But when the hurlyburly of the modern era feels all-encompassing, perhaps the most radical thing one can do is to slow their pace and really, truly, pay attention to their surroundings.
Forest Bathing, the latest release by A Hawk and a Hacksaw, is named for a form of this active meditation. The newest batch of songs from the Albuquerque duo of Jeremy Barnes and Heather Troust evokes exploratory inclinations and seem to form hazy memories of adventures both real and imaginary. The use of more traditional instruments such as the violin and the Persian santur feels contemporary as they stir up folk forms for an audience perhaps unaware of the “old ways” (even in a supposedly well-connected age).
Vanyaland caught up with one half of the group, Jeremy Barnes, before Tuesday’s show at Atwood’s Tavern. We discussed his own musical journey, from his stint as the drummer for indie rock idols Neutral Milk Hotel to that of an almost musical internationalist, the group’s home state of New Mexico, and the importance of an old-fashioned constitutional through one’s local forest.
Nick Calvino: What were your formative experiences with music? It’s not common to see one go from an indie rock/punk background out into such different genres.
Jeremy Barnes: In a way, playing in Neutral Milk Hotel was for me a transition into another place, musically. Before that I played in a lot of punk bands and I was not interested in acoustic music at all, after Neutral Milk Hotel I stopped playing drums, I couldn’t stand the sound of a drum kit, I was sick of guitars and so called indie music. It took me a long time to get back to a place where I could listen to that stuff. But that is always how I have been — if you’re going to do something you better dive in, completely. So I dove in, to music from Romania, Turkey, Hungary, Bulgaria…
Could you elaborate on your relationship to, broadly, Eastern European music? How has your interest in the music of other cultures expanded over time?
It’s such a rich place, culturally. So many people have passed through there and left a mark. We are mainly interested in the area that used to make up the Ottoman Empire. Turkey, parts of the Middle East, up to Bulgaria, Former Yugoslavia, Romania, Macedonia, and parts of Hungary. I’m interested in the gray areas where cultures influence one another.
How does the band approach new styles and instrumentation?
We are always experimenting, and often playing with new musicians. I love to see what is happening in some of these places… the synthesizer is now replacing the accordion. I’m really intrigued by the synth players in Turkey, who use the pitch wheel to get microtones going, and have a crazy array of traditional instrument sounds and arabic and Turkish beats. It’s quite amazing to watch. And it sounds insane. But we’re very old fashioned in a lot of ways. Behind the times. But I’m always looking to see what the new thing, just to learn and study.
In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, have you noticed a more seamless blend of different musical styles? Are older traditions and cultures being pushed out in favor of a more homogenized popular culture?
Older traditions and cultures are always being pushed out… But if you search, you can find them.
What is your connection to New Mexico at this point in your lives?
We were born there. It is the only state in the U.S. that I would consider living in. I love it very much! And I’m so grateful to have been raised there.
“Forest bathing” is an intriguing concept. How did you come to this idea and how did Valle De Oro influence you during the writing and recording of the album?
Forest Bathing is active meditation. But really, it’s just a wonderful description for walking in the woods. What a therapeutic thing to do! As you walk your mind clears, and as you follow paths your mind is exploring paths in your brain… Our mind is a forest and we are walking the pathways. In this case finding the pathways in the forest led us to the path to the album.
Do you see nature as a great influence on composition? Ambient music, John Luther Adams, and Irv Teibel’s Environments series come to mind.
I’m not familiar with either of those records, but yes, of course! Environment, whether we know it or not, is a huge influence on what we do artistically.
A HAWK AND A HACKSAW + DAMON & NAOMI :: Tuesday, October 9 at Atwood’s Tavern, 877 Cambridge St. in Cambridge, MA :: 10 p.m., 21-plus, $12 :: Atwood’s event page :: Advance Tickets :: Featured image via Ground Control