Talks to Richard Bone
AV: Tell me about some of the earliest experiences in your life connected with music and how that made any lasting impressions on what you do now.
RB: I remember, at around the age of 8 or 9, getting one of those small reel-to-reel tape recorders which used a 3" spool. The first thing I would do was to re-wire the electronics so I would get distorted or muted sounds. It soon occurred to me that if I cut a piece of tape a foot or so long and attached it to itself with scotch tape, I could get these endless sound patterns. Of course I had no idea that it would soon be called looping, but I would spend hours doing those sorts of things. I was very lucky to have parents that really encouraged this behavior.
A few years later I bought my first electric guitar and wired it into these contraptions that I'd created. I would always search through record bins in stores looking for music I didn't know (I guess I've always been that way) and one day I came across an LP simply titled "Electronic Music" on the Turnabout label. When I brought it home and played it, I was just fascinated with the sound coming out of the speakers. Top 40 radio has always seemed flavorless to me. Even as a I started playing in local bands, I was the one always trying to get "weird" sounds. I think for me it has been and always will be about the exploration of sound. But, you know, for me strange sounds just for the sake of strangeness is just as boring as Top 40. It has to be tempered with structure and composition. That's why it never fully cemented for me until I heard the LP, "The United States of America" in '67. Here was a rock band using only primitive electronics and with song writing skills. That LP changed my life and gave me a focus. I wanted to do THAT. I have been so fortunate to have recently found Joseph Byrd, who founded the group, and tell him how much he meant to me. He sent me the lead sheet to one of the songs on that LP I heard so many years ago. It now hangs in my studio where I can see it every day as I sit at the keyboard.
AV: What kinds of formal training have you had over the years in regards to your music?
RB: None! I tried studying music theory and it totally screwed me up. I began over analyzing everything. I guess, for me, it's better to just trust my inner voice(s).
AV: Was there any point early on where you said to yourself, "I would love to do this (music) for a living"?
RB: Actually it was more of a realization that there was nothing else that gave me this much pleasure. I've always been happiest when I'm in a state of creation. Through a series of personal choices and blessings I have been lucky enough to spend my life doing that for which the Gods gave me breath.
AV: Did your study of drama in New York impact your music in any way?
RB: Yes indeed. I actually started out as an actor. But it felt unnatural to me somehow. I started hanging out with people working in experimental theatre. One day we were doing a production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream". The director asked if there was anyone who could create the atmospheric sounds of the night forest. I flashed back to the little kid playing with his tape recorders and volunteered. I got 4 tape decks which gave me 8 channels. I placed the 8 speakers in various locations around the house so I could move the sound over, under and around the audience. I had a blast. I spent the next couple of years doing off off Broadway productions with this technique.
AV: What were some of your first paying jobs as a musician and was it what you had hoped that it would be?
RB: Well the first real paying jobs were the theatre sound design I just mentioned. But, to tell you the truth, I've had or been in several bands. For me it's always just been a joy doing what I do. I honestly don't remember which jobs I did for money and which I did for a chance to just play. It was (and is) all for the love of art really. That and the ability to live in Dharma. To do what I was put here to do. Which, by the way, does not mean that one has to be a "success" to live in Dharma. It's just that little flutter of excitement you get in the center of your body, when time has no meaning, and you know you are doing what you were meant to do.
AV: Tell me about some of your early experiences in the music business and how that led to your creating your own label called Rumble records.
RB: I really had not had any experiences in the biz prior to releasing my early work on my own Rumble Records. What happened was that I had been working in theatre non-stop in New York. I felt I needed a break. Quite frankly, I was in my early 20's and wanted to stop being responsible and just party my brains out. So I took about two years off and moved to Ft. Lauderdale where I lived on a houseboat. As you can imagine, much of those two years are a blur. One day I went into a music store for some reason, and saw a very early portable synth. I began to feel the need to create again. So I started writing on that keyboard. That led to the creation of a band. So then I thought, now what? We're still talking about a time when pressing your own record was not too common. I had no idea what I was doing, but like everything else in my life I just barreled headfirst into the unknown.
The first thing I pressed was actually a recording done on the boat on a two track. But, not knowing squat about the tape to vinyl process, the record sounded awful. Somewhere in South Florida there is a box with a couple hundred copies of this record. I adapt quickly though and soon took the band into a proper studio to re-record the record (with a different B side). Through a series of mystical coincidences which to this day I don't understand, that little record pressed in south Florida wound up in the hands of the Dutch label Ariola who bought the song on the B side "The Headlines Have It" for their band Urban Heroes who released it as their first single. The bug had bitten me again and I knew it was time to pack up and go back to NYC.
