Amo la Musica is a very popular web magazine in Italy. Their Facebook page has over 700,000 fans from around the world. They cover all genres of music from pop to rock to ambient. We were pleased to hear they wanted to interview us so that we could have a chance to introduce our music and our record company to their audience of music fans. - Steve
World Music, Ambient, Chill Out ... These are just some of the facets of what is called, usually, New Age Music and that, often erroneously, it is tagged as a boring music, devoid of dynamism, rhythm... nothing could be more wrong! As we have seen with the Italian artist Shantam (we met through our interview ) and his excellent album "Kailash Music", Ambient music can convey great emotion with the rhythmic and soft downtempo grooves and their continuous feeling.
It's the message that emerges from the exclusive interview we have had the honor to do with David & Steve Gordon , the two founders of the historic label Sequoia Records, who have the record for the world's most popular music Ambient, Chill Out and New Age Music, in its many forms. An honor, because David & Steve, before being entrepreneurs, successful musicians and who, for decades, have bravely chosen to abandon the record sessions in Los Angeles to immerse themselves in nature and begin to create new music, with not only natural sounds and ethnic instruments, but also with much experimentation with synthesizers.
Few of you know this, but David & Steve Gordon were among the pioneers of this collection of genres - which we call the New Age genre. And, since the first album, they managed to innovate the genre steadily, without being afraid of making mistakes and, indeed,have been able to become more and more successful. Thanks to the contribution of artists such as Jens Gad (ex Enigma) and TYA, Sequoia Records is now an important reference point for lovers of the genre and an essential point of call for those who want to bring this music to the first time.
To know the history of the label and the spirit that drove David & Steve Gordon to work in a world as fascinating as that of ambient music and meditation music, we can only invite you to read our exclusive interview.
Hello David & Steve and thank you so much for the time you dedicated to our magazine. You were the founders of Sequoia Records, but even before it, you were (and still are) two musicians inspired by nature and innovation in music. So, how was your great passion for that kind of music born?
Hi Nicola, we are pleased to speak to you and for the opportunity to share more about our music with your readers in Italia. We originally became interested in creating ambient music when we first heard Brian Eno's first ambient work, "Music for Airports." We thought the idea of functional music was really interesting and even modern in a way. Around the same time, we would take trips to the local mountains and go backpacking to get a break from our work as session musicians in Los Angeles. After doing some meditation by a stream one day, we got the idea to return with recording equipment and record the different nature sounds in the mountains and then compose music to interact with those sounds in an organic way. Our idea was to create ambient music that not only included natural sounds but also music we would compose to become a musical component of those sounds of nature, where our music was composed specifically to fit into the nature sounds, almost like a musical extension of those same nature sounds.
And how is born the idea to set up a label dedicated to Ambient and Chill Out electronic music?
Once we created our first few ambient nature and music recordings, we realized that the result was very soothing and that there could be some interest in music that has that effect. At the time, this was before even the term "New Age Music," but we knew of some bookstores in our area that specialized in metaphysical and healing books and gifts. So we took our albums to those stores and sold them directly to the storeowners. After doing this for a while, we found some distributors of metaphysical books and they started distributing our music to these kinds of stores all over the country. Our music sold so well that we made more albums over the next few years and soon Sequoia Records became our full time business.
Why did you choose the name Sequoia?
The place in the mountains we originally had the idea for creating this kind of music was located in the Sequoia National Park. We had always had been inspired by the giant Sequoia trees that live to be thousands of years old. When you stand near one you can't help but feel their regal and serene presence.
You were the pioneers of New Age and Ambient music, in a period (the 80s) where this particular and calm type of music was still unknown. How did you have the intuition?
We never approached doing ambient music as a way to become successful. We were already busy as professional musicians and enjoyed our work. It was more a case of discovering something we were inspired to create while we were taking some time off. It just so happened that this occurred right around the time when people were receptive to new form of music and so people responded well to our music. For us, it felt as thought Brian Eno had started something and we had an experience that led us to feel that we could contribute what felt like the next piece in the progression of this idea.
How you would describe the main elements and benefits of this music?
Whether it is ambient meditation music, chill out electronica, drum music, yoga music, chant music or other forms of what we call New Age music, the thread that runs through all of it is that the intention of the composer is for the music to reduce stress, help people relax, unwind or to inspire and energize them in a positive way. By listening to this kind of music, people can create an environment of healing, mindfulness and wellness. In a sense, New Age music is a sonic tool that can help you to stay centered in a positive and healthy place in body, mind and spirit.
How is grown the market size of this beautiful genre from the foundation to now? And, in your opinion, how is changed Sequoia Records in the last 30 years?
I think that it has followed the main changes of the world of music, isn't it?
Sequoia Records has evolved into many genres of music over the years but we never followed anyone, in fact many of our albums were very influential in establishing new directions in ambient, world and electronic music. We started out in the 80's with our first series of ambient nature music albums such as Misty Forest Morning, Peaceful Evening and Garden of Serenity.
