Ben Chasny does not like labels. "Folk music? Never heard of it, never played it," he proclaims in the entertaining press release accompanying Six Organs of Admittance's new School of the Flower. "Rock is the new folk and folk fucked rock without the reach- around so rock is out to get some." OK then! Chasney's Six Organs of Admittance (mostly a one man show) is a tough beast to get a handle on, but once you do, there are untold delights to be found.
School of the Flower is Chasny's first record for indie-powerhouse Drag City as well as the first he's recorded in a professional studio. It contains some of his best songwriting yet, from hypnotic drones to thumping avant-garde improvisation to lulling, uh, folk-rock. Sorry, Ben!
School of the Flower is Six Organs of Admittance's 13th release in just 7 years. What drives you to be so prolific?
I don't really know. I guess I just don't really have anything else to do. I don't have a career, I never went to school, I don't really do anything. It's just sort of how I pass my time. Some people make models or fly kites and I record music. I have a feeling it will slow down and stop fairly soon, though. So I am just happy that it hasn't, yet. There's just always one more record in my head to get out. Right now I gotta get out the next one, which is looking to have no acoustic guitar, as it is in my head so far.
One of your songs was included on Devendra Banhart's recent Golden Apples of the Sun compilation. Do you feel any kinship with the other "new folk" (or whatever it's being called these days) artists that are on that disc? Is there really a "folk revival" or is it just a media thing?
I feel like I am friends with some of the people in that media construct but I am not really best friends with others. I don't know. That particular song was kind of just a fun pop song with fairly meaningless lyrics but for some reason Devendra wanted to put it on his comp. I tried to persuade him to use something less shallow but he wouldn't have it. He's funny like that. I like him very much. How can you not? He's so hairy and filled with so much positive energy. He's so positive that I feel like a washed up fisherman from a disgusting shanty town hanging out with Frank Sinatra when I'm hanging with him. I wish I had that much enthusiasm and love instead of wishing for the end of the world every day.
As far as a "revival," I would point people towards Stone Breath, Ghost, The Kitchen Cynics and bands like that before they start thinking this is new. Why is nobody talking to Stone Breath about their views on music nowadays? They're great and totally overlooked by everyone. As far as the media's interest, I am sure it is almost fully done, and all the better for it. Once it's done, then I think the real music will start getting made.
You say in the press materials for the album that the new album's title track is influenced by John Cale and Terry Riley's Church of Anthrax album. Could you talk a bit about this influence? It's one of my favorite albums. And along those lines, perhaps can you talk a bit about the role of repetitive structures in your music?
Isn't that a great record? Yeah man, my friend Russ Waterhouse made me a cassette copy of that record years ago and it's one of the best driving records ever. I just got back into it last year. It's just a great stoner record. It can be as intricate or as easy to listen to as possible. I also love the forward thrust of the record, like its foot is stomped down on the gas. I mean mostly the first song here. The songwriting is great too.
To be honest, I repeat a lot of lines because I simply can't remember that many parts at a time. I don't know why. But it probably also appeals to my obsessive-compulsive nature. I like to line things up, match things, stack things. I think it just carries over to the music. And when I have a panic attack or something, I often rock back and forth, and mumble the same thing over and over. I'm sure it all comes from the same place.
Can you tell me a bit about how you and drummer Chris Corsano hooked up? What does he bring to the table musically?
I first saw Chris play with his Flaherty/Corsano duo and my jaw was on the floor. In no way was I able to capture even a fraction of his intensity that he displays in that setting. We want to do a straight up duo record of improvisation one of these days to really get it all out. But he was amazing in the studio. And it was wonderful to have a friend in the studio for a few days to bounce ideas off of. I just feel bad that in the end, there wasn't a better representation of his playing, because he's one the most inspirational musicians I know. Sorry Chris. I hope you had a good time!
What role does improvisation play in your creative process?
It's very important, but just as important to me as composition. I can't conceive of one without the other. It just seems unbalanced to me. Not when I listen to other people's music though, just for my own.
Do you prefer recording at home rather than in a studio?
I like the spontaneity of home recording but working in the studio with Bill Skibbe and Jessica Ruffins at the controls was amazing. I loved it. Having those many more tracks opened a lot up. I felt like I had been jogging with weights for years and I was finally free to just run.
Who's Gary Higgins, the writer of "Thicker Than A Smokey?" In the liners you give the impression he's dropped off the face of the earth.
Gary Higgins released one record by himself in the '70s and it's an amazing collection of songs. It's one of my favorite records of all time. It sounds like it could have been recorded last year. It's also helped me though some serious bullshit. As of yesterday the contract has been signed for the re-issue of his Red Hash record on Drag City. He's been found! He is alive and well and still has the masters for the original record. I can't wait for the record to be available to everyone.
Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration behind "Lisboa"?
Carlos Parades was one of the world's greatest musicians. He was from Portugal. That song is for him. He passed away last year. So while everyone is rambling on and on about acoustic music and folk and Fahey worship ad nauseum, a great unknown and absolutely humble musician passed on without hardly a blink from the underground. I hope people investigate his music.
Are there any other guitarists (acoustic/electric/whatever) you particularly admire? What about them do you like? Most reviews mention Fahey, Jansch, Kottke - do you think these references are apt?
In the last few years, I've started to despise the acoustic guitar. I used to listen to Kottke and Jansch, though I was never a Fahey fan. I like his writing more than his music. If I had my way I would make it a worldwide law that nobody could play the acoustic guitar for at least 5 years. It's so boring. Just last night I was playing in London and I just kept thinking, "nobody likes this. This is totally fucking boring and trash and bullshit. Acoustic guitar sucks." I wanted to get up and put something on the stereo, like Aerosmith, but I had to play. Needless to say it was an embarrassing show and one that made me question my existence. I am very sorry to the people in London who showed up. My sincere apologies.
What's your approach to performing this material live?
Well, I try to stay positive and I try to think that it has a purpose. Sometimes that feeling abandons me, though. When I feel like I have a purpose, it doesn't matter how I interpret the music, it will be OK. But when I feel a void and a shadow, than nothing can save it. The evening is ruined. Those evenings, there is no hope. But when the light is right and the angles in the room are polite then the sounds really work. The most important thing is to accept the fact that I am absolutely nothing and of non-importance. Then, everything can only get better.
What are your touring/recording plans in the foreseeable future?
I suppose I will start playing some shows to play some of this material. I am talking with Corsano now about how we can get on the road. It's looking like it will happen in early March. I would really like to start building music boxes. I always dream of that. And I would like to make sound sculptures. I have some designs in notebooks but I haven't built anything yet. I think that is my future.
February 21, 2005