “Krita” Johansson respond to our ridiculous questions below. Enjoy.

What does the word “movement” represent for you, in regard not only to your music, but in a broader context as well? How has your relationship to this word evolved over the years? Does your current state of mind have you yearning for more movement in your life, or less?

The Movements are starting to have kids nowadays, so life is definitely moving, after standing more or less still some years ago. So it has definitely been a lot of movement in our lives these last couple of years. I guess that the word movement is a quite important aspect of life. To be aware that everything is always changing, whether you want it or not, and for your own sake you better try and keep up with it. Otherwise, you might get stuck. We have always tried to follow the movements our music makes. Mostly we don´t change it consciously, but we have gone along with it and I think that is why we have been able to play together for so long. It has been creative.

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Can you pinpoint an album or artist that you view as absolutely critical to your musical development? What was it about that music that such an impression on you, and how did it alter your way of thinking about your own potential as an artist … if at all? How have your thoughts about this music evolved since you first heard it … if at all?

I can say that 13th Floor Elevators, Hawkwind and The Byrds have been very important for this band, but in different periods of our development. I don´t think it has changed our way of thinking about our potential, but digging in to the music of these bands has happened in periods where we needed to develop. It made us want to learn how to create new vibes. These are great bands but now we have gone through them and need to find more music that makes us wanna go further.

In what ways do you find that your physical surroundings impact your music? Are their specific environments that you search out, feeling that they are conducive to thinking about or creating music? Are there environments that you consciously avoid?

For me there is no specific physical environment that makes me more creative or less. It is more about where your minds at. And that is always moving.

Our rehearsal room / studio is located in the harbor. So if some environment affects us, it’s that environment. When we rehearse and need a break we usually go out and sit on the dock and watch the ships leave port and head out to the open sea.

When do you think you first gained confidence in your abilities as a musician, or at least, as a part of a band? Do you think you still maintain a sense of innocence with regard to making music, and do you find that is a difficult thing to maintain?

I have always had good confidence as a musician but it has definitely grown with the years. And, of course, innocence is almost impossible to maintain. That lies in the process of becoming older and wiser. You win something but you also lose something. You just have to accept that that is always the case. But try out new things is a way to keep your mind less aware of what you are doing and that keeps your mind younger, I guess.

How would you compare and contrast your emotions when it comes to performing live verses constructing The Movements music for recording? They seem to be reliant on a different set of skills – but is there a different emotional response in your mind as well? Does one make you feel closer to the music than the other?

For many years I thought recording was a process that was necessary to do to make good live shows. I have always enjoyed recording but before it was not the main thing for me. But now it is the opposite. I still enjoy playing live but recording is where I now feel creative and where I lose myself in the music. I have totally gone mad about this the last four years and made more recordings than ever before. We have our own studio so that makes it easy. I think making an album with the right flow is an art form. There are so many pieces that shall fall into place and I love that process. How instrument sounds and playing with overdubs is what gets me high nowadays.

We would rarely be so blunt about this, but because of the magnificence of the albums “Like Elephants 1” and “Like Elephants 2,” both as separate entities and as a collective whole, we’re hoping you’ll tell us everything there possibly is to know about the album’s opening song, “The Death of John Hall D.Y.” From where does the title originate? What does the song mean to you? Would you be willing to tell us a bit more about the lyrics to the song in general and the lines, “Out of time / And in to the shadows / I’ll be fine / With God on my side / I’ll be leaving the earth today / But where it’s too hard to say / I know we’ll meet again someday”? Without exaggeration, this is one of our very favorite songs of all time, by any band, anywhere. It’s a miraculous start to a miraculous album.

Big thanks!! It is one of the songs I am most proud of, of all songs I have written. The lyrics were first about taking your own life but being OK with it, if you know what I mean. Not having anxiety about it but accepting that I can´t reach further with myself so I end it with peace of mind. But then I read a book about this dude John Hall, son of one of Gothenburg’s most successful businessmen in the 18th century. He tried to follow in his father´s footsteps but didn’t have his father´s nose for business. He was instead interested in music, art and science. He was quickly fooled of his fortune and died on the streets as a homeless man. His way of seeing things and his death fit right in to the lyrics so we named the song after him.

What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite Swedish band of all time and why?

