Interview with Channelers (December 2021)
Steve Targo, of Nimbudala, interviewed Sean Conrad about his latest Channelers albums on Inner Islands. The interview was conducted in a Q&A format over email.
1. What made you decide to pick up the guitar again? Was it the desire to learn finger picking?
It was really a matter of working with my limitations at the time. At the time I had a rehearsal space that I could get loud in (where I recorded a lot of Isles Beyond), but it was shut down because of the lockdown. And my apartment is a very small one bedroom that I share with my partner, Rosa, so it’s usually a bit of a hassle to set up my gear and then tear it down every time I want to play. So acoustic guitar is pretty much the only instrument that’s compact enough to leave out, that I can casually just pick up and play for