David & Steve Gordon
Steve: There was a lot of music in our house when we were young. Our parents enjoyed the 60’s and 70’s folk music revival and were also into Flamenco music. The two of us started performing at our family gatherings as early as 4 or 5 years old.
AV: When was it obvious to you that music would play a larger role in your life than just listening?
David: By the time we were in high school we started jamming together and playing in bands. Around this time we started to think about doing it professionally too. We soundproofed our garage and had musicians over to play with us.
AV: Did you ever have any formal training in music? How does your classical training shape/influence the music that you compose?
Steve: We both studied music in college and attended the Dick Grove Music Academy in North Hollywood.
AV: What is your instrument of choice for creating and making your music and why were you drawn to that instrument?
Steve: Even though we both have become proficient on many instruments, I still enjoy playing the guitar the most, both acoustic and electric and David prefers acoustic piano.
AV: When did you start composing your own music and how would you characterize those early compositions in terms of style?
David: We started writing music in our teen years. Our first songs were rock music - a combination of psychedelic rock and progressive rock. We didn’t record anything that long ago but we do have some recordings we made in our early 20s on an old 4-track tape machine. They don’t sound too bad either!
AV: Tell me about the Sequoia National Forest and how much of an inspiration it became to the music that you composed?
Steve: We discovered Sequoia National Park was a pretty accessible place to go from Los Angeles to decompress from living in the city and doing lots of session work. We had been into meditation for a while and especially liked to meditate sitting by the river in the mountains on back-packing trips. It was during one of those trips when we got the idea to compose ambient music to interact with recordings of the nature sounds in the forest. We’d been listening to the first couple Brian Eno albums around that time and that influence helped us to sort of find and bring out the musical environment from within sounds of nature.
AV: When did you decide to form your own record label rather than trying to get your music onto an existing label? Did you have any experience with the business end of the music industry before diving in with Sequoia Records?
David: It was a natural decision for us to sell our early ambient music albums on our own label since it wasn’t anything like the music on the radio. We didn’t have any music business experience other than studio session work, so we just made the albums and started selling them.
AV: Your compositions also incorporate nature sounds that you recorded into your music beginning with your very first release Misty Forest Morning in 1982. What were you hoping to achieve by this blending of your music and the sounds of nature?
Steve: Our intention was to transport stressed out people to a peaceful place in nature using music, for people who didn’t have access or time to visit the wilderness. We believed then, and still do, that being in nature can quiet the mind and create the inner stillness so important for reducing stress and being well.
AV: Was it difficult to get good quality field recordings to incorporate into your music in 1982? How did you go about capturing those sounds?
David: It was a challenge, especially on our small start-up budget! We needed the recording equipment to be battery powered and small enough to fit in a backpack -- back then the only option for that was cassette tape. We used a Nakamichi professional-grade cassette recorder that had VU meters and separate record level controls for each channel. Wind was the biggest obstacle because it overloaded the inputs. We used a couple vocal mics from our studio and improvised wind screens of fabric and foam. We learned to record at times of day when the wind was at a minimum and by finding sheltered spots to place the mics. Once we got everything set up, we put on the headphones, pressed the record button, and meditated while the tape ran.
AV: At the time of your first release did the genre of new age even exist? Who was your music aimed at back then and in 1982 how did you go about reaching those listeners and letting them know about your music?
Steve: When we made our first few ambient music albums, we were not aware of any other new age artists, we only knew about Brian Eno’s early albums like Music for Airports and Day of Radiance with Laraaji. Once we had made our first album, we starting contacting local metaphysical book and gift stores to see if they wanted to carry it. That’s when we found out there were a few other artists who already had some albums in those stores. I’m not sure, but I think one was “Zen Waterfall” by Paul Lloyd Warner. At the time, most of the store owners would keep the albums near the cash register; they didn’t even have a real music section. Initially it was through these kinds of stores that people discovered our music. This was before the internet so we included a mail order form in our albums for people to contact us to send them a catalog. We also approached book distributors and convinced some of them to offer our music to their retailers as well.
AV: What is your philosophy about what your music can accomplish in a person’s life beyond just entertaining and distracting them for the stress of 21st century life?
David: Of all the arts, music is the most subtle and the most powerful in its power to transform. Music is literally made of vibrations - when people are exposed to those sound waves, their entire body/mind can be affected on a deep level.
Of course, music is great for entertainment, and we enjoy listening to lots of different kinds of music. But we believe that music created with deep intention can bring people wellness and inner peace and balance, and help them cultivate mindfulness.
Our music is used in this way by many health practitioners, body workers, spas and healing centers. But we don’t focus on those practical thoughts when we create the music. Instead we do our best to create music from a centered place that we access through meditation and through being in nature. We feel that when music arises from that peaceful state of being, those transformational qualities are naturally expressed in and through the music.
AV: How do the two of you mesh your individuality into a cohesive whole when it comes to composing music that will be on each of your albums?
Steve: Since we are brothers we have been fortunate that our musical chemistry has always been something that we don’t have to think much about. We do have our own tastes and different approaches, but when we work on something together, once we decide on the overall direction for the album, our contributions complement each other’s really well.
AV: Do you think listeners fully appreciate the potential of music to bring about changes in their lives?
David: There are some people that do. I know there are many who follow our releases and our record label Sequoia Records who look at it that way. But of course that’s not a mainstream view. We hope that every record we release will reach people who need and are ready for that transformation in their lives, one that brings peace of mind and overall well-being.
AV: In 2014 is the general public more receptive to “new age” music than they were 30 years ago when Misty Forest Morning first came out?