AV: When was it that ambient music began to be of interest to you and was it a difficult transition from the music you had been creating in the 80's to this new format?
RB: Until relatively recently it wasn't ambient music that interested me as much as it was electronic music which fascinated me. I was more moved by Tomita's pioneer work "Snowflakes Are Dancing" than I was by the early ambient recordings. You see, it all goes back to composition. Those early ambient works didn't have any structure there. There didn't seem to be any cohesion for me, just knob twiddling. It wasn't until I heard Harold Budd's "The White Arcades" that I sat up and thought, "that's the answer!"
AV: At the time that you were making this transition were there other artists that you looked to that were already on the road to making ambient music? In other words was there anything that someone interested in ambient music could listen to at the time?
RB: Not really. There were the early Eno works. But, although I realized their significance because a new genre was being born, I still needed some semblance of melody to hold on to. The incredibly simple reason I went from doing vocal work to instrumental work is that I got tired of trying to make my own voice sound acceptable. My first instrumental release, Ambiento, is really just me stripping away my earlier writing styles and giving the pieces more space and movement. I had also just discovered samplers. So I thought, "that's a good way to fill the spaces where a vocal track might be". Then I heard O Yuki Conjugate's "Peyote" Cd which combined tribal percussion with great synth moods. I was off and running towards new territory.
AV: Tell me about the roots of jazz in your musical past?
RB: I have no roots in jazz. In fact, up until recently I couldn't "get" jazz. You're probably getting the feeling by now that I know there are higher powers guiding me. My introduction to jazz was another one of those mystical experiences. I was in a local Cd store and, because there was a crowd in the center isle, I decided to make a quick exit through the jazz isle. As I was walking past, a CD literally fell out of the bin and landed at my feet. It had a surreal cover of a giraffe walking across blue sand beneath a green sky. I've learned to recognize these signs, so without hesitation I bought the disc and brought it home. The disc was Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave" and it stayed in my player for the next several moths. My entire perception of music changed that day. I had to know more about this man's music and the artform he created known as Bossa Nova. That one moment formed my musical direction for the next three years!
AV: What are your feelings about fate and the way that the universe moves you in the direction that you should be going?
RB: Unlocking the mysteries and meaning of life is really quite simple. 1) The reason we have chosen to take physical form is to learn, experience and savor existence. 2) The course of life can be compared to the flow of a river. Once we become aware of this, relax and literally "go with the flow", life takes us exactly where we need to be at every moment of our lives. But we must do our part. Be willing to turn down the road we've never traveled. Often trepidation is merely our sensory systems reacting to a fantastic new experience knocking on our door. For Heaven's sake open that door! Take chances constantly. Repeating familiar and safe patterns freezes us in time and inhibits growth.
AV: Does that happen all the time or is it just special crossroads in our lives that we get that extra little nudge?
RB: It's happening all the time, constantly. However, in my case, it's only within the last few years that I've become truly aware of it which has caused a kind of snow ball effect. It's as if the universe said "OK, now he's listening. Fasten your seat belt we're going full throttle". When I look back on my life I realize that there were always greater forces guiding me. So these days, in my meditations, I include thanks for that guidance of which the younger Richard was not yet fully aware.
AV: Tell me about your days with the Survival UK label and what was it that led up to your leaving there?
RB: After I had moved back to New York I joined an incredibly theatrical band, Shox Lumania. For me it was the best of two worlds, my love of theatre and my love of music. At the same time I bought a Teac 4-track cassette porta-studio mainly to record demos. Soon those guiding voices were saying "press this one". So, I did. That record was picked up by Survival Records UK. They asked me for additional material, so I sent over a batch of the 4 track demos I had recorded and that became my first LP, Brave Tales. The label then sent over a producer to record a follow-up 12", "Joy of Radiation".
A few months later I was flown to London to record my 2nd LP, Expectacle. Then problems arose. Unaware that the label was moving in a dance oriented direction, I recorded a more experimental concept album called Grey Hideaway. They hated it and the record was never released. Shortly thereafter, the label closed and the master tapes to Grey Hideaway disappeared. So all I have is a deteriorating cassette of the project. Out there, somewhere are the masters.
So, as I had done several years earlier, I stopped writing for a couple of years, got a job tending bar and waited for the muse to strike again (I knew it would, I just had to wait).
AV: When did the idea of forming Quirkworks come to you and why a new label?
