zaterdag 18 februari 2017

Interview with Aura Blaze’s Rhode Rachel

Interview: Wout de Natris


© WoNo Magazine 2017


Somewhere after the last summer Wo. ran into the music of Aura Blaze. After listening to the record, it's better to write taking that rollercoaster of experiences, several times it came to a review. At the same time so many questions popped up into his mind that he reached out to Aura Blaze's Rhode Rachel to find out more. All that and more is now before you.

As not all readers will be familiar with you how would you like to introduce yourself?
I am infinite Consciousness having an experience as Rhode Rachel, 29 year old musician, writer, poet, philosopher, and frontman of the US psychedelic rock act Aura Blaze.


The bandname Aura Blaze is as much a statement as a name. What is the idea behind the bandname?
The name came to me while I was walking through a field.
It was a sunny afternoon sometime around the Spring of 2013 when I was strolling about the countryside near my home, as I often do in an attempt to revive some semblance of peace and tranquillity when life takes a turn for the dark. I had recently become aware of the neo-psychedelic movement with the discovery of Tame Impala and was planning my escape from the increasingly boring and tiresome electronic dance music scene. I was entertaining the notion of taking my musical creativity in the direction of psychedelic rock and when the term “aura blaze” emerged from the chasms of my introspection in the field that day, I knew immediately that this was to be the moniker under which I would carry forth this musical and equally spiritual vision.
The most powerful band names, in my opinion, are those that evoke emotion by their formlessness; names that imply a notion or essence help to pry open the imagination and I believe that quality creates a subconscious bond between the artist and listener. As you have so aptly pointed out, “Aura Blaze” is a statement in and of itself, evoking colorful imagery that cannot necessarily be pinned down to anything dense and earthly. It is amorphous and evocative.


On the album you play all instruments there, with only one exception. This seems like a very conscious choice to do? Can you tell us something about how you came about to do it all by yourself?
The idea to pursue Aura Blaze as a solo venture was born from equal parts necessity and personal preference. My unconventional production workflow often proves to be at odds with the traditional collaborative writing process that usually features a formal structure as to the order in which tracks are recorded and production techniques and embellishments are implemented. My approach is conversely free-form, answering to the spirit of spontaneity and the guidance of my intuition. Communicating my train of thought to a group of people without losing the spark of the moment is quite a challenge, and an unnecessary challenge when I can rely on myself for the performance of all instrumental and vocal duties during the recording process.
That is not to say that collaborative efforts are not without merit, for indeed they offer their own unique benefits, but in terms of writing and recording for Aura Blaze I prefer to see my vision through without having to compromise. The material I write for Aura Blaze resonates at a more deep and personal level than any other musical project I have been involved with in the past.
Save for the occasional guest appearance, Aura Blaze will continue on as a solo studio project. A live lineup, however, is certainly not out of the question.


How long did it take you to make the album start to finish?
The earliest iterations of the melodies and grooves that found their way onto the Aura Blaze debut began to take shape toward the latter portion of 2013, going into the Winter of 2014 when “A Glass of Tears Half Empty” was released as a prelude of sorts, along with the B-side of the Doors cover, “The Crystal Ship.” Throughout that period the ideas flowed quickly and continued to do so well into the winter of the following year when the last production tweaks and edits were performed and the final versions were sent out to the mastering house in March of 2015.
On a related note, I would strongly suggest to any band looking for a mastering engineer to contact Heba Kadry of Timeless Mastering. She has worked with such esteemed acts as Neon Indian, Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo, and White Hills, and her skills, attention to detail, and overall professionalism are surpassed by none.


Aura Blaze holds so many ideas and little extras. How did you make sure not to lose yourself in the details and return to the bigger picture?
When the macrocosmic essence of a song drives it’s creation, the details and nuances will orbit around that core essence rather than pull it apart. The secret is to have cemented in one’s head the clearest vision of the prevailing atmosphere that he wishes to create while avoiding the pitfalls of becoming overly concerned with a particular section or passage, or even the structure of the song as a whole. Let the atmosphere navigate and the rest will fall into place accordingly.
Although production and mixing can be quite methodical, time-intensive, and rigorous, music itself should never be seen as having to be created from a clinical approach. Essentially, the primary function of a musician is to conduct the flow of energy. He is the ambassador of freedom.


