Ben Chasny, the architect behind freak-folk outfit Six Organs of Admittance, is as much a miner as he is a musician. Reared on a cheapie Tascam four-track recorder and plenty of time alone in his bedroom, the Bay Area-based Chasny has a history of plundering through hours and hours of old tapes carefully scrapping together verses and choruses with nothing but his imagination and a cross-fader. The results, often 20-minute-plus opuses, show the depth and vision of a truly unorthodox songwriter. Like mini films, many of Chasny's tunes take the listener on an up-and-down journey, leaving their minds slightly altered for the better.
For this reason, Six Organs' February release, RTZ (aka Return to Zero), is the perfect gateway for Chasny virgins hoping to meander into his uneven vision. The set is a reissue of tracks recorded from 1999 through 2003. On it, Chasny's penchant for blending multiple movements into one singular piece as opposed to opting for shiny packaged singles is glaring. The trait, culled as a side effect of his four-track-laden past, is a clear differentiator for someone who curiously gets lumped in as just another indie dude.
“I always thought that 20 minutes was kind of the perfect length for a song when recording on a 90-minute tape,” he says. “It gives you enough room to add all the layers you need and leaves enough space for you to track another one.”While RTZ is clearly a journey into the past, the future of Six Organs doesn't appear to be all that dissimilar. Technology may have given Chasny a set of neat new digital tools to use for his recording and mixing, but his mining philosophy and that antiquated Tascam are still very much a part of his program.
Like another instrument helping to compose his textures, the very nature of lo-fi recording is part of what makes Six Organs what it is. The tape hiss and all of the other natural analog trappings accompanying the tracks are a major part of Chasny's sound. Still, he chooses not to turn a blind eye toward the new. In fact, he managed to blend use of new and old technologies on his latest offering, the recently released Luminous Night.
“I'll never stop using the four-track,” he says. “It's a major part of what I do. It's totally spontaneous. You just hit record and go, and it captures every little mistake and gives the recording a live tangible feeling that's hard to get any other way.”
That said, Luminous Night is easily Chasny's most produced effort yet. As such, it shines a bright light on his musicianship, especially his utterly badass guitar skills. Not badass like Stevie Ray Vaughn, but badass like a guy who approaches the instrument from a vantage point unlike just about anyone. From intricate picking jobs to hypnotic, almost hill-country stomps, the guitar takes the lead riding roughshod throughout the whole thing. Chasny, who readily admits he writes specifically for albums, seems to have found form here by channeling each tune through his fingers.
“I generally base the songs around a guitar part and then go from there,” he said. “It's kind of an easy thing to build around.”
In support of the record, he'll be on the road with the vaunted Master Musicians of Bukake, who, in a similar protocol to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' famed tour opening for Bob Dylan, will join Chasny on stage as his backing band.
“Those guys are great musicians and a lot of fun to play with,” he said. “You never know what to expect. Each night should be pretty interesting to watch.”Six Organs of Admittance play with Master Musicians of Bukake at The Casbah on Tuesday, Aug. 25. www.myspace.com/sixorgansofadmittance.