Lately I have been listening to a lot of African music. Both with all these collections of 70s African music but also contemporary bands like Tinariwen or Bombino, for example. But the best Swedish band of all times is Träd Gräs och Stenar. Also Harvester, which is the same members more or less. You have to hear it. According to me there are not many bands that really manage to build their songs around long psychedelic jams, especially bands that don’t just rely on the guitar pedals to do the job. Then it often gets boring and uninteresting. Träd Gräs och Stenar is the exact opposite; they are one of those bands that have total feeling and total interaction with each other for the music they make. In my opinion they are the true masters of psychedelic jams.

Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor we are attempting to start right now) that the album title “Like Elephants” is a direct reference to how the band approaches a traditional Swedish smorgasbord?

Ha ha! Then we should have called the album “Like Pigs”!

In “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Milan Kundera wrote the following:

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

Your thoughts?

You shall always try and choose the path between. In all things in life the truth lies between. It might sound boring but if I have learned something in my life, this is what I have learned. So don´t over-think things; go with what makes you happy.

What’s next for The Movements?

Don´t know, really. Some festivals and touring and then seeing what happens when Sunrise Ocean Bender releases “Like Elephants” as an double album in the US. I expect nothing but I´m happy about everything.

“Like Elephants 1 and 2″ is available now from Sunrise Ocean Bender.

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BAND OF THE WEEK: JJAAXXNN

22 Jun

Action JJAAXXNN is his name! Bold adventure is his game!

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Wait. Slow down – you move too fast. You’ve got to make the moment last, or so a wise man once advised us, which is advice we take to heart, especially in the emerging days of summer. For a perhaps even wiser man once asked the musical question, “Who loves the sun?” and when the surprising answer was revealed to be “not everyone,” we became awaked. Not everyone?!? That’s us! We’re all one, dude.

So when the summer sun asserts its dominance, we submit in the form of the worship of sound waves. Or something.

What we’re trying to say is that it’s really, really hot outside and “Space Case” – the debut cassette from JJAAXXNN, out now from Translinguistic Other – sounds absolutely amazing. “Summer time is here, kiddies,” the wisest man of them all (right?) once announced, “and it’s time to take a trip. Let’s take a trip!”

Listen: It should be clear at this point that we have no idea what we’re talking about. We don’t know anything about JJAAXXNN apart from his name, and we’re skeptical about whether or not bold adventure is really his game (if we had to put money on it, we’d say “high adventure” is closer to his field of play). Even when Translinguistic Other translates the secret symbols of JJAAXXNN to reveal the identity of “California drifter Joshua Bruner, formerly of San Francisco psych jammers Magic Leaves,” we’re no closer to the truth.

Nor do we know what to call his music. Four of the nine tracks on “Space Case” have the word “dub” attached to their titles, if that helps you out at all. There’s not a guitar in sight – in “Space Case,” no one can hear you riff.

This is what we do know: JJAAXXNN’s “Space Case” is our constant companion this summer, one that allows us to submit to the sun, to float alongside the clouds, and to enjoy sound waves that are as natural and powerful as the ocean waves. Regardless of the season, these songs compile to form an easy, enveloping grandeur, ass planted firmly on the earth, head exploding into an ever expanding universe, beats beaten by the heart. We heart this.

“Space Case” from JJAAXXNN is available on cassette from Translinguistic Other and as a digital download at JJAAXXNN’s Bandcamp page.

“Thoughts are like clouds and can vanish just as clouds naturally disperse into space. The expression, meaning thoughts, are like clouds, while rigpa, the awakened state, is like sunlit space. I use the metaphor of sunlit space to illustrate that space and awareness are indivisible. You do not accomplish or create the sunlit sky. We cannot push the clouds away, but we can allow the clouds of thought to gradually dissolve until finally all the clouds have vanished. Ultimate realization occurs when there is no trace of the cloud layers whatsoever.”

- “Rainbow Painting,” by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

BAND OF THE WEEK: DOUG TUTTLE

15 Jun

How do we love this self-titled album by Doug Tuttle? Let us count the ways.

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Through our countless encounters with the album’s eleven songs, however, we find we’ve lost count. If we were to begin with the extra-terrestial tape manipulation that starts “With Us Soon,” and stop with the transcendent bass-line that lies at the core of album-ender “Better Days (Wools Grown Lighter),” and then add up all of the tiny treasures in-between, we’d surely wind up with a sum reaching into the millions.

