Interview: Prana Crafter
Experiences beyond the conventional ego-orientation are fascinating to me regardless of what culture or epoch they come from. Can you imagine if Whitman would have been born a bit later in Northern California during the Acid Tests! It’s kind of the role Ginsberg played, culturally, at that time, but Whitman would have been nature-hippy-COSMIC!
One of the biggest surprises of the year when it comes to psychedelic music has been the almost universal understanding that something of a peak has been hit with Prana Crafter’s Enter the Stream album. A release which evokes the true meaning of psychedelic music, Prana Crafter, or Will Sol as he is known outside of his moniker, has crafted an album which is beautiful, spiritual and supremely tripped out. In order to find out more about this enigma, Echoes and Dust sent Martyn Coppack along for a chat.
E&D: Tell me about Enter the Stream. How was it recorded? What are the songs about? Is it a concept album?
Will: Absolutely Martyn, thanks for asking me! Enter the Stream was a hybrid DIY and studio project. I recorded ‘Enter the Stream’, ‘The Spell’, ‘Old North Wind’, and ‘At the Dawn’ at a local studio, doing vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, and bass. I took those four songs home and added synthesizer and some other sweeteners and recorded the other four instrumental tracks.
The songs are about mysticism, love, and nature. There are meanings to the lyrics like, ‘Enter the Stream’ is about the natural perfection that exists as pure awareness and about that being a birthright of our particular type of consciousness if one is lucky enough to be able to sit quietly and let their own naked awareness be all encompassing, but as the paradoxical sayings go, that’s both the easiest and hardest thing to do. The line, ‘the leaves glistening, is the sunlight whispering, in a language that cannot be known through symbol or through sign’, is talking about there being experiences that can be had beyond language and symbolic representation and how important that is. But as far as a concept for the whole album, there isn’t a specific pre-ordained story-line. It’s meant to be rather cinematic and my hope was the listener’s imagination would create a storyline based on the sounds. Well, and based on the titles because if you want someone’s imagination to run free, you just give them the music and don’t prejudice them with a title, I gave very specific titles, so in that sense the imagination can run free but within a certain linguistic-conceptual template which has to do with, in this case, nature, mysticism, and love. For me, moon through fern lattice and mycorhizzal brainstorm both feel like stories from a non-human point of view.
Overall, I had a clear vision of wanting to create a flowing, cohesive, piece of work that could take someone on a journey if they gave me their attention for 40 minutes. I rely very much on improvisation, both in the performance of material and also in the mixing process, which is something I put a lot of time into but not like an editor with certain ideas but like a painter going off of instinct. The reason I mention the improv is that the album has a life of its own because it created itself as much as I created it. There’s a theory by a scholar named Frank Barrett that improvisational music is a self-organizing system and I think he is really onto something. My experience of creating music through improvisation, when it’s really flowing, is that there is an intelligence, or intelligences, at work and me as a thinking, planning, decision-making entity is only one of those forces, the music seems to be an organism, almost like a sonic version of when all of the transformers join together to make an ultra-bot, or whatever they were called.
E&D: There’s a very spiritual feeling running through it, but also a keen ear for the contemporary. When listening you get the sense that you are more at home within the mountains, yet unafraid of the big city. How does landscape and nature play a part in your art?
Will: Ha, well you are very right and very wrong at the same time Martyn! Mysticism has been a primary focus of my life for over 20 years and the music I make is absolutely meant to be sonic-mysticism, 100 percent, so you are correct there. You are also correct about the mountains. I grew up near Mt. St. Helens and have summited it twice; we have a very small cabin about as close to Mt. Rainier as you can get and we spend a considerable amount of time there, my oldest daughters even trekked with my wife and I last year up to Camp Muir (over 10,000ft elevation). Also, we live very close to the Olympic mountains and spend many, many, many, hours a month out hiking around and looking down from various peaks, so I feel completely at home in the mossy forest and mountains. Pretty much the only time I go to a big city is for a specific event, appointment, or to play a show, and to be honest I feel completely out-of-place in every big city I’ve ever been to, so I wouldn’t say I’m ‘afraid’ in a city, but I’m usually quite agitated and over-stimulated.
E&D: The response to Enter the Stream has been excellent. Did you ever get the sense that you was creating something special? Is there anything you would change about the album, given chance?
