Helter Shelter

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Ben Chasny/Six Organs of Admittance – Photo by Elisa Ambrogio

 

Teaching a class remotely and keeping your own kid somewhat focused on her school work while everyone is anxious, uncertain, depressed, and unmotivated feels like a slow-motion meltdown on some days.  That said, I’ve got it pretty good.  I have job security.  Creatively, I’ve swung back and forth between brief moments of lightning and much longer stretches of hollow, who knows what?  In talking with other musicians/artists I’ve observed quite a spectrum of these extremes.  I was curious how full-time musicians were rolling with covid-quarantine.  So I asked some.

Ben Chasny recently released a new Six Organs of Admittance album called Companion Rises on Drag City Records, and was gearing up for a spring tour of the US.  The tour was to be a substantial part of his 2020 income until the cancellation dominoes starting falling in March.  Into the “hermit hut” he went.

“I’ve recorded more over the last couple months than I have in a long time. For me it’s a time to finish some projects I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish because of a tour. I’m not saying everything I’ve done is amazing. But I am trying to work every day. Yes, I am stressed about the world but I just can’t afford not to work right now. I have to. So I am. But yeah, I lost a lot of money. So that stress is manifesting into trying to just record and write. I’m working on another Library record for KPM. I did one last year. So I feel pretty lucky to be able to do that.” Ben added, “Financially I’ve been helped a lot by Bandcamp. They are pretty much the only entity that actually cares about musicians these days. They also happen to be where I learn a lot about new music. Man, I can’t say enough good things about them.”

 

 

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Christine Shields shelter in place mothership.

I was impressed with how determined and focused Ben’s adaptation to the lost tour was.  I also could relate to Sacramento-based painter/songwriter Christine Shields‘ reflective response:

“For the first month it was very difficult to focus and I hardly painted but did manage to record a song. When I WAS able to focus on the song or anything else. I felt a lot of relief. I put quite a bit of effort into getting my home and food situation together, getting my ducks in a row. Meanwhile the deep dive I was taking was and is very internal, and is only, more lately, starting to bear more fruits in terms of manifesting creative output. I feel like it’s such a deep dive that I don’t even understand the extent of how it will change me, or how this species-wide experience will change us all. I endeavor to stay present and take things as they come and take good care of myself, because a lot of the stuff that comes up is from such a deep dark place that it’s scary. Like those strange creatures that live in the depths of the ocean that we know very little about. So it’s like I have to support myself while I take this journey. I feel like there is a bigger plan, a longer vision that this experience is setting up, and the only way to navigate it is by intuition and being really present. That takes a lot of energy. At this point I feel a transition into making more work, or bringing the work from inside myself into the physical world, but I’m working on feeling balanced and gentle about it so that it happens organically. I feel like one of the things we are learning about as a culture is how the constant  pressure to produce, to “work”, is killing us on many levels, and there is a re-assessment of what really needs to come out of us. What is really important? What are we here to do? It’s such a personal question for each of us. As artists, musicians, creative people, we inhabit an interesting place in all this, as we tend to navigate this hazy zone between imagination and commodity.”

 

 

 

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Sameer Gupta

 

Percussionist Sameer Gupta of Brooklyn Raga Massive acknowledges the challenges of his situation, especially with kids at home, but is trying to adapt and keep things moving:

“The pandemic has had its pluses and minuses for me. It’s a lot more work at the house with both kids and my spouse at home and we both have to work around each other’s schedules. I’ve been able to keep a minimal practice schedule, but really my focused hours of creative development have been reduced. But I’ve been cooking a lot more, which helps the creativity of my music.  I also have been struggling with trying to find the sustainable model for my music work with the recent cancellations. I’ve started a Patreon page which I am very excited about and I hope people will see the value of supporting artists directly. It’s also been necessary to buy more gear to support the needs for live streaming…and that is something that hits the finances unexpectedly.”

 

 

For Brooklyn-based Jeff Tobias of Sunwatchers and Modern Nature, shelter in place has had a whole other layer to it:

“About two weeks after I returned home from my abbreviated tour (of Europe) with Modern Nature, I started feeling symptoms that corresponded with those of COVID-19. That was nearly two months ago, and I haven’t fully recovered. I am presently taking medication under the advisement of an ear/nose/throat specialist that he prescribed for a sinus inflammation stemming from the coronavirus infection. This has led to a near-complete pause on my creative work. Without the full health of my respiratory system, I feel totally disinclined to work on music, because I think it would be too disappointing to feel like I couldn’t reach for a horn whenever I want. I am waiting until I have made a full recovery to work on music. When the time comes, I have an album of solo music that I’ve been working on for a long time that I hope to wrap up by mid-summer. Having said that, on top of my own health problems, I have been struggling to countenance being creative generally with the encroaching collapse of the United States in the background.”

