Planes Of Satori interview
Planes Of Satori included members from bands like Sweet Chariot, Golden Void, Futuropaco and Once and Future Band. Inspired by that golden era of late 1960s and early 1970s Krautrock luminaries, Oakland, California quartet Planes Of Satori was largely informed by the rhythmic repetitions and mechanical mantras of what was happening in Germany during the late 1960s.
Can you share details how your album Planes Of Satori was recorded and released?
Justin: We recorded the album with Phil Manley at Lucky Cat Studios (RIP). We did the record mostly live. Jando was in the iso booth and we were in the live room. I think we did the majority of the record this way and then did some overdubs later. We recorded digitally (cause we had no money) and then mixed down to tape. The songs were pretty well rehearsed except “The Snake And The Squirrel;” that was improvised. But, we had been playing out pretty regular. There was definitely looseness to our playing but everything was sort of laid out for the most part going into recording.
Alejandro, aka Jando (pronounced Hawn-doh): I just remember it was all done in a weekend with Phil Manley at Lucky Cat Studios. We’d play the songs and I think I might have been performing along with the guys but just not recording? I remember feeling awkward because I did my vocals separately in an iso booth and we were, in my mind, more of a live band. That’s when I was most comfortable within the sound; when we all played together. I wasn’t sure we could capture that, at least how I thought the vocals should sound. The energy of them. The songs were kind of born out of jams. Also, I hadn’t known Phil previous to Planes Of Satori, unlike the other guys and I had really liked Trans Am when I was younger and so I was thinking, “cool this dude was in fucking Trans Am”, so I was kind of intimidated and felt shy too.
Chris: The LP was recorded with Phil Manley at Lucky Cat Studios. We mostly jammed the basic tracks live, looking for a take that captured the energy, then overdubbed vocals and some accompaniment such as percussion and a little organ on certain tracks. Unfortunately, when we arrived that morning we learned that the studio’s analog tape rig was busted and needed repair so we recorded digitally. We were lucky to have the backing of Christian at WCYT?
to release the album. If I’m not mistaken we were recommended to him by our friends Rob Alper and Eric Shea from Hot Lunch.
Raze: It was fantastic. I really enjoyed the live tracking as we were set up like a gig. Phil was a joy to work with.
How pleased was the band with the sound of the album? What, if anything, would you like to have been different from the finished product?
Justin: Overall I think the record sounds good. There are times I wish I could hear the bass more, but we basically recorded and mixed over the course of a weekend so there wasn’t a whole lot of time to nit pick. I also don’t really like to think too much about what I would’ve changed about a record, unless you plan on re-recording it there’s not real reason to think about it.
Jando: I think, like most bands, we all hear things we wish we could’ve done differently, in hindsight. I think I always heard a certain energy in the vocals, something unhinged, think Fun House by The Stooges, in our songs “Gnostic Boogie” or “Green Summer,” that I don’t think I fulfilled while we recorded.
Chris: Deep down I wish it had been recorded all analog on tape – especially for capturing the sound of the cymbals. Of course there are a few areas of my own performance I always wish were better. But all in all, it is always a pleasure to work with Phil, who keeps the vibe chill, light-hearted, and productive.
Raze: Personally I wouldn’t change any of it.It’s great snapshot of what the band was about.
When and how did you all originally meet?
Justin – Chris and I have know each other since high school. We played in various bands since then. Originally it was just Chris and I jamming. We had a handful of ‘songs’ and started looking for a guitarist. We actually, amazingly, found Raze via Craigslist, which is sort of crazy since Craigslist is filled with yahoos who you’d really never want to hang out with, let along play in a band with. I remember some guy sent us some pictures of him and his guitars, while wearing some crazy outfit, including a cowboy hat. Once we had jammed as a three piece we started looking for a vocalist. We had a friend Christopher Sprague singing for us briefly but he eventually bowed out and recommended Jando; and, the rest is history. Turns out we all have a lot of mutual friends. Chris, Jando and I are all originally from San Diego.