Will: There was a point after all of the recording and mixing was done and transitions basically figured out that I sequenced all the tracks together into one continuous piece for Kevin and Dave from Sunrise Ocean Bender and Cardinal Fuzz to hear, and I felt like it was a special piece of work, as a whole composition all consumed in one sitting it seemed a cut above anything I’d done before as far as being cohesive. I don’t think about things I would change because there are always things I could change and I could always just keep doing guitar takes and end up with something even ‘better’, but at some point you have to decide to pull the trigger and not look back. Also, I record DIY and on a minuscule budget, so of course with better gear and more time I know I could have made something much more grandiose, but that doesn’t mean it would be better, just different, I’ve always been grateful that I’m able to create what I do with just a couple guitars, hand drums, a synthesizer, singing bowls, and my voice, especially because I’m a hermit!
E&D: You are very much a Deadhead, and proudly so. What is it about the Dead that drives you, and your music? Do you see any parallels in your own work?
Will: The energy, absolutely the energy, the group hive-mind trance energy and captain trips at the helm! I’m pretty Jerry obsessed, I listen to all of his projects and his flow is like the soundtrack to my inner-life on a certain level. His playing, as well as Manuel Gottsching’s, are a huge inspiration to me as are players like Jeff Beck, John Fahey, Bill Frisell. Jerry’s flow abilities are what I strive for more than anything else, but Jerry was also very vigilant about his tone and I pay a lot of attention to that as well. The amp and guitar I play are based on Jerry’s sound back pre-1970, before all the custom gear, some of those early shows are really heavy and innovative. Jerry could play bluegrass, jazz, funk, country-lead, the most spaced-out flowing jams, and he could also bring a tear to your eye with his authentic vocals, so I just have the utmost respect for him and for Neil Young.
E&D: What other music drives you? What about other cultural forms? Alien life?
Will: I love earthy folk with an esoteric dimension, things like Neil Young, early Van Morrison, Donovan, I really like the contemporary folk musician Fionn Regan as well as Warren Ellis’ band Dirty Three, I like Moon Duo and Wooden Shjips, had a chance to play a couple shows with them recently and they were fantastic and really good people. There is a guy who plays on the album named Tarotplane from the East Coast and his albums are A+ kosmische in my opinion, more so than a lot of the popular bands in the ‘psychedelic rock’ scene. I listen to jazz often while writing, but mainly things like electric-era miles, MMW, Sun Ra, and some of my favorite albums are the two that feature Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales (Hooterroll and Side Trips Vol. 1). I listen to kosmische/krautrock music, whatever you want to call it, my favorites are Agitation Free, Ash Ra Tempel, Bo Hannson, and the unauthorized Cosmic Jokers. I am grateful to a friend, David, who I met through music (he’s a radio DJ in B.C.) for turning me onto those bands, he has a show called ‘The Unending Subtleties of River Power’. I listen to all kinds of stuff from that era on a regular basis; I was turned onto AR & Machines just last year at 35 years old! That’s what I love about music, the sheer abundance of amazing sounds to be found, I just found out about Sandy Bull a few weeks ago from a friend named John from Scotland, I heard it and thought, “where the hell have I been?? This came out in 1969!” Right up my alley but hiding in my periphery all these years, there’s just is so much to discover.
Mainly I enjoy being in nature, spending time with my wife and children, and filling my ears with music. Alien life? Absolutely, I think statistically it’s a certainty. I’ve been following all kinds of ‘conspiracy theories’ for decades so I have a lot of thoughts on the subject. It seems to me that world governments are doing a soft-disclosure and it’s speeding up recently. They used to say, ‘probably no alien life’ then it was ‘maybe’ now there are NASA articles speculating about numerous habitable planets in the milky way and ‘earth-like-planets’ detected. I’ve also read almost everything Terrence Mckenna ever wrote and sincerely wonder about his idea that aliens were more likely living in other dimensions than other galaxies, perhaps even non-local intelligences that could possibly be communicating to us through catalysts like psilocybin or just through our own thought frequencies and motivational centers. He also had a theory that the UFO phenomenon could be humans having somewhat dissociative interactions with their own souls, but I don’t think that’s likely the case. My wife and I were once kayaking in a place called ‘The Black River’ here in Washington on a completely clear day and we saw a slow moving object in the sky, we thought it was a weather balloon or small plane, but suddenly it elongated and completely vanished, it was really eerie, we were looking all around us trying to understand where it could have gone, but there was nothing but blue sky all around?
