Mickey Hart at 70: Another Run at The Roses (From The Archives, 2007)
JPG: Speaking of such things is that your line in the CD booklet, “In the beginning was the noise…”
MH: Yeah, “In the beginning was noise, noise, begat rhythm, rhythm..” That’s from the book. That’s the way I open up the book.
JPG: I thought it sounded familiar. That reminds me how I love the idea where you hear music in the background of every day life from road construction to…
MH: I’m just coded to scan for rhythms. Rhythmic noise is a specialty of mine. I’ve always had an attraction to loud things to inharmonic sound, which you might call noise. Of course, that’s what drums really are. They’re so dense that, the sound bite is so dense that it doesn’t have a normal harmonic structure like a note; like you hit on a guitar a tonic, a third, a fourth. Inharmonic sound is quite different.
I’ve always had a strong attraction to it and that’s also what causes trance. You can induce trance easier because of that particular factor. That its power. It’s also a great short, sharp, sound bite. You can define rhythm exactly as opposed to other instruments — guitars, violins, flutes — they’re not made for rhythm. They’re made mostly for melody and harmony.
JPG: Do you think that either consciously or subconsciously it’s stored for you and comes out whether in tonight’s concert or next recording?
MH: Absolutely! It’s about freedom. It’s about freedom of spirit. Freedom of…skill to be able to leave a lot of what you know behind. And be in the moment. That’s also a big part of this cause you can bring a whole bunch of skill to the table and then you just beat the shit up by you just playing something cause you just know how to play it. That’s also part of the spirit and the freedom that you experience on a nightly basis with a group like this. Also, like the Grateful Dead, from time to time we were able to go to these places, but this band does the same thing. We don’t play Grateful Dead music, but the sonic payload you get from this band is very potent.
JPG: As far as “beat shit up,” a song off the new album, “Dances with Wood” you were using old grapevines and an old redwood…
MH: We’re actually playing it onstage. We have it out here on the road. That was another interesting development. It’s my hobby or my passion or my meditation, I go into the deep forest and find pieces of old wood that are rotting and I clean them up. It becomes like a meditation for me and I started playing them one day and recording them. Just messing around, connecting with the earth, cause I’m a big earth guy, fire and earth. Then Zakir said, Hey, let’s take it out on the road.’ So, that’s where “Dances with Wood” came from. We said let’s put it on the CD cause it’s really a meditation. Zakir played one. I played the other. Made cases for them. Put contact mikes on em and cardoid sophisticated mikes on em. We open the show with em.
JPG: I was wondering how you obtain something like that, thinking that someone called you up one day and said, Hey, I got a piece of redwood that fell and do you want it?’
MH: Part of it is I go into the forest and harvest it myself. I don’t accept woods from anybody. I’ve never done that. It’s a whole process where I go into the deep forest in northern California, the redwood forest. I live in a redwood forest. It’s part of the experience. You go in and you haul it out. Clean it up and you nurture it. You rub it. You scrape it. You put mallets on it, to it, sticks to it, toothbrushes to it. You do things to try to bring out the innate quality of the wood, the resonant factors of the wood. So, you really connect with that.
JPG: Do you have to do anything to the wood to keep it from falling apart?
MH: First of all, you have to get the bugs out. You get all the insects out and once you stop that then it lasts, well not forever, but it’ll last beyond my years. Now these are redwoods, these are hundreds of years old. Thousands of pounds some of them. And the grapes were in the ground during the Civil War. Over a 150 years old.
I was just asked if I played Swamp Cedar recently. They want to use it on one of their CDs they want me to play. It’s some well-known personality, can’t mention but… I’ve never played Swamp Cedar, but I really look forward to doing that. So, I’m going to stretch out from redwood. I’ve only played redwood and grapes. As protrusions. You can’t just play a stone, the insects haven’t devoured somehow and created these cavities. That’s what this is all about. It’s not getting a piece of wood or log and playing it. These things have hundreds of different sounds. They have different extremities, parts of the roots system.
JPG: About how long are the pieces?
MH: I have the Squid, which is the old growth grape and the Twin Dolphins, is the redwood. Twin Dolphins is about 250 pounds and it’s about 4 feet and oh about 3 feet wide. And the Squid, oh it’s maybe 50/60 pounds and about five feet long. I trimmed them when I got them and brought them down to something manageable. Part of the root and trunk. It’s not just root system. It’s a different kind of connection to the earth kind of thing.
JPG: One of the good things about starting the show off with that
MH: It puts everybody on notice that this is not a normal percussion concert. We’re not just playing. We’re trying to take you someplace else. Expand ours and yours, your consciousness.
JPG: and it goes back to the core idea of the archaic meeting the digital, drums meeting RAMU.
MH: That was right there on the top of that list we were talking about.
