The brother duo David and Steve Gordon founded Sequoia Records in 1982. Growing up in southern California, they took an early interest in music, studied classical music at UCLA, and often hung out in the peaceful surroundings of Sequoia National Forest. During these regular retreats into nature, they began to record the natural sounds around them and then integrated the sounds into their own music back in the studio.
Their first album, Misty Forest Morning and Peaceful Evening combined music and nature sounds so beautifully that they became known as the definitive recordings of the newly emerging New Age music genre. Now some twenty years later, David and Steve Gordon continue to break new ground consistently creating recordings that top the charts. In this exclusive interview with New Leaf Senior Editor Debra Hiers, Steve Gordon talks about changes in the genre, the incorporation of world music and trance rhythms into their recordings, the new Sequoia Groove label and more!
Steve, as pioneers in the new age music business, you and your brother David founded Sequoia Records in 1982. Could you talk briefly about the changes you've experienced in the music industry specifically with regards to the new age genre?
In the beginning there was only a few labels and artists making music for relaxation, healing and meditation. Over the years there have been times when the popularity of this kind of music grew along - the number of labels and musicians creating this music proliferated and even some major labels got involved. There were attempts by some to move New Age music into the mainstream retail stores but mostly that was not effective and the small New Age retailers remained the best way for listeners to find the music of spirit they were seeking. Our biggest strengths during this time were that we focused on releasing music of the highest quality possible with themes close to our hearts that moved us strongly. That same focus is what has enabled our music to resonate so well with the environment of the independent New Age book stores.
More recently due to changes in the music business and the independent bookstore business, many small new age record labels have cut back on their release schedule so there is a now reduced number of labels who have a clear understanding about what new age music listeners want. At the same time, people who have made this kind of music a part of their lives have become more sophisticated in their musical choices and are embracing a wider range of musical styles while still seeking that same spirit they've always sought within the music We have been answering their call by expanding our palette to release more varied forms of music, while keeping our focus closely on that spirit.
How has your own music evolved over these twenty plus years? Could you mention some of the specific shifts you have made?
When we started, our vision was to provide ambient music and nature sounds to ease and enhance meditation, massage and the healing arts. Around our 10th anniversary, we enlarged the vision to include the newly emerging genre of contemporary world music and released the first of our bestselling native/drumming titles, Sacred Earth Drums. We combined the uplifting atmospheric textures of new age healing music with the entrainment of upbeat world rhythms for the first time. We were happy to find our new direction was widely accepted and Sacred Earth Drums and the follow-ups Sacred Spirit Drums and Drum Medicine invigorated the new age music scene and for the next 5 years or so as interest in the wisdom of indigenous cultures brought world music and new age music together.
In the last few years, the new age music landscape has continued to evolve. . We are participating in that evolution by producing and releasing several new kinds of music, expanding the boundaries. We've recently produced innovative yoga and devotional chant music such as Sophia's Chakra Healing Chants and Jaya Lakshmi's second release Jewel Of Hari that will be available in April. And we've compiled and released several collections of the best of a new kind of music new age fans are celebrating, known as chill-out or lounge music, which offers a more sensual and fun dimension while staying true to the heart of spirit of conscious awareness.
In 2002 you launched a new sub-label, Sequoia Groove. Can you share how that came about and what we can expect to hear from the Groove side of Sequoia in the near future?
Sequoia Groove was born in 2002 as a way to bring listeners innovative world chill-out and lounge music. This kind of music, which had already become popular in European clubs and cafes, blends the best of two different styles - world music (ranging from ancient chants to more contemporary) and the DJ-led universe of chilled dance grooves. This is fusion music in the truest sense - often a whole range of genres can be found on a Sequoia Groove compilation, including touches of jazz, traditional and contemporary world music, electronica, funk, and new age. The perfectly blended tracks that result are the essence of chill; this is music that makes you want to unwind, and relax whether among friends or by yourself.
The first release on Sequoia Groove was the 2002 release Buddha-Lounge that instantly became a bestseller and has become the catalyst for the current popularity of chill-out/lounge music. In April we are releasing the third installment, Buddha Lounge 3, which continues the tradition of hypnotic multi-cultural sounds. Next we set up a new nightspot called the Cafe de Luna, which transports you to the Mediterranean shores and acquaints you with the whole Ibiza music scene, which was one of the inspirations for this form of music. The music has a very European flavor and continues with the seamlessly mixed sets we began on the Buddha Lounge releases.
In January World Groove Mix came out which features our most ethnically varied set so far. This release pushes the envelope a little further with it's new innovative blending of global world beat and chill-out/lounge music. Café de Luna 2 will arrive in June and offers more of what made the first one such a hit - more sensual grooves from the finest European/world artists plus new chill-out tracks from David Gordon and Zingaia. As to the future, we have some exciting new titles planned which will continue the Sequoia Groove tradition of groundbreaking new directions. In Sept, look for a new compilation called Yoga Salon which is a unique blend of both devotional chant and India-influenced chill-out selections. It features the best of today's chant artists such as Jaya Lakshmi, Sophia, Wynne Paris along with new tracks from Zingaia, David & Steve Gordon and many others. Yoga Salon is going to be a new destination you will want to make sure to visit.
I have to say that I am enjoying the Cafe De Luna compilation. It's very uplifting. What is your philosophy in creating these compilations?