Chris: I’ve known Justin since we started playing together as teenagers, but it had been more than a decade since we had collaborated on anything when Planes started taking shape. In the beginning it was Justin and I jamming. I had a few drum beats up my sleeve that I’d been sitting on for a bit but never quite had the right musical situation to use them. For example, the main beat from the opening track of the LP, “Eyes”, was something I’d worked out way back when I was in the Bay Area rock group Parchman Farm. It was inspired by some Bernard Purdie record I was really into at the time but turned into its own thing. It wasn’t until I played it for Justin that it clicked. I remember humming what I thought was a cool bass line to go with the beat for Justin, and he just simplified it and found the groove and all the sudden it all worked. “Son Of A Gun” is another one like that. Similarly, the drum beat of “Green Summer” is something I had been previously jamming on with my friend Mike Eginton (who plays bass in Earthless). After I played the beat for Justin and hummed something in the spirit of what Mike had been playing Justin made it his own. At that point it was still just the two of us. Justin took some of our jam-room recordings and dubbed some funky fuzz guitar over it. We were really inspired by 70s Ethiopian jazz at that time. Somehow we won the craigslist lottery when we met Raze. I remember playing with him the first time in our old studio in San Francisco and when we started getting into it with him and heard what he was doing with the tunes, Justin and I made eye contact and without saying a word it was like, “ohhhhh this is the guy!” Talking to Raze in my truck on the way to and from rehearsals it was like, “wow, this guy is into all the same stuff” and musically things clicked right away. Justin had lured Raze with a picture of Damo Suzuki in our craigslist ad, and I think after Raze joined things started getting even more of a krauty vibe, as well as a more sophisticated jazz vibe to replace the simpler, funky fuzz guitar Justin had laid down on those demos. I think it was after Raze joined that what became the Planes Of Satori sound solidified into what it would become. It took a minute before we met Alejandro to complete the group. He had just become a father but was up to taking us on. I remember thinking that was a good sign, that he seemed to believe enough in the art we were making to join – or really just that he believed enough in making art in general that he was motivated to have this be a major part of his new life. I was impressed by some solo stuff he had done under the name ‘Hondo’ as well. Talking to him about life and art, especially about our shared love for John Coltrane’s spiritual masterpieces, I knew he was the right guy. And then we finally had a band! At that point it was really a 4-way collaboration and we started writing together with everybody bringing their own thing to the table. That’s how songs like “If You Must Know” and “Gnostic Boogie” were written – and how the rest of the tunes were completed.
Raze: I was done playing in bands and I’d been sitting in at jazz jam sessions and doing some pickup gigs at the 57th St Gallery (R.I.P) in Oakland and then my lady said to me”You should play in bands again or check out Craigslist and see what’s out there” and I said “Nah” but then she pulled an ad that said “Psychedelic Lead Guitarist Wanted” with a picture of Damo and Jaki and I was intrigued. I responded to the ad and we met the following Monday and jammed. Chris spoke about Elvin Jones and his love of classic quartet records with Coltrane as well his pianoless dates album like Genesis (with Dave Liebman, Frank Foster and Joe Farell – highly recommend BTW) and Justin spoke about Carol Kaye and her playing on the David Axelrod records. The musical chemistry and the camaraderie was apparent.
Justin (Pinkerton), you’re also playing in Golden Void. How would you compare it to Planes Of Satori?
Justin: They’re very different. Me being on drums is the obvious difference. But, our approach has been almost the opposite. There hasn’t been a ton of jamming as a means of writing songs in Golden Void. Whereas that’s essentially how all of the POS songs were written, minus a few bits here and there. Plus, having a separate singer and guitar player changes the dynamic too. Golden Void is more of a song band, with a bit of jamming while POS was more of a structured improv band, if that makes sense. We did a lot of jamming to write songs and then sort of fine tuned them the more we played them. But, I think there’s definitely less emphasis on having a super thought out song as just having a good groove where people can sort of let loose.
What would you say influenced you the most? Have influences changed during the years?
Justin: One of, if not my biggest, influence is Can. I think that was a good jumping off point for this band as far as the rhythmic/groove/slightly improvisational aspect goes. But, one of my favorite bass players is Carol Kaye so I feel like a lot of my influence as a bass player comes from her playing. Otherwise we have pretty diverse influences that may or may not have showed up in this band. Often practices would drift off into ZZ Top style funk jams between Raze and Chris and random stuff like that. My influences haven’t changed a whole lot over the past decade or so. I still listen to some music that I listened to in high school.
Jando: I think for this band we all had a common touchstone in Can. Even though there’s not really a Damo-like sound in my vocals on the record, (maybe more Malcolm Mooney?) I always think of Planes as a band that was kind of into, not just the sound of Can, but we dug the method, the groove as method. And the fact that the groove can come from anywhere in the world, not just America or Britain. I think we wanted the band to NOT be like every other “indie” or “garage rock” band, ie music for white people to not dance to. We all like jazz, soul music, hip-hop, eastern stuff, African stuff, and Latin stuff too. Oh, and a healthy dose of Kosmiche music of course. Also personally, with lyrics, I’m a big fan of all the “punk-poets” of music, from Bob Dylan, Ray Davies, Lou Reed, and Leonard Cohen, to Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet), Phil Lynott, Nick Cave, and Daniel Higgs of Lungfish. Wordsmiths, the lot of ‘em. I can imagine the worlds they tell us about.
Chris: 70s Ethiopian jazz, Can, John Coltrane & Elvin Jones, early UFO.
Raze: I’m still drawn to and influenced by the same musical forms (Jazz, Rock, Soul, Pop, Classical, Hip Hop etc) and their permutations that I’ve always loved but the thing that changes is my relationship to the said forms, styles and genres gets deeper and these influences reveal themselves to the way I approach music (whether playing, listening or performing) in ways I’d never expect.
What does the name “Planes Of Satori” refer to in the context of the band name?
Jando: Raze coined it and I can’t remember where he said it came from. I think perhaps a sort-of mind-state John McLaughlin reached in Mahavishnu Orchestra or something like that. I like the idea of Satori.