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Jeff Tobias w/Sunwatchers.

 

 

Artist links:

Six Organs of Admittance

Christine Shields

Sameer Gupta

Sunwatchers

Free Lather Records Lockdown Sampler

 

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Winter 2020 Updates

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Hello friends.  Here is the latest from your gray-wave friends in the world of obscure music:

SAN KAZAKGASCAR

We have some good developments in the Peoples Republic of Kazakgascar.  I have just released a super-duper limited-edition lathe-cut 7″ (check that bloody art above, bloke).  “Scar Tissue” b/w “Ghost Malls” is culled from a Jed Brewer/Jeff Tobias duo set.  I did a lot of different collaborations this past year, and this is a little document of one of them. Jeff is with the band Sunwatchers.  There is a download option, as well.

But that’s not all.  We are currently working on a new album with brand new drummer Anthony Occipinti and a full crew of players that includes Linda Hardy, Rachel Freund, Matt Kretzman, Chris Hall, Colleen Kelly, Jaroba James, and of course, Greg and Jed.  Lots of peaks and valleys happening on it and we look forward to slinging it out to the world in late spring.  Working album title is Emotional Crevasse.

 

 

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Recording such an emotional crevasse.

 

SWIMMING IN BENGAL

Bengal has a couple of upcoming shows that will include a wide assortment of guest players, just like on their latest recording Collective Elephant.  Dates and stuff:

Mar. 15 – Winters at The Palms Playhouse

Apr. 18 – Davis at UC Davis Picnic Day

 

HARVESTER

Sean and Todd have an acoustic group called Cycle of Birds.  Sean recently told us that he had a batch of songs that were more suited for Harvester, so we got together and started working on them.  We have no predictions on when a new recording might materialize, but it’s exciting to have some new music to work on.  There might be a few live dates in the next year.  We’ll see.  A couple of months ago, I put most of the Harvester catalog up on Bandcamp for your downloading delight.  Fill up your phone with some of your long- lost favorite Harvester nugs.

 

Harvester Bandcamp

 

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Shopping Sean.

MISC. STUFF

The bonkers Bafus/Brewer/Raskin lathe-cut 12″ is sold out, but you can get the digital version here.

In January, I was honored to be included in the big SMF Gathering improvisation ensemble’s fundraiser for the Sacramento Children’s Home.  Check it out below:

 

 

 

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November Updates

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Hello there – just a quick update on a hodge podge of thingies.  Swimming in Bengal is playing the Makeout Room in San Francisco on Nov. 25.  It’s our first date since releasing Collective Elephant.  You can read the backstory on the recent album here.  It has received some nice reviews from Underscore, The Fragmented Flaneur, Record Crates United, and Snooping the Bandcamp.

 

Another recent release is the bonkers 12″ lathe recording with Jon Bafus and Jon Raskin.  The super limited edition records are gone, but you can still get the less sexy, yet functional download at Bandcamp.

 

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I have been wanting to try and do a true San Kazakgascar drone piece.  I recently asked some friends to join me for this effort and found a nice frequency of “A” to burrow into.  You know it’s going to be a fun set when the guest drummer lugs a half-stack onto stage so he can also hold down a drone note on a keyboard.  I’m interested in trying to expand on this.

 

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Photo by Dennis Scott

 

 

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Fall in Kazakgascar

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San Kazakgascar has a couple of upcoming dates to share.  We are playing at a new spot in Sacramento called Dwellpoint on Oct. 14 with PAK (rare Sac visit) and Gentleman Surfer.  I’ll have Rachel Freund, Linda Michelle Hardy, Matt Kretzman, and Robert Rivasplata joining me for this one.  More info at Facebook.

On Nov. 1, my Bay-based collaborators will be joining in for a set at Little Boxes Theater in San Francisco as part of the How to Destroy the Universe 7, which is put on by the folks at Mobilization.  It is a benefit for safer DIY spaces.  Joining in on this set will be Ethan Port, Sheila Bosco, Brian Lucas, and Kris Force.  More info.