RB: As I knew it would, the urge to compose began to overwhelm me again. But wanting to avoid being controlled by an outside force, I decided to start my own label again to release these "quirky" new songs I was creating. Hence Quirkworks was born. (I couldn't use Rumble any more as I had received a cease and desist from a Rumble Records in the Midwest).
AV: By this time were your ideas about ambient and electronic music changing along with the times?
RB: I never really have the slightest idea of what's going on stylistically at any given time. The few times I have ever tried to compose something in a specific style, it was a disaster. I learned long ago to just do whatever it is I do to the best of my ability.
AV: Tell me about the evolution of those early releases on Quirkworks.
RB: The first two releases, Quirkwork & X Considers Y, were a continuation of the Survival days. I guess you could call them synth-pop, but with more emphasis on sound collage and design. X Considers Y contains the most elaborate vocal work I have ever done. Months were spent on layering, harmonies and vocal treatments. It was as though I knew it would be my vocal swan song. It's still a work of which I am very proud. (actually the very last vocal work was a song called "Overstated Papers" for the aids benefit CD, ANON). Next came the instrumental Ambiento CD which heavily featured my new fascination with samplers and also brought to the fore my Latin roots (my mother was Puerto Rican and Latin rhythms were always in my house).
AV: How was "The Eternal Now" different from those earlier releases? What was the motivation behind the music?
RB: This was a pivotal release for me so I'm going to be quite frank here. It's been said that spiritual awakenings often occur after a dramatic low or "bottoming out". So it was with me. A ten year relationship had ended and my years of partying had resulted in an unhealthy association with drink. As I began to climb out of this lonely haze, I felt the need to search for higher meanings. I started the journey inward. In an incredibly short period of time my life began to change.
It was as though I had been living my life in black and white and suddenly, like Dorothy stepping into Oz, everything was unfolding in Technicolor. I spent the evenings sitting at the keyboard, bathed in candlelight. The music that was born in those evenings became The Eternal Now. It was a most mystical experience. Almost a out of body one. I have no memory of the recording process at all. Those sessions set the spiritual rituals that would precede all my work to come. The booklet within The Eternal Now was written at the base of a New Hampshire ski lodge by automatic writing.
AV: How much does spirituality and mysticism enter into your composing process?
RB: In recent years it has become the foundation for all I do. But again I would like to point out that it's not necessary to make some huge big deal out of living a life rooted in spirituality. It's simply a matter of knowing we are all connected. All of us, every molecule in all of existence. So often I have seen well intentioned souls who have created such a ritual around their spiritual pursuits that they inadvertently have replaced one co-dependency with another. Their self image becomes entangled with their classes, yoga, their shamans, altars, feathers and crystals. It's only when you can stand alone in a empty field or room and know that you are God, that you have approached your spiritual center. I know that statement will seem egotistical and irrational to some. But trust me, that's your fear based emotional filter working. What we have, for centuries, called God is not some Being perched on a cloud somewhere passing judgment. It is, simply put, that energy which generates existence.
AV: Where did your work for Halcyon and Hypnos fit into this time frame and how did your involvement in those labels come about?
RB: A few years ago a friend suggested I check out this new label, Hypnos. I loved the look and style of the label and felt I wanted to be a part of it. Basically I badgered Mike Griffin to the point where I broke down his resistance and he asked me to contribute a track to the first Hypnos compilation. The relationship has grown from there. Halcyon was a small Boston label who approached me about re-releasing some of my back catalog which was now out of print. So I chose my favorite tracks from Ambiento forward and that, coupled with two unreleased ambient tracks, became Distillation.
AV: Take me through the steps that you would go through as you start a project and see it through to finished CD. Where does that spark come from that tells you that you have a new piece of music that needs to be recorded and what do you do with it after you have it?
RB: Every day I enter the studio to nourish my soul just as every day I enter the kitchen to prepare food to nourish my body. I usually begin by lighting incense or a candle (but not always as that would, again, tend to lead to a ritualistic co-dependency). Then I clear my mind with a brief meditation. If I have a certain concept in mind, I tape an image that represents that idea on the window just behind the keyboard (the studio is on the third floor of the house and looks out through a bay window over a small lake). Next I choose a sound at random from my equipment and just start improvising until something begins to take shape. Like a child on Christmas morning, there is no greater high in my life than the moment when a new song begins to unwrap itself and opens like a flower.
When, after several months, I sense that enough material has been created for a new cohesive project, I go back and listen to the tracks again for the first time (once I complete a track I rarely listen to it until it's time to assemble the larger work). Then I trust my intuition to tell me which tracks to use. I burn all the recorded material onto one CDr. As I play them back I pay close attention to how my body is reacting to them. When a track gives me a certain exhilaration right in the center of my solar plexus, I know that it's meant to be included in the new project.