Raze: I read an interesting anecdote in the Jerry Wexler book Rhythm And The Blues where he was hanging out during a Donny Hathaway recording session and that he noticed that Donny would be in a state where he would be reaching for a ‘plane of satori’ I thought it was a evocative way to explain the feeling of the transcendent power of music.
Chris: It refers to a state of enlightenment.
“Son Of A Gun” / “Dichotomies” is probably your first release?
Justin: Yeah, first one. Recorded at the first Santo Studio. We only used a cassette four track. Instead of the nice board they had. Our original plan was to record on a Tascam 1/2” 8 track that I just go from a friend. Only, I discovered a few weeks prior to the recording that it didn’t actually work. The the cassette four track was the next best thing. We did the basic tracks on that and then Jando overdubbed vocals after we dumped the tracks to the computer.
Jando: Yeah and they might have been the first songs I wrote lyrics to. If you pay attention to some of the lyrics there are definitely thoughts about being a new father in them, which is right when I joined the band; my now-wife was like seven months preggers when I met the dudes and started jamming with ‘em. It eased the nerves.
Is there any other material available?
Justin: We recorded some stuff before we broke up but only really have one song to show for it. I think the plan is Who Can You Trust? Records
will release it eventually as part of the sweet times compilations?
Jando: I really would love to have that song come out. I think it was one of the best things we ever did.
Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to play with over the past few years?
Justin: Mostly just rad local acts. We played with Once and Future Band (who Raze now plays with) who are awesome. Hot Lunch are rad and are buds of ours. Mondo Drag, Lecherous Gaze, Queen Crescent, Naked Lights, Glitter Wizard. All rad bay area bands, past and present. I know other folks have played with other rad bands in their other bands but I’m not sure if that’s what your asking.
Jando: Justin covered this just fine. We once performed on the same bill as Ethan from Comets On Fire and Howlin’ Rain at a friend’s recording studio, (Christopher Sprague’s Santo,) and I remember thinking I wish we had played with Comets On Fire who did a couple reunion shows around that time… That would’ve just destroyed all….
Chris: In general, we played very few shows during our time together. But I really enjoyed the shows we did play, particularly when we got to play with our talented friends like Hot Lunch, Once And Future Band, Mondo Drag, Naked Lights, and Glitter Wizard.
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
Justin: A favorite album list from me might be too long. I’ll keep it simple and just say the early Can records, through Inner Space. For newer stuff (which I’m a bit slow at since these are all from a year or two ago) I really like Dungen – Häxan; G.O.A.T. – Requiem; the new Once and Future Band record; Here Lies Man…
Jando: Personally, I, like everyone who was in Planes, am a big vinyl guy, I love looking for gems of the past, shoring up my personal catalog of fave records of all time. A couple cool gems I’ve found recently are Tonto’s Expanding Headband, Zero Time, and Gene Harris’ Astral Signal. Of recent music, I like Cavern of Anti-matter and Beak and I swooned to Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ “Skeleton Tree.” Pop-wise I gotta say I can’t help but dig Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Reminds me of Modern Lovers or the Feelies or something.
Chris: At the moment I can’t get enough of Fleetwood Mac’s, Bare Trees. I’ve really been listening to a lot of (non-heavy) rock and roll lately, like Gene Clark’s White Light, Terry Reid’s River, and Free’s Fire & Water. I put on the Byrd’s second record, Mr. Tambourine Man, yesterday on a lazy Sunday for the first time in years and it sounded so good. When I listen to this much rock and roll for long enough it usually means I have a jazz phase coming on soon!
Raze: Here are some records that have been getting a lot of burn on my turntable recently: Jack Wilson – Innovations, Jackie McLean – Jacknife, Stanley Cowell – Brilliant Circles, Enrico Rava – The Plot, Attila Zoller – Common Cause, Steve Kuhn – Live in New York, Woody Shaw – Song Of Songs, Freddie Hubbard – The Black Angel, Genesis – Live, Marcos Valle – Previsao Do Tempo, Joe Henderson – Inner Urge.
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Justin: Thanks for asking us to do this! Hopefully Christian can sell a few more records because of this. I’ll take this opportunity to plug all of our other projects. Futuropaco
, a solo project of mine, Golden Void
, Once And Future Band
(Raze), Sweet Chariot
(Chris). Any leaving out?
Jando: I just wanna say that I loved Planes Of Satori and thought we had something special, sound-wise. I thought it could encompass all that is wondrous and holy and furious in the music I most love. Those other three guys are just phenomenal musicians and I felt honored to sing or howl or whatever with them. Cheers.
Chris: I wished we could have done more with our time, but the beauty of getting vinyl out there is that it is out there. The art lives on past the expiration date of the band.
Raze: Huge shout of thanks and praise goes out to WCYT? Records
for putting out our tunes and to Eric and Rob from Hot Lunch for recommending us to the label. Special shout to Chris and Justin for putting me back in the game and to Jando for writing lyrics, singing and screaming!
Available from The Who Can You Trust? Records shop (in a bundle or separately). LP
(with bundle-option, to get both, LP and 7inch, for a discounted price) or 7inch
– Klemen Breznikar
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