Instead of counting these million things, we turn to another question: What’s not to love?

Don’t ask us. Not that we’re looking, but we haven’t found anything. At all. We’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time with this album since its release earlier this year  (while also having the distinct pleasure of seeing Mr. Tuttle and his stellar, snappy band play these songs on the water, on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Austin, Texas). And through it all, our affection for the album has only grown. Where you plant your love is where it grows, dude. Turn this love … up.

From start to finish, we find Doug Tuttle’s album absolutely magnificent, memorable song merging into memorable song, all with hooks sweet enough to make our knees buckle.

It’s been said that one can’t really, truly love an album until they’ve committed themselves to drawing a comically sub-standard interpretation of the album’s cover art work with Sharpie’s, on a home-burned CD for the car.

Actually, we don’t think that anyone has ever said that, about anything, until now. Which is appropriate, because that’s what we did with Doug Tuttle’s self-titled album, an album we truly love.

DT

Doug Tuttle’s self-titled album is available from Trouble In Mind Records

“We are designed to come back together once more, and we all exploded outward way back when so that we could begin the long, slow climb back into each other’s arms. Without distance, without being apart, we could never then become one. If we were still packed together in that infinitesimally dense cosmic seed, where your lung was my hand and my thoughts were your blood, we could never bear witness to oneness, which is a beautiful thing and deserves an audience. Things flow into each other and back to themselves, gaining themselves through the other and the other through themselves. It’s natural. Everything falls into its proper place after spending some time apart.” – Shozan Jack Haubner 

 

BAND OF THE WEEK: BABYLON SWEETHEARTS

18 May

What we don’t know about Babylon Sweethearts could fill a book. Not a very good book, of course, but a book that carries a title like, “We Know Nothing About Babylon Sweethearts Except That They’re from California and Their Music Made Us Drive at Dangerous Speeds.”

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Of course, the music of Babylon Sweethearts (nor the weirdos behind it) didn’t actually make us do anything. Babylon Sweethearts simply made the music – the bone-breaking, fanny-shaking, frantically fuzz-fueled rock and/or roll music – and the rest was our karma, dude.

It was us, not them, that decided to roll the dice on their three-song cassette (the perfectly-titled “Full Stack – Heart Attack,” out on Ghoul House Records). It was us, not them, who then restlessly burned those three songs to CD (while assuming something else was being burned by Babylon Sweethearts), and took them for a drive, down the way of a sparsely-populated backroad in the creaky, cranky Central Virginia. And it was us, not them, who soon realized our velocity had gotten the better of us, resulting in the unwanted attention of the man with the radar gun. It was probably something about “Leave This Town” that tipped him off.

Who could blame him? The songs of Babylon Sweethearts certainly sound like they were conceived of while doing something illegal, or at least advocating something illegal, or at the very least, encouraging those listening to them to do or advocate something illegal. We fought the law and the law won, but we don’t blame Babylon Sweethearts. We know nothing about them, except that we love them. Loud is the law, sweetheart.

“Full Stack – Heart Attack” by Babylon Sweethearts  is out on cassette from Ghoul House Records. 

“Through the magic of reflecting on the teachings, their force—sometimes clear, sometimes obscure—will cause ferment in our minds from which we can gradually distill the wisdom of reflection. This requires discipline, but also bravery—the bravery to dig deep down to uncover our confusion.”

- Lama Jampa Thaye

DEVONIAN GARDENS

8 May

Things change in Devonian Gardens. Things stay the same in Devonian Gardens. There is only Devonian Gardens.

We’d like to describe the way that “Solar Shifting” – the indescribably great album released this past year by the Canadian band Devonian Gardens (and out May 13, 2014, on CD from BBiB Records) – has dominated our consciousness through recent months. But to do that, we need to beat a dead horse, an exercise viewed as futile at best (although regular exercise is essential, it could be argued).

 

In this case, the dead horse is in fact “Dead Horse,” a Canadian band that we praised as “Band of the Week” some two and a half years ago – and one that we still listen to with alarming regularity to this day. You see, Dead Horse is Devonian Gardens. Or was. Or perhaps someday will be again. It’s all fairly unimportant.