Steve: At the time we started, the idea of ambient meditation music was brand new so it took time to explain what it was. Now after 30 years, there are more people who do get this, especially with yoga becoming so popular recently. There is also a challenge due to misunderstandings or stereotypes about the music, maybe due to the genre being called “new age”, that some people see it as part of some kind of silly metaphysical woo-woo. But for those who want the benefits that this kind of music brings, it’s easier now for them to find it than any time in the past.
AV: Tell me about the evolution of Sequoia Records over the years and how it has changed to meet the needs of listeners and the artists that you work with besides yourself.
David: When we first started our original focus was on ambient meditation music and music combined with nature recordings, to create the peaceful feelings of a natural environment in any situation. Over the years our interest in music performed in nature led us to world drumming and native fusion music. We like how the entrainment effects of rhythm can be another way of meditating with music, and our downtempo electronic recordings grew out of combining those worldbeat drums with the approach of ambient music. Each time we felt the desire to go in a different direction musically, we ended up having to push the envelope of what kinds of music were still considered new age or healing but as we did so those new styles were accepted and other artists started doing them as well.
AV: When you began this journey there was no internet to speak of and now we are socially connected on multiple levels via the internet. How has that changed or expanded your vision of what Sequoia Records can be and how far it can reach?
David: The internet has been a great way for us to keep in touch with our fans through sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc. Now we can easily answer questions from fans and get the word out about our latest releases.
AV: Is there a spiritual component to the music that the two of you compose?
Steve: We have been into meditation and yoga for over 30 years now. Our goal is to bring mindfulness, inner stillness and wellness into the process of creating music so that those qualities will be transmitted to the listener as well.
AV: Talk to me about your latest release called Chakra Balance and what the aim is/was for the music that you composed for this release?
David: This album was conceived on two levels. On a functional level it was recorded and intended to align and heal the sacred energy centers of the body through a state of deep relaxation. On a musical level, we wanted to bridge the two worlds of healing meditation music and ambient electronic music. There is a lot of really good ambient electronic music out there that has much in common with meditation music but is not made with that intention. So our aim was to express the intentional aspect of meditation and mindfulness within the form of ambient electronic music.
AV: Sequoia Records isn’t just about David & Steve Gordon’s music as you do put out music from other artists. How do you decide on who to bring onto your label and do they have a similar view as you in regards to the style of music that listeners have come to expect from Sequoia Records over the years?
Steve: In the 90s we started releasing music by other artists as well who also developed their own followings such as Gary Stadler, Sophia, Jaya Lakshmi and Shajan. All of the artists on Sequoia have a similar or compatible view about healing music but work in different musical genres. We have found that the genre of music is not what unites the sub-genres of New Age music, it is the intention behind the music and the way the music makes you feel, both in your body and in your mind and spirit.
AV: Sequoia Groove was a 2nd label that you created to handle a different style of music than your original label. Tell me about the purpose of this secondary label and why you felt that you needed to create it?
David: We started Sequoia Groove in 2001 when we first released the European hit downtempo electronica album Buddha Lounge, after we updated it for an American audience by changing some of the songs.
Our approach with Sequoia Groove is to release positive world-fusion and electronic music for pure pleasure, for parties or for just chilling out, without our usual focus on the meditative aspects. Having said that though, none of the music on Sequoia Groove ever goes in a dark or depressing direction. In that way it is similar to Sequoia Records. There are many songs on both labels though that could be said are powerful or cosmic, for example some of the songs on our native fusion albums like Sacred Earth Drums, but even those still feel life affirming and empowering.
AV: After 31 years walking this musical path do you still feel as strongly about the music you compose and do you see yourselves doing this for the next 30 years as well?
Steve: I could never see a time when we would not create music. There is both the pleasure that comes from the composing and recording process itself as well as the fulfillment that comes from knowing how many people’s lives are touched by what we do. We stay in touch with our fans on our Facebook pages (There is one for Sequoia Records and one for David & Steve Gordon) so we hear from people constantly about what our music means to them. There is also the effect of composing and recording this music has on us in the sense of feeling less tension, more centered and in touch with our own inner peace.
AV: What have you learned about yourselves over the course of the last 31 years and how has your music affected the quality of your own lives?
David: We’ve experienced and learned that the things that have worked for us to stay in touch with the deepest parts of ourselves, the inner quiet and peace of mind we get from being in nature; meditating, doing yoga and practicing mindfulness can be transmitted to other people who need the same things through our music. We’re grateful that when we create music that is an expression of these things for us, other people feel it too when they hear our music.
AV: With 30 years under your belt what would you like to accomplish in your second 30 years of creating music?
Steve: There are many different kinds of music projects we are inspired to do. We’re developing ideas for an album that would feature Sanskrit and Buddhist chants produced with a unique ambient approach and an album series of ambient music that will contain brain entrainment-tones for various purposes such as concentration, creativity, relaxation, sleep, and other uses. We are also planning a follow up to our popular Native American Flute album, Gratitude, but this time featuring more acoustic guitar and piano.
AV: Any final thoughts you would like to share with your listeners about the journey you have been on thus far with your music?
David: We consider it an honor to be in a position to bring a little serenity into people’s lives through our music and we continue to be grateful to our listeners for allowing our music into their lives. You can find us on Facebook or on our website: http://www.sequoiarecords.com/david-and-steve-gordon.html
AV: Thanks a lot to the both of you for taking the time to answer these questions and to share some of your thoughts about your music with the readers of Ambient Visions. I wish you as much success for the future as you have had in the past with your music.