Alec Dartley spoke with Cory Hanson about the psychedelic properties of meditation, how pridefulness in music can shrink to insecurity, communing with his dog and being drawn to beautiful sadness in life and art.
It’s heartbreaking to be a musician, when so much of it is about feeling, intuition, imagination, creativity and all those things, but that it is a rat race still. It still operates in a capitalist structure.
Can you talk about meditation a bit? I know you started meditating.
I forgot I told you about that a couple of nights ago. Meditation has entered and exited my life on a whim. I feel like that has to do with where my ego is at the time. If I’m too busy with doing shit in the world and being a person, being a musician, then I will totally forget that I ever meditated, which is kind of where I’m at right now. Then, all of a sudden, I’ll have this realization that I need meditation, I need to be centered. I need to go into myself more. I feel like I’m still in the ego zone, so the feeling is fleeting. I haven’t had the experience of being able to detach the ego, except in doing psychedelics sometimes. You can partially detach the ego and get somewhere where you can be nothing and do nothing, and it’s not painful or contradictory.
It’s going to be increasingly important in my life to meditate. At some point, I’ll probably stop doing a lot of stuff and practice meditation, but until then, it is like this weird, cosmic struggle knowing that there is something outside of the ego and the Western mindset of “Go to work.” As a musician, it’s really apparent, because there are so many bands and a hierarchy of them. Some bands get treated better than others. It’s heartbreaking to be a musician, when so much of it is about feeling, intuition, imagination, creativity and all those things, but that it is a rat race still. It still operates in a capitalist structure. It can be really disheartening and distracting.
The other day, you said something to me about growing up and thinking other people have it all together, or something to that extent. That someone’s got something you don’t. You’ve had some success now — do people think you’ve got it together? Or do people assume, since you’re such a good musician…
I don’t know. I can see the look in some peoples’ eyes. Fans’ perception of what’s going on is so, like, “Spotlight on the performer, obsessed with whatever they do and say.” I remember being that way with certain bands that were not famous at all. I’d be too scared to talk to them and have a meltdown, saying two words and going “Oh my god, I’m such an idiot.” So, I can feel the distorted sense of perception there with certain people. Otherwise, I’m pretty good at pretending I have it together, but I feel that if you have an ongoing project that is also your business and pretty much your life, things go in between feeling not stable but prideful and then, under any circumstance, they unravel and become very precarious and insecure.
It’s weird saying that about a band, but it is a business. Being one of the people in charge of it, it can go from being “This is the best thing ever! We rule! Fuck everyone else!” and then all of a sudden, we’ll just shrink and be like, “Can we even do this?”
That’s probably why you make such good music, though. Because you’re not in the “We’re the best!” zone all the time.
I think dogs are attracted to sounds they can’t make, since they don’t have lips. They’re like, “How the hell did you do that?” and then they think “You’ve got something.”
Do you have a voice you talk to your dog, Charles, in? Can you describe the voice?
I have a voice that I talk to dogs with, but I have another voice I only talk to Charles with. There’s no language to it. I kind of treat her like a horse. I’ll make kissy sounds and it’ll immediately get her attention. I can sort of keep her in the front yard, and if she sees a cat, I’ll make that sound and it immediately throws her off. I think dogs are attracted to sounds they can’t make, since they don’t have lips. They’re like, “How the hell did you do that?” and then they think “You’ve got something. You’re different. I’m a dog and you’re a human, and we’re together here.” Another sound dogs can’t make is shhh, like white noise. I do that when she’s barking and misbehaving. She immediately turns around. It’s kind of the behavioral noise, like, your behavior needs to be corrected. It’s very jarring for her.
We were talking about guitars and your relationship with them. When you pick up or see a guitar, do you have an idea of what you might play on it?
It’s more about feeling. It isn’t totally obvious, but sometimes I’ll pick up an old mint guitar from the late ‘50s, like a Les Paul or Stratocaster, a quintessential, classic guitar, and not be able to play anything because they’re really unplayable. But when there is a guitar that really desires to be played, it’s super fun for me to grab it. My fingers know where to go. There’s a passionate desire to play. I just kind of go. I feel that way about certain other instruments, like synthesizers. I feel like it’s very fun to go in and start twisting knobs. It’s very tactile to me.
