Talks with Scott August about Lost Canyons
AV: Your interest in music started quite young. When was it that you began to be interested in music and did you have any formal training at this point to give you the foundation for your future efforts?
SA: I was always drawn to music. I remember very early childhood memories about music that I heard. I started formal training on cello when I was about 8 years old.
AV: Tell me about your love for the flute and when it all started for you.
SA: I have had a long love of non-western music, so called ďethnicĒ music since I was young. When I discovered the flute in 1996 I was looking for a melodic instrument that would fit with the global fusion music that I was writing. Both for my music and the music I was doing for my commercial clients. My main instrument was piano and it didnít have the sound I wanted nor did any thing that I could trigger with a keyboard. I was looking for a live, real instrument. The Native American flute was just what I was looking for. I was hooked the first time I heard it.
AV: I notice that you started out with cello and piano back when you were very young. Do you still play those other instruments on your recordings or has the flute displaced all your other musical interests?
SA: I donít play cello anymore. The piano, and everything that keyboards can do is all over my recordings. I would say in the studio, while composing I play more piano/keyboard than anything. Piano is still my main instrument although I would never perform it live.
AV: What is it about the flute that makes it so easy for you to communicate your feelings through playing it? Do you play other flutes besides Native American flutes?
SA: The flute allows me to move through notes. Play with vibrato, bends, and volume. Keyboards donít allow for that kind of true expression. I donít play other non-Native flutes professionally but just for fun.
AV: Do you have a variety of flutes made of different materials to achieve different sounds in your recordings? How do you know when one is called for to achieve a particular emotion or mood? Tell me about the Anasazi flute and what makes it unique among your other flutes.
SA: I chose flutes very randomly. Usually itís a flute Iíve been playing lately or it does something others donít. Iím starting to have favorites too but sometimes they donít record as well as others, sometimes they do. I donít believe that any one flute conveys a particular mood or emotion. They just need to sound good and be in tune. The rest is up to the player.
The Anasazi flute is completely different. It produces its sound differently. Its shape is different. The notes it gets are different and the sound is completely different -- darker, richer, earthier, and more mysterious. It has a very primitive sound.
AV: Your latest CD is called Lost Canyons. When was it that you started work on Lost Canyons and did you have a mood or emotion that you wanted to weave throughout all the tracks on this CD?
SA: I started Lost Canyons, right after New Fire was finished, I tend to compose whenever I can find time. Running Cedar Mesa Music, my label, is very time-consuming and itís getting harder to find time to compose. Anyway, I knew I wanted the CD to be different than New Fire but I never sat down and plotted it out. I knew I wanted to use lots of Anasazi flute and Iím always looking for new sounds to add to my palette. I also started really working with vitural samplers and synths like the MachFive2 and Reason. This allowed me to do way more real-time changes to all my settings. The idea for the CD as a whole unit only came about in the last couple months of recording. Some things like the pair of songs ďMorning StarĒ and ďEvening StarĒ had been floating around in my thoughts for a while but in fact those tunes were written last.
AV: Do you have a particular routine that you follow when you are working on a CD like Lost Canyons? Do you set aside time to sit down and work out the structure and instrumentation that will end up on the CD when all is said and done?
Moving tunes, rhythms and whole sections around until the flow of the piece seems natural. This isnít to say that I donít sit down with certain instruments. I have ideas that seem to lend themselves to certain instruments and I follow those thoughts too. Of course many times what comes out in the end it not where I thought I was heading when I started. You have to be open to the possibilities that reveal themselves.
AV: Tell me about the music that ended up on Lost Canyons. As a whole how do the songs tie together around the theme of the CD?
SA: In its most basic, large strokes, the songs follow the progression of one day. Starting with the morning with the song ďMorning StarĒ going though the day, including ďThunder on the MesaĒ and ending by ďChasing the SunĒ and Evening StarĒ. This day-in-the-desert theme came toward the end of the creation of the CD. One tune had its name changed to fit this them but over all everything just fell into place. That said, songs such as ďRaven Dance,Ē Desert Skies,Ē ďWhere Spirits DwellĒ and ďLost CanyonsĒ donít have any inherent time of day about them. But they fit into the theme none-the-less.