Our goal with creating these Sequoia Groove releases is to give people who enjoy new age and world music sets of music that -help people remember how fun music can be without giving up the important center of conscious awareness in the music. Another way of saying that is that while these compilations embody compositions of spiritual beauty and cultural significance, this is music as entertainment, lifestyle music you can use for socializing; at parties and gatherings with friends.
To achieve this goal, David and I compile and mix the tracks ourselves into non-stop sets of music that create a certain mood, while at the same time have enough variety to keep it interesting. We have really enjoyed developing our DJ skills, finding great new music from around the world and sharing them with everyone. We are very pleased that there is such a large audience for this great new genre of music. While the popularity of new age healing music is still very high, and we are also continuing to record new healing and world music releases, we feel that this new genre of chill-out/lounge is really just getting started and will be with us for quite some time. We have also started to create new chill-out/lounge tracks ourselves and include them on the compilations, which have been great fun.
What advice can you offer to store owners for keeping up with the changes in new age music and taking chances on the newer hybrid of world music?
Due to advances in music production technology there has been such a huge proliferation of new music in the last few years that it can become overwhelming to keep up with it all and know what the worthwhile music is. The best way a retailer can learn what titles to try is to stay in close contact with distributors and labels they trust, who have proven to bring them effective selling products in the past. Of course, it's important also to keep an eye out that their suppliers are not becoming complacent and just resting on what's worked in the past; a combination of tradition and innovation is what's needed to make the best guess at what will sell most effectively now and in the future.
David and I put great consideration into every decision we make about what to release so that our titles sell through in stores. We keep ourselves fully aware of all of the various musical trends, we learn from our customers and our listeners about what they like, about what's still working for the retailers and what isn't. While new age healing and contemporary world music remains very popular, many new trends in music continue to present themselves and it can become very confusing to sort through all the choices We see one of our functions to be a filter, sorting through the options to bring the best most effective choices to our customers. We recommend to the retailers that they also follow a similar path. By filtering the content they offer their customers to the best of what is available, their customers will come to trust their advice and enjoy purchasing music from them instead of the large discount big box store down the street. The one area those big boxes can't compete with New Leaf's retailers is in knowledge and understanding of what the customer seeking awareness and positivity in music needs.
On your solo recording Drum Prayer, you really took a leap in terms of creating your own sound. What was that like for you?
With Drum Prayer I started with the world music sound that David and I have become known for and added elements of things which I personally enjoy such as Brazilian guitar and Indian instruments such as Tabla and Sarod, which I have really been getting into lately. Then I added modern downtempo dance grooves and sacred world chant. In some ways, Drum Prayer was a transitionary album for me because it shows where I have come from and also where I am going. As I release more solo records and record more with David, our music will continue to evolve more towards this universal world fusion sound.
I particularly enjoyed the tracks that Jaya Lakshmi sang on because she is such a fantastic vocalist. Her Sanskrit chants really added a great flavor when mixed with my native drums and Brazilian guitar.
Chant is becoming more and more popular, particularly from the Sanskrit traditions. What do you think about incorporating these sacred chants into a popular music form?
Artists have been doing this for a few years and I think it is a great thing because it brings the beauty of the Indian culture into a form that modern people here can resonate with. Of course you can still find traditional Sanskrit chanting Cds, but for the most part people seem to really respond well to Sanskrit chanting when it has modern western musical productions. Since the philosophy behind Sanskrit chanting is that anyone who hears it will be illuminated, I believe that most of the spiritual traditions are in harmony with artists doing this, in fact most of the artists doing Sanskrit chant today are initiates in various spiritual traditions.
Another recent evolution of chant music is a result of the cross-cultural influences of world, electronica and new age music. For example when David produced Sophia's Chakra Healing Chants in 2003, they used a variety of world instruments and several languages in addition to Sanskrit to create a synergy of sound and vibration that has an amazing effect on the listener and has been very well received.
And speaking of chant, we must mention Jaya Lakshmi whose debut solo release, Ocean of Mercy, is on Sequoia. What can you tell us about her unique style? And also of her follow-up recording, Jewel of Hari, due out in spring 2004?
I first heard Lakhsmi sing in her group Lost at Last which is a techno-tribal dance band about 4 years ago and thought she had a beautiful voice and stage presence. Then I heard her perform one of her amazing Kirtan chant concerts and saw how the audience responded to her. It was soon after that David and I decided that Sequoia should release her music so that people could hear its beauty. She has a very luminous voice and she has created a unique style of Sanskrit chant which blends instruments from India, chill-out dance grooves and flamenco guitar. This combination of instruments and styles sounds really works for her and I believe she is the most talented of the up-and-coming artists in today's new chant scene.
With her second release, Jewel Of Hari, I decided to produce that for her so that I could help her to really refine her sound and make it even more intimate and warm. I am very pleased with the inviting sound on Jewel Of Hari and am sure that everyone will love this new release from one of today's most exciting new artists.
And for Dave and Steve Gordon what new releases can we look forward to? What is your vision for the future?
We have a several projects in the works right now our first world music collaboration since Drum Medicine which will be a truly universal world music release expanding the native/drumming we are known for into a modern sound which blends global indigenous rhythms, downtempo dance grooves and multi-cultural sounds such as gypsy violin, native flutes, Brazilian guitar and multi-cultural vocals. Also we are developing a new sound healing recording which combines our large resonant pueblo drums with a collection of crystal bowls and our native flutes.
Our vision of the future for Sequoia is one where we continue to expand the artists and genres we offer to include the very best of both currently popular styles and emerging new sounds while staying true to the original spirit of healing consciousness and life-affirming music which we started out with over 20 years ago