Even some programming is really fun. I like to make beats, sequence and quantize them. You can go really fast and try to keep it as simple and quick-moving as possible. I sort of write lyrics that way, too. I seldom come up with an idea and then hit the paper. Usually, the process of writing doesn’t happen until I have my notebook in my hand and I’m writing. I let it sprawl and be intuitive about it. I trust myself to be genuine and to not overthink it too much or make it too perfect. That’s another thing I learned from psychedelics. Words are really fun and interchangeable, connectible. You can treat them like a multi-sided dice that you can roll.
A lot of music that is made currently makes me feel absolutely nothing. I don’t know why people listen to it.
Can you describe the stew you grew up in, as in, what did you soak up? I know your mom’s a dance teacher, your dad’s an awesome musician, your brother’s a musician as well. What was it like growing up in your house?
It was mostly that my mom was obsessed with Top 40 country music. When we were at Costco with Adam, I saw a boxed set of Garth Brooks. I really wanted to buy it, since my mom was a country singer too who I’d see perform at saloons, bars, clubs and festivals. That was a huge, musical thing for me. She tried to get me into the Beatles, but I was really into the Offspring. I was a little SoCal shit kid. I didn’t come around to the Beatles until I started playing music. She had a copy of The White Album that I picked up when I was 12 or 13, and I was just like, “Oh! I want to be a musician now. This is the best album ever!”
My dad always played jazz and funk. He was obsessed with James Brown, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. A lot of classical, too. That’s where I came from musically.
It’s funny, because I listened to The White Album the other day and it’s kind of childish. All the songs are kind of childrens’ songs, and they’re very goofy. It almost feels like every song is a “Yellow Submarine” kind of song. Then there’s these really beautiful, sad songs, and I was really attracted to those.
That seems to be a direction Wand’s been taking recently. Slower, more emotional songs.
I think that’s always the direction I’m heading to. That’s what I like listening to. I like rocking out and music that’s emotional, yet complex and smart enough to not be obvious or pretentious. My number one pet peeve with music is when it makes me feel nothing at all, which is the worst. A lot of music that is made currently makes me feel absolutely nothing. I don’t know why people listen to it. And it’ll be things that are massive, or that at least in the indie world get a lot of press and stuff. It’s the thinnest possible quality of a body or something. It’s like a ghost.
The new song you played me the other day, I felt like it was kind of the opposite of that. It just put me back inside myself and softened me. It made me feel a beautiful sadness or something.
I love the beautiful sadness. Another thing I don’t like is when music is coercive into making you feel something. It’s like watching a Disney movie where it’s like, “Here’s the part where you cry, because the robot’s dead.” And I’m like, “I don’t want to cry because the robot’s dead! I don’t want to cry at all right now!” Or watching a movie that’s not funny but it’s a comedy. It feels like you’re kind of being coerced into laughing. I don’t like music that’s overly sappy, sad or anything. But genuine-feeling music is definitely the thing I cherish the most.
You’ve been playing with a samurai sword throughout this whole conversation and it’s making me so nervous. Are you feeling anything from the sword?
Yeah! It’s so beautiful. Whatever the handle is made out of, it feels like it’s covered in some kind of scale. See? It’s some alligator or something, probably, because it grips so well.
Curated by: Alec Dartley
Conducted by: Samurai sword
Transcribed by: Morgan Enos
Published: January 23, 2018
Total questions: 9
Word count: 1615
Reading time: Six minutes
Alec Dartley, alligator, audible, business, capitalism, coercion, communication, Cory Hanson, Disney, distortion, Drag City, ego, Garth Brooks, guitar, hierarchy, horse, insecurity, intuition, Les Paul, meditation, meltdown, multi-sided dice, noise, performer, psychedelics, quintessential, robot, samurai, songwriting, Southern California, spotlight, Stratocaster, sword, The Beatles, treatment, Wand
About the curator
Alec Dartley is a painter and sculptor working from The Palisades in New Jersey. He received his BA from Parsons School of Design in 1995 and was later awarded a Skowhegan residence. He was born in 1973 in Englewood, New Jersey. Alec is also the founder of Aagoo, a record label for emerging musicians.
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