INTERVIEW: Six Organs Of Admittance | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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“One is hardly ever in control of what one is labelled so I stopped worrying about it. For me, Six Organs of Admittance has always been about expanding ideas that are usually called ‘folk.’ So whatever extra tag people want to put on it is one with me.”

Folk and psychedelia are the two labels that have often followed American guitarist and songwriter Ben Chasny around across his extensive career. Folk for his powerful acoustic guitar songwriter records, that marry minimal and elusive writing with gorgeous, liquid playing, psychedelic for louder turns such as the Randall Dunn-helmed Luminous Night or his work with the chaotic free-psych rock collective Comets on Fire.

His most recent album, this year’s powerful and brilliant Burning The Threshold, would seem to tilt the focus back towards folk after the scorched earth sound of Hexadic, with Chasny’s acoustic guitar and soft croon the locus point around which the record moves. But even as necessarily broad a category as folk doesn’t quite to justice to the extent and breadth of his achievements. Speaking to Chasny ahead of a UK tour that takes in an appearance at The Cluny on Wednesday 14th June, we asked him about his latest sonic shift and his current work.

Chasny notes that the acoustic material of Burning The Threshold came into being after his second, acoustic-driven release of material generated using his Hexadic composition system. “When I did Hexadic II, I sort of fell back in love with the acoustic guitar. I had a lot of fun playing it for the few shows I did to promote that record, so I just wanted to get back into it.”

Mistaking the more immediately accessible and warm sound of Burning The Threshold for a turn away from the intimidatingly complex rules (a system that an article of this length could not really hope to explain: I highly recommend that the curious reader undertake their own research) of the Hexadic system would be a mistake however. “I am always working on Hexadic material. I have a notebook of Hexadic compositions going at all times. There will be more Hexadic records. In fact, Hexadic III is now complete. I don’t think the Hexadic system affected my playing or writing that much except perhaps in jettisoning the need to put overtly experimental ideas into the work. The Hexadic system scratched that itch for me.”

‘transcendence’ is a pretty loaded term and can carry different connotations depending on the context.

Much of the lyrical content of Burning The Threshold reflects Chasny’s thorough and wide-ranging autodidactic interest in philosophy and notions of spirituality. Picking up this theme with him though, Chasny is clear that this is not an album concerned with the hereafter. “For me, in a way, this is an anti-transcendent record. It was supposed to be some sort of grasping for immanence and life here in the flesh. Some of the songs are influenced by mythology, however. I guess the word ‘transcendence’ is a pretty loaded term and can carry different connotations depending on the context.”

Burning The Threshold also displays Chasny’s usual talent for well-chosen collaboration, with appearances from his colleague in avant-rock supergroup Rangda, Chris Corsano, as well as backing vocals from the brilliant Haley Fohr, better known as Circuit des Yeux. “Speaking of Rangda, I first met Haley at a show that Circuit des Yeux played with Rangda in Bloomington Indiana in 2011. The Rangda set from that show ended up on our split LP with The Dead C. I always thought this record would have more friends on it than usual, and Haley was in Chicago when I was recording so it just seemed natural. I’m a big fan of hers.”

Alongside the release and promotion of Burning The Threshold, Chesny has also been occupied writing and performing music for the play Things As They Are, about the writer Wallace Stevens. Chesny elaborated on his involvement in the production, saying, “I knew the man who wrote the play, David Todd, because he interviewed me for a book about guitar players called Feeding Back a few years ago. He’s a professor and playwright and he knew I was a fan of Wallace Stevens, so he asked me if I’d like to write music for the play.”

“Playing music during a play is a whole different thing, mostly in that there is no room to get re-adjusted. If you are out of tune: tough luck! You can’t tune while people are acting. If you’re guitar has problems: tough luck! You can’t go and troubleshoot while there is action onstage. So just from a purely logistical standpoint, it’s a lot tougher. In terms of performance, it’s sort of perfect for me. I don’t enjoy being out front but I do love playing music. It’s also more of a collaborative endeavour, trying to work out how parts of the music match movements and dialogue. I’ve been really enjoying that.”

For his upcoming UK tour however, Chesny is out front and centre once more, trading in the fiery trio he brought to Newcastle two years ago whilst touring Hexadic for a stripped-back acoustic presentation more fitting for his latest work. “The tour in the UK will be solo acoustic guitar. Since the record is mostly acoustic, it is pretty easy to accurately perform the songs by myself. Solo performances tend to be a bit more intimate as well, so it’s always fun to play songs from the new record in that style.”

Six Organs of Admittance play The Cluny on Wednesday 14th June. Burning The Threshold is out now on Drag City.

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