Interview: Six Organs of Admittance's Ben Chasny Talks 'Ascent'
"I had this crazy dream in January and it was just this fucked-up sci-fi dream that was really bizarre," Ben Chasny says. "And I thought, I've never done a record where I've had a story line. It's usually personal or more abstract, so I was like, 'Fuck it, this could be fun!'"
Most creative types will tell you that an album begins with a dream, but seldom has that very thing happened so literally as with Ascent, the latest effort from Six Organs of Admittance.
Serving as the primary musical vehicle for guitarist/songwriter Chasny, Six Organs has been a uniquely prolific project, churning out dozens of releases since 1998's self-titled debut, a mostly acoustic album inspired by guitarists like Leo Kottke and Bert Jansch.
Over time, the sound of Chasny's music has evolved beyond simple categorization, fusing his unique takes on acoustic and electric guitar playing, a process that has come with its share of growing pains. "It’s difficult to take different genres and make something cohesive. It was hard to make it so it didn’t seem like it was just sewn together," he told David Todd, author of Feeding Back: Conversations with Alternative Guitarists from Proto-Punk to Post-Rock years back.
Now it seems the opposite is true, with the guitarist more at home than ever in the unique sonic landscapes that inhabit his world — and on his latest album, a few other worlds as well.
Ascent is a hauntingly heavy record that tells the story of a traveler stranded on the moon Io, with its host planet Jupiter looming large, making the music feel burdensome in places, and the listener very small, setting the mood perfectly for facing the vast emptiness of alien world alone. Just don't call it "space rock."
"That term 'space rock' has bothered me so much," says Chasny with a laugh when I bring up the taboo genre tag. "If it's described as 'space rock,' I just think, 'Oh, that means they have twenty guitar pedals and they're playing one chord.'"
Well short of having 20 guitar pedals, Chasny — backed for much of the album by his Comets of Fire bandmates — still manages to create some far-out guitar sounds that highlight some of his best six-string work to date.
"Closer to the Sky" is reworked from a 2003 track of the same name, being transformed from a coffee-house number replete with hand percussion into a plodding, full-band number that features an extended guitar solo that was impressively improvised, and not spliced together from multiple takes.
"I remember reading a guitar magazine as a kid and reading an interview with David Gilmour where he said, 'We do four or five takes then we mix the takes together,'" recalls Chasny. "And I remember being a kid, kind of punk, and going, "God, that's so fucking lame!' Fast forward 20 years and I'm in the studio going, "Just mix those three solos and keep the good shit." On this record I didn't do that at all. There's no mixing of guitar solos."
One of his most ferocious guitar moments on the record comes on the song "Even If You Know," which sounds a bit like Kraftwerk run through the filter of some of the Velvet Underground's more fuzzed-out moments. The song also features one of the heaviest grooves you'll find on any Six Organs record.
"There was a Japanese band called Les Rallizes Dénudés, and we really super heavy into those guys," Chasny says. "There whole thing was to do one really grooving bassline and then have 15 minutes of white-noise guitar solos over the top of it. But the guitar solos ended up being less white noise and more White Light, White Heat. [Lou Reed's] solo on "I Heard Her Call My Name" is one of the best solos of all time. I was probably trying to rip him off there."
He pauses to add, "I'm not going to say, 'I was trying to channel ...' Nope, I was trying to rip the fucker off!"
His spotlighted guitar playing aside, Chasny sounds clearly rejuvenated by the band dynamic on Ascent. While there are innumerable differences between this record and anything in the Comets of Fire cannon, Chasny wants to continue pushing his music past the realm of pysch and into yet more uncharted waters.
"Right now I think I'm going to focus on the band side of Six Organs," he says. "I think the next few records are going to be with a band, maybe try to do something less psychedelic and more abstract and heavy."
It would seem that Ben Chasny is as idea-infused as ever and over the course of nearly 15 years has been able to say just about everything he wants to say through the medium of Six Organs of Admittance. While rumors of an album credited to him alone have been circulating for years, it would appear the prospect of a solo record exists more as an occasional whim for those days when his band name seems like too much of a mouthful.
"It's hard because Six Organs of Admittance is such a long, horrible band name that doesn't roll off the tongue and probably keeps a lot of people from listening to it, and I think, 'Well, maybe I should change the name sometime.'"
He adds with a laugh, "But I always chicken out and call it Six Organs."
Six Organs of Admittance's new album, Ascent, is out now on Drag City. Catch them live this fall/winter on the following dates:
Thu. Sep. 20 -- San Diego, CA @ Casbah w/ Colossal Yes, Jeans Wilder
Fri. Sep. 21 -- Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo w/ Matt Kivel, Colossal Yes
Sat. Sep. 22 -- San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill w/ Young Moon, Donovan Quinn
Tue. Oct. 2 -- Vancouver, BC @ The Waldorf Cabaret w/ Low Hums
Wed. Oct. 3 -- Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile w/ Master Musicians of Bukkake, Low Hums
Thu. Oct. 4 -- Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge w/ Low Hums, Colossal Yes
Tue. Nov. 27 -- Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick
Wed. Nov. 28 --Toronto, ON @ The Drake Hotel
Thu. Nov. 29 -- Montreal, QC @ Casa Del Popolo
Fri. Nov. 30 -- Allston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
Sat. Dec. 1 -- New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
Sun. Dec. 2 -- Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda's
Mon. Dec. 3 -- Washington, DC @ DC9
Wed. Dec. 5 -- Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern
Thu. Dec. 6 -- Cincinnati, OH @ MOTR Pub
Fri. Dec. 7 -- Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop
Sat. Dec. 8 -- Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle