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Six Organs Of Admittance - Interview

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 21 / 10 / 2007



Six Organs Of Admittance - Interview

intro

Guitarist Ben Chasny, who also plays in Comets on Fire and lots of other act, talks to Dominic Simpson about his psych-folk project Six Organs of Admittance and its new album, 'Shelter from the Ash'


Ben Chasny is a busy man. The brains behind the psych-folk project Six Organs of Admittance – an outfit pretty much all but Chasny in name - the California resident has also found time in his hectic schedule to play guitar full-time in freak-out rockers par excellence Comets on Fire; work with the enigmatic David Tibet as a member of the touring outfit for his long-standing Current 93 project; join ex-members of Deerhoof; and undertake numerous endless other projects outlined in this interview. A few weeks before Six Organs take to the stage at London’s 93 Feet East. Against a backdrop of apocalyptic forest fires in his home state, Chasny is here to promote the equally volatile 'Shelter From The Ash', the new Six Organs of Admittance album and the latest of many in a ten-year span. Following on from the multi-faceted beauty of 'School of the Flower' and the head-swimmingly dense intensity of 'The Sun Awakens', Chasny’s repetitive synthesis of folk, drone and volcanic rock makes for a glorious, beatific listen on this new album, and situates his outfit somewhere between a fertile scene of American musicians that includes the Sunburned Hand of the Man, Jack Rose, Jackie O-Motherfucker, Espers, Bardo Pond, Charalambides, Fursaxa, and many others. With it’s mixture of solo guitar work and rockouts incorporating a full band, I ask Chasny what other musicians feature on 'Shelter From The Ash' ? BC : Elisa Ambrogio from Magik Markers played guitar, Noel Harmonson from Comets on Fire played drums, Matt Sweeney laid down one acoustic guitar solo, and Tim Green from the Fucking Champs played guitar and a whole bunch of other instruments on the thing. PB : What are you lyrical concerns on the new album, and where does the title come from? Does it refer to something geographic in the area that you live in? And is there any significance to the reference to “the horse that you ride on” in ‘Strangled Road’? BC : The title is more about finding shelter from nuclear fallout, if such a thing would be possible. It's just a coincidence that there were recently huge and devastating fires in southern California. I have friends down there who had to seal themselves in their house and use an air purifier to breath. There is no literal significance to the horse in that line. It's just a line. PB : Your work with Six Organs of Admittance, at least to me, has a "mystical primitive American" feel to it. It brings to mind the vast landscapes and mountains of California and Colorado, where the deserts meet the cities. The influence of American guitarists such as John Fahey and Robbie Basho is obvious in your work, but do you feel any affinities with British folk musicians at all? I’m thinking of acts such as Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and Pentangle etc, whose work is often bound up with the mythology of ancient Britain. I notice for example that Richard Thompson from Fairport Convention and Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span featured on Takoma Records (initially set up by Fahey) once the label was took over by Chrysalis. Chasny’s reply comes as a surprise for someone whose music sounds so much a product of its environment: BC : Oh yeah, I find myself much more influenced by British guitarists than American ones. The only American acoustic guitarist I really love is Leo Kottke. I think my playing is much more influence by Bert Jansch [former Pentangle guitarist and solo artist]. It's a matter of hands, actually. The American guitarists are much more interested in developing their right hand picking technique, whereas the British guys are always doing hammer-ons and slides and one-note runs. Richard Thompson is one of my favourites too. I think it comes from the fact that I consider myself an electric guitarist more than an acoustic guitarist. PB : You played at the All Tomorrow’s Parties curated by Thurston Moore, which featured the crop of the US underground (including Sunburned Hand of the Man, Comets on Fire – who you are a member of - MV & EE with The Bummer Road, Wooden Wand, Charalambides, and many others). I guess you know some of these acts personally, but do you also listen to other similar minded artists such as Jack Rose, Espers, Bardo Pond, etc. or (over in Britain) James Blackshaw, whose music isn’t too far off from what you are doing ? And what do you think of these acts? Do you see yourself as somehow ‘related’ to them or do you rather view yourself as separate to any other acts in what you do? BC : I just saw Jack Rose play in Oakland last night, actually. I consider him a good friend. I wrote a song called ‘Drinking with Jack’ once. Yeah, I hear other musicians, of course. It comes form touring and meeting people and listening to what everyone is doing. I once met this kid who finger picks and he told me he doesn't listen to any music past 1975 or some shit and I thought that was too bad, because if he did he would realize that the music he was doing has been done over and over and over again and he was doing nothing new at all. You know who is the best of the new finger-pickers right now? This kid named Rick who does a band called Voice of the Seven Woods [from the north of England]. He's actually got a great left hand and plays acoustic guitar like he gives a damn. Great stuff. PB : How do you differentiate between what you do for Comets on Fire and what you do for Six Organs of Admittance? BC : Well, if I write a riff on electric guitar that is big and stupid it's going to be for Comets on Fire. The rest is for Six Organs, ha!” PB : How do you structure your music ? Do you come up with a progression on the acoustic guitar and then add lyrics and overdubs, or does the lyrics come first and then everything else? BC : For me, the lyrics always come last. The riff comes first, and then the riff has to stay, has to prove that it's a good riff. I just had this conversation with my friend Al from Om, actually [who guested on The Sun Awakens]. We agreed that the first step of a song is the riff and the riff has to burn itself into your mind. After that, the song usually just writes itself. PB : Is Comets on Fire mostly a democracy? And does this contrast with Six Organs, which is mainly a solo project for yourself? BC : Yes. Comets on Fire are a 100% democracy. Six Organs is a tiny island with one tyrant: me.” PB : What’s your involvement with Current 93 like and can you describe what it’s like working with David Tibet ? What drew you to work with him ? Do you like other bands from the same ‘ilk’ such as Nurse With Wound, Coil, and Whitehouse, even though these bands can sound very different to what you are doing with Six Organs? BC : Me and David just became friends through writing and it was about the same time that Michael was moving to Berlin and so couldn't play guitar with Current 93 as much so it was just sort of easy and natural. I do enjoy Coil and Nurse With Wound as well. Whitehouse, not so much. PB : What projects or involvement have you had with John Moloney from Sunburned Hand of the Man? And, apart from Six Organs and Current 93, have you been involved in any other projects at all? BC : John has played drums in Six Organs for some live shows but not on record. I'm also in a band called Badgerlore with Rob Fisk who was an original founder of Deerhoof and plays now as 7 Year Rabbit Cycle and Tom Carter of Charalambides. Then there is this new guitar trio called Basalt Finger that is me, Brian Sullivan from Mouthus and Elisa from Magik Markers. Hopefully there will be another August Born record sometime. That is a duo I have with Hiroyuki Usui who drummed for Fushitsusha for 6 years in the 80’s and records under the name of L right now. There are some other projects brewing, but nothing I can talk about now. PB : Finally, 'Goodbye' on the new album is a beautiful piece of music. Thank you very much. BC : Thanks a lot! That is really nice of you to say. PB : Thank you.



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Six Organs Of Admittance - Interview


Six Organs Of Admittance - Interview



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live reviews


93 Feet East, London, 26/11/2007
Six Organs Of Admittance - 93 Feet East, London, 26/11/2007
At 93 Feet East in London, Dominic Simpson watches psych-folk act Six Organs of Admittance play a contemplative, but subdued and somewhat too restrained set to promote 'Shelter from the Ash', their much acclaimed latest album


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Asleep in the Floodplan (2011)
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