NATURALISMO: You have been playing under the Six Organs of Admittance name for over ten years now. At that time, what was happening in your life and in your mind that made Six Organs the right vessel to express yourself?
BEN CHASNY: I was living in Eureka, California, were I grew up. My life was one of boredom stacked on top of indolence, occasionally punctuated by sleep. At that time there were a lot of crazy mystery LPs coming out that really got me revved up – Stuff like the NNCK jams on sound@one, the Brother JT records that he was putting out himself, the L record that Hiruyuki Usui put out himself, Ghost, Heroin Glowbugs with E-Ball on electric saz, Richard Youngs & Simon Wickham Smith, Solid Gold (totally insane spazz conga via Brutus Eco), Fuzzhead (Sun Ra garage rock via Cleveland), and weirdo reissues like Vulcan’s Meet Your Ghost, and anything by labels PSF or Poon Village , among others. It was a good time for underground music and I wanted to be a part of it.
N: Six Organs of Admittance has achieved a special place in the world of contemporary pysch and folk music. When someone picks up a Six Organs record, they want to enter a specific mindstate, a certain atmosphere, an unmistakable aura. With that said, do you ever feel constricted by the preconceptions people have created for Six Organs? Do you ever find it difficult to compose new songs with your audience’s expectations in mind?
BC: Not really. It seems like every time I try to do something different it just sounds like Six Organs so I don’t worry about it. I guess there was one time when I made Six Organs into a rock band (and by rock I mean we were goin’ for a Rallizes meets Keneko Jutok thing, not just plugged in like the Band or something) and we toured up the west coast and bummed people out left and right, but mostly I just accept the fact that some people are gonna dig it and some people aren’t. Some people like the songy stuff, some like the extended jammers. Can’t make everyone happy.
N: In the early part of this decade, how did you feel when journalists began bandying your name around as a type of “harbinger” of experimental folk music? Did you ever feel that the folk label was apt in any way, or was it just a convenient crutch for lazy journalists? How do you define folk?
BC: I don’t recall anybody saying anything like that. If they did I would have to assume that they were ignorant of the entire current of underground music that has existed way before me. Zines like Ptolomaic Terascope, Broken Face from Sweden, Hay Fever from Germany, and 200 Pound Underground from Jersey were documenting folk influenced music way before I even started playing. And then there were bands like Hall of Fame, Tower Recordings, Stone Breath, Jeff Fuccillo’s Wham-O, Joshua Burkett, PG Six, Un, Charalambides, Iron Kite and bands of that ilk that were already tearing up the music scene and putting out great underground folk influenced music. None of these bands would describe themselves as Folk though. I wouldn’t either. But yeah, the idea that “folk” came back was a very self congratulating idea for the indie media because they got to pretend like they discovered something. What about Kicking Mule records in the 80s? That was real folk, not of the underground variety I just mentioned, but I didn’t see the indie media talking about that. It’s sort of like when the White Stripes came onto the scene (yes, I am that old) and the media stated that rock and guitar was back, as if Wayne Rogers and Kate Biggar hadn’t been putting out the the most fucked up and destroyed rock records for years with Major Stars, Vermonster and Crystalized Movements or that High Rise never existed.
N: You were making music in the late 90’s and very early 2000’s, long before any journalist or marketing whiz ever propagated the idea of a folk revival or movement. And today, you are still writing music. With the media’s feeding frenzy on acoustic artists subsiding, can you reflect on what reasons, if any, the idea of a 21st century “folk revival” resonated so profoundly in the independent music world?
BC: I think what you are really talking about is pop music that is labeled folk because it holds hands with certain folk tropes, such as beards, singing about nature, floppy wizard hats and dirty Mexican blankets worn as jackets. Is it just a coincidence that the Harry Potter movies began to take off right as the major indie media started to proclaim the rise of their own invented scene that featured a similar wardrobe? Once it had a certain “look,” it was a lot easier to market to kids. Cue photo shoots.
Harry Smith, whom one could argue is the man most responsible for bringing American folk music to the popular masses, used to go to Cro Mags shows and record them just as if they were some jug band. I mean, “Who’s that riding, John the Revelator?” and “If AIDs don’t get you than the warheads will” are pretty much the same sentiment, eschatologically speaking (a fact which I’m sure didn’t escape Harry Smith). If you take into account that Harley Flanagan was the true spiritual son of Harry Smith (his mother “spiritually” married Harry in a ceremony in NYC involving her kissing a series of downtrodden Bowery winos) than one could make the argument that the true spiritual heir of so called folk music is not the form that Dylan and his cronies propagated with their use of tropes (funky train conductor hat, singing about the working man and hobo songs) but NYC hardcore instead. People have a choice to connect the obvious and easy dots that are laid out in front of them by others or they can participate in their own cultural hermeneutics and define the word (and World) for themselves.
N: It has been two years since your last record, Shelter From The Ash. What experiences between then and now inspired the songs on Luminous Night?
BC: Oh, I think it’s all in the music. One geographical change is I moved to Seattle.
N: On Luminous Night, you are joined by musicians such as Randall Dunn, Eyvind Kang, Hans Teuber, Tor Dietrichson, Matt Chamberlin, and Dave Abramson. What was the group dynamic for writing and recording these songs, and how does outside contribution affect the way your raw songs are molded into a final incarnation?
BC: Well, those guys are all geniuses on their respective instruments, so it was nice to let them take over on melodic duties, such as replacing a guitar melody line with a flute or something. Or just have them improvise and do their thing. It made it a bit less of a guitar record, which is something we were going for. Plus, Eyvind is thinking about music on a whole other level, so having him on the record was a real honor and learning experience. That is dude fuckin’ nuts!
N: How has your own personal musical taste evolved in the last ten years? What artists are you listening to today that you weren’t when Six Organs first appeared?
BC: Honestly, it’s pretty much the same, except there are a lot more bands that have sprung up to listen to, like Shogun Kunitoki (hell, anything on Fonal) and Blues Control. And Russ turned me onto Kurt Vile, whom I think is pretty bad-ass. It was a relief because I kept hearing bands that were supposed to be new and good and I kept thinking, “Really? This sounds like Simon and Garfunkle. Or the Cars, or Thinking Fellers” and I thought I was just turning into a cranky old man so it was nice to hear someone who is getting a lot of attention that I can actually see why. Wheeeew! Looking at the stack of Cds here on the desk I have been jamming I see Onna, Stefano Pilia, Organum, Philip Jeck, Alvin Curran, Thomas Koner and Goblin, if that answers your question.
[ stream ] “Ursa Minor” from Luminous Night, hitting stores August 18 on Drag City.