What we would like to impart, rather, is the enlivening, sometimes subtle sonic blossoming that is Devonian Gardens on “Solar Shifting.” Devonian Gardens are one of those special bands that really don’t sound quite like any other band – at once not trying to sound like any other band and not not trying to sound like any other band. They are naturally beautiful. They are Devonian Gardens. There is only Devonian Gardens.

We couldn’t be more thrilled to have Devonian Gardens answer our ridiculous questions below. Enjoy.

How is your perception of yourself altered by playing music with others? What have you learned about yourself through playing music that you were most surprised to learn? Does being in a band impact the way you think about other bands in any noticeable way?

Jennifer Crighton: You grow and expand your form when you are working with other people whose skills you respect. There are times when differences of opinion can create some tension, but ultimately the act of being in a band like this is about sharing ideas with other people you think are amazing. This means we are always pushing each other’s boundaries as we respond and adjust to a wealth of musical options much greater than we would have at our disposal as individuals. I think more about the relationships in bands than I did before I had the experience of being in one, imagining what shared or disparate influences were brought to the table by each member and about the circumstances that allowed them to be combined in such a way.

Danny Vescarelli: I ponder my own characteristics and those of bands as a way to discover new directions and sense what comes naturally as opposed to what takes focus, and I’ve realized if I’m oblivious to any “should do that / shouldn’t do that” thought process, then that’s when music feels best. Playing has been an extraordinary and sometimes bumpy road towards self-fulfillment and group betterment, with perception navigating the give-and-take that goes along with that.

Marie Sulkowski: To me, the musician’s journey can feel like climbing a never ending ladder, where all the steps have not yet materialized. Reaching out to grab hold of the next notch in the sequence, and finding out it is not yet in existence. Just as soon as preparing to plummet, the step appears and the journey continues. It always surprises me when you think that you have hit a dead end, but something within speaks up and finds a solution. Through playing music I have learned that music is always being created within the self, conscious or unconscious. It is impossible to tune out; the dial was broken off ages ago. So the never-ending quest for balance continues, and it impacts the way I think about other music, art, life, and existence in general.

Ryan Bourne: For me it’s the transition from chronic thinking solo experiencer to participant in this really visceral landscape. Self-perception is sort of turned inside out, and replaced by a kind of polyhedral organism I’m an arm of. There’s a lot of surprise, a lot of mystery in that process, every time we play. Being in a band has involved a deepening recognition of the community, that there are all these collectives of fabulous weirdos out there, and this great exchange that comes from that in terms of inspiration, competition, mutual support.

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Can you point to a specific live performance that triggered a shift in your own personal musical evolution, leaving an impression to this day? What was it about that performance that made it so compelling to you? What does the word “performance” mean to you in the context of Devonian Garden playing live?

DV: Around 2003 I tripped into a small town bar and caught this bluesy band with a serious “Freedom Rock” bent. They’d upped the anti by bringing a lighting rig, a keyboardist with a Leslie speaker acquired from an ex-Iron Butterfly member, one guitarist in a Tex-Mex poncho and cowboy hat plus another with a big red ZZ-biker beard, a bandana and a madman voice possessed by 110% heartland gusto. I learned a lot about performance energy that night, and of music’s ability to transport. There was also something about these older gentlemen that helped me understand the lifelong commitment one could be making in becoming a performer.

MS: I think music is the release of soul energy. When an audience ingests that energy, they take it and make something of it that is unique to them. If it is received and reciprocated, then a VIBE is set in place and to me that is performing. Also cloaking oneself in freaky garbs is pretty alright as well.

RB: There was one time in the Gulf Islands on the Canadian West Coast I forgot what kind of sweet I’d ingested before the set and found myself in an absolutely delicious bliss, just mind fucked at how GOOD it felt to play. There was no apparent obstruction to ability and the band-brain was sort of playing me while I was playing it. That one stuck. Performing with DG is like being near the bottom of a river – it feels thick, heavy. Performance is a kind of absorption we’re all involved in that we’re inviting the audience to participate in. That absorption dictates the physical performance – and the garb.

