Saturday, October 25, 2008

Six Organs of Admittance: The Search for Lost Sound

Ben Chasny, a.k.a. Six Organs of Admittance, has been roving the pacific hillsides of psychedelic folk and the vertiginous valleys of noise rock for over ten years. His work might be described as ongoing quest for the perfect sound, at once reminiscence and recreation of the long-lost "mystery records” that he has been trying to track down since his teens. As enigmatic as his music itself, Chasny indulged our request for an interview but denied us any straight answers. Perhaps his upcoming performances in Europe this month will allow us to peel away some more layers of the onion.

Interview with Ben Chasny, October 2008

Six Organs of Admittance recently turned 10 years old. Looking back over a decade of activity, would you say that your project has evolved significantly from what is was at the beginning? How did the project begin, and how has it changed over the years?

I think it probably has changed a bit in some ways and in others it has stayed the same. I am much more at ease with using a studio now, where as before I only recorded on a 4 track at home. I’ve also traveled quite a bit more, met more people. I started just wanting to release sort of mystery records from Northern California. As the years passed, the mystery began to dissolve but my sense of the greater world took over, so it was a fair trade.

How would you categorize your music in terms of genre (or combinations of genres), and why?

That is hard to say. Sometimes the band will be solo acoustic guitar, sometimes it will be an all-out noise assault, and sometimes it will be between the two. That is the problem with people who try to categorize the music. They sometimes set up expectations that are off. Sometimes people will come to the shows expecting a mellow hippie affair because that is what they read from some misinformed source and then be disgusted when they hear so much feedback. Or sometimes people will expect all noise and then be bummed because it is a very quiet show. So I don’t know.

You have played with musicians from a broad range of musical backgrounds, and your sound is often talked about in terms of its fusion of noise and folk. Do you consider yourself more on the noise side of things or the folk side of things? How would you describe the compatibility, if any, between these two traditions?

I don’t recognize a distinction between the two. What is noise anyway? Didn’t Cage kind of re-arrange that paradigm? There are a lot of solo acoustic guitar players that I would consider noise, simply because I don’t want to hear it! I don’t think it should be considered in terms related to “noise.” I would rather use the word “intensity.” Or “texture.”

What are your biggest “influences” at this very moment?. How have these changed (if at all) since the beginning of the project?

My influences right now are the same as they have been since the beginning, and although I have mentioned them in the past, nobody remembers, because they either don’t believe me or they are too busy listening to what other people say about my project than what I say! Everyone seems to say Fahey. Wrong. More like Organum, Nurse With Wound, Talking Heads, This Heat, and Sun City Girls. I would say if there is any new influence, it would probably be David Allen Coe.

You are often considered a forerunner of the psychedelic revival that has been taking place in American music over the last decade, which also goes hand in hand with a resurgence of interest in non-Western musical traditions. How would you explain the attraction that these musics have for you? In a broader sense, how would you explain the attraction that they seem to be exerting over our generation at large?

I don’t know why people find it attractive now. I suppose probably because some tastemaker said it was cool, then people followed. Tomorrow the tastemaker will create a backlash, nobody will care, and things will carry on. I don’t concern myself with it. As far as psychedelic music goes, I think it comes down more to collecting records. The best records, the most prized grails, so to say, are usually the psychedelic ones, especially private press. So when me and my friends were younger, listening to some treasure that we had just found, it was cool to think, “let’s start a band like this!” Nowadays, though, any record can be found on the internet with no searching at all, thereby annihilating that idea of the "treasured" record. So I really have no idea at all why someone would want to start a psych band now! It seems pretty retrograde to me.

What kind of line-up can we expect to see for your performance in Nantes?

This time around it will be Elisa Ambrogio on lead guitar and Alex Neilson on Drums. The last time I played Nantes I was solo, so I am looking forward to playing with this line-up. I had such a good time last time I was there. I am looking forward to this very much.

Interview with Ben Chasny, Sophie Pécaud and Emilie Friedlander, October 2008

Words: Sophie Pécaud and Emilie Friedlander
Photo: Delilah Winter

Tour dates 10.24.08 - Diksmuide, Belgium - 4AD
10.26.08 - Copenhagen, Denmark - Venue KIB
10.27.08 - Arhus, Denmark - Musikcafeen
10.28.08 - Stockholm, Sweden - Debaser
10.31.08 - Istanbul, Turkey - Babylon
11.02.08 - Nantes, France - Yamoy Festival
11.03.08 - Rouen, France - Emporium Galorium
11.04.08 - Bordeaux, France - CAPC
11.05.08 - Gijon, Spain - Savoy Club
11.06.08 - Madrid, Spain - Caracol
11.07.08 - Lisbon, Portugal - Caiaxa Economica Operaria
11.08.08 - Porto, Portugal - Maus Habitos

Six Organs of Admittance Website
Six Organs of Admittance MySpace page

French version available on, a Nantes-based online culture magazine. Link here

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