Six Organs of Admittance
main man Ben Chasny is a prolific sort, logging nearly 30 releases over the past 14 years, counting seven-inches and EPs (but not compilations and collaborations). In all actuality, it’s tough to even keep track of his work, which includes psychedelic folk music (at one point called “freak folk” or any other number of silly things); experimental, drone and ambient music; as well as straight-up psych rock, which comes out in full force on his latest album — and one of his best — Ascent
. Recorded with members of his much-loved psych-rock band Comets on Fire
, who released a couple of awesome albums in the mid-2000s, Ascent
is a trip, firing off from the Comets-style wordless guitar assault of “Waswasa” into the ’60s style psych of “Close to the Sky,” the swirling drone-based “They Called You Near” and folkier passages like the lovelorn “Your Ghost.” It’s a nice entry point for Chasny’s work, encompassing many of the sounds with which he’s been associated over the years, and signifies a reunion of sorts for that band, which went on hiatus in 2008 and which formed with Chasny over a decade ago. I caught up with Chasny as the album was releasing in August. Six Organs of Admittance play The Echo Friday, Sept. 21, with Matt Kivel
(of indie pop group Princeton
) and Colossal Yes
PST: How do you approach a new album? Does it come from whatever you happen to be playing and writing at the moment, or do you go in with a specific notion of what you want to do?
Chasny: It’s usually sort of a specific notion sort of thing. This record, it just seemed time to do it. I like to do the opposite of whatever the last record was. Asleep on the Floodplain
was so acoustic. I thought the best thing would be to do a more loud record. Then I realized we never did the record we would have done 10 years ago and I thought it would be the perfect time.
PST: What inspired the heavier rock sound of the new album? Were you inspired by anything you were listening to at the time, or was it really more a reaction to what you had previously recorded?
Chasny: I think, that’s always been a side of Six Organs that’s been more of a live thing but that’s never really been captured on record. So I’ve done tours with a live band that was all electric, but I’ve just never done it as a record. And I didn’t want to do a live record to capture it, I just wanted to get into the studio to do that. I just thought it was time to record it in the studio.
PST: Who plays on the new album and is in the live band?
Chasny: On the album it’s all of the Comets guys — it’s just basically Ethan [Miller] and Utrillo [Kushner], Ben Flashman and Noel [von Harmonson]. The touring band is gonna change because everyone does so many different things all the time. If we could get everyone back together, we would probably just tour as Comets or do a Comets record. One of the reasons we don’t play together anymore is just everyone is always doing something different. On the West Coast, all the California shows are gonna have me, Ben Flashman, Utrillo on drums and Noel’s gonna be on guitar. So it’ll be three other Comets guys besides me. The Northwest will have a couple of Comets guys. When we do Europe, it will be a couple of the Comets guys.
PST: Did these songs mostly come from jams, from songs you had written at least part of beforehand or both?
Chasny: A couple of the songs are older songs that were on older records, on Holy Mountain
. Before I joined Comets, all the Comets guys used to back up Six Organs, because Six Organs and Comets would play shows together, but Comets would always play in reall loud bars and no one could really hear the acoustic guitar, so we were doing sort of loud, electric versions before I joined Comets. So we took that idea for the older songs, and then I wrote a bunch of the newer songs in December and sent the guys the demos, and then we worked on those before we recorded.
PST: The album does have a live, sort of freewheeling feel. How many takes did you usually do? Did you record it live and/or use overdubs?
Chasny: It was all recorded live. There are some overdubs on a couple of songs just to beef it up, some of the slower pieces have overdubbed guitar solos. Most of the tracks were recorded live, and all the guitar solos were record live. I’d say anywhere between four and seven takes on some of the songs. It was pretty spontaneous. We had them all down. It’s not like the songs have hyper complicated time changes or key changes or anything, so it was more about getting a really good feel to the songs.
PST: What inspired putting “Your Ghost” on the record, this acoustic number amongst the heavier, live-band material?
Chasny: When I was doing the demos, I did all the demos on acoustic guitar anyway. We just transferred them to an electric thing. It was everyone’s opinion that maybe that one should just be acoustic. We were kind of fooling around with it different ways, and we just thought it might kind of break up the record a little bit if we kept it solo acoustic.
PST: I really love “Even If You Knew” on the new album. Was the goal with songs like that one and “Waswasa” to just have a great forum to be able to let loose and explore band interplay?
Chasny: “Even If You Knew” was a song we used to do 10 years ago. That’s the one song that has co-credit writing for all the Comets guy. Ethan came up with bassline when I lived in Santa Cruz. We all wrote the song together a long time ago. It’s never been recorded. And then “Waswasa,” I wrote when I was at a friend’s house in England, and he had his guitar tuned really strangely in a tuning I’d never used before. I picked it up and that was the song that came out of it. I kind of thought this should be a rock song kinda thing. That was one of the pushing points to make the whole record more of a rock record. I came up with the riff on this acoustic guitar and thought the record should have more of this rock kind of sound. That’s why it’s first on the record and kind of key to it being loud.