25 August 2009

Caural Interview with Circuitree

My friend Paul Gaeta (aka PG-13) recently interviewed me for his Circuitree Records blog:

Caural is Zachary Mastoon, a multi-instrumentalist and producer originally from Chicago. Musically "born" in the basement at age 6 with his best friend and neighbor Stuart Bogie (currently a saxophonist for Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra & TV On The Radio, among others), he's written and performed music throughout his life in both Transmission (now based in San Francisco), and the group who became the backing band for fellow Chocolate Industries artist Diverse.

I remember first being touched by his music while riding around North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains in an SUV and bumping Remembering Today (Mush). What impressed me most was its diversity: one track was a summer journey into the soul of an old video game system that booms and baps, while the next was a spacious and dreamy jazz reverie! Every song sounded glued together in a delicate, beautiful way, which gives each album a natural continuity. Over time, Caural has continued to blow my mind, releasing solid records every couple years, traveling abroad on meditation sojourns and somehow finding time to tour playing solo or with other musicians and rappers. If you ever have the chance to catch him live, you'll be impressed to see him punching out heavy grooving rhythms all by hand on an old sampler. It's quite a treat!

We recently asked Caural about his approach to music and travel, as well as the necessity of a studio and solitude. Enjoy!

PG-13: What would you say if you had a chance to speak with a younger version of yourself?

Caural: I would tell myself to think and drink a lot less, and recommend meditating more. Musically, I would encourage myself to move to Los Angeles, rip off Jay Dee's style, and make three-minute beats that go nowhere, cause then I'd be famous as hell. I think I must have stopped caring too soon; maybe I should talk to a 9-year-old version of myself instead.

PG: What is one useful bit of advice or encouragement you can remember that impacted you positively?

C: Before I moved to New York, I was at Wesleyan and Anthony Braxton was my faculty advisor. I was really confused about what the hell I was doing in school and what playing jazz guitar 4 hours a day was going to do for me. The second - and last - semester I was there, other than music studies, I had signed up for a class in Buddhist philosophy, Astronomy, and Anthropology. And he looked at me and said, "Wonderful, it's all music!" He had a really profound influence on me and my recognition of art in everything.

PG: It seems you've always followed your own path, whether its traveling to the Far East for meditation, or going on a farming retreat. What are you getting from your travels, and is it intrinsic to your musical process?

C: Well, again, I view life itself as art, and so our creative expression is what comes through us during these myriad experiences, or at least our reflection of them afterward. To me, inspiration and sincere innovation can't arise from a vacuum, so filling your life with activities which challenge you and teach you about yourself will grow you inside, and thus undoubtedly shape what you share outwardly with others.

PG: How important is solitude to your musical process?

C: Solitude is hard to define for me, because - while I have always preferred making music alone or with just one other person - I don't even think about the other people in the room, on the stage, or from whatever source I am sampling (which I do less and less nowadays anyway). I feel we hear music - not create it - so whether we are alone, or playing with ten other people, it's the same process: We react to the space around us and help articulate what's there. Music and sound is meditation. With Yoga, for instance, you focus on breath and form and are ultimately alone with your practice, but during a class with others each person's work influences the whole. So really, you are alone, together. And when you're truly alone, outside of your thoughts, you are more deeply connected with everyone.

PG: How would you envision the perfect studio space?

C: The perfect studio space? Well, of course there's the obvious answer of "amazing monitors, a great board, an experienced engineer, million dollar mics and preamps, and 2-inch tape that makes everything sound like butter - and oh yeah, pianos, Farfisas, Rhodes, and tube amps from the 70s with buzzy tremelo." But really, each setting is perfect for what you do, and that's what you remember when you make music. I did four remixes sitting on the floor of my apartment in Manhattan wearing headphones - literally on the floor cause I had no bed and sure as hell no mixing desk. I sat on sheets and comforters with my sampler in between my legs and tore up what are still some of my favorite tracks ever. And, around that time, I stole a loaf of bread off the street. My ideal studio situation? Some place I am inspired and have all I need to share whatever comes out, however it sounds.

PG: How the hell do you get such a creamy sound in your music?

C: Creamy? I drink whole milk now. I used to drink soy, rice and almond milk, but after I milked a goat myself every morning and got used to the real deal in my cereal, I couldn't deal with the hippie bullshit any longer.

PG: How would you describe Boy King Islands [Caural's shoegaze outfit] in one sentence?

C: "Beats are totally played," and "this is what I care about nowadays."