What I haven’t mentioned is the oneiric excellence of their smoky contemporaries Rose Windows. The reason for that probably has to do with the fact that it took several years to congeal their debut album, The Sun Dogs, into existence. Although the band initially blew me away live due largely to the sheer concussive force of vocalist Rabia Qazi, it wasn’t until the disc dropped in June (on Sub Pop Records, no less) that I truly processed the depth of songwriting and lyrical complexity going down in that camp. Highly recommended.
As it turns out, this depth comes largely from the blazed mind of guitarist Chris Cheveyo, and as I learned when I caught up with him by e-mail, it’s channeled primarily from deep meditative states. How do musicians initially trained in oppressive religious traditions end up twerking on stage with Big Freedia (that happened) and making cameos in upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson movies? Weed, that’s how. Read on, true believers.
About Surahs (سور )
A surah (سورة) is a chapter of the Qur’an, of which there are 114 in total. All chapters commence with the phrase, “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”, which serves as a boundary between chapters known as the basmala (بسملة).
The first chapter of the Qur’an is recited in every unit of prayer, and it is also common practice to recite other suras in part or in whole during certain portions of Muslim prayers.
I’ve heard that a lot of you come from fairly repressive religious backgrounds, and the rejection of those values colors a lot of the lyrics on your new album. If you could talk about what it is that lead you away from following your parents down that path and towards being rock musicians, that’d be awesome.
Really, it was just Rabia and I that came from that sort of background. Rabia started singing as a result of religion. She was sent to an Islamic school as a child and her teacher had her sing the surahs in front of her class. Her first show. I picked up guitar in middle school and immediately, my parents had me in the praise and worship team. It was then that I realized the church I was going to definitely had an affinity for ’80s power ballads. Aside from the hypocrisy and ignorant fanaticism often associated with Christianity, it just wasn’t my bag. Everyone finds a savior. That just wasn’t mine. I’m glad my parents found their god. They were troubled and it definitely helped them get back that life spark they had lost for a while. They were young and impressionable so there were some definite bumps in the road to divine peace, but I’m glad they are happy now. Music is my religion.
I grew up in the ’90s and my parents aren’t conservative at all, politically at least, and they still didn’t approve of me playing rock music at all growing up. They always sort of told me I shouldn’t be doing that as they saw an association with the drug culture. Admittedly, tons of the money made in the music business is through alcohol sales, which was part of my parent’s concern as I had an alcoholic musician uncle. Do your parents support what you do? Has it changed with your recent success?
My parents have always supported my desire to play music. They just wanted me to do it for Jesus. Like most parents, they always pressed me to have a fallback plan. To go to college or work a job that has some sort of security. I didn’t. I think they also feared that I would succumb to the lifestyle of being a musician. They are definitely very American parents in that they worry about my consumption of alcohol and drugs but don’t seem too worried about whether people will consume them as an effect of my music. To their relief, I’ve never really been one to engage in the lifestyle. My favorite part about music is music. Rock is where I’ve started, but I don’t want to end there. Definitely have no interest in being Keith Richards. I’d rather be like Frank Zappa.
Shamanic philosophies have been based around psychedelics since the advent of human history. Being a psychedelic band, I’ve got to ask, do these substances influence what you do creatively and with regards to your views about spirituality? Any super profound experiences or insights, and if so, did these have anything to do with your rejection of organized religion?
This is an interesting question. I’m beginning to believe that we are the only ones who don’t think we are a psychedelic band. Moreover, I’m not even sure what psychedelic music is. I’m not saying we are not into the occasional trip, but our lives don’t revolve around that sort of thing. I can say that for Rabia and I, our profound experiences and insights have stemmed from very real oppression and deliverance. Drugs were the initial escape. Music has been the true deliverer. I definitely reject any religion that aims to divide humans by calling some “chosen” and others “damned”. I want to feel the pulse of this planet, to enjoy the life it gives, to really find my place in its system and function positively. That’s my spirit’s desire.
With so many members, how does songwriting work? Is there one primary songwriter who sort of directs the whole production or do you all contribute to the process? How do you avoid the creative flow getting gridlocked into a clusterfuck with all those varying inputs?
I’m the primary songwriter for The Sun Dogs but the arrangement is something the band does together. I believe that if a song can’t be performed with the simple accompaniment of one guitar/piano and a voice, then it is a weak song. With that in mind, I bring them the best that I can do and they expound on that. The plan is — that if we keep playing together and influencing each other — our future records will feature songs from other members of the band. Further expanding and deepening our sound.
