I first met Justin St Vincent via a Mike Patton live-recording swap group back in the early 00’s. At the time, he had a copy of the first Mr Bungle show I went to in London (’96), and I had very little to offer in return. Very kindly, Justin made me a copy anyway, and after a barrage of friendly Patton banter, we forged a friendship.
Justin has always been a champion of the avant garde; be it on his ever-evolving, and interesting site Xtrememusic , or on his University radio show of the same name, he’s always worn his love of exploratory sound on his sleeve.
When I heard Justin was making a book about the spiritual significance of music, based on the huge archive of interviews he’d amassed over the years, I grabbed him by the e-ear, and slung him a boat-load of questions.
Ken Eakins: Tell us the story behind Xtreme Music first, what force sent you down the path of the avant garde?
Justin St Vincent: Xtreme Music began as a radio show freely promoting avant-garde, creative, and experimental music. At this point, your readers may be interested in the original mission statement and purpose:
“On the Xtreme Music radio show we broadcast, discuss, and promote Xtreme Music, performed by highly talented, innovative, and creative musicians. We encourage a radio-friendly entrance for new listeners to explore the fascinating and intriguing world of unconventional music. In addition, we provide hardcore fans with band specials, quality live performances, rare material, and up-to-date news. This show is for anyone with an open-mind and a desire to discover for themselves the true nature of Xtreme Music”.
Xtreme Music became an award-winning portfolio of independent radio programming between 2001 and 2005. I hosted shows on both sides of the Atlantic, and achieved a worldwide listener-ship over a four year broadcasting career. It was my way of exploring experimental music, mainly focusing on the prolific musical works of Mike Patton, Trey Spruance, and John Zorn.
Mr. Bungle was the first band to send me down the path of the avant-garde. Their music opened my world to Xtreme Music, embracing the beauty and diversity of creative music throughout the world. Avant-garde music birthed my own self-discovery of unconventional music. It also opened the door for me to connect with many like-minded music fans around the world, and experience some of the greatest live performances at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and The Tonic in New York.
The website for Xtreme Music then evolved into a music journalism portfolio when I started producing radio interviews in San Francisco, Toronto, and New York between 2003 and 2004. I started interviewing many of the musicians I admire and appreciate, and it was such a pleasure to connect with them in person, especially after several years of passionately promoting their music on the airwaves and online. (ed. This portfolio of excellent interviews can be found here)
During that time I produced artist features for Asva, Daiquiri, Don Salsa, Düreforsög, Eftus Spectun, El Douje, Elysian Fields, Fake No More, God Of Shamisen, Good For Cows, Gymnastic Decomposition, Hemophiliac, Herbie Hancock, Loop!Station, Matmos, Mike Patton Vs. Rahzel, Moe!Kestra!, Prelapse, Richard Cheese, Scott Hull, Sir Millard Mulch, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, The Bleeder Group, The Demix, The Locust, Tipsy, Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant, Tub Ring, and William Winant. I also arranged interviews with Dave Murray, David Slusser, Kaada, Neil Hamburger, and members of Estradasphere, Farmers Market, Hella, KMFDM, Mondo Generator, Mr. Bungle, Numbers, Secret Chiefs 3, The Dillinger Escape Plan, The Scallions, and Two Foot Yard, among many others.
Xtreme Music then developed into a micro-label to release collaborative projects with Xtreme Music fans worldwide. These included two significant endeavors, a Fantômastique remix CD, and Innominat short-film DVD:
Xtreme Music also produced Special Features for website visitors. These were namely “Mike Patton Parodies” with lyrics by Cosmic Jester, “Music Recommendations” selected by Mike Patton, “Naked City Ephemera” musician testimonials, “Xtreme Cover Songs” of mutated musical mayhem, and the “Exotica History Tour” as an essential guide to Exotica music in Waikiki, Hawaii.
Under the promotional efforts of Xtreme Music, I also freely released a promotional single called “Let Me Be Your Sunlight” by Sarah Marie and Jordan Puleston, a soulfully beautiful love song written for Nova The Musical. This song was perhaps one of the transition points in my life where I started to experience that there was more to music than meets the ear.
KE: That’s quite a portfolio Justin! I remember you giving me a CD of the radio show that you used to host, and it was great! Can you see yourself returning to the airwaves?
JSV: Xtreme Music’s radio productions were broadcast between 2001 and 2004. I’m extremely grateful because it provided me with an introduction to a career in radio broadcasting. Xtreme Music also laid the foundations for developing my interview portfolio exploring music. As much as I’d love to return to the airwaves, my main focus for the near future is on my publication projects. To keep my finger on the avant-garde music pulse, I’ll need to keep connected to Right Where You Are Sitting Now.
KE: When did you get the idea to start mixing your spiritual beliefs, and your eclectic music tastes?
