Psyched To Meet You: Ben Chasny

Ben Chasny

Interview by Gareth Thompson

American guitarist Ben Chasny is a modern psych maestro whose work ranges from pastoral acoustics to a dark electric energy. The mainstay behind Six Organs Of Admittance, he also plays with numerous side projects including Comets On Fire. A true innovator, his music can unleash an ecstatic power, an intense experience of transformation. Chasny’s latest solo album, The Intimate Landscape, was created at the request of KPM Music, a renowned British library company.

MOOF: How did the invitation from KPM Music library come about?

Ben Chasny: There was a fellow working there named Paul Sandell who had this idea to bring music that he liked into the KPM Library. There were more artists too, like Daniel O’Sullivan (English avant instrumentalist) and others that still have records coming out which I can’t mention, but it was part of his grand plan.

MOOF: The Intimate Landscape has a very upbeat vibe. Did you mostly use standard tunings?

BC: I actually employed all sorts of tunings that I don’t normally use. When I do a record that I think I’ll play live, I keep the tunings pared down so it’s not a pain in the ass for the audience to have me tuning between every song. Since this project was different, I decided to try all sorts of tunings.

MOOF: Why make this a purely acoustic record?

BC: All the music is new and specifically made for the album. And since Six Organs is generally on a darker tip, I wanted to contrast that with songs which were lighter. The record was really an exercise in trying to come at composition from a slightly different angle than I usually do. In that sense it was very enjoyable to write and record.

MOOF: Does the electric guitar suggest different emotions? You’ve said that anger is not always best expressed with loudness.

BC: Well, this opens a whole can of worms that would take a conversation to work out. Suffice to say I don’t think music and sound need to be directly reduced to emotions. It’s been the go-to for finding meaning in music for a while and has opened doors to corporations using that to mine the resources of music. I think it would be more creative, fun, and in the service of the individual if we thought about music in terms of other affects, forces and dimensions. This might be a good artistic self-defence, no?

MOOF: Do your songs come from instrumental ideas which suggest lyrics?

BC: In general, yes. And since this record has no lyrics, all the titles came afterwards. I listen to a piece and then title what it makes me think of. Which is slightly related to the question above. I don’t really listen to a song and think, “Oh, this song has a longing feeling” or whatever. I’ll think, “This song has a sense of magnification” and then a title concerning a telescope might arise.

MOOF: What was your earliest introduction to psychedelic music?

BC: Probably listening to ‘Welcome To The Machine’ by Pink Floyd on headphones when I was about five or six. That was quite a trip for a little kid.

MOOF: Do you celebrate any rituals throughout the year?

BC: I garden a bit, which is basically one long ritual throughout the seasons. I don’t really garden to produce. Instead, it’s more just going out and taking care of things. I find this has the added benefit of keeping one from being too disappointed by a bad season. 

MOOF: What are some far-out books we should investigate?

BC: The last novel I read that I really loved was Compass by Mathias Énard. I don’t know if it’s far-out, though I couldn’t put it down. It’s about a musicologist but explores ideas of Orientalism in a sort of post-Edward Said way. It has heavy references to The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat, so I was immediately hooked.

MOOF: And some under-the-radar albums?

BC: I’m very much into both the Freedom To Spend and Recital record labels right now. Seems like everything they put out is great. Also been listening to Shackleton, William Parker, and the new Pelt album on Three Lobed Records is incredible.

MOOF: We offer you a time machine. Which psych event would you travel back to witness?

BC: Probably the moment at the Stanford Research Institute when they brought in New York artist Ingo Swann, who blew everyone away with his remote viewing abilities. Maybe that could be categorized more as a psi event than a psych one, but I think those two overlap pretty hard.

MOOF: And finally… Wish you were here?

BC: Well, that’s maybe my favourite Pink Floyd record, because as mentioned above it was the first I heard. Plus, you have Roy Harper singing on one of the songs. But my favourite might be The Final Cut, which I know is not everyone’s choice. Yet isn’t it funny how Roger Waters has ended up more anti-authoritarian and punk than the supposed punk rockers that made fun of him back in the day? Such a great anti-war record. It’s a pity there aren’t more anti-war records made by huge artists nowadays. I guess they have other agendas. 

The Intimate Landscape is available on LP/CD/Digital from Drag City on November 5, 2021

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