You guys are from Seattle where weed is now legal. Is pot an influence on what you do, at practice or during creative moments? How do you feel about the potentiality for weed revenue rather than alcohol sales in a club setting as musicians?
For most of this band’s life, ganja has kept it all together and moving. Not only by consumption. Support your dealers. Alcohol turns an excited crowd into animals. They invade each others’ space and make loud noises. Marijuana turns them into a field of grass. They sway with their eyes closed while others dance among them like butterflies. I’ve never cared about the money. This town would spin without it; best you keep those eyes in the sky.
About Remote Viewing
Remote viewing is practice of using ESP or intuition to see distant and unseen objects. The technique which Cheveyo describes as remote viewing is not necessarily in line with the common practice of the phenomenon, which can be meditative, but is focused on real-life objects. Remote viewers are given specific objects, events, people, or locations to focus upon, which are hidden from physical view and separated by some distance; they are then asked to recall details of the topics.
The United States government occasionally funded ESP research from World War II through the 1970s, and remote viewing was a main topic of their Stargate Project, which was eventually concluded in 1995. Its final conclusions via independent review were as follows:
The foregoing observations provide a compelling argument against continuation of the program within the intelligence community. Even though a statistically significant effect has been observed in the laboratory, it remains unclear whether the existence of a paranormal phenomenon, remote viewing, has been demonstrated. The laboratory studies do not provide evidence regarding the origins or nature of the phenomenon, assuming it exists, nor do they address an important methodological issue of inter-judge reliability.
Further, even if it could be demonstrated unequivocally that a paranormal phenomenon occurs under the conditions present in the laboratory paradigm, these conditions have limited applicability and utility for intelligence gathering operations. For example, the nature of the remote viewing targets are vastly dissimilar, as are the specific tasks required of the remote viewers. Most importantly, the information provided by remote viewing is vague and ambiguous, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the technique to yield information of sufficient quality and accuracy of information for actionable intelligence. Thus, we conclude that continued use of remote viewing in intelligence gathering operations is not warranted.
— Executive summary, “An Evaluation of Remote Viewing: Research and Applications”, American Institutes for Research, Sept. 29, 1995
The first song on your album, “The Sun Dogs I: Spirit Modules” has references to esoteric spiritual pursuits like remote viewing and automatic writing. Anyone in the band with an interest in these more occult topics? If so, where did this interest stem from and which writers or philosophers prompted this fascination?
I spent much of the lyrical process in a meditative state. Instead of narratives, I opted to describe the visions I would have while in that state. I called it “remote viewing” because most of the time what I was seeing had little to do with me, personally. It was as if I was experiencing life in someone else’s spirit module. Sometimes at the end of these experiences, I would realize that my hands had been filling pages full of words. I’ve been criticized for the words losing direction, but they were never meant to direct anyone anywhere. They were only meant to surround you as they did me. Kind of a “Monkey Grammarian” approach.
Are there other themes on the record that you would be interested in expounding upon?
The more that I do this, the more I realize I limit anyone’s ability to find their own meaning. Sometimes it’s plain to see that I’m expressing a frustration towards our socio-political climate. [In] others, I’m just elated by how wonderful this life can really be.
You guys definitely changed musical trajectories a bit along the way and now incorporate folkier influences into your psych music. How did that come about? How has working with Randall Dunn influenced your experience?
The demo that first got anyone’s attention before we played our first show was all acoustic. Just Rabia’s voice, my guitar, a harmonium, a set of keys, and a tea can. When we got the band together, that’s when the musical trajectory changed. We plugged in, played too loud, missed cues, and drank too much. We were just having a party. Then through constant practice and a rigorous performance schedule, we began to refine that loud sound. At that point, we met Randall Dunn. I gave him our “Live at KDVS” CD which was the best recording we had of our live sound, and I gave him the acoustic demo that Rabia and I had done together. I told him that I wanted to sound like these two things smashed together…
Up to that point, I had no idea how to get us there and we needed him. The relationship we’ve developed with him since has influenced both parties. Musically, he helped us learn dynamics as it was necessary to really shine as a 7-piece ensemble. Him and his band (Master Musicians of Bukkake) have basically been mentors to us. During the recording process he would always say, “Hey, next week we might all go back to flippin’ burgers, but today we get to make a great record.” I take that with me everywhere.
Rose Windows – The Sun Dogs Full Album Stream (Sub Pop Records)