Six Organs of Admittance Frontman Discusses Heavy New Album ‘Ascent’

Posted by Billy Gil, September 18, 2012 04:40pm | Post a Comment
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?
six organs ascentChasny: 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.

PST: I guess that leads into my next question of what makes it a Six Organs release vs. a Comets on Fire release? Are there plans at this time to do another Comets on Fire album?
Chasny: What really makes it a Six Organs record, besides the fact that, usually with Comets everybody writes all the parts and riffs and it seems like every song in Comets has everybody contributing to different riffs, or somebody will come up with a riff and somebody will come up with another riff. On this record I wrote all of the chord progressions and stuff, except for that one song. Everybody added stuff though, everyone had ideas once we were in the studio. So that’s one thing that keeps it different. And also just the process is different, how we went about recording it. The process was just different, it’s just a different thing. And then on this record, I pretty much do all of the guitar solos, and in Comets, me and Ethan always traded off, and we would pan each other in the stereo, Ethan would be on the left and I’d be on the right or something. Ethan didn’t work on any of the lyrics or vocals, Ethan usually spends days working on vocals for Comets. So yeah it was just a totally different process, different vibe. As far as Comets getting back together, it’s always open. We had a really, really good time recording, so I think that’s opened it up to something. It would probably be on a different level, just because everyone we don’t live in the same city anymore. I don’t really know. We’ve actually never all sat around and talked about it. It’s definitely open, but there’s no real plans right now.

Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance Chats

Posted by Miss Ess, August 6, 2009 02:37pm | Post a Comment
Ben Chasny is the man, the myth from Drag City guitar fest Six Organs of Admittance. Sounds like the making of his latest record, Luminous Light, out August 18, was some seriously risky business, what with the Turkish prison-style atmosphere and all! Check out our correspondance below:

Miss Ess: What music did you hear in your house when you were growing up, before you had a choice? Do you think this music had any influence on you?

Ben Chasny: The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You. Well, I have a crazy tribal backplate, so yes.

ME: When did you pick up the guitar?

BC: When I realized it was a lot easier to play like that than when it was lying on the ground (waa waaaa).

ME: When and how did you start writing songs?

BC: When I was 3. I wrote a song called "The Futility of the Rattle" inspired by Sartre. I've tried to simplify things since then.

ME: How has living in Seattle as opposed to the Bay Area influenced your latest batch of songs?

BC: Well, I can still look California here but feel Minnesota. Or is it the other way around?

ME: What made you ready to move away from a mostly guitar-based sound for this album?

BC: I loaned my guitar to an albino 5 year old from El Salvador that used to be my cook and he kept it for 5 months longer than he promised, right when i was supposed to do raging guitar overdubs that sounded like John McLaughlin, so I had to have some folks do them on viola and flute instead.

ME: Where was your new album recorded? Who produced it and what was the concept behind the production style, if any?

BC: Randall Dunn both produced and recorded it. His style is somewhere between Dirty Harry and When Harry Met Sally, but more Turkish prison style. There were always mafioso types coming in and out. None of them had any guitars to borrow.

ME: What is your most prized piece of musical equipment and why?

BC: I'm partial to my custom made crazy ass distortion pedal that my friend Bill Skibbe made for me. Bill does sound for Shellac.
ME: What song describes your life right now?

BC: "Old And In The Way" by Old And In The Way.

ME: What's an album you love that you think more people should hear?

BC: The Cosmos Soundtrack.

ME: What records have you been listening to lately?

BC: Lots of Cakekitchen, Thomas Khoner, Bruce Springsteen, Flower Corsano Duo and Master Musicians of Bukkake.

ME: Who would you have on a bill with you if you could choose any bands, regardless of time and space?

BC: Moondog, Popul Vuh and Hendrix.
ME: What has been your best find at Amoeba?

BC: I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but off the top of my head: This killer Hermann Nitsch 8 cd box set, used, and Bo Hansson's Music Inspired by Watership Down for $1.99. Oh yeah, and A.N.P.s Ultrasonic Action, which I had sold years before and wanted back.

ME: Thank you for your time.