Awareness Magazine Interview

Richard Shulman Interviews Steve Gordon

In November 2009, Richard Shulman writing for Awareness Magazine interviewed Sequoia Records recording artist, producer and co-founder, Steve Gordon, about about the intention behind their music, the Gordon's latest album Meditation Drum and about their new still developing acoustic Celtic folk project.

For nearly 30 years David & Steve Gordons’ music has been pivotal in shaping the landscape of ambient music, world music and chill out electronica. The award-winning producer/composer/instrumentalists are the founders of the world-class record label Sequoia Records

It must be nice to play with someone you've played with for such a long time

We continue to have this brotherly chemistry that happens. There's something there when you're brothers and have played music together all your life. We'll set each other up, like one of us will play a chord progression and the other one will play the perfect melody that will fit in there without any discussion. It just happens as part of the natural way we play together

What instruments do you each play?

My main instrument is guitar and I also play Native-American and Bamboo flutes, world drums and percussion and some piano and keyboards. David's main instrument is piano and he also plays Native American flute, world drums and percussion and some guitar.

Do you perform?

Our world fusion albums such as Sacred Earth Drums and Drum Medicine would take very large production to do them justice because there are so many tracks on each song of those albums. One day we may put a big theatrical show like that together but for now we are currently recording some Celtic-influenced acoustic guitar and piano music that will lend itself to live shows much better and we plan to perform this music live.

Tell me more about this new musical direction.

We're currently working on an album that goes back to what we started with which was piano and guitar. Our first few albums were mainly acoustic guitar and piano, such as Peaceful Evening and Misty Forest Morning (1982) Now we've been doing some recording of Celtic influenced acoustic guitar and piano music using acoustic 6 and 12 string guitar in a Celtic tuning and Celtic/folk influenced piano.

This music is something that would sounds really beautiful in a live setting so we are planning to go out and do concerts performing this music with acoustic guitar and piano.

Were you a jazz musician before going into meditation music?

Our interest in meditation actually predated our studying jazz. We both studied music in college and then went to the Dick Grove Academy in Hollywood and learned jazz there. Our goal at that time was that we loved music and wanted to become masterful at it and then become working musicians whether it was studio work or touring support etc.

Before and during our music studies, we had a really strong interest in spirituality. The very first book I recall really affecting me was that book by Ken Keyes The Handbook to Higher Consciousness. It still to this day is a great book. For someone who has never been exposed to spirituality it's a fantastic book for explaining the basic idea.

Right - you can shift your consciousness.

Totally. That book was a life changing shift for me and then the next book that really affected us was Be Here Now. That was huge for us back when we were about 20 years old. That book took us to the place where we really wanted to do yoga and meditation. We've both been doing yoga and meditation for over 30 years now.

A the time we were learning about Eastern spirituality and yoga we would take these trips up into the mountains of the Sequoia National Forest to get some peace of mind from dealing with the music scene in LA. We loved hiking, and camping and sitting by a stream. On one of those trips we discovered how the sounds of the forest seemed almost like a symphony. So on one of our subsequent trips we brought a tape recorder and we started recording nature sounds with the idea it would be interesting to compose music to go with them.

We had been listening to Brian Eno's ambient music recordings and we had never even heard of new age music. In 1982 there hardly was anyone doing new age music and we hadn't heard that yet, only Brian Eno....and we had this idea of making ambient music like Brian Eno but with nature sounds. Our idea was to bring the nature sounds into the studio and then play our instruments as if they were other sounds within the environment. We made a few albums like that all in one year. At the beginning we called it "environmental music," and it really was a new concept. In 1982 we decided to release this music and called our record company after the place where we had recorded the nature sounds: Sequoia Records.

And then we started learning that there were little shops that sold this type of music. The very first distributor we ever had was New Leaf. We kind of grew right along with them as I think we started around the same time.

Everyone loved our music so we just kept making more of it, and then we made the album Garden of Serenity a few years later and that was our first bonified hit. This is where we started bringing in things like Shakuhachi flute and for the first 10 years or so we focused on recording soothing relaxation music often with nature sounds for yoga, meditation, massage, etc.