Your father Carl plays the solo in ‘Sub-Earthen Patchwork Torus’. It seems safe to assume that you come from a musical family?
Had it not been for my father introducing me to the piano at a very early age and the concept of multi-track recording a bit later on, I would not be doing what I do today. Music is hard-wired into my genes. While I was in utero, he would drive to work with my mother and they would listen to Mozart and Beethoven cassettes — I am convinced that those elevated vibrations were absorbed into my developing spirit, forever altering the structure of my being in favor of all things creative and colorfully expressive, and engraving into the bedrock of my existence the divine plan to take music as far as I can possibly go with it. Music has ignited my soul and it is my purpose.


Promo photo
What was the music you listened to in your youth and did that find its way into you current work or is there a distinct difference there?
It has always been a belief of mine that the experiences of our youth leave indelible impressions upon us and that these impressions will, in varying forms and degrees, manifest at later points in our lives. Music is no exception. I have, across the years, sallied forth into the rushing river networks of all manners of musical genres and have only recently come to realize that the shores I had originally pushed off from are again appearing on the horizon of my interests.
I distinctly recall a memory of the soundtrack to A Bronx Tale blasting from my portable cassette player while I vacationed at my grandparents’ cottage on Lake Ontario in upstate New York when I could have been no older than seven.
It was the Oldies station I used to fall asleep to at night during my childhood and it is the catchy, timeless melodies inherent in such that have shined out to me like a beacon throughout my voyages through metal, industrial, goth, and electronica, ultimately consummating in my unbounded exploration of their essences in the realm of retro-psychedelia. I have always been fascinated by the catchy and uplifting vibes of Motown, classic rock, and Oldies, but have been impacted equally by the experimental aggression and avant-garde aesthetic of extreme metal and its derivatives. Thus, both of these otherwise opposing elements of harmony and dissonance are seamlessly blended and fused in my current work.


The music on Aura Blaze ranges from 60s psychedelic rock, (symphonic) rock of the 70s but also church choirs and modern pop as played by e.g. The New Pornographers have a role on Aura Blaze. How do you go about creating a song? E.g. is there an idea or concept at the start of a song?
The creative processes of my songs are completely independent of one another. In most cases a melody idea for a verse or chorus will randomly pop into my head and I will, by whatever means possible, endeavor to capture that idea so as to pursue it when time and situation permit, as it is not uncommon to conceive of an idea in the most unlikely places outside of the studio.
I cannot put a number to how often the earliest glimmerings of a song manifest while I am involved with such mundane tasks as driving or doing chores around the house. A difficulty I frequently reckon with occurs when I am out and about, without any means of recording a quick play-through of an idea, and must resort to the repeated humming to myself of said idea so as to engrain it into my memory with the hope of pulling it up from the depths of my subconscious when the opportunity avails me to nail down a basic recording of it. It is those initial ideas that drive the creation of the rest of the song, where the original atmosphere is expounded upon and explored in greater depth.
There has never been a time when I had to sit down at a piano and ask, “What ideas can I come up with today?” I have not, and never will have, any shortage of ideas. On the contrary, my greatest challenge lies in procuring the requisite time to bring them all to life.


The titles to several of the songs are long but nearly all hint at eastern religion and philosophy.  That implies that it has a role in your life. How does this influence your work?
I hold spirituality in the highest regard. It is from God — the Divine Source — which all music flows. Regardless of any sectarian perspective through which an individual views the world, the truth of our universal Oneness prevails and it is this divine spirit that permeates all things and excludes no one.
I believe that one’s allegiance to any particular religion is circumstantial and that, more times than not, the core values that serve as the foundation of the individual teachings of these religions share a common thread of benevolence and brotherhood.
Some might be quick to argue that religion is in fact the root cause of war and intolerance, and they would not, in many cases, be incorrect in assuming so based on surface-level observation, but the deeper truth is that these turmoils have less to do with conflicting ideologies than they do with the clandestine group of bloodline elites who have centuries ago hijacked the world’s religious institutions (along the institutions of government, media, industry, science, education and so forth) for the purpose of implementing the social manipulation necessary in their plan for global domination.
As for my references to Eastern religion and philosophy, I consider these a nod to the emphasis of the importance of spirituality in pertinence to the individual rather than blanket doctrine — a theme I find to be most prevalent in the Eastern tradition. The nature of reality lies in the fact that the Universe is a holographic representation of the frequencies that it is comprised of — a sea of vibratory information — and I find it fascinating that Eastern philosophies take this into account concerning the flow of Kundalini energy through the body and the importance of deep states of meditation as a means of reconnecting to the Source — to God, essentially — to the Christ energy — as all of these terms are describing the same divine force.


