Death Chants interview with Rafi Bookstaber
Death Chants were a very short lived project from Washington, but you menaged to record and release quite a lot of material. Have you guys known each other from the past?
heh, yea we kinda let the levees loose…..in various ways, id say we knew each other. me and michael were friends from college, which we had been in for the previous two years, before both ending up back at our folks’ houses in DC early ’05. we had a bedroom duo called ‘socks’, and michael posted an ad on craigslist looking for a drummer, and paul responded…..which really blew my mind ‘cuz me an paul had worked together at tower records a year or two earlier, but didnt really connect….then me an michel go to jam at some guys house, and its paul again! so obviously we knew each other from some deeper past……and paul and allison were together at the time, just kinda ‘happened’…….
So how did you decided to start ‘experimental’ folk band?
im not sure that we ever really decided to…..we had a few conversations about what we were into musically, but we recorded ‘natural history’ the second time we played together, without much if any talk about, or deciding, what we were gonna do. we just do it!…..and then it turns into records and tapes, and people like to call it different names…..
In 2006 you released your self titled album. Can you tell us about it?
in the big money art world-gallery, opera, etc- works are often created on ‘comission’ from a certain organization or individual, given a specific grant for creating a specific work…..the ‘s/t’ album was really a ‘comission’ in a pure sense, from nemo at time-lag records. i was a huge fan of his label and the music he was putting out, so i sent him a copy of ‘natural history’ thinking he might be into it, maybe distribute a few copies. he got back to me with just unbelievable love and encouragement, and asked us to do a cdr for time-lag. where my head was at back then, this was like a yankees fan gettin drafted and called right up to the pinstripes, we were just so psyched to have someone whose mind curating was so deep interested in what we were doing…..and for me, to have someone who helped form my notions of what sound is and where its at, to tell me we were doin somethin real, was a real profound validation and welcome to earth. so we took making that album real seriously, and approached it with the intention of making ‘an album’ for nemo…..which is really hilarious looking back on it now. we were so fresh and naive, and had zero concept of how anybody else did that, or made music of similar sound, other than the ones we manufactured in our heads. we were discovering fire and lettin it burn, inventing wheels, and taking them for rides; it was an exciting, beautiful time……
Later you released Ether Works in two volumes, Natural History and Valley of Light as your final album. Please tell us about this releases.
well, we also did a tape called ‘moss master’, which was recorded during the same summer as the time-lag album. after that summer, michael and allison went back to school, which left paul and i in DC. we continued making music, not really anticipating what would happen to it. i ended up releasing those as ‘ether works’ to present it as different variant on the death chants sound, due to the different lineup and vibe. just learning to work with creating environments, stretching out. natural history, as noted, was actually the first thing we recorded, and pretty much the first thing we ever played. its a little confusing cuz nemo re-issued this on cdr at the same ttime as the ‘s/t’ cdr, so a lotta people thing they were done at the same time.
we id a tape called ‘i have seen a thousand swim through darker skies than these’ (i think) on sloow tapes, recorded over the winter when michael and allison were back from school on break. over that winter, we got into playin live and the use of the show on ‘valley of light’ is a pretty good shot of what we were up to by that spring, more unhinged and collective, with the forms almost totally dissolved. the second track on ‘valley of light’ is a view of the beauty of synch and being available. its a tape from the previous spring, after we had done ‘natural history’, but before we started playing with allison……i remeber paul had just gotten this shotgun mic for field recording, and we walked around his dads neighborhood in bethesda hollering into drainpipes, tooting on a harmonica, capturing birds, and then going back in to the basement of pauls dads house and playing. a couple weeks later we find this tape, pop it into the handheld, and this track comes out. somehow everything we did that day got recorded on that tape, in perfect arrangement, by doing it…….