After these albums came out there were many others in this style that had been influenced by them. Then after almost ten years of creating ambient meditation music, we became interested in African and Native American drumming. based in Shamanic consciousness and studied for a few years while collecting many wonderful drums and percussion instruments. We envisioned a new form of world music that would be both uplifting and relaxing at the same time; one that would feature both ancient drums and modern instruments like synthesizer and electric guitar. Out of this concept, we released Sacred Earth Drums and followed up with Sacred Spirit Drums and Drum Medicine. We have also always enjoyed progressive rock music like Yes, Pink Floyd and Genesis, so we incorporated some of those big cosmic sounds into our world drumming albums. The combination of all these elements was completely new in world music and these albums become a catalyst for the world fusion craze that followed in the rest of the 90's.
About this last question, I think that the 90s has been the greatest years for the success of this kind of music, thanks to Enigma (and you have Jens Gad on board, so you know it), Sacred Spirits and other similar projects. In your opinion, why there was this explosion of new age and ambient music in the 90s?
It may be partly due to the new technology at the time. In the late 80s and 90s, samplers become prevalent, that enabled musicians to sample any instrument or voice to create very authentic world music blends along with synthesizers. It really was the first time that musicians could create almost any kind of instrumentation and not be limited by having to book sessions with musicians that play specific instruments. This really freed up creativity and musicians combined sounds of world instruments with dance grooves, ethnic voices etc. We are really pleased to have Jens Gad as one of our artists. He worked with Enigma for 10 years as their guitarist and collaborator. His solo album Le Spa Sonique is very popular as well as his two releases with his group, Achillea, The Nine Worlds and Amadas Estrellas. Anyone who enjoys Engima finds a lot to like in his music as well.
You also decided to create a sub-label in that period, Sequoia Groove. How is born this idea and what are the differences between this one and the original Sequoia?
We started Sequoia Groove in 2001 after a label in Germany asked us to create a version of Buddha-Lounge for the US. Buddha-Lounge had become a phenomenon in Europe at the time. We released a version in the US that had the best tracks from the European version with some of our best chill out tracks. It became such a hit that we decided to continue the Buddha-Lounge series. We are up to Buddha-Lounge 7 now and it is still going strong. We also created other popular chill out series such as Hotel Tara, Yoga Moods and Cafe de Luna. The main difference between our electronica compilations and others is that we only choose tracks that make you feel good which is part of our philosophy as a label. There are other kinds of downtempo that can go into somewhat dark places mood-wise. We avoid that and instead concentrate on chill out music that is sensuous, that takes you to a good place. Along with chill out compilations we have already released artists on Sequoia Groove such as Zingaia and TYA. In addition we have released a couple of our own chill out albums, Yoga Planet and Nirvana Groove.
Today, Sequoia Records is the most important Ambient and Chill Out label in the world. Did you imagine to reach this huge worldwide success?
When we first started we really did not think in these terms at all, we were just following our creativity. Over the years, we established a solid philosophy of musical innovation and business integrity that grew out of our respect for the position we had found ourselves in. We also found great artists and the rest took care of itself. Sequoia has now sold millions of albums, charted many times in Billboard, received many awards and continues to grow. We are very grateful for our success and plan to continue to bring people the most innovative and beautiful music.
One of your last albums is Celestial Zen. Could you please tell us something more about it?
Celestial Zen is an album of ambient meditation music we recorded back in the 80's but it was never released on CD. After many requests, we decided to release it on CD but only after we re-mastered it so it would sound as good as our current albums. This is one of our most ambient recordings and it has been very popular with people who love that classic spacemusic sound. It can be used for meditation or for sitting back with a good pair of headphones and just getting lost in the music. This is music for inner journeys.
I see often some ambient or new age compilation sold in the CD shops with a low price and quality. Do you think these commercial operations belittle the entire world of Chill Out and World music?
A big reason for this is in these genres there is the large quantity of albums being self-released by amateur musicians using widely-available cheap software, that don't have professional quality or musicianship. When people hear some of these albums, they get the idea that this is what this kind of music sounds like. This makes is more difficult for quality artists to have their music heard. Our attitude about this sort of thing has always been to create music that is so good, anyone can hear the quality in the first few moments of a song. When people hear how good the music is, it does not matter what their preconceived ideas about the genre might be. It is our experience that music is more powerful than anything else to connect and transform people.
How did you choose the artists and music to publish on your label?
Most of our artists were either musicians we knew as friends or who were recommended to us from people in the music industry that we already did business with or knew. In every case, in order for us to make the commitment to do everything that needs to be done to help an artist find their audience, there was something powerful in that artist's music that made us feel like it would be worth the effort. Once we had become successful with our own music, it made sense to use the channels we had created to help other worthwhile musicians as well.
What advices you would give to a young musician or producer to try to emerge in the world of Ambient and Chill Out music?
Before you start to approach record labels or even release your music yourself, play it for enough people you know who you can trust to tell you what they think and listen to what they have to say. It takes awhile to hit on something that's really good. Keep creating until you have something really special. Once you do, start sharing it online and see what happens.
And, last question, what are your future projects as musicians and what will be the future of Sequoia Records?
Our next album we are working on now is a new combination of ambient electronic music and bamboo flute. We have been enjoying the meeting of the ancient zen flute sound with the modern synthesizer sounds. After that we will be working on a Sanskrit chant album. It will combine some of the world and electronica we are known for along with yoga chanting. We had done some chanting on our drumming albums but this will be our first entire album of chant music.
You can check out their website at Amo la musica. Google Translate does a pretty good job unless you know Italian!