It’s amazing to me how some people think they can definitively rule out a phenomenon based on the fact they haven’t experienced it personally or it doesn’t fit their current ontology, I’m guessing most of those people haven’t done much journeying through the complexities of inner-space! When considering what is possible, I keep Kant in mind and don’t ever forget that we only know that which we are presented by our very limited perceptive hardware and ontological/epistemological software, so anything is possible, truly. I’ve read so much about paranormal phenomena both spiritual as well as just anomalous happenings, that stuff captivates me. I read the academic journal articles testing paranormal/transpersonal phenomena, the scholarly books on the subject, but I’ll also dive into full out armchair conspiracy theories at times, just to keep tabs on all the opinions out there. I also read a tremendous amount about historical mystics and spiritual beings of different belief systems, I can tell you more than you’d ever want to know about figures like Meher Baba, Sai Baba of Shirdi, Padmasambhava, Neeb Karorli Baba, Ramana Maharshi, etc.
E&D: Anyway…back down to Earth (for now!), and let’s talk stories and improvisation. You mention that Enter the Stream is a musical tool (if you will) that allows the listener to create their own story. I’m fascinated by the way stories are transmitted, be it through folk tales told around the campfire, a book, a film, an album. I guess Enter the Stream would be more in line with poetry. What are your thoughts and experiences with stories, and the telling of them? On reflection, there is more than a hint of Walt Whitman about your music, particularly in the idea of transcendentalism…
Will: I agree with you about the limited, ego-heavy, perspective of humans as the apex of universal evolution. What you point out about space and time is fascinating, I’m really enamored with time and the subjective sense of it.
I’m a poor orator of stories, I’m not one of those who can captivate with a vocal retelling of a story and have always felt much more comfortable writing rather than speaking, still that way to this day. Interesting you bring up Whitman, he was hugely influential on me as a teenager, I was inseparable from my copy of ‘Leaves of Grass’ for a period of time. I also once made a school project that was a friend reading Whitman over my Prana Crafter sounds (although I didn’t call myself PC back then it was the same basic flavor but recorded on a Tascam 4 track). Experiences beyond the conventional ego-orientation are fascinating to me regardless of what culture or epoch they come from. Can you imagine if Whitman would have been born a bit later in Northern California during the Acid Tests! It’s kind of the role Ginsberg played, culturally, at that time, but Whitman would have been nature-hippy-COSMIC!
E&D: You also mention Neil Young, and within some of the more introspective moments of Enter the Stream you can hear those classic country folk songs fuelling the fire. One of the things I admire most about Neil Young is his capacity for change though. This can be either album by album, or even during a song. When Neil plugs in with Crazy Horse something happens. He can also be obtuse (possibly deliberately) through his constant change. How do you reign in those improvisational elements from turning into a kind of parody?
Will: I agree. One of the things I love about Neil is how he can get to that raw essence with a vocal. I think Lucinda Williams can also do that and I think Jerry could do that when singing a ballad and lots of people in the late 60s and 70s seemed to be tapped into that raw expressive energy, for my sensibilities, Van Morrision in his prime (60s & 70s) did that very well. I think it’s really rare these days, at least for someone to do it to the extent that I consider it amazing. I can’t name many modern artists who I think do that, to be completely honest. I think, raw, authentic vocals and thoughtfully nuanced songwriting is suffering right now, even though there is a lot of great music being made as far as instrumentation is concerned. The question about parody, or taking an improvisation to the point of boring self-indulgence, I think has to do with thoughtfulness/discernment, freedom of imagination, and a fearlessness on the part of the player. I once heard someone who played with Jerry say that what made him ‘better’ than many of his contemporaries was his use of playfulness and imagination, and I think what was part of what stands out for me. When I hear the beginning lick to ‘Tennessee Jed’, it paints a technicolored cartoon in my mind, it’s so evocative in a kind of comical, and cosmic, way. Then there is the amazing songwriting associated with the Dead because of Hunter and Barlow, those guys were such amazing story-tellers. How can you listen to Cumberland Blues and not see a little black and white storyline playing through your head?
