Interview: Six Organs of Admittance's Ben Chasny on God, Hardware, and His New Luminous Night
"Even Danzig believes in a higher force."
For the past ten years, Ben Chasny has been recording under the moniker Six Organs of Admittance. His first self-released recordings, put to tape in his birthplace in the California Redwoods, were homespun abstractions that paid equal homage to the subtle string pyrotechnics of infamous hamburger gobbler John Fahey and the brute expressionism of modern day noise mongers such as Japan's Fushitsusha. Somewhere down the line, Chasny fought his way through the fog of bowed cymbals and drones to become a halfway decent songwriter. On 2003's Compathia, Nikki Sudden, Bud Light, and cheap thrills came together to create a new chapter in Chasny's musical existence, and he's been writing the wave ever since. His latest release, Luminous Night (out tomorrow on Drag City), abandons the frightened psychedelic yelp of its predecessor (2007's Shelter From The Ash) and delivers a dream-like suite of hopefully desperate tracks. We recently got in touch with Chasny to discuss the new record, higher forces, and hardware.
The new record sounds great. The instrumental tracks on here have more of a soundtrack feel than anything else I've ever heard from you.
You know, I used to get bummed when people used the word soundtrack to describe instrumental music, but now I love it. I was actually really inspired by soundtracks for this record. I was especially tuned into Kurosawa samurai movies. That's where the flute comes in on this record, I feel. Westerns were big too, like Django. Great movie. So yes, I totally agree. I recently did a soundtrack for the novel Empty the Sun [by Joseph Mattson], which is coming out in November. That's more of a lonely highway driving record. It's more open road and whiskey, while Luminous Night is a bit more morning-sea-shore-with-mist type vibe.
There also seems to be a lot of references to God on this album. Was this a conscious effort?
It wasn't a conscious theme, no. The songs were written a bit of time apart from each other, so they were not written as a whole. When I went to type out the lyrics, I noticed the word "God" was in almost all the songs and thought it was weird. But you know, even Danzig believes in a higher force.
On Luminous Night, you have a guy named Hans playing flute and someone named Tor who plays tabla. You actually know people with names like this?
Those dudes are legends here in Seattle. Randall Dunn, who recorded [Luminous Night], is friends with them. I just got lucky that they have killer names. Tor teaches raga and Hans actually is a professor at Cornish here, teaching jazz improv. They're both way better musicians than me.
Speaking of Seattle, do you think your recent move there affected the record at all?
Yeah, I think so. It's pretty dark around here during the winter. I think that probably got in there for sure.
So you think Luminous Night is a dark record?
I wouldn't say it's any darker than any other Six Organs record.
Then what separates it from other Six Organs records?
Well, I guess on this record we were trying to get away from the idea of a guitar record. It just seems like guitar records are so tied to ego, like, "Check me out! Listen to how fast I am." And I wanted this one to be far away from that, though I'll probably release a guitar record next. We were concentrating on a mood on this one. I was also interested in having the record arranged a bit more like a soundtrack, like we were talking about. I thought of it as a soundtrack to some fucked up desolate psychedelic western or something. I guess that's why the record might not grab you on first listen, like pop music, but I think it has some lasting power if you go back to it a few times. My favorite records are always the ones where I didn't really dig it at first and then went back and figured it out. There's a ton of detail in Luminous Night, so the more you listen to it, the more you will notice.
In an e-mail you sent me a few weeks ago, you wrote something to the affect of not knowing how long you can keep up the Six Organs of Admittance thing.
I think I probably wrote that letter as a desperate attempt to get some attention. Sorry about that! Sort of like on Prince's Purple Rain tour when he had a bed made up onstage where he would pretend like he was going to go to sleep during the middle of the concert unless he got some attention from the audience. Sorta like that.
If you stopped playing music, what would you do?
I would love to work in an old timey type hardware store. That sounds great.
Could you pull your weight in a hardware store? Do you know your six-inch piping from your drill bits?
I would be like the lackey/apprentice, for sure. But I do think I can tell the difference between piping and a drill bit. Shit man, I used to renovate houses when I was eighteen. Bet you didn't know that! Well, not by myself, and maybe only one house, but it was a Victorian. I can spackle the hell out of your walls if you need me to.
I'll keep that in mind. Many people consider you an intriguing dude. You certainly have this mystique built around you.
Wow, I had no idea I was mysterious. I thought I was pretty open and non-mysterious! I certainly didn't do it consciously. Maybe it's because I don't have an email that people can get in touch with me at. That can make you pretty mysterious nowadays.
Six Organs of Admittance's Luminous Night is out August 18th on Drag City.