Recently you released ‘Sweet Talking Woman’, the ELO single from the mid-70s, what is the story about this cover and why specifically this one?
The idea to cover “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” originated from my desire to reverse-engineer Jeff Lynne’s production genius. It was intended to be a personal learning experiment in which I reconstructed this classic in as close to the original tonality as possible so as to glean insight into how he was able to achieve the masterful sonic and atmospheric quality that he did with this iconic work.
The chorus melody has long ago claimed permanent residence in my head and I thought it to be a duty of respect and of catharsis to record an Aura Blaze version. I felt as though to simply admire the song as a listener was not enough — surely, I felt, there was a deeper way to connect with these euphoric, uplifting energies. I found that connection in re-creating them.


Is taking this music on the road even possible to do? Do you have this ambition?
Assembling a live lineup for touring is something I often consider but my main priority will always be my studio work. I have, however, expressed this interest to friends and former bandmates and there is certainly a mutual feeling of intrigue at the notion of taking Aura Blaze to the stage. I have a few people in mind that would fit the bill perfectly — close friends who I have been jamming with for years and who share my affinity for groove and atmosphere.
Doing live Aura Blaze shows will not be without an element of difficulty, as it were, seeing that I would not only be required to teach the other band members the songs but I would have to allot time to relearn them myself. Such is often the case when spontaneity holds the flashlight in the studio — the nuances that shine forth during recording are of a fleeting spirit that is captured in that present moment and then shortly left to fade into the distance of our attention as other bursts of inspiration steer the course. There are certain guitar riffs and keyboard melodies, for instance, that are featured on the album that were thought of on the spot. These will need to be re-examined and perfected in terms of their ability to be performed before the time comes to draw back the curtain.
Though it will be a uniquely cumbersome undertaking to achieve the level of quality that I envision for a live Aura Blaze show including all of the layers and textures that adorn the album, the end result will indeed be worth it.


The cover of the album graphically really shows what to expect. What is the story behind the cover?
The cover artwork features the 1529 Albrecht Altdorfer painting, The Battle of Alexander at Issus, enhanced by slight color adjustments and filtering edits that I performed so as to lend a hallucinogenically ethereal feel to its appearance. I wanted the image to visually portray the ambiance of the music, taking into account the vibrant swirls of color and dream-like landscape as representations of the many musical textures of the psychedelic journey that lies ahead for the listener. The rays of sunlight spilling out from the clouds not only references the notion of a blazing aura but also serves as a symbol of the dawning of a new era in my personal exploration of the psychedelic arts.


What can we expect from you in the near future?

Over the course of the past year I have been vigilant in putting forth tremendous effort towards the writing, recording, and production of the new Aura Blaze album. A change in life circumstance has recently accommodated me with an enhanced supply of this temporal necessity and I am pleased that I can now tighten my focus on my craft and bring this album to life sooner than I had originally thought would be possible under the conditions of the way things were structured before.
I plan to keep listeners informed on my progress through regular studio updates on the Aura Blaze website/blog and to become more active on Youtube with a variety of content including solo instrument improv videos, studio vlogs, and a podcast/talk show series exploring a wide range of philosophical, spiritual, and political-based subject matter as well as original poetry recitations.
2017 is a year for hope, new beginnings, and an unwavering tenacity in the pursuit of the achievement of dreams. There is much to be done but the future is blazing with positivity. We are off to a great start.

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