AV: You mention that the music gives you certain feelings when it reaches that stage of completion that you are looking for, do you hear back from your fans as to what the music makes them feel and are they similar to the emotions that you had when writing the material?
RB: It's always a thrill to hear how my music resides within others. When I'm writing I'm really not trying to hit any mark. I feel as though the music, the idea that precedes form, has been given to me with the understanding that I will use all my abilities to give it substance. It's finally destination is not up to me. I know that the music will reach the ears of those for whom it was intended.
AV: What kind of relationship do you, as a performer, have with those who listen to your music? Does the relationship help to define your music at all?
RB: I suppose it's like the relationship we have with actors we really enjoy. Our relationship is really with their art not the person. We don't know or become found of the performer necessarily, we fall in love with their work. So I don't really write for anyone else. That would be sort of putting the cart before the horse. I write primarily to honor my gift and ultimately I must please myself.
AV: Lets talk about your last 3 releases, Electropica, Coxa and the recently released Ascensionism. What kind of connecting threads are there between the three releases?
RB: I guess the best way to describe it would be that they are views from three different angles of the same intersection. The intersection between ambient and jazz. They are also reflections of what was happening in my personal life at the time each came into being. Electropica was born out of my new fascination with Bossa Nova, Coxa reflects my discovery of the 60's piano jazz trio, and Ascensionism reflects more the books I was reading than the music to which I was listening. The truth is that about half way through Ascensionism I started to scale back my jazz listening and went through a period where I listened to the recording techniques associated with the best late 60's psychedelic LPs juxtaposed with the music of Harold Budd and Ruben Garcia. I knew then that one chapter was about to close and a new one begin.
AV: What do each of the titles bring uniquely to the whole trilogy?
RB: I think they are all part of a whole. I've heard recently that some people have put all three into a changer and play them at random. I find that the ultimate compliment. That is, that they work on their own but, somehow, when put together create something that is greater than the sum of it's parts.
AV: Was the idea of a trilogy there when you recorded Electropica and did you know exactly what the other pieces were going to be at the time?
RB: Heavens no! That would have attached my attention on the outcome. I try to live my life in the present moment without much thought about tomorrow or even a hour from now. It's a much more tranquil way to live.
AV: I was reading the release sheet on Ascensionism about it being a mystical journey through the Kabbalah, tell me about the basis of this CD and your involvement with the Kabbalah. And how do you set the Kabbalah into a musical framework?
RB: It wasn't so much about Kabbalah itself as much as it just happened that, on my journey to learn many spiritual disciplines, I was reading Kabbalah at the time much of Ascensionism was recorded. There was also another series of books which came across my path in a mystical way also. I had the song Ascensionism long before it became the disc's title. One day I was checking out book stores in San Francisco and I saw a book called "Your Path to Ascension". Well, of course I couldn't pass that up. When I started reading the book I discovered song titles I had already written were topics of discussion within the book. So then I started reading a whole series of works on what are called "the Ascension Schools" which these books describe as soul learning environs that exist on a higher vibratory plane.
AV: The jazz format seemed to come to a head in these three releases, was it difficult for you to bring this music to life in your own style and so that it was recognizably you?
RB: Actually I had no idea that the new music I was creating was particularly jazz influenced until a friend pointed out how jazzy the new tunes were. Makes sense of course because that's what I was playing around the house. But as I've said before I don't really have any preconceived plan when I start. No one is more surprised by the result than me. I think, in the long run, this helps me have some sense of objectivity because I'm not judging whether or not I hit the mark.
AV: Where is Richard Bone heading now? What kinds of things should we be looking for from you over the next few years? More of the same great music or more surprises?
RB: I can't really tell you what tomorrow holds exactly. I'll know when I get there. However, recently I've been reading about ancient Toltec philosophy and we just returned from touring the Mayan/Toltec ruins at Chichen-Itza in Mexico. This has given birth to a new completely ambient work, TALES FROM THE INCANTINA. We shot rolls of B&W film at the pyramid that will become the cover and artwork for the new disc. I expect it will release in March or so. The music will tell me when it's ready.
AV: Any last thoughts that you would like to leave with your fans as we close out this interview?
RB: I would like to express my gratitude for all those who have believed in my music through the years. Knowing that the sounds I create are reaching your ears is the most delicious intoxicant. Peace and love always.
AV: We would like to thank you Richard for sharing with us and helping us to understand the man who lives behind the music that we enjoy so much. We hope that you will come back in the near future and keep us informed of what that next step was for you and your music.