JC: Up until I first played with a jazz quartet at music college, a long time ago now, my musical experiences had been either classical where my part was really precise and prescribed, or rebelling against that structure by writing and performing solo. Improvisation with other people was something that completely changed the way I listened, my perception of the whole structure of a song, its elements and how it fit together and could be deconstructed. In a live performance setting that meant getting behind ideas before you knew they would work. It really illustrated how much of music hinges on the element of trust and how absolutely essential that is. Listening to each person perceiving the soul of a song, interpreting a melody or group of chords in their own way, has become invaluable. It continues to alter and expand my own musical horizons exponentially, adding to the straight-up pleasure of jamming stuff out.

Further into the cave of personal musical evolutions, what bands or artists were you most obsessed with in your youth, and what is your relationship to that music now? What was the first non-musical influence – a book, a sculpture, a conversation, etc. – that you were conscious of coming through your music?

RB: Obvious one, but the first three Floyd albums, and “Relics,” all of which I discovered randomly on cassette in junior high (they sold said cassettes at department stores back then, and there was no Internet yet). They’re still these strange artifacts of a magical, inexhaustible realm I want to lose myself in. First non-musical influence was the obvious experimentation that “See Emily Play” might lead a 16-year-old to, and how that informed the pop-psych books on Tibetan Buddhism and a particular cartoon book of Zen koans I pored over endlessly.

JC: My dad had a doozy of a record collection. Joni Mitchell’s self-portrait on the cover of “Clouds” produced a kind of terrified wonder in me. She was so intense with that quintessential Canadian landscape behind her. I probably wrote my first real song in response to her music. I was always seeking out the women especially, who to this day still blow my mind … The Breeders, Liz Phair, Mazzy Star and Bjork, to name a few. The more I look forward in music the more I am inclined to look back; you have to do both to keep a sense of balance, to see how much everything is informed by everything else. As for non-musical influences I went to a Steiner school where we regularly sang our times-tables, so I never saw music as particularity separate from the things that influenced it; it was just another tool for perception.

DV: My broad tastes might be traceable to the early 90s – I was super into country music before converting to Nirvana-worship and heavier rock by the middle of the decade. Later on, when playing music was finally starting to stick, my parents gifted me the “Rust Never Sleeps” film and the unofficial Jimmy McDonough biography on Neil Young. This continually significant influence (read: nerdy obsession) arrived in time for my transition away from home, providing the best examples of how themes like soul searching, hang-ups and spaced-out ramblings can drift from life into song without making everyone else uncomfortable.

MS: I listened to a ton of ELO when I was younger. The album “Time” hit me like a brick the first time I heard it. I was nine years old and my parents were driving on the autobahn. It felt like lift off. These days my favorite band is … ELO, still, I love them! They cover it all for me. I recommend them to anyone’s ears. As for non-musical, space and time seem to extract themselves from my psyche, as well as the topics of karma and the non-material world.

From an artistic sense – or a spiritual sense, or a personal sense, or all three – what does the name Devonian Gardens represent to you? Was there a single reason for the change in name away from Deadhorse? How have your ambitions or impressions of the band altered or shifted since that shift?

JC: By definition, the Devonian Gardens are a fecund, murky and mystical place populated by giant hairy fern-like plants, where fish take their first slippery steps out of the primordial ooze. It’s a garden marking a seminal time for evolution. Our namesake is also an indoor glass house in downtown Calgary that used to be a prime spot to make out and drop out; you could hide from the often extreme and changeable Calgary weather, with the overfed koi and slightly haggard looking turtles in a steamy oasis. In a way, the contrast between the mystical and humorous elements implied by the new name is something you might only really get if you lived here and had visited to the old Devonian Gardens (they have since been redesigned). For us, the contradiction of meaning preserves a grain of the irreverence intended by our original moniker, albeit with a different vibe. If you’ve gotten your hands on a copy of our first record, you could take a good look at back cover, where this journey and transformation was potentially foretold, many moons ago.

We changed the name because we were asked to, or rather threatened in the legal sense. It was also the right time to do so. The old moniker was officially retired at a local “End of the World” music festival on December 21, 2012. The symbolism of laying a dead horse to rest in order to grow a primordial garden is not lost on us, either; it feels very apt at this moment. I would say that the new name suggests the kind of exuberant growth of sound and ideas that comes working with so many songwriters, this band is very much like an unruly and slightly out of control garden we are tasked with tending.

