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Chris Schlarb: Psychic Temples

Ian Patterson By

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CS: That song means a great deal to me. I feel like that song has maybe the biggest spiritual connection to the first Psychic Temple album because it's a drone. Maybe all of the harmonic activity on Psychic Temple II was partially a reaction to the lack of that activity on the first album. It's really based around a guitar duet improvisation between Paul Masvidal and I. I've been listening to Paul's music since probably 1994, when I was in high school. He founded this amazing band called Cynic, which took elements of jazz fusion and heavy metal and experimental music and put it all together in a completely unique way that I still don't think has been equaled. There was just something so pure about it. It doesn't mean that I want to make that music, it's just an inspiration to me.

I got in touch with Paul and sent him the Psychic Temple album and he was a big fan of it. He came over to my studio and I gave him the outline of the song because there are a few chordal motifs that we're sharing back and forth. We did two takes of it and the take we used on the album was the first take. After Paul and I recorded I brought in the horn players. There are some really interesting moments where Paul or I will quote a melody and then the horns will quote it back in a very natural way where it feels like everything is responding to everything else. I'm trying to cultivate that environment and let certain things happen on their own. There was some deep listening going on and it's the one tune on the album that makes me more emotional than any other tune. There's a certain evocative quality to it that is like the best fiction or the best lyrics—it allows you to bring your own experiences to it and experience it how you wish.

Listening back I also had a feeling of overwhelming gratitude because here was Paul Masvidal, whose music I've been listening to for nearly twenty years, and here he is playing my melodies back to me.

AAJ: Where did the title "The Starry King Hears Laughter" come from?

CS: "The Starry King hears Laughter" and "She is the Golden World" both involve [poet] William Blake and his writings about Urizen and Ahania. Urizen was this tragic character that Blake created and "The Starry King..." refers to both Urizen and [pianist] Bill Evans. I look at both of them as these powerful but tragic figures. The ride pattern in that song is totally in homage to [drummer] Paul Motian and him playing on the upbeats.

Ahania came out of Urizen. She was a part of him and a representation of love and lust and knowledge. He killed her and I feel that Evans did a very similar thing where because of his drug use he killed a part of himself that allowed him to be emotionally open. It all came together in an interview with Paul Motian in the '90s I believe. He said that they were doing that classic trio, playing at the Village Vanguard. He said they were doing an amazing show and then at the snap of a finger Bill Evans was suddenely completely removed from the performance. Afterwards Motian asked him what was wrong and Evans said, 'I heard someone laughing. I thought they were laughing at me.' That's all it took. He was a giant, a God, but so vulnerable. He heard someone laughing and he immediately retreated from what he was doing. He had to cut that part of himself off—that vulnerability.

AAJ: Can you relate at all to that sense of vulnerability when someone is critical of your music?

CS: Not really. I can understand it and I've definitely had things like that happen to me. When I was taking guitar lessons I remember going to try and play for my Mum to show her what I'd learned and I always remember her just watching TV instead. 'Oh, yeah that's great.' You know, go practice somewhere. Get out of here [laughs]. So, very early on I had this feeling that I'm not here to impress you. I'm not going to put on a show to impress you. I'm going to do what feels good to me. Part of it is a defense mechanism, and part of it may come off as arrogance but I do feel like it's served me well because it's allowed me to follow my muse. I'm not worried about what anybody else is doing. I have a more critical ear to what I'm making than anybody else could possibly have. I'm going to be my harshest critic.

I'm doing it for myself. I'm trying to make new music for me to listen to. I can see if you're so concerned about fads or styles you can be thrown off your path. You can be led away by following money or fame or acceptance. At an early age I resolved to do it for myself and with whatever good or ill that entails it's allowed me to go out on my own and stand alone.

AAJ: When you finish a work like Psychic Temple or Psychic Temple II do you feel a sense of loss or a sense of elation? What emotions do you experience?

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