Ben Chasny

Chasny is playing Belgium with his psych-folk outfit Six Organs of Admittance and with his supergroup Rangda. Reason enough to give the guitar maverick a call. ‘Tomorrow I might have my fingers chopped off in a freak accident,’ he says. ‘If that happens I’ll probably play synthesizer.’ He’s keeping it real all right.

 Interview by Brenda Bosma, drawings by Astrid Florentinus

You’ve been doing this for quite some time now. Can you remember what your motivation was to pick up a guitar? And is it still a motivation? 

From a young age I had this romantic idea of making a single note, of creating sound. I always thought that the idea of just being able to make a chord or a sound would be enough. In that way, yes, it is still a motivation.

What about girls? 
If you ever saw the audience for Six Organs you would know I do it for the bearded men. With tattoos. I still haven’t figured out how to change our audience into an all-female one. I just play music that I like. I’m lucky that anyone at all wants to hear it.

I read the album picks up on a piece that’s been lying on a shelf for over a decade… 
It has been on my mind for ten years but now seemed the best time to do it. Most people think of time and the creative process in a linear fashion. I think of it more in terms of a concentric circle in movement outwards, but returning to a familiar place.

But did the final piece differ much from the original idea? 
I think my playing is a bit more refined now. Whether or not that’s good is up to someone else to decide, I suppose.

About that familiar place. Wouldn’t you say creativity is also about embarking on unknown territory? 
Wouldn’t you say there is an infinite amount of territory to be explored in one piece?

I’d be exhausted. 
It’s a familiar place, but not the same place. That’s why it’s a concentric circle, not a circle.

Always moving outwards.

So when Bob Dylan decided to go electric that was a familiar place? 
Yes, he was still playing guitar.

Except for a large part of his audience. 
It was still pretty much the same. He just changed his system.

Do you change your system every once in a while? 
I don’t consider changing a system to be integral to the movement in the first place. I don’t really sit around thinking, Hmm, I need to do something new to really get the kids listening. I just always have this stream of ideas coming and I need to get it down. But maybe that’s why kids don’t listen to my music!
Maybe it would help if people called you ‘the Jimi Hendrix of acoustic guitar’ more often. Was that reviewer for real, by the way? 

I figured there was a sense of irony in that.

And the guy who compared you to John Fahey? 
Everyone gets compared to John Fahey. Just tune your guitar to an open tuning, pluck some strings and BAM! You sound like John Fahey.

On ‘Ascent’ you sing about Satanic rockets that are being launched. Why? 
That line was a reference to Jack Parsons who started the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena (the same company that just landed the new Mars Rover). He practised magic and developed a solid rocket fuel system used in Titan rockets by the USA. The system involved a pentagram in the design, though he wasn’t really Satanic of course. The idea of all these rockets with pentagrams in them is pretty intriguing.

If we were living in a devilish era, let’s say the Era of Synthesizer, and the synthesizer was the only instrument around, would you still play the guitar? 
I’m all for more instruments. Maybe someone has no brain for guitar, but has a genius brain for a synthesizer. I play guitar because I had/have a romantic notion of it. That came from listening to guitar music when I was younger. If I had grown up as Klaus Schulze’s son it might be different. But I have no real problem with synthesizers. Tomorrow I might have my fingers chopped off in a freak accident. If that happens I’ll probably play synthesizer.

I don’t want to end this conversation in a morbid way, but since you brought up the chopped-off fingers: will you have a guitar on your deathbed? 
God, I hope not! Seems a little pretentious. I just want to watch the movie Dune on my deathbed. I’m no movie connoisseur, but that seems like something I’d want to do in the end.

Ben Chasny is playing with his band Rangda at Les Ateliers Claus in Brussels on 06 October and with his other band Six Organs of Admittance at Trix in Antwerp on 31 October. Both shows are free for Subbacultcha! Members.