The idea was birthed during March 2006 when I returned from University of the Nations in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. I wanted to develop a project that united my passions for music and spirituality, and would become a way for others to explore their faith and values. I was inspired by the possibility for people to explore music and spirituality, and had a desire to connect with many musicians and writers that I admire.
An interview portfolio provided a perfect platform for me to connect with hundreds of music-makers to consider their thoughts on the spiritual significance of music. My eclectic music tastes was an encouragement to begin reconnecting with many avant-garde, creative, and experimental music composers. I began with almost every musician I had previously had contact with through my Xtreme Music radio productions and journalist portfolio. I then branched further into the field of various musical styles from around the world.
It was wonderful to open these interviews up to musicians that were passionate about the theme, and also contact musicians that I had only recently been introduced to. I then found that so many people loved this project, that they started recommending more musicians to contact, and referring me to their friends in the music industry. The project quickly snowballed into an epic exploration of over 1000 exclusive interviews with over 1000 unique perspectives from many of the world’s most visionary musicians and writers. The idea for uniting spiritual beliefs and music tastes was a natural progression for me to develop a new positioning statement for Xtreme Music: ‘where Music meets Spirituality.’
KE: Is this where the idea for a book formed?
JSV: Yes, the project was always going to grow into a publication. After 1000 interviews, I felt that this project needed a creative outlet to become a blessing to others. I wanted the interviews to no longer be a private exploration for myself, but to become a public exploration for other music-makers and music-lovers to explore music and spirituality.
The new website started to take shape during January 2009 when I first freely published online the entire portfolio of interviews, and started promoting it worldwide. Within 4 days I had over 180,000 website hits and my web server ended up crashing due to bandwidth overload. This happened due to thousands of people downloading the PDF layout preview. I promptly switched web servers and now have unlimited bandwidth.
Throughout the follow months I monitored which were the most popular interviews, and which interviews seemed to get the greatest exposure. For the book it was a difficult selection process to finalize the 102 contributors to be included in the First Edition for print. I wanted to select well-known contributors, as well as showcasing unknown contributors that I believed brought a unique voice to the project, and deserved to be in the spotlight for the first book.
KE: How did you get artists to contribute to the project?
JSV: As much as I’d love to have met every musician face-to-face, it was just not possible for an epic project of this scale and magnitude. Many musicians have commitments on tour, are in and out of recording studios, and working on promoting their next album. My greatest opportunity to connect with them was by arranging e-mail interviews. As this is a text-based project, it meant that the musician could find time within their schedule to consider their personal thoughts on the one interview question: “What do you believe is the spiritual significance of music?”
Contributors to the project could then articulate themselves in the exact words that they felt accurately represent their own beliefs. It also meant that I could produce a brief biography, editorial edition, and layout preview ready for their approval before publishing online. 95% of the project was conducted via e-mail interviews, and the additional 5% either face-to-face or via phone interviews. This was by far the most efficient and rewarding way of producing the book, project, and website.
KE: Now I know that you’re a deeply spiritual person, and that you lean towards the side of Christianity; did you ever find it hard editing peoples writings that maybe grated with your own beliefs?
I have not always been a deeply spiritual person. For over twenty years I would have been familiar with the Christian faith, but had chosen to reject it. I would have considered myself an atheist. My conversion to Christianity occurred during December 2004. There were several events that aligned themselves to a place where I literally experienced a divine revelation of God’s love that totally transformed my life forever. That’s when I truly resonated with the Christian message of faith, hope, and love. It was through this personal transformation that I started to consider God’s amazing grace and loving forgiveness that ultimately pointed me to Jesus Christ. Although my personal spiritual beliefs resonate with the Christian faith, I am passionate about learning from other people’s beliefs, and discovering their faith and values in music and spirituality. Belief is a side of humanity that fascinates me. I’m also intrigued by mankind’s relationship to the divine and the infinite. For me, Christianity is not a religion, it’s a faith-framework for a relationship with God, people, and the world in which we live.
But let’s take this opportunity to talk about the Occult, as this is a rare moment for us to connect on the Occult themes throughout this project. I’m sure many radio show listeners and online readers of SittingNow may be interested in this important part of the book, project, and website. So I’d love to point people to the Metal Media Release, which profiles many Metal musicians.
