Photographs by Allison Watkins
Kids, Don't Try This at Home: Six Organ's Ben Chasney demonstrates the perils of using hair-care products mixed with Krazy Glue.
Nine questions for Six Organs of Admittance's Ben Chasny
By Paul Davis
It all begins, in a way, with Ben Chasny. His fingerpicked psychedelic folk--drawing upon sources that range from Indian drones to Japanese noise-rock--comes originally out of Eureka, but it was during his stint in Santa Cruz that Chasny began to make a name for himself.
Though Chasny did not seek out local fame, like many others during his years in town, slowly people all over the world began discovering his work, which he releases under the name Six Organs of Admittance.
With a new album out on Drag City, The Sun Awakens, Chasny is finishing up a nationwide tour before he embarks on another as lead guitarist for Comets on Fire.
Chasny took time out from a hectic touring schedule to talk with Metro Santa Cruz in anticipation of his homecoming show at the Attic.
METRO SANTA CRUZ: It seems like the psychedelic folk and revival thing has caught on, but you've been doing it for a long time, and when you started it wasn't too big or hip. What inspired you to start playing that sort of music?
CHASNY: I was always into folk music, but then I was also really into experimental and noise music and stuff like that. Ten years ago, I couldn't really figure out a way to put the two together. [But] when I started listening to psych-folk, it made total sense. The experimental aspects could blend with the straight-up folk stuff. I latched onto it because it was the perfect synthesis of crazy noises and drones. I wanted to do that, but couldn't figure out in my brain how to, and then I heard bands like Ghost and suddenly it was like--click--that's how you do it--you could have a fingerpicked part and then some crazy noise.
A lot of people reference John Fahey when talking about your music. Although he is a big songwriting influence for you, are there also a bunch of people that get missed?
Fahey has such a large umbrella over everything and has inspired so many people. I'm probably less of a Fahey fan than most people who play acoustic guitar--I like and appreciate him, but I've always been conscious to not sound like him, especially his fingerpicking patterns. I've always been more influenced by Leo Kottke, just because he was kind of a nerd--nobody wanted to listen to him because he went to Capitol Records, but some of his earlier stuff is really great. He's so fast--like Fahey on amphetamines. He was always a bigger influence. Townes Van Zandt is one of the few people I will listen to without being like, "I need to analyze this ..." I just listen to him for the heart to get through the days. He inspires me but he's not much of an influence--I wish. There's some music you just listen to.
Stoops to Conquer: Apart from his day job at Streetlight Records, Chasney kept a fairly low profile during his years in Santa Cruz.
I think I got that from coming from Eureka--I did my first record up there, and nobody was really that into it. When I moved to Santa Cruz, maybe I kept that with me. I've never been a person to push myself onto other people. If I have a friend and they're like, "Check out my music," I'll check it out. But for me, I've always lived low. It's hard to describe, I guess it's a conscious thing, but at the time, there were no music venues at all for acoustic music--it was mostly house shows. Another thing is, I've always been more focused on a musical community that doesn't have to do with geography and local scene--I've never been concerned with local scenes, I've always been concerned with a broader, worldwide scene, so I made friends on the East Coast playing similar music and went out and toured with them--that's sort of how my brain works.
How did you meet up with the Holy Mountain people?
I hooked up with them when I was in Eureka. My old band did this show with Deerhoof and I made friends with one of the guys, gave him a cassette tape, and he gave it to John [Whitson, label founder]--this was like 10 years ago. When I did Six Organs I asked him if he wanted to put it out.
What's going on with Comets on Fire right now? Are you still playing with them?
I get a week off, and then I head out with Comets for a month. The new record comes out in August. This has been crazy--we've never both done a record in the same year.
What sort of stuff are you guys playing on the new album?
The new record's a little more mellow. I think people are going to be really surprised--we're pulling out some total Peter Green-style, Fleetwood Mac moves on it. We've lost some of the distortion, and it's going to be sort of a divider. There's still some rockers on there, but maybe we're getting old or something!
Did you pull from different influences when you're playing with them as opposed to the Six Organs stuff?
Yeah, it's way more wild. I do it because I can be pretty free onstage and the burden's not all on my shoulders--it's on everybody's shoulders.
You have a band together for this Six Organs tour, right?
Yeah, it's actually Noel [Harmonson] on drums this time. I think this tour's surprising people, because it's really electric. I haven't been playing acoustic with Six Organs for a while. I think people have been showing up to the shows thinking it's going to be folk night out, but it's actually pretty aggressive at points. But you know, I've been playing acoustic guitar for eight years and I'm just tired of it. I'll go back to the acoustic guitar, but I'm more into the Telecaster right now.
I remember one show Six Organs did years ago in Santa Cruz that terrified the crowd--people were expecting this folk thing and you guys [Chasny with Comets on Fire as his backup] just came out and tore it up and seriously freaked some people out!
That was when Six Organs was on tour with Comets [before Chasny officially joined the band], and we were playing all these rock clubs, so we had to figure out a way Six Organs could be loud. We were really into this band called Rallizes from Japan, this band from the '70s who would set up this really cool groove on the bass and then would seriously go into white noise for 10 minutes. Rallizes were some total underground motherfuckers with ties to the Japanese underground, which totally appealed to us at the time--we wanted to be like them! It was one of those secret things where we were like, "Nobody knows about this band, so let's mine all we can from it!" I don't want to do what people are expecting, I want to have a good time and reach a creative space instead of doing the same song over and over.
When you have a steady band, it's harder to branch out. With Comets, the songs don't really change form too much, so we have to find new ways to make them exciting, which usually means finding new drinks to drink before the shows--new deadly cocktails. Like, "Let's mix that with that, I wonder what that would do onstage!"
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