For more than a decade, guitarist and songwriter Ben Chasny has held the unofficial title of Busiest Guy in Indie Rock. In addition to playing with the MC5-inspired psychedelic act Comets of Fire, Rangda and a number of other groups, Chasny is the architect behind Six Organs of Admittance, which plays Wednesday, August 17 at the Southern.
The guitarist and songwriter Ben Chasny is at the center of Six Organs of Admittance, a drone-driven meditative folk act, which performs Wednesday at the Southern.
Even as some of the glossiest stars of the “freak folk” movement—remember that phrase?—rose and faded, Six Organs’ output remained steady throughout the aughts. On recent records like 2006’s The Sun Awakens and 2007’s Shelter from the Ash, Chasny combined meditative fingerstyle guitar with free jazz percussion and Western soundscapes reminiscent of Ennio Morricone. In March, the Chicago label Drag City released Asleep On The Floodplain, an album full of tight, hymnic ruminations on acoustic guitar set off by spacious electronic overtones—plus one 12-minute instrumental build on dulcimer and harmonium.
As with past releases, at the heart of Asleep is an ethos that prizes textured riffs over perfect execution—though as a guitarist he’s capable of that, too.
You have the discography of a busy man. Do you have any projects on the horizon?
Me and Elisa Ambrogio have a band called 200 Years, and our record is finally coming out in the fall. We just O.K.ed all the artwork and everything.
Is it a relief to share a project after being at the center of one?
Yeah. Elisa writes all the lyrics and does all the singing, so I really don’t have to worry about as much—just guitar. She’s keeping me company on this current tour, which is just me out there, solo acoustic. Right now we’re in Pennsylvania, driving to Buffalo.
In addition to Asleep on the Floodplain, this summer you released Maria Kapel, a collection of live, solo acoustic recordings of songs based on chapels you visited in Holland. Was your songwriting process different for that record?
I had an artist residency in Holland, so I traveled out there and they had a guy show me around for two weeks, and we went to these little chapels that are dedicated to the Virgin Mary. They’re all individual, and very unique. I just wrote music for them when I left and I came back a few months later and performed it as part of the Incubate festival, and the album is a recording of that performance. I wanted all the songs to have a different tonality that matched individual chapels, so each song had its own tuning, whereas I usually only work in one or two.
What was it like to spend time on a small release after so many larger ones?
Really good, actually. I’ve wanted to get my record label Pavilion going again. All the early Six Organs stuff was released on Pavilion, and has since been reissued on Holy Mountain or Drag City. But the early stuff I really wanted to do myself, and recently I had wanted to get the label going again, so Maria Kapel was sort of a kick in the ass to get it going again. The copies that I have—and I’ll be bringing them to Charlottesville—they’re limited and they’re all hand painted like the old Pavilion records.
Your music can be challenging on the first listen. Did any of your favorite albums take years to click for you?
The first one that comes to mind is John Martyn’s Solid Air. It took me a very long time to really get the whole record. For a while I only liked the acoustic songs, and just thought that the electric ones were crazy.
What happens when experimental musicians grow to embrace more traditional forms, like folk? Does getting older mean you have to get austere and palatable?
I think that the media really pushes people to go more contemporary. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, like, “The first stuff was really crazy, but they’re really getting their act together with that songwriting.” You come across fewer reviews that say the opposite: “This one’s way more out there, so it’s a lot better.” Maybe a band like Oneida, but for the most part, that’s the myth that gets thrown out there—growing up and cleaning up. Artists have a lot to do with it too, but they do get rewarded for it. Doesn’t happen with everyone, though.
You hear a lot of bands talk about having made “the record we’ve always wanted to make.” Ever felt that way?
Well, yeah, but there’s, like, a hundred records I want to make. So each time it’s just like, scratch that one off, but there’s still a lot more. If anyone ever makes their ideal record then they’re done.