When listening to your stunning new album “Solar Shifting,” we’re struck by just how much individual emotion runs throughout, with the result not being a schizophrenic sound but rather a cohesive whole. What perspectives do you feel other band members contribute that, left to your own devices, you would not be able to offer to the Devonian Gardens sound? Did you set out with a vision of “Solar Shifting” as a complete LP or did these songs have to find a way to live together?

Melissa McWilliams: Since most of the tunes weren’t recorded live off-the-floor, we had to adapt daily routines with our producer Jay Crocker to, like you said, find a way for them to live together. Almost like a reverse restraining order effect, we were never more than a few feet away from each other throughout most of this journey. The sound is wholly due to the fact that we always had each other to confide in. We all played a role in each other’s installments. As the drummer for this band, the others and especially my rhythmic better, Bourne, play such a huge role in my part. I’m so astounded everyday to be able to collaborate with such imaginative writers that create a kaleidoscope-like bed for me to rest my talents.

Without asking you to spell-out anything such blatant as a “meaning,” what does the song “Night Beams” mean to you? Are we hearing this line correctly – “Once upon a time, there were many confused eyes, there were too many things to decide, well that time is right now” – and if so, what can you tell us about its origin?

MS: “Night Beams” is a very old song, I wrote it almost ten years ago. You are close to getting that line right, but instead of “confused eyes,” it is “confused lives.” Although, “confused eyes” is waaaaaaay better in my opinion! I wish I wrote that! As an 18 year old, my whole trip was of time speeding up, “day and night spiral hand in hand” (sun sets, moon rises, and repeat) wake up, do the drill, sleep, have dreams, wake up, have coffee, go to work, go home, eat, sleep. Try not to think about it, just keep going. The times of the past, present, future. Not being in tune with much, but just existing. I think I was feeling much of this at that time. I have learned much since then. I think these days I would be like, “Hey self, what about survival? It’s a thing, grow up! Things are OK if you make them that way, you young ass turd.”

Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that your next album will be a concept album about the band Devo working in a nursery with Ian Curtis, entitled “Devo ‘n Ian: Gardens!”?

DV: We’d much rather continue with our meditations on the attempted absence of any delectable thought of Booji Boy in his crib banging away at “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” with guest-babysitter Bernard Shakey, for all of heaven’s eternity.

What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite song by Shooting Guns and why?

MM: The only thing you should be listening to: Our Solar System.

RB: Marie and I are listening to Amen Dunes, Robbie Basho, and early renaissance music as we write this. We can’t think and listen to Shooting Guns at the same time.

DV: While not necessarily one of the deepest Shooting Guns cuts, “Public Taser” was the first one to cut me (and the first cut is the deepest). That one amazing riff comes around a few times as the song builds, like a normal, albeit above-average bass/guitar fill, then suddenly it’s getting looped and dug into so good and it’s like “hell fucking yeah! The fill is the chorus, the fill is the chooorruus!!”

In his book “The Age of Wonder: How the romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science,” author Richard Holmes (rumored to be the original drummer for Shooting Guns) says the following:

“Physical vision – one might say scientific vision – brings about a metaphysical shift in the observer’s view of reality as a whole. The geography of the earth, or the structure of the solar system, are in an instant utterly changed, and forever. The explorer, the scientific observer, the literary reader, experience the Sublime: a moment of revelation into the idea of the unbounded, the infinite.”

Your thoughts?

RB: A lost Douglas Adams cover depicting Shooting Guns’ original drummer Richard Holmes floating in concentric crystal spheres using a magnifying glass to turn a bowl of DNA strands into jelly belly Mobius strips.

What’s next for Devonian Gardens?

JC: We have some definite plans, and plenty of dreams too. These days you have to be a bit of a dreamer to be in this business; luckily we all have that trait in spades, and some amazing support for this album in particular, which makes the dreaming come to life. 2013 was a year of seismic shifts, of literal fires and floods from which we have emerged, steeled and determined, as a new band. We are looking forward to touring east in the spring, getting out and about for 2014 in as many ways as we can. We’ll also be releasing the celestial animation we have been working on for the “Solar Shifting” title track. Then of course, always, always writing, which will necessitate heading back into the studio before too long. It’s one big magical ball of string that is constantly unraveling, with us doing our best to follow that thread as it is spooled out.

“Solar Shifting” by Devonian Gardens is available digitally at Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records’ Bandcamp page. The CD version will be released on May 13, 2014

 

 

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