Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Just before the release of his new project, Gone Gone Beyond, I spoke with David Block about the collaborative process behind the new group. He discussed the power of intention in music, world music inspirations, the universality of art, and more.
There’s this great quote from you that states that we don’t play music, but music plays us. In your opinion, how does your music create you rather than the other way around?
I’ve always been a fan of the idea that the music doesn’t come from you, it comes through you. Same goes for creativity. Creativity is the human being’s direct ability to experience the divine. Everything in your reality is a product of creativity and imagination, whether it’s nature in this divine dream or material objects or whatever. We’re all just ideas in the imagination at one point. Art and music are the same. I read this interesting passage from Joseph Campbell recently who states that artists are the shamans of our time, in that we’re actually responsible for taking something from these imaginative ethereal realms and translating what we experience into a way other people can experience it.
That collaboration you did awhile back with Critical Beats interweaved instrumental and vocal samples from the amazon in order to bring awareness from that region and share their knowledge on topics such as plant medicine. How do you feel that music can share these specific messages even if the vocal samples are in a language one can’t understand?
There’s two aspects. First, there’s the power of intention in the music and samples from when they were created. Secondly, the power of art can transcend language. I think that those are both tied together. You can see how sometimes music moves you so deeply, and you don’t know why but it does. I think that’s complementary to the intention in music. I’m a firm believer in power that just the meaning behind music can shine through, and I’ve had a couple really interesting experiences regarding that. The most notable was when I played a show in Moscow with my buddy Android Jones. This guy came up to us after I had been playing for a few hours. He was waving his hands and smiling and having a hard time trying to articulate his feelings and just saying, “Music….very..uh, good!” I thought that was so beautiful that there was this language barrier between us but the music transcended that.
Are there other regions that you’ve thought about sampling for future releases?
I’ve done a variety of instrumental samples from many South American regions, but so far the vocal samples I’ve used haven’t explored much outside Latin America. I really like working with those areas, and just last year I worked with one of the original members of Buena Vista Social Club. For the future though, I’d really like to create some Balinese samples for my music. I want to work with the Kecak, who are known for the monkey chant. I think that would make a really cool collaboration.
Your music has a mission of sharing the idea of oneness and a shared existence. Recently you’ve been exploring another creative outlet through Two Spirit Photography. Do you feel that your photography shares a similar goal?
Absolutely. That’s the entire intention. Behind all the art I create, there's this purpose to create a shared experience and a sense of shared humanity. I go out of my way to have my camera with me. I’m actually on a ski lift right now while I’m doing this interview and getting ready to capture some shots while I’m snowboarding! This is some pretty serious multitasking. Anyway, I love to capture the majesty, the positive, the negative, everything. It’s very similar to my music in that I want to create an experience for people to share and connect with.
Let’s talk a little bit about your new project, Gone Gone Beyond. It’s a collaboration with Paul Weinfeld and Danny Musengo, and your debut EP just came out last week. Tell us a little about this project. Who brings what into the collaborative process?
Gone Gone Beyond is a whole new concept project. The three of us are all very involved in the songwriting process. I’ve just always loved the idea of a concept album and I wanted to explore and experiment with that idea as much as possible through this project. Danny and I made a track about a year and a half ago, and from there we decided to make an album as soon as that one collaborative song was finished. I’ve been going back and forth to New York to work on this project, and I actually ended up moving to NY ten days ago. It’s been a really amazing experience and I’m grateful to be here now. But yeah, every song on this EP is completely different. There are six songs on this EP, but we already have two more in the pipeline that we’ve been working on.
The name of the project comes from a translation of the Heart Sutra. Besides just the name, how do you think you’ll carry this mantra with your music?
I’m very grateful that the two guys involved are very incredible human beings and great songwriters. They definitely carry that intention for expansion of consciousness, which I think is a great quality in artists. The name of the project has gone under some changes before we landed on Gone Gone Beyond. The first name of the project was called Waves. It was meant to be a double entendre, one being high quality audio (.wavs format) and the other being that we’re all just waves of vibrations. We figured the first name was perfect, we had it printed on the album cover and everything, but in the end we just didn’t end up going that way.
We had to ask ourselves, “What is something that would carry the intention behind our music but’s also an accessible name?” And let me tell you, finding a band name that hasn’t already been taken is very challenging. One day I found myself singing the Heart Sutra mantra, and it hit me. It doesn’t just sound interesting, but whether or not people know it, we will be embodying part of the heart sutra for the entire length of this project. The mantra will very much always be at the core of our music.
All of the songs that we’re writing for this project tell a story, particularly the song “Long Day” which has no drums or electronic elements. It sounds like a string version of Beirut or something. The songs are stories about life and the human experience. This project has become a great platform for me to express these kind of emotions, and I’m grateful that I get to work with these two brilliant storytellers who can convey these messages so beautifully.
This project is definitely a different sound compared to Human Experience music, as it explores some more folkier qualities. Is there something about the folk sound that you’re currently resonating with more lately?
You know, it’s funny...I’m always working on so many projects at once that range from all different genres, so it’s interesting to hear the listener’s thoughts on what my music is focused on. Folk music is definitely not new for me. I come from a traditional songwriting background and a lot of this folkier sound stems from my experience after moving back to the States from India. My music is always reflecting a lot of my personal experiences on my environment or whatever I’m going through. This past year I did visit India and Bali, so I’ve been really into singing songs and doing more storytelling. I’ve been really enjoying this style of songwriting lately and seeing how it translates into this project.
But yeah, the impetus to make electronic music in the first place was just to create backtracks. Originally, I am a singer-songwriter but I liked psychedelic experiences and I liked dancing...so my music just evolved into The Human Experience project organically. So, though the folk sound isn’t new for me since it’s really my roots, it’s something I’m currently really enjoying experimenting with again right now.
What are some other things we can look forward to from you for the rest of the year? Any other collaborations?
Yes, so much is happening right now! Let’s see, I have a new song with Leah Song from Rising Appalachia. I have a Human Experience studio that will be open in a month, and since I just moved to New York it’s being filled with some great antiques [laughs]. I have a new hip hop collaboration in the works with The Grouch, some new songs with Phutureprimitve, Quixotic, and some material for Lucient Docient experience that I did under the name The United. I also have a side project called Cat’s Pajamas that’s more deep house that I’ve been working on as well. I have an EP with my buddy Black Lipstick who’s a dance - it’s kind of like Queinten Tarintino on acid. I can’t wait to release that. I’m also working on a re-envisioned cover album. So far, I’ve remixed artists like Prince, Cyndi Lauper, The Police, Alicia Keys...and the album will feature some amazing artists.
I’ve got a lot going on and I’ll be releasing music every month for the foreseeable future. As always, all of my music is available by donation and it will always be that way. It’s really important for me that people can have this music easily accessible. If they want to give me money that’s great, but if you want it for free that’s great too. I just want people to be able to enjoy it, first and foremost.