Michael Hedges Interview 10/10/95
© 1995 Naked Eye Press
Michaels fall 95 tour was his first in 18 months without accompaniment by Michael Manring. While on the one hand the Manthing was missed, on the other, MH really stretched out in a way he hadnt in awhile. The tour featured: an extremely slick black acoustic harp-guitar; his first vocal tune with harp-guitar (Torched); two new cover tunes for harp-guitar (The Stones No Expectations and David Crosbys Almost Cut My Hair); a new grooving acoustic solo piece (Elements, which later became Oracle); the resurrection of his rib-rattling cover of Neneh Cherrys Buffalo Stance; mega-energized performances of fingerstyle pieces including Ragamuffin, Rickovers Dream, Eleven Small Roaches, Aerial Boundaries, and The Rootwitch; and a conspicuous lack of any keyboards. All in all, a typical Hedges tour, i.e., not what anyone expected. We spoke backstage at the Odeon while devouring several bowls of noodles and veggies with copious amounts of hot sauce.
Tell me about the new harp-guitar youre using this tour.
Its another Dyer. Its just one that has a different sound. I wrote Torched on it. Its amplified with a FRAP [Flat Response Audio Pickup] and a magnetic auto-harp pickup. Plus it looks cool [laughs].
Have you ever written anything for your Klein harp-guitar using both the TransTrem bridge and harp strings?
No, but I do intend to write something for the Klein harp-guitar. I just havent done it yet. Its home resting and mutating [grins].
Is your new tune Elements based on the five Chi Kung elements you told me about?
Yeah. I got the idea for it this summer when I was at a Taoist yoga lesson. My teacher had us walking around in a circle trying to emulate the different energetic elements. I thought it would be nice to remember this by writing music that would do the same thing. It starts out with water which transforms into wood, wood goes to fire, fire goes to earth, earth to metal, and then back to water. I play it with a pick on acoustic guitar, not the harp-guitar.
Could you give me an example of a piece where you had something fairly specific in mind that you wanted to express in advance of composition as opposed to one where you were just drawn to make the music and figured out what it was about as you went along.
Torched is the first time I came up with a title before writing any music. Never before have I done that. Actually, my two recent ones, Torched and Elements, both had prior intent. Sometimes pieces transform. An example would be when I wanted to do that cover of Jumpin Jack Flash and it turned into Nomad Land or maybe it was the other way around. Thats what happened with the harp-guitar. I wanted to write something of my own and all of a sudden I got No Expectations by the Stones [laughs].
Do you feel you now have as much of a voice on flute or keyboards as you do on guitar?
No. I had to kind of pull them back in. I was working on that for awhile and then I stopped. I started working on the harp-guitar and now Ive got three harp-guitar tunesTorched, No Expectations, and Almost Cut My Hair [by David Crosby]. Davids in Bali right now. By the way, I think youre right.
You may be the only one. What about?
What you said in Hot Type about my keyboard sound. I wasnt quite happy with it either. I havent found my keyboard sound yet.
Ahhh. I was hoping you wouldnt be pissed at that comment.
Nah! My keyboard voice isnt there yet.
Have you been letting new compositions gestate longer before recording these days or is that just because of the logistics of Road to Return?
I always try to perform something as soon as I can. As soon as its done, I want to take it out on the road. I had a backlog because The Road to Return was like well reflection.
I guess Im thinking specifically of Jitterboogie. When you first started playing that in early 92 it was a different arrangement in a different key and played on the low-strung Lowden. Its so different now.
Yeah. It didnt work tuned low. Dunno why. I tried to play it and it just didnt work out right so I tuned it back up and did it on Barbara [his Martin D-28, so named for spending so much time in bars].
All things being equal, your new tunes like Ignition and Dirge seem much simpler than something like Aerial Boundaries, but I think convey even more emotion. Do you think youre saying more with less on guitar lately?
Hmmm. I dunno if Im saying any more, but Im doing less. Well, those tunes arent finger-picked. I havent written anything finger-picked in a long time. Thats why they seem simpler. Theyre not really. They look simpler. Ill probably go back to fingerpicking soon. I just started playing Ragamuffin again.
