Were you surprised that a new band like Blues Control they reached out to you?
A: LEA AND RUSS'S INVITE STIMULATED MY CREATIVE PERFORMANCE IMAGINATION. I FELT HONORED THAT THEY WANTED TO REACH FOR AMBIENT EXPERIMENTATION WITH ME.
Were you familiar with their music at all?
A: NOT AT ALL BUT INTUITION SAID THIS WOULD BE A FUN AND MEANINGFUL
EXPLORATION. I TRUSTED THAT WE ALL WOULD CONTACT MAGIC IN THE STUDIO.
How did you feel about the music you enacted together?
A: THE MUSIC RESULTS NEEDED SOME REMIXING TO LOCATE THE BLEND THAT FELT BALANCED TO US ALL.. I WELCOMED THE CHANCE TO JAM THROUGH SPONTANEOUS INSPIRATION AND THEN EDIT DOWN TO VERY NEW ENERGY MOVING MUSIC. I ENJOYED THE FUN SPIRIT WE ALL HELD AND WHICH CAN BE HEARD IN THE MIX DOWN.
Do you ever worry that younger listeners might not take the time to be more contemplative and receptive in this culture?
A: I HAVE FOUND YOUNGER LISTENERS ACROSS THE PLANET WHO DO DIVE DEEP INTO CONTEMPLATIVE LISTENING. AND I FEEL THERE ARE DEVOTED MUSICIANS CULTIVATING THEIR ROLES AS BRINGERS OF DEEP LISTENING INSPIRATION. I ACCEPT MY ROLE IN HELPING LISTENERS YOUNG AND ELDERLY TO LOCATE THEIR DEEPER STILLNESS THROUGH CREATIVE AMBIENT MUSIC LISTENING.
Or has there always been such a struggle for higher consciousness through each age?
A: THERE SEEMS TO BE A PRESENCE OF RIGHT ARTISTS GUIDANCE IN EACH AGE PROVIDING INSPIRATION FOR HIGHER EMOTIONAL SELF CONNECTION. THE STRUGGLE TO IDENTIFY THE ESSENTIAL SELF IN EACH AGE APPEARS REAL, BUT THE WAY SHOWERS AND THE TOOLS ARE HERE.
How did you become aware of Laraaji's music? What did you think about it? Were you into other "New Age" artists as well or did that type of music not appeal to you?
We first became aware of Laraaji's music when we bought Ambient 3: Day of Radiance. That release seems to be the usual gateway to his music. We loved it so much that we started including it in gifts to family and friends for a while. We had already been listening to other new age artists by that time; Laraaji wasn't our first trip into the genre. This was in the early 2000s when our interest in noise music was waning, and consequently we started exploring different types of psychedelic music more avidly, including new age, krautrock, synth and electronic music.
We started our own new age band Watersports in 2003, and we were looking for new age-related lps/cds/tapes wherever we could find them - from dollar/thrift stores and used lp stores, to big chains like Target and Virgin Megastore cutout bins. Thankfully always cheap! There was a Barnes&Noble near Russ' dad's house in the suburbs that had an awesome new age CD section in the early 2000s. Every time we visited, we'd pick up anything that looked interesting or old. They eventually downsized the store, but for a while the new age section was extensive. We always joked that we were dying to meet the new age buyer and find out who this person was.
When we started Watersports in 2003, we didn't know anyone at all who was playing new age music, and we only knew one person who listened to it (our former roommate Joel St. Germain). I remember playing new age records at our house for friends around this time and getting fully laughed at. People would shake their heads, and just say "I don't know, man." We bought an Envirascape fountain at the Fulton Mall, and we included it in our early shows, mic'ing the water and nature sounds, and using it as a visual focal point. People ridiculed us for that too, hah. Our influences when we started out were Deuter, Golden Voyage, Environments LPs / Nature sounds CDs, Paul Winter, Klaus Wiese, Henry Wolff/Nancy Hennings, Wendy Carlos - Sonic Seasonings, Shadowfax, Georgia Kelly, Steve Hillage, Vangelis, Eberhard Schoener, Jade Warrior, Synergy, Messaien organ works, Charles Lloyd, and many more.
As Watersports evolved, we explored a lot more new age/kraut/synth/electronic music and also got deep into our classic rock/blues/hard rock interests, and that's how the idea for Blues Control started. The influences for BC are diverse, but we still include a lot of new age in what we do. I remember a review of an early BC show compared us to Kitaro, which was meant to be a diss at the time. Musically, I took it as a compliment.
Who's idea was it to collaborate, RVNG's or yours? What made you think that Blues Control would be a good fit with him? What was it like improvising with him in the moment? Did you do his deep listening meditations as well?
When Matt invited us to do a FRKWYS collab record, it didn't take long for us to suggest Laraaji, and Matt was all for it. Aside from loving Laraaji's music, we had already communicated with Laraaji in the past and always got a good vibe from him. The first time we went to see him play live was in 2004 at an in-store benefit for Tribal Soundz in Manhattan. His set that night was amazing, and I had a pleasant conversation with him afterward when I bought a CD. Then in 2010, I emailed him to see if he would play with Blues Control at an ESP Records in-store. He declined due to previous travel plans, but my communication with him via email was great - he was and still is a really open, joyful, down-to-earth person.
I had no idea if he would be interested in the collab idea, but his response turned out to be very positive. We scheduled a phone call to discuss details, and it all came together quickly after that. The only things he wanted to work out beforehand were instrumentation and key, so as to encourage a spontaneous and inspired improvisation. We met at Black Dirt Studio in upstate NY in December 2010. The first serendipitous sign was when everyone started setting up gear in the studio, and I realized for the first time that our setups were incredibly similar. Laraaji brought along a musical friend, Arji Cakouros, who joined in occasionally, and we all improvised for 4 hours on a single day. The jams frequently went as long as 45 minutes, and Laraaji deftly moved between very different soundworlds with ease. Everyone, including the engineer, was marveling at Laraaji's coordination, timing, and musicality.
Improvising with Laraaji was an emotional, spiritual, positive, healing experience. I really can't convey the immensity in words... It's rare that I cry from sheer joy, gratitude, and awe of beauty, but I was holding back tears at one point during the session. The experience affirmed my initial love and understanding of music and the inscrutable/infinitely beautiful/meaningful universe, and made inconsequential a lot of negativity I had come to associate with modern life and modern music.