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Swimming in Bengal – Collective Elephant

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For the last few years Tony Passarell has been talking about recording an album with a stacked line-up of guest players.  We finally got around to just that.  Joining Passarell (saxophone/percussion) and core members Jed Brewer (gourd guitar) and Rusi Gustafson (percussion) were Amy Reed (voice, percussion), Keith Cary (cello, effects), Heath Poskin (acoustic bass), Linda Michelle Hardy (Native American flutes, whistles, hulusi, percussion), and Alan Ernst (harmonium, flute). We had a blast and Greg Hain beautifully recorded and mixed the improvisations.

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For several reasons this recording is extra special for us.  We’re proud of how it came out and want to share it far and wide.  This is the only Swimming in Bengal release that is currently available on iTunes, Apple, Spotify, etc.  If you prefer downloading, we urge you to go through our Bandcamp site.  Ye olde compact discs are available at Lather Records.

 

 

Get the Elephant Collective CD or download at Bengal’s Bandcamp

Get Elephant Collective at iTunes

Copies of the Garden of Idle Hands vinyl LP can still be had at Baggage Claim Records

Swimming in Bengal official site.

 

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Hot Kazakgascar Nights

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As you all know, I try to pack in more music mischief during my summers off.  The above poster shows where I’ll be playing this summer.  San Kazakgascar has become more of a free-flowing collective of players and I actually had to make a Google doc just to keep track of who was playing with me at each date.  I’m excited about all the different people who have agreed to get noisy with me.  I’m making more of an effort to play with women again and have found some willing souls in Rachel Freund, Amy Reed, Shiela Bosco, and Colleen Kelly.  Also in the mix are some dudes I really admire  – Jeff Tobias (of Sunwatchers) and Ethan Port (of Savage Republic).

Speaking of Ethan Port, we recently started a new group together along with Shiela Bosco and Brian Lucas.  It’s in the very early stages, but so far it’s clicking nicely.  More on that later.  This summer we’re also going to release the new Swimming in Bengal recording that we did with five other guest musicians.  Greg Hain really did a great job and capturing our improvisations and mixing it.  Stay tuned!
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Another recording that I’m going to get out to the universe is a wacko duo session I did with drummer Jon Bafus.  I’m going to dabble in the world of lathe-cut records on this.  You’ve been warned.

San Kazakgascar and Swimming in Bengal recordings are available at : Lather Records Bandcamp

 

All of my shows are electric this summer, but here is an acoustic clip from last August at the Community Forest in Arcata:

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Swimming in Bengal – May 10 & June 8

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After a few months of laying low, Swimming in Bengal comes up to the surface for some spring air.  Allergies are great.  We are joining forces with our freaky buds Art Lessing & The Flower Vato on Friday, May 10, at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento.  Linda Hardy will be sitting in with us.  More details at Facebook.  A month later, on June 8, we’re sitting in traffic on the causeway to play with our Oakland buds Grex at Armadillo Music in Davis.

A couple of months ago Swimming in Bengal recorded a session with an ensemble that featured five other players, in addition to the core three.  We’re excited to get this beast mixed and out to the world!

 

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Some of the Bengal ensemble players: Hardy, Ernst, & Reed.  Picture by Greg Hain

 

 

 

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Sunwatchers/Sizdahkhani/ Monypeny/Kazakgascar

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Hello.  It’s been awhile since I’ve posted something here.  I’ve been reorganizing and reassessing my music mess somewhat.  I’m trying out the idea of San Kazakgascar being a more fluid group of collaborators, and less of a constant 4-piece band.  I’m proud of the music that the original Brewer/Takushi/Hain/Woo line-up made for several years, but am curious about what else lurks behind the magic curtain.

Other recent mischief includes a duo recording with nuclear drummer Jon Bafus.  Expect a little EP from that in the near future.  Swimming in Bengal recently recorded with an ensemble of guest players and it sounds wonderful.  We are in the early stages of going through the improvisations and picking out the best plunges.

Back to Kazakgascar.  We are playing on a stacked bill on March 22 at Gold Lion Arts at 7:30 pm.  More details at Facebook.  For this show, we have myself, Rachel Freund on clarinet, Joss Lucio on percussion, and the mighty anchor Greg Hain on bass.  I’ve played countless show with guitarist/oud player Derek Monypeny.  He is always challenging himself with new directions and is touring/collaborating with Iranian-American percussionist Sahba Sizdahkhani.  I’m looking forward to hearing their stuff.  Back from Brooklyn are Sunwatchers, who played a great set here last year.  They just released a new album called Illegal Moves on Trouble in Mind Records which combine elements of art punk, prog, avant jazz, psych, and probably other things I can’t necessarily get my head around.  I threw out a few questions to sax player Jeff Tobias to get a better understanding.

