WORDS FOR TWO: An interview with BEN CHASNY [Six Organs of Admittance]

Under the pseudonym of “Six Organs of Admittance“, Ben Chasny has carved out an impressive niche for himself as one of the most versatile guitarists of the last decade.  Carrying a torch lit by innovators like Bert Jansch, Masaki Batoh (Ghost), and Robbie Basho, Chasny’s dense, varied style of playing has consistently defied easy classification. In recent years, Ben has somehow found the time to work on collective ventures like Comets on Fire, Badgerlore, and Rangda (with Sir Richard Bishop), among many others.  As these collaborative projects have come and gone, it’s become increasingly clear that Chasny’s solo work remains the centerpiece of his musical pursuits.

This February saw the release of Asleep on the Floodplain, the thirteenth album for Six Organs of Admittance and, quite possibly, the finest under the moniker to date.  For Chasny, this latest effort marks a return to home recording and to songs focused on the acoustic guitar.  In part, the release is a meditation on the light, deserts, and water of the musician’s childhood; a time spent in Elk River, CA.  Delicate and melodic songs like “Hold But Let Go” and “Light of the Light” are woven between fuzzed-out tracks like “Brilliant Blue Sea Between Us” and “S/Word and Leviathan.”  Asleep on the Floodplain is representative of what Chasny does best: capturing a balance between melody and dissonance that is akin to no other.

With a handful of shows in the works, Ben Chasny took some time out of his schedule to discuss his latest release, his creation process, and the inspirations that have fueled them.

– R. Leuzinger

R.L.:  In April, you’ll be doing some shows with Will Oldham in support of his audiobook recording of Rudolph Wurlitzer’s Slow Fade.  What can audiences expect?

CHASNY: I don’t really know myself.  I’m just going to try to tastefully loiter in the background.

Is there any chance of you and Will recording an album together at some point?

No chance at all.  Not until I pay him back the money I owe him from a doomed poker game that went down in Italy in 2007.

You play a harmonium on some of the songs on Asleep on the Floodplain.  What drew you to the instrument?  Why was it right for this release?

For one, I had never used one on a Six Organs record before, so it was a new sound.  Another thing is it sort of has a wheezing, emphysema-like quality that goes well with my current age.

You’ve said that the work of the philosopher Gaston Bachelard had an impact on the creation of AOTF. In what way did his work affect the album?

He’s a pretty joyful writer for one.  Highly recommended.  He has also explored the ideas of memory in a particular way that gives a sort of valorization to childhood.  Also, he has a killer beard.

Has fiction served as an inspiration for the Six Organs of Admittance albums?  If so, who are some writers that inspire you?

Unfortunately I rarely read fiction.  Don’t hate me.

Arthur Magazine recently dissolved.  Arthur was a champion of your work and many of the musicians that you’ve collaborated with over the years.  It was where I first heard about your records.  Do you think that Arthur was able to capture an aspect of the avant-garde of the last decade that other forums haven’t?

I think Arthur had it’s own angle on things and combined that with a certain fashion element so that people who wouldn’t normally be interested in certain topics were exposed to them.

Are you a fan of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work?  For some reason, when I hear your more dissonant jams I’m often reminded of scenes from El Topo.

Thank you.  That is a very nice compliment.  That is one of my favorite movies.

If your music had a landscape what would it be?

It would be in 4 dimensions so that sea and desert and forest would be one and the same place.  It wouldn’t correlate to any spatial-temporal zone.  Just kidding.  It would probably be like I-5 in California.

Do you have a specific scene or image in mind when you compose or improvise a piece of music.

Not really. I think more in terms of sound than images.  I guess that is why I don’t watch many movies.

How often do you pick up your guitar?

Almost every day, at least to doink around on it.

I heard that when you first started playing guitar you lived in seclusion for several years while honing your skills.  Is this true?

This is true.  I was only working for about 3 hours a day and the rest was filled with practice.  There wasn’t a lot of money.  I remember eating bow tie noodles and refried beans.  Not a good combo.

At last year’s Incubate Festival in the Netherlands you played at the Church of St. Paul.  Your performance was comprised of songs written specifically for the event, which drew their inspiration from historic chapels found outside Tilburg.  How did that project come about?  Have you drawn inspiration from religious iconography in the past?

That came about from conversations with people who do the Glocal project, which is a part of Incubate.  They suggested it and it sounded like a good idea.  I liked it because it dealt with a new plan for inspiration that was sort of outside how I usually thought about music. The event was so inspiring I decided to start up my old record label, Pavilion, in order to issue that performance and those songs on vinyl.  It’s at the pressing plant right now.

Is there a setting you’d like to play in but have never had the chance to?

I’d like to play on a cruise ship.  I notice more bands are doing that nowadays.

I thought that the cookbook on the Six Organs website was a nice touch.  Is cooking a big part of your life?  Any favorite recipes?

Cooking is a part of my life only in that I don’t go out much to eat.  I wouldn’t say I am a good cook though.  I don’t know, I liked the idea of having a cookbook where friends could put recipes on there but also where one could write ridiculous recipes. I was inspired by the futurist cookbook, which is pretty funny.

I’ve heard that you’re no longer living in Seattle.  Is there anything about the city that you miss?

This is true.  We moved across country in October.  Mostly I miss my good friends there – the ones from my hometown of Eureka and also one’s I met there, like the guys from Master Musicians of Bukkake and such.  I also miss the Pho.  And the water.


Asleep on the Floodplain is available now from Drag City Records.


w/Six Organs of Admittance:

April 8: Pappy and Harriets, Pioneertown, CA
April 11:McCabes, Santa Monica, CA
June 4: Cecil Sharp House, London, United Kingdom

w/Slow Fade tour

*Feat. Will Oldham (Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) & Elisa Ambrogio (Magik Markers)

April 26: The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline, MA
April 27: Montague Bookmill, Montague, MA
April 28: Basilica Hudson, Hudson, NY
April 29 (afternoon):Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers, Brooklyn, NY
April 29 (evening): Anthology Film Archives, New York, NY

SLOW FADE audiobook (out 4/19) as read by Will Oldham via Drag City
SLOW FADE the novel by Rudolph Wurlitzer (out 6/21) via Drag City