As far as guitar playing, nothing bores me more than derivative, copy-cat stuff. The worst is some guy or lady just going on and on playing Eric Clapton sounding garbage, I can’t take it. I think its fear and/or lack of imagination that keeps people playing like that, it’s safe to play memorized riffs or little variations of things you’ve played 1,000 times, but because it’s safe it can also be boring if not done in a thoughtful way. I know I struggle when playing live to stay in the moment and not allow fear to push me into doing some quasi-memorized patterns. I try to keep a balance between having a few anchor points so that if I get frazzled I can go back for a second and catch my breath, but then I try to take a risk and go back into the improv energy, and I assume I do what a lot of improvisors do in terms of playing around with little motifs that arise in the moment but being sensitive for when shit is getting boring. Cecil Taylor talked about it in terms of little ‘cells’ of musical meaning or shape, little ideas that would be elaborated on, deconstructed, weaved with other elements, looped, and altered during an improvisation. Ornette Coleman had a different vernacular for it but talked about something similar. I always appreciate hearing the things Jerry said about improvisation, because I can usually relate to it. Once he said it was like being strapped to the back of a horse during a stampede, and it really is if you are that committed to the exploratory side of things. He also talked about the discrepancy between how it ‘seems’ to be going as the musician versus what is coming out, or what is being heard by each subjective set of ears, it’s really fascinating. I could go on and on about this stuff because I think a lot about.
I’ve been noticing lately how a certain cognitive-motor program, or impulse, related to dissonance comes up during playing and helps break me out of doing something memorized, it’s really fascinating to be turn the lens of internal observation and mindfulness towards the phenomenological experience of improvising music. So, to answer the question, I think the only way to keep from turning improv into parody is to have abundant imagination and an ability to not let fear (apprehension?), or overthinking, take over and obviously a key element is commitment and being able to get into a flow, what Jerry said about being strapped to the horse in the stampede, at that point you’re committed to flow on, even if it’s rocky! Have you heard the interview where Jerry is talking about being dosed by the cake frosting? Feeling, tripping while on stage, like he had to literally play for his life, that he would die if he didn’t keep the jam going, it’s a fantastic story the way he tells it! The best way to sum up my process is that I lead with improvisation and then let instinct guide how to mess around with the raw energies, then there is also something that develops out of that process, which is a bit more abstract, kind of like these little multi-dimensional sonic bundles of emotion or imagery or if you’re lucky maybe one will be a catalyst for some type of trance or transpersonal experience, either for the player or for the listener.
E&D: Let’s lighten the mood and talk about America. I have a huge love of this country, although I have never visited it (yet!). My idea of America has basically been built through popular culture, literature, and art. My America is a cross between John Ford’s Monument Valley, Steven Spielberg’s Everyman (and of course ET, the greatest film ever made), Bruce Springsteen, and finally the hope of a brighter future built on work, community and the good old American Dream. As not just an American, but one who lives in what I would call the real America (I just checked out Olympic Mountain…now, I thought I had some beautiful landscape here in North Wales!), what are your views on the country? How far from the truth is my ideal?
Will: I’m not sure if talking about America in 2018 is going to lighten the mood!! I do think you are correct about the ‘idea’ of America but I don’t know if that’s really where we are at right now as far as the majority of Americans are concerned. I’ve had several experiences speaking to people who have immigrated here about how the actual experience met their expectations and across the board they felt the ‘notion’ of American life was very rose colored juxtaposed to their actual experiences when they arrived. Like most places, America is a paradise for some and a living hell for others, it covers the whole spectrum. I appreciate the landscape immensely, the part of the county I live in, the rural Pacific North West, is exquisitely beautiful, wild, and expansive. The America that I experience when deep in the wilderness zones of forest and mountain is what I love, the American media culture is something I feel a thousand miles away from most of the time, like I’m living in a different dimension or something, but that’s not to say I don’t consume culture and keep abreast of things, I do. Where America is right now is pretty amazing to watch, I keep an eye on both sides, the Left and the Right, as well the far fringes, and right now the vast chasm between the different ideologies, and basic realities created, is mind blowing. People are literally living in different realities because the information they are accepting as ‘truth’ is completely different than that of their counterparts, and since the information we accept as true turns into the building blocks of our subjective reality, things are getting crazy in the most post-modern of ways. I was in Alaska recently and before that up in Whistler B.C. and it really struck me how similar it was to Washington. And with that, how similar Washington is to NW Oregon, I grew up right on the border of the two states. It’s interesting to look at the landscapes as the real indicator of the regions, just ignoring the state, county, and city boundaries. It would be cool to see the maps geologist have made to highlight the regional similarities and differences.
E&D: Whether it is the landscape, of which there is no denying the subliminal impact, the music both past and present, or simply the need to escape both inwards and outwards, Enter the Stream arrives at a time where psych may be shaking off the shackles of the new psych movement, and embracing older ways. That it is the work of just one man is all the more remarkable, and the genre finds itself with a true visionary to take things forward.