I read this quote about composition by Brain Eno in the same issue of Musician that you were interviewed in [November 95] and I was wondering if you relate to it:
Even though Im probably quite an intellectual person in the way I think about things, my decisions are nearly always guided by my sensual responses. I have to be seduced by them in some way. No matter how intellectually defensible they are, if they dont work on that level, then I think somethings not right about them. A friend of mine used to say, The body is the large brain. I really believe that. I want to think with the whole organism, not just with the bit that knows that its thinking.
Thats true. Thats definitely true. Yeah, I try not to think so much. Or I just dont I dont think that much because I trust my intuition. I know that Im capable of thinking about the music, but Id rather not be aware of my thinking as thinking. Id rather just use my mind to do what it does best and not try to compartmentalize too much.
That being the case, do you think you would, or could, write something like Aerial Boundaries today? I mean, that took you a month just to arrange for guitar. Would you have the patience for that today or would it be too much thinking and not enough grooving?
Oh yeah. Ill definitely write something else like Aerial Boundaries again. I just gotta get through something first. Im not sure what it is. Maybe its patience [gives inquisitive look]. I want to write a longer piece thats more organized, maybe even for orchestra, but I dont think its gonna come until I do something else first.
But you dont know what?
Nope. I just gotta keep movin. I do see it in the future. I just dont have any plan for it.
In general, how far ahead do you plan? Or do you even try to plan?
I want to do everything that seems attractive to me. There are lots of things. But Id rather not organize because the minute I do, somethings gonna change it anyway.
I was re-reading a lot of older interviews and noticed you constantly mentioned that you wanted to groove more
Thats my joy, manto be able to come out and groove all night. But Im kinda lookin for somethin else now too.
So you feel like youve reached that goal?
Yeah. Im groovin.
What else do you think youre looking for?
Well, as I say, if I spent too much time thinking about what Im looking for then that thinking would probably cloud the vision that would see it. Im trying to cultivate my vision so that when it presents itself I can see it. It involves a certain amount of trusttrust that things will flow the way they need to. Im presenting myself to fates and natures evolutionary process. To me, the best thing I can do to enable my own evolution is to remain open and to see things as they come. If I plan things theyll never come the way I plan them. And then if I work so hard to make my plan work Ill realize that theres a bigger plan at work. So its a trust. Its trusting in something thats higher.
With that approach, do you ever hit what you feel are dry spells?
Not really. I dont think that just because I may not be writing that it means Im dry. If I was writing all the time I wouldnt have any time to live or to observe. I wouldnt have anything to write about.
Kind of like your guitar playing. Like you say, if you hadnt gotten away from it and worked more with other instruments these great new guitar solos wouldnt have happened.
Definitely. Well, even songs like Phoenix Fire or Sapphireyou can hardly hear the keyboard in em on the demos. But I had to write them on the keyboard and then I had to perform them on the keyboard to let them grow.
That reminds me, what happened to that keyboard song Rhythm of Fiction?
It almost made it onto Road to Return, but I had enough slow ballads. [Blows nose, wipes eyes.]
Sure you got enough hot sauce there?
Mmmm. Its whew very good.
Speaking of Road to Return, I was listening to NPR on the way here and they played some of it as a segue on All Things Considered.
Cool. What section?
The opening before the vocals.
Thats nice. I never intended that flute part to be on the record, but it just sounded good after awhile.
How come youve dropped your regular flute in favor of an alto?
I played regular flute for a long time then finally I got enough courage to play the alto. It demands a little bit more air and focus. Then I just made the jump and took it out by itself.
Ever try bass flute?
Nah. Bass flutes pretty limited.
And expensive. Ians playing one on his solo tour.
Yeah, its nice to hear him playing new flutes these days. When I record, I sometimes put a harmonizer an octave below the alto flute so it goes even lower than a bass flute would. On several of my demos I have octave alto flute.
Isnt the tracking difficult for the harmonizer?
It can be, but on the lower register of alto flute it works great.
I hear youve contributed a song to a Frank Zappa tribute album that Dweezil is putting together.
Sofa #1 is on that. I dont know how much of it hes gonna use. Its a big editing project. Hes been working on it a long time.
I heard about it from Bill White Acre. Have you heard his music?