In the early 90s we discovered hand drumming at a drum circle and began to study and collect drums. We had the idea that we'd like to use rhythm in our music. It took a few years of study until we felt we had mastered them enough good that we could start making albums like that.

At the time in the early 90's there was no New Age music with rhythm so we took a big risk when we made Sacred Earth Drums because there's power in that music. And it turned out that our instincts were right because that turned out to be the most popular album that we had every made. We've sold close to 400,000 copies of it.

After that we kept following our bliss with drumming albums and they all were popular, and we kept doing that for a long time.

And your latest one is also a drumming album?

Yes, our most recent album came out in October and is called Meditation Drum. Earlier this year we made Drum Cargo - Rhythms of Fire and that album was the first time we made an album of pure drum music unlike our other albums like Drum Medicine or Sacred Spirit Drums that have many other instruments such as guitar, piano, keyboards, etc. The only other thing on Meditation Drums is a little bit of Native flute and some Tibetan and Crystal Bowls every once in a while.

Drum music is another form of meditation, even though it's sometimes high energy because drumming entrains the mind and when you hear a drum beat, your whole body and mind lock into it. And it's really easy to get into a place where you're not thinking and really in the moment. Whether you're playing the drum or just hearing the drum it has this effect of getting you in tune with the present moment.

Energetic drum music is good for when you are busy and doing things, you can put on some high energy drumming to feel locked into a good groove for driving or being active.

We had this idea while making Drum Cargo - Rhythms of Fire of taking some of the larger drums and combining them with gongs, crystal bowls and Tibetan bowls. We wanted to see if we could make an album of pure drum music for meditation that had slow tempos and that could really create the entrainment of the mind that we felt happening in the high energy drumming but slow it down so you can actually sit and meditate with it. Meditation Drum is a new concept in meditation music because until now meditation music has not really had rhythm.

What about Shamanic journeying?

Meditation Drum would be excellent for that. Although we do have an album called Shaman's Vision Journey that combines the meditation music and drumming. It has drums but the tempos are slower with guitar, flute keyboard and other instruments. This is an excellent choice for Shamanic healing and Shamanic journeys.

Meditation Drum. goes further in this direction of taking away everything except drums gongs, Tibetan bowls and crystal bowls to create a meditation experience. The only melody instrument on Meditation Drum is a very occasional Native American flute. So the whole thing is designed to bring you into the meditation state solely through the use of rhythm.

How would you describe the project you are working on now?

Acoustic music with Celtic fingerstyle guitar and Celtic influenced piano. It's very gratifying for us to do this music now because it's completely acoustic with absolutely no electronics. We have done many chill out electronica albums, but our greatest enjoyment comes from when we strip all the electronics away and it's just Dave playing his piano and me playing my guitar. The sound of those acoustic notes and the way that they feel in the body really lends itself well to us composing music together and it really works well as a vehicle for expressing the chemistry we have when we play together because everything else is gone except the magic of the moment.

We love to get gorgeous piano and guitar sounds in the studio and when the sound is that beautiful there's no need to add anything else. Some parts of the album are in the direction of Celtic Folk, and other parts are a little more meditative and more New Age, and some songs that are a little more upbeat. Whatever kind of music that we do There is an specific intent behind it beyond the music.

What is the intent behind your music?

We developed our music as we developed our spirituality. The intent behind our music is to connect people with the deepest part of themselves where their inner center is, where they have peace and serenity, and to connect them with the serenity and to that serenity that is in the natural world. To connect people with the Earth and with the inner peace and to feel the harmony of both.

We hope that our music can act as a catalyst to loosen up those places in people that are keeping them from feeling the natural harmony of things and connect them with the perfection that's all around them in nature and to feel it reflected within. It's not so much that the music is going to create the inner peace for them so much as the music will help them remember it or connect with it.

So you're opening up a bridge or a resonance....

Yes, between the peace inside and the peace in nature. Our music helps people tune in to that place of feeling the perfection within and without themselves, so that the peace becomes real in the listener's experience. We hope the music will be a vehicle to help people to quiet their thoughts and be in the moment.

What would you say to a musician who is starting out today?

You have to find the music that is in your soul that you were born to express and do that music regardless of what you think the marketplace wants. Dave and I have seen time and time again that when we follow our inner voice we found that was where our success was as well as our artistic satisfaction.

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