JPG: Absolutely. That reminds me of this, the first thing I was thinking when I listened to Global Drum Project, do you think it’s a good time for Global Drum Project or good timing for it to be achieved together?
MH: You know, I think that it’s both. I think that it’s a good time because it’s focused and has to do with the breath and has to do with the yoga of music of rhythm. And people are starting to look for things that give em a little bit of spirituality, a little bit of calmness and centered. And it’s a different dance for a different day. That’s what this is all about, the inner dance.
I think it’s really hitting on all cylinders. We’re really…this CD’s got legs. They love the music in concert and the CD has really been getting rave reviews. Actually, the best reviews I’ve ever gotten in my life. You never can tell about those things. It was a pure work that popped out very much like the original Planet Drum. It was all first takes. We didn’t sit in the studio or play these things to death. It’s like a magical work. You live with it for so long you forget that inspiration, the moment of creation; the light went on on every one of these pieces. Nothing on there is filler. And that’s why it’s 42 minutes because I wanted to be concise. Just hit ya and Boom.’
JPG: That brings up this because I to make sure I got this right, the main recording was just you and Zakir.
MH: That’s right.
JPG: And then Giovanni and Sikiru came in later to add their parts.
MH: That’s correct.
JPG: With that method, did the album form through the mixing and editing process or?
MH: A little bit of both but a lot of the tracks, Sikiru was on an original track, on a couple of them using the samples of Baba [Olatunji]’s voice. So, it wasn’t just me and Zakir. And, of course, Giovanni was originally on there from previous recordings, which we used as the basis of some of the compositions. So, it worked every different way you possibly could. And then there was the “Kaluli Groove,” which were the recordings that Steven Feld made in New Guinea and those beautiful voices of the Kaluli people (heard on the Voices of the Rainforest album).
God, there was no real boundary lines to this. We just went where we wanted to go. It was one of those kind of pure as far as we didn’t think about it too much. Mostly we dreamt about it. We came in to see each other each day. I did something. He reacted. Zakir reacted. Zakir did something. I reacted to that.
JPG: Speaking of Baba Olatunji, was that one of the original early goals, if you will, to include him on a track, which became “Baba.”
MH: Absolutely! I was putting his vocal away for a year. I recorded that vocal in the 90’s. It was always very precious to me and I was always wanting to do something with it, so that was the seed sound for that.
JPG: I’m familiar with him, but I’ll admit not in a very deep sense. So, for myself and for readers, give me an idea, why should we know Baba Olatunji?
MH: That’s an easy one to answer. He was the first to really bring the powerful rhythms of West Africa, Nigeria, real possessions of trance Gods to America. He did this in 1959 with “Drums of Passion,” which changed many people’s lives — John Coltrane, Dylan, me, Carlos Santana, who did two of his songs on his first record. Baba was a major influence for decades on music, on musicians here because he was the one who introduced the chant, these powerful rhythms to the West.
And also, he was a lovely guy. He went around and he did Clinics. He played his whole life. He was a pure spirit. He’s also the godfather of my daughter. He’s an important figure in American music, in World Music, whatever you call that.
JPG: By the way, why the name change from Planet Drum to Global Drum Project?
MH: Yeah, there was a conflict in names with another organization. We didn’t want to have any kind of conflict. So, we just changed the name. It’s all about us. It’s all about the rhythm we figured anyway without causing any kind of lawsuits, spending your life in court. We just said, Fuck it.’ It’s that simple. Nothing wrong with Planet Drum. Someone else claimed to have it and we moved on.
JPG: And then, I’ll spare you and skip the obvious last question that you probably get every day of your life regarding you and your former band mates, but I would like to know what’s next cause it seems like you always have
MH: I can’t really answer that. Everyone’s at peace with each other, I hope. See what happens, you know. I mean, if I get the call and we can agree musically on things and become friends again. It’ll happen. There’s no conflict now, so everything is calm. I’m just going to let it lie there. I mean, I love em all. There’s differences. We’ve grown separately since we stopped playing. We’ve grown, but that’s the most important thing. Everyone’s living their life the way they want to live it. If there is a call and if we get together in a room, we’ll all probably be big smiles and probably go to the next level. But that is not here right now. It’s just much better than conflict.
JPG: Interesting, but what I was getting to was that there are so many things we’ve talked about in the past from field recordings to work with the Smithsonian, studies relating to rhythm and the brain, I’m still waiting for the Bembe Orisha album. Anything coming up later this year? Next year?
MH: There’s a lot of stuff but I really can’t talk about that now for various reasons. Just concentrate on what I’m doing right now. You can be sure that somethingthere’s a lot of things that are gonna be popping up next year, that are going to be really exciting. I’d rather concentrate on the business at hand. I’ll never stop. I’m a work in progress. You know that already from our history. Believe me, I’m not going to be treading old turf. I’m not going to be beating up Grateful Dead music the rest of my life. Leave that to others.