What would you say had a great impact on your music. Any particular music or anything else perhaps?
theres music of course, recently discovering the modern underground- tower, hall of fame, jomf, wwvv, really opened it all up. and getting into fahey, charley patton and the carter family for the first time, connecting with roots and the lore of place, revenant energy. but it felt very easy to leave all that shit at the door; the awareness that we had something of our own, and that it would reveal itself, was right up front……
but even more important i think was meeting the world, tasting magic for the first time……
Who did the cover artwork for your releases? Does it have any special meaning?
almost all of them were done by different members of the band, excpet this 7″ which is classic nemo. i did the early ones i released, paul did the sloow tape….another good synch. paul drew that cover with different colors, in browns and eath tones, and then inverted it, and it looked that cover, with a blue n green earth in the middle…..but i think yr gettin at the cover of the time-lag lp. allison did that, and funny you should ask, why yes, it does have a special meaning. ok, so each item on there is supposed to represent a member of the band- paul is the deer of course, allison is the tree (?, its been awhile), and michael is the bird skeleton. i myself am the purple lights in the background. she told me this when she made it. true story.
I was checking your website and saw, that you moved to different cities and this is probably one of the main reason why you aren’t together anymore. Is there a chance for getting back together and to record some new material?
well, by my website im guessing you mean the moon pie website, which is run by allison. in a sense it was a move, with paul and i goin to philly, and michael and allison still in school, but all that was just a part of the natural growth, lives and heads moving in different directions……
the real magic in the death chatns recordings came form us being really in it together, spending more time hanging out, going on trips and goin to the pizza castle than actually playing music. its not a sound that can just be picked up off the counter, you gotta live in it, and you gotta grow out of it….i hear clives original band in my ear, tellin me i dont know the future, and hes right……
Moon Pie, Muntjac and your project called Aswara. This are the names of other projects you guys are involved.
moon pie is michael and allisons band, talk to them for the scoop.
muntjac is pauls solo boogaloo, i did a cdr a while back, and hes done a handful of tapes.
aswara is my and pauls duo project.
paul and i are involved in getting the recordings of von himmel out, though its hard to say exactly whos in that band.
ive done a few solo tapes, and one lp called ‘greener pastures’.
workin on a new boogie band called ‘mendocino’.
paul and i also play with mv & ee from time to time as ‘the wolfpack’.
Rafi, tell us about Aswara. I really don’t know much about them and I know you released stuff also on vinyl on your label? Where can we find information about your label?
since michael and allison were away during most of the time death chants was together, me an paul were hangin out a bunch and gettin inta some new things- sun ra, indian music, mv & ee medicine show, as well as deeper voyaging in general. as others in the band were band were being drawn more to song forms and chordal arrangements, paul and i were being drawn more towards environmental sound and microtones…..so i think aswara started here, during that time when we were developing a joint language……and also the usual confluence of circumstance- paul getting his sarangi on the death chants tour, moving to philadelphia, michael and allison being in school.
there is nothing to know. the sound is the band.
weve done two cdrs and an lp on my ‘vanity label’ azriel, and a tape on sloow tapes and a tape on fuck it tapes. its all pretty readily available if the listener is looking for…..
i s’pose this is where you find it, at least what information is here…..i have so far not been interested in providing a place for people to find information. i like to make music, and putting it out is fun and feels good. thats pretty much where i get off……but i will admit that recently ive been a bit more interested in meeting the listener, or at least givin em a wikieup, so stay tuned….
What is the main difference between Death Chants and Aswara?
i think the main difference is the intention with aswara of making sacred music. part of what we were getting into when aswara was coming up were ideas of sun ra- the fabric of the vibrations we were dealing with, the greater universe and dimensions thereof, transcendent experience, the interaction between our sounds and everything else…..we wanted to swim deeper into the cosmic ocean…..
What are you currently up to and what are some future plans for you, Rafi?
got a new label called “humito”, just put out a record from dredd foole which i am very psyched about, and got one from willie lane out soon. this is a less ‘private’ label than azriel, doin other peoples records, bigger distro. wanna show a bigger picture of what i see, outside of my personal language. really into the projects ive done/working on, and its cool to make the label that i want to see in the world, heh heh….
into where aswara is going, more heart-centric these days.
been cookin a new solo record for jeremy earls ‘hello sunshine’ label for two and a half years now, a live-in sound.
tryin to cultivate this band mendocino here, deep head/body movement music, boogie shoes, one size fits all.
really into the recent von himmel stuff i been hearing.
i play everyday if i can, play with paul when i can, record when i can, do a show every once in a while….what else is there?
Thanks for taking your time. Would you like to send a message to It’s Psychedelic Baby readers?
thanks for tuning in…….
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
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