A few weeks ago now, I blogged about the third Brightblack Morning Light, “Motion To Rejoin”. In the interim, I’ve played it to death, decided it’s one of my favourite albums of 2008, and written about it at length for the new issue of Uncut.
I’ve also done an interesting email interview with Naybob Shineywater from the band, which reveals some of Brightblack’s key philosophies. There wasn’t room in the mag to print much of this, but I thought it was worth posting the whole thing online. Let me know what you think. . .
JM: First, can you tell us a bit about your background? Where you’re from, what you’ve done, how Brightblack formed – that sort of thing?
NS: I am from Alabama originally, lower Alabama, and grew up working with my hands, surrounded by people who work with their hands. I grew with an appreciation for being out of doors. Rachael and I have a dedication to making music in rural, wild environments, while also focusing on ecological recovery or even direct action for local ecological issues. Our last place in Northern California was mostly an outdoors living scenario, with multiple tents near the same ancient redwood forest where they filmed the Ewok footage in the old Star Wars. The cabin was a fully remodelled chicken coop nearby a creek. We put instruments in the cabin and lived outside, both working full-time community oriented jobs. Rachael made bread from an almond-wood-fired bakery and drove it to sale at the Berkeley farmer’s market. She also worked doing creek restoration for endangered coho salmon. But our music is southern to us and our friendship is built on both growing up in rural Alabama.
Will Oldham helped you out a lot early on? Can you tell us more about that?
Well not really… We opened for him on some national tours. We actually didn’t live near enough to help each other. Will is respected by many as a true southern folk singer, he’s stayed in his home state of Kentucky, it reflects in his songs, especially the early work. I like it when music is a reflection of a region’s lifestyle. America has more culture than most would like to admit. In the west, it’s the last place to really contrive the limits of birthright freedom, because the wilderness is very much alive, with people living out there thinking about ways to be more responsible and aligned with earth power than ever before!
Have you always lived an itinerant life? In the sleevenotes of the new album, you mention your favourite tent and sleeping bag. Is living out in the open important to you?
Freedom is important to me. Wilderness is the only true freedom. It is ours to honour, respect and party with. Every city is a design of the hand of human kind. I believe, like many we are at a crossroads, that these designs have to serve the common good of everything alive. That we should depave and have large inner city food gardens… Perhaps railroads can be run by solar power and nano technology, perhaps all medicine should be made available, now, to the sick. These are things we should change today. And we could.
When was the last time you lived in an actual house?
I live in an adobe, tee-pee and tent. I rotate on that. I however do not have a room nor ever want a room, I suppose life energy is a flow that walls can and do alter. Was the industrial age the first recorded instance of schizophrenia? How much raw night sky-star energy do we require in a lifetime?
Can you tell us the full story of how you moved to the mesa? How is it enchanted, exactly?
New Mexico is the land of enchantment. Home of the Pueblo nation, the only successful North American resistance to European conquest. That means these people around here have been maintaining ceremonial dances for thousands of years! A new day is upon us. As the economy shifts, energy and clean water become a birthright. Yet we need to refocus how and why we use it.
Here in New Mexico, a New York City corporation is trying to build up a coal-powered plant where the traditional Navajo graze livestock, at a place called Desert Rock. There’s everyday issues still affecting people trying to live in harmony with their ancient ways, ways we should be learning from instead of destroying. History and mainstream culture would have you believe that all the Indians are dead, along with their language and religion, however this is a lie.
In fact, recently in Brazil they discovered this year what is believed to be the last untouched tribe of the rai forest. We should all begin looking to ancient cultures as a responsibility for what we call a reality today. Is there a way to open our intellect to a primitive simplicity while engaging the new technology? Or is it one way or the other? Who says the current boundary is representative of freedom? Who says it’s one way or the other?
What could happen we if found a new pride in the simple things? It takes a reminder every now and then to actually know what is and is not simple these days.
The ecological issues will be endless and there is no guru or literature for the revolution we all need. Perhaps a humanitarian focus would be to legalise LSD? Isn’t it true that it’s a “must have experience?”
Then we’ll all appreciate the life and see how it’s all smiling back at us! Is it that easy to walk around knowing that people’s blood have spilt so that truck drivers might drive us our food while we sit in a box all day? What should happen we if found a new pride in the simple things?
Was the entire album recorded there, and entirely run on solar energy? Did the guest musicians all come out and lay down their parts with you there?
Are you living there now? How isolated is it?
Why did you include those prismatic glasses with the last record?
I find them a quality way to heal.
This album, even more than the last one, seems filled with Native American imagery. Why is that so important to you?
I would call it country imagery, or experience imagery. Many primitive folk tales of all nations share simple notions. I am indeed knowing that the primitive is still alive in every one of us. Maybe I am not a city person, but someone who lives in and for wilderness, as a family style of love. To give each day my full energy like a wildflower! Not a nursery flower! Language itself is a waste if there is no life reality behind the words. Maria Montessori believes we are all born with what we need to know, and that environment shapes us. How much depends on us.
I hate the English language and anyone who loves to write probably does. It doesn’t hold enough heart-based responsibility to the subject matter, so that’s probably why music interests me, as it would anyone who chooses word-based expression.
In “Oppressions Each”, you talk of being “beat down by police”. Did that actually happen? Can you give us the full story?
Sure, yes. I was beaten by San Jose, California police on Valentine’s Day, the day of the first protest in San Francisco against the Iraq war. I sat in jail, completely innocent, and my charges of resisting arrest where dismissed on George Orwell’s birthday.
How did you come to formulate the Brightblack sound? This album seems to focus on that slow funk feel more than ever: what are your musical influences?
Livity. Knowing that others find solace in vinyl like I do.
Is the Fender Rhodes a sacred object? It seems to be the cornerstone of your music?
Yes, ours was handmade, with its own geometry to the acoustic harp. We understand it as a sacred geometry. Again, this old electric piano has been hauled into almost every bar in America! It weighs over a hundred pounds, we carry the piano with a deep respect. We both know how to work on them as well.
You have a very strong environmentalist stance; can you briefly articulate that for our readers, and maybe give us some details and examples of your activism?
The best examples are the daily ones. We ate 65 per cent of our food from the garden this summer.
Over the past few years, a bunch of myths seem to have congregated around Brightblack. Do you think you could tell us the full true stories behind these rumours:
That on the last European tour you sang with an arrowhead in your mouth?
That you asked for audience members to bring crystals to gigs?
Everyone should know crystals can help bring on a peace. Rose quartz helps the heart. It is written the throne of the great spirit is made of many kinda of crystals, yet we have them here, so perhaps we should hold them more?
That you tried to ban members of the US military from your shows?
Specifically it was concerning military recruitment. We are not part of a war machine and want folks to reconsider it all.
That your dog was a critical part of your live show?
Yes, my friend’s dog was present all over the place for a while.
How do you feel about being stereotyped as hippies?
I wasn”t aware of that.
Remember that LSD came from America, no culture to date has devised such a revolutionary and alternate experience. The ‘60s also granted women’s right to vote, racial equality and sexual equality, these movements need ingredients and there are lessons to be learned from their mistakes, however we must, should and will embrace these mind-liberating tools in order to move forward in unity! Not label them as bad, when the folks doing the labelling are approving bad wars for bad oil for bad excess. Every individual could use a severe change, and violence is not the answer, yet it is usually the most recurring factor of change? Huh? Ha!