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.
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.”
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.