I wanted to select one musical genre that strongly resonates with spiritual beliefs. I found this in Metal music, and the interviews featured in the Metal Edition are some of the most powerful and profound of all the editions. Here is a brief intro to the Metal Edition, freely available here: www.xtrememusic.org/metal.html
METAL EDITION provides an exciting exploration of how music powerfully impacts spirituality, and why spirituality influences music. Readers will discover sincere expressions of spiritual beliefs from the world of metal music. This portfolio includes an eclectic mix of musicians playing many forms of metal music; ambient metal, avant-garde death-metal, black metal, brutal metal, death metal, doom metal, experimental metal, funeral-doom, gothic metal, grindcore, heavy metal, industrial metal, melodic metal, power metal, progressive metal, psychedelic metal, Satanic metal, sludge metal, speed metal, symphonic metal, technical metal, thrash metal, and includes musicians from alternative-rock, avant-rock, and hardcore-punk bands. Metal Edition provides readers with an important introduction to metal music’s affinity with demonology, divination, magic, mysticism, Satanism, spiritualism, the occult, and witchcraft.
Some of the greatest revelations about music and the Occult have come from interviews with members of black metal and death metal bands. Here are some of my favourites:
“Music can open doors within the listener’s psyche and lead them to a journey into mental and spiritual realms.”
– Juhani Jokisalo, guitarist, bassist, and vocalist in Apocryphal Voice
“Music is a place of refuge from the pressures of everyday life… Music is where I find my spirituality, in the mystery, and lack of rationality in the creative process.”
– Forn, vocalist and instruments in Black Crucifixion
“Music is magic. Through the manipulation of the rules of sacred geometry, music builds a chronology (rhythm) of frequencies (melodies) …”
– Saint Vincent, guitarist and vocalist in Blacklodge
“Sometimes I have a strange feeling that Crest Of Darkness is living its own life, and I am loosing the control, but I am not afraid of this dark spirit! I am worshipping it!”
– Ingar Amlien, bassist and vocalist in Crest Of Darkness
From the beginning of this project, I never wanted religion to get in the way or exploring truth. I get a major buzz from interviewing musicians with different beliefs. Each contributor has a unique voice that adds value to this project. It was a real pleasure for me to read their perspectives, consider their opinion and discover their truth, and then learn from them. I never really found it hard to edit people’s writings that may have a different perspective than my own beliefs. The editorial process is relatively easy because I want to remain true to the original intention and important viewpoints from every contributor. Many of the musician interviews will resonate with key themes that start to surface throughout their responses. There are over 70 reoccurring themes, and during my Author Talks, I reveal the top 7 themes that seem to resonate with music-makers and music-lovers.
Throughout the 1000 interviews, I have learnt so many important points that I’ve applied to my own life and spiritual journey. After each interview, I review the response, and try to identify the core truth that the person is sharing. I then feature this as a “quotable quote” to include together with their brief biography and layout preview. These are then freely published online every month, and I save a few gems for future editions. My book series exploring “The Spiritual Significance of Music” aims to embrace the entire spectrum of musical styles, and also covers a diverse range of spiritual beliefs and worldviews. This project exploring music and spirituality has also opened my soul to an increased depth of spiritual experiences with music. I have learnt something new from every interview, and my hope is that others may discover new perspectives as well. This has taught me a lot about the importance of developing a dialogue, pursuing your passions, and enjoying the journey.
KE: The books a great achievement, where are you going next?
JSV: Thank you, this book has achieved success with it’s ability to resonate with the hearts and minds of it’s readers. I’m really excited that “The Spiritual Significance of Music” provides many music-makers with a source of inspiration. I hope the concepts and themes captured in this book will be a blessing to all the read it’s words. There are definitely some revelation moments throughout the book, and I greatly appreciate every contributor that have shared their thoughts on music and spirituality. Each exclusive interview is featured in the book for the reason that I believe they bring a unique perspective to the themes discussed, and every response shares an important truth.
Next on the event horizon is a book series. I anticipate producing at least two more books in the series exploring “The Spiritual Significance of Music”. I’ve been greatly influenced and inspired by John Zorn’s “Arcana: Musicians On Music” book series, and I love the fact that he allows every contributor to share their authentic voice. I’m an avid fan of his book series, and I love the depth each of the musicians bring to making, experiencing, and thinking about music. I’ve contacted almost every musician that has contributed to John Zorn’s book series, and I anticipate featuring some of these incredible interviews within future editions of my books. For example, some cross-over contributors from the avant-garde, creative, and experimental music scene include Christopher Adler, Mick Barr, Theo Bleckmann, Anthony Coleman, Noah Creshevsky, Marilyn Crispell, Dave Douglas, Trevor Dunn, Scott Johnson, Butch Morris, and Z’ev. Almost all of these contributors have exclusive interviews that are freely available to download in the World Edition of “The Spiritual Significance of Music”: www.xtrememusic.org/world.html
Thanks to Justin for giving us some of his time, and do try and get your hands on one of his books. Justin is somewhat of a outlier in the sense that he a Christian, but really doesn’t let that get in the way of producing a really interesting, and thought provoking book!
You can get your hands on a copy of Justin’s book by clicking here.