For all my recordings the sense of a journey has always been very important to me. That journey can be overt
AV: Did you have more material composed than what ended up on the final version of this CD? How is it that you decide what ends up on a project and what waits for some other project in the future?
SA: I had a couple extra songs. One just didnít cut it for me. The others just didnít fit the mood. I have a couple songs that Iíve intended for every recording Iíve done but they just donít seem to fit the recordings overall moods and emotions. I would say that most of what Iíve worked on has made it to the release it was intended for. The decision to wait on any song is done on a song-by-song basis.
AV: Do you enjoy the technical/studio work of taking something like Lost Canyons from the composing stage and capturing it onto tape or onto a hard drive for mixing and arranging?
SA: Yes, very much. This is when the magic happens. Iíve always felt that writing and producing a song is like putting together a puzzle. Sometimes you canít find the right pieces and itís very frustrating and other times everything fits and itís exhilarating. For me the recording and editing on the computer are a major part of process. To me the act of creation is inexorably tied with the process of using all the tools my studio has.
The really exciting thing thatís happening now is that the studio can be a laptop. Several of the songs on ďLost CanyonĒ had their beginnings on my laptop away from my studio. ďRaven DanceĒ is a perfect example. That song got started at a friendís house on their dinning room table with just my laptop and a small portable keyboard. I then took that file to my studio and added all the live elements and finished the tune.
Also the studio allows me to create spaces, textures and sounds that donít exist in nature. To capture ideas on the fly. To treat sounds in ways that are not considered normal. Itís a lot of fun.
AV: Are there any other musicians who helped you to create Lost Canyons or was it pretty much just you?
SA: It was all me except for one guitar solo on ďThunder on the MesaĒ. I wrote out the tune and he played it. My chops werenít good enough.
AV: How do you view the process of bringing music like Lost Canyons to life? Do you ever think of composing and creating music as a career or a job?
SA: Composing music is my full-time job. Before I started releasing my own work I wrote music for TV commercials for fifteen years.
AV: How did you know that Lost Canyons was finished? Is there a point at which you know that it is as good as you can make it and as you are listening to the music in progress how do you know it is there?
SA: I knew it was finished when I ran out of time, had enough tunes and nothing seemed missing. Once I get about halfway into the process Iím always reflecting on what I need to fill the recording out. There is no one way to know when itís done. You just know.
AV: I saw that Lost Canyons made it onto the Echoes radio show as their ďCD of the MonthĒ back in December of 2007. How does that make you feel as a musician and composer when your music is recognized like that?
SA: Very grateful. I write music that I want to hear and hope that others will like it too. So when my work is recognized, itís very exciting. Itís also very humbling. I know Iím very lucky to be doing what I love. It also makes me want to keep moving forward.
AV: What kinds of feedback have you been getting since the CD was released?
SA: Very positive. Truthfully I did not think Lost Canyons would be as well received as it has been. Compared to my previous release, New Fire, I felt this CD was more introspective. Iím still amazed at the great feedback itís generated. It debuted at #4 on the New Age Reporter chart, has been in the top ten of other charts. Itís getting airplay on Sirius, XM and DirectTV. Itís all very exciting and a little surreal. Itís also generated interest in my other recordings and my DVD is going to be aired on select PBS stations this summer. Iím very grateful.
Itís also wonderful to know that you have a positive impact on peopleís lives. I get emails from people letting me know how my music has helped them or loved ones through hard times and this is very rewarding. Music has always been a balm for my soul and to know my music is helping people the way itís helped me is a wonderful feeling.
AV: If you wanted to tell potential listeners why they should pick up a copy of Lost Canyons and what it could do for them as they listen what would you say?
SA: Lost Canyons will transport you to a secret place within your heart and soul. It will guide you away from the stress of everyday life and take you to a place of peace. It will bring your dreams to life.
The Anasazi flute is really a unique instrument too. Played over 1,000 years ago it was lost to all but the smallest audience. The sound is rich, earthly, soulful and exotic. Itís truly a transporting sound.
AV: Any final words to the readers of AV about Lost Canyons or the making of it that might help them understand the making of the music on this CD?
SA: Your readers can find an article going over each song in depth at http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=259300344&blogID=317239308
AV: Thanks again for your time Scott and I do hope that you continue to put out more great music in the years to come.