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Sunwatchers

 

1. When Sunwatchers came together was there an agreed upon vision for the band or was it more, “Let’s see what happens?”
When Sunwatchers began to perform live, three of us – myself, Jim, and Jason – had already been playing music together in various incarnations for about ten years, primarily in an Athens, Georgia-based band called Dark Meat. The initial iterations and collaborations that we began to put under the Sunwatchers banner had more in common with the harsh drone music of La Monte Young and Phill Niblock than the energy playing / group sounds that we’ve been doing for the past few years. In other words, it was plenty organic and based not on carefully sussed-out negotiations but rather a long-gestating mutual understanding between friends.
2. What non-musical influences contribute to the band’s sound?
This is a great question, because it acknowledges that music can be a response to every sort of stimuli, not just a laundry list of “influences.” The first thing that leaps to mind is our country’s (and our world’s) ongoing social/political climate. We can’t help but feel bitterly furious as we watch our friends and strangers alike suffer under the yoke of neoliberal capitalism’s uncaring and cruel machinations. While we hope that our music delivers cathartic and celebratory moments for our audience, speaking personally, every time I pick up my instrument to play Sunwatchers music, I feel it’s an opportunity to respond to what I perceive as an ongoing war against humanity. Beyond that – I’d say we’re mostly influenced by regional fast food chains (Cook Out in particular) and the short films of “Weird” Al Yankovic.
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3. How did the collaboration album with Eugene Chadbourne come about?
Jim McHugh, our guitarist, made his bones running a DIY storefront venue in Greensboro, North Carolina called the Onion Cellar. Eugene had put down roots there, and their meeting was inevitable. Jim will be the first to admit that Eugene’s been a big influence on his guitar playing, and he booked Doc for some gigs at the Onion Cellar way back in the day. They maintained contact over the years, and a few years ago began a correspondence about this collaboration. Doc Chad’s restless spirit is hugely inspiring, and we’re fortunate to stand in the shadow of his several decades of trailblazing noise-making. Hopefully “3 Characters” is the first of several bonkers slabs that we can create together.
4.  What other living musicians would Sunwatchers love to collaborate with if given the chance? (reach for the sky)
To name a few: Aerosmith, Omar Souleyman, Ann Peebles, Boredoms, Evan Parker, Peter Brotzmann, NoMeansNo, Susie Ibarra, Archie Shepp, Nils Lofgren, John Cale, Arnold Dreyblatt, Yoko Ono, Earth, Dirty Three, Carla Bley, William Parker, This Is Not This Heat, Joshua Abrams’ Natural Information Society, Ken Vandermark, Billy Joel, Biz Markie, Yasunao Tone, Roscoe Mitchell, Tony Malaby, Billy Gibbons, Paul Dresher, Carl Stone, Amps for Christ, Laurie Spiegel, Television, Cooper-Moore… Aerosmith again
YokoOno-550x550        brotzmann
I can be knee-jerk to loathe when a band is “NPR/Pitchfork approved”, but in this case I share these hearty endorsements of their new album: NPR Review; Pitchfork Review
Stream, download, order, etc: Sunwatchers
San Kazakgascar
Derek Monypeny
Sahba Sizdahkhani
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Bengal Back in Oakland

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Swimming in Bengal returns to Oakland’s Octopus Literary Salon on Sat., Nov. 10.  We play at 7pm sharp.  We’ll be followed by SF’s Virginia Dare, old friends from the golden age of Bay Area independent music. I’m excited to see them again.  Dress warm, prepare to snuggle, and know that the show will be over before bedtime!  More info. at Facebook.

 

 

 

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Mid September Meltdown

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Hey there.  I  have two back to back days with performances before we officially tell summer goodbye.  On Sunday, Sept. 16, San Kazakgascar plays a short afternoon set at Sacramento Audio Waffle #47 at the Red Museum.  We are putting together a one and done loud piece for this performance.  The show runs from about noon to 3pm and I believe we are near the end.  This show is put on by the NorCal Noisefest folks.  More details here.

The following evening on Sept. 17 Swimming in Bengal plays Luna’s with N. Carolina-based experimental guitarist Tashi Dorji.  He is a unique talent and we are excited to share the bill with him.  The show starts at 7:30 sharp.  Bengal released a new recording called Deeper Deeper earlier this summer and you can listen to it and learn more here.

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Tashi Dorji

 

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