Yeah. I thought he was really good. He slaps a lot right?
Well, only occassionally. Youre probably thinking of Snap Dragon or Artichoke Banister.
Right. I heard those. Hes really great.
Are you still planning a live album?
We just record live stuff, ya know, and whenever I get enough thats decent well do it. The reason why its probably gonna be live is because there are some tunes I just dont think I could do in the studio. Some record sometime in the future will either be live or cover tunes. Theres a lot of cover tunes I havent released.
I was just gonna ask you about that. During the sound check I came up with this list of over thirty unreleased covers youve done.
Theres a lot of em. There are a lot of tunes I could release, but its also nice to have some unreleased material tooto only do certain stuff live. Some of my covers I think I could arrange, but most are probably best as solo pieces.
How did Good Times, Bad Times work out?
I did a demo if it, but I just decided to leave it alone. It might surface sometime. Depends, you know, if I get hot for it or not.
Speaking of hot, tell me about Torched.
Torched is of volcanic inspiration. Its up from the Earth. It uses volcanic metaphors. I was trying to figure out how metal energy transformed into water energyinto flowing, fluid energy. From the way it was explained to me I just thought, Well, when metal gets hot enough it becomes fluid. So a volcano is the Earths natural answer to that.
Given the topics of recent tunes like Dirge, Phoenix Fire and Torched is it safe to say you feel reborn?
Well, I think thats a process that happens to you probably every day.
But I mean in a broader sense.
No. Well I guess I dont feel like its happened all at once. I feel like its been happening. And then you realize that its happening. Realizations happen, but in a bigger sense I think it just keeps going.
I dont think Im phrasing the question correctly. What I mean is that many people, including me, have commented that on this tour in particular you seem more energized, focused, healthier, and happier. Like maybe Taproot was a catharsis and The Road to Return was metamorphosis and that youre now reinvented, rediscovered, re-energized, or whatever you want to call it. I mean, youre definitely in the zone these days. Am I misinterpreting this? I dont think I am.
Not really, no. But for me, I always feel like Im metamorphosing or evolvinglike Im always arriving. If you want to look at my product, for example, look at Aerial Boundaries. I feel like I arrived somewhere with that too. I felt like I arrived somewhere when I did my first vocal album. Same with the live album. I just always feel like Im arriving somewhere new. Maybe youre just sensing that Im getting more of a spiritual path. Not that I never had a spiritual path, but I wasnt as focused on it. Thats becoming more and more important to me.
So what are your plans for the next release? I hear youve dropped the title Phoenix Fire.
Yeah, its called Torched. Its simpler and less metaphorical or mythological. Phoenix Fire is still gonna be a tune on it, but thats just one way that you can become torched, I think.
Is there a general sound youre shooting for?
Not yet. I dont think Ill really find that until I continue recording after this tour.
What do feel youve learned from doing Road to Return all alone?
I learned a whole lot about production. Thats what that album was about. It was me learning how to do it. I was an infant in the studio and now Im a [smiles] an adolescent.
What tunes will be on Torched?
Torched, Phoenix Fire, Sapphire, Dirge, Jitterboogie, Rough Wind in Oklahoma, Death to Distraction, Promised Land, Ignition, another instrumental called When I Was Four, and Free Swingin Soul.
[At the time, Michael was working on a sort of combination of what became Oracle and is becoming Torched. So obviously, some of these wont be on both.]
Have you ever approached Joni Mitchell about playing together?
At this point, I would rather talk to someone like hmmm well I dunno. It would be fun to work with her after being her fan for so long, but when I think of having other people on my record I just keep thinking, Well, wait a minute. Ya know, Ive got a lot to say myself. I think Im gonna concentrate on what I have to say before bringing other people in.
Do you think thats because your music is perhaps more personal than most folks? Less commentary and more expression of witness.
Hmmm. In a way. A lot of my music is a reaction to growing pains, but not necessarily always about something specific. Its more of just freedom. Just finding freedom.
Whats on your mind for writing these days?
I probably wont write any more until this records done. If I write any more Ill have to choose what to leave out and I dont want to do that.
OK. Thanks for dinner and for being interrogated.
You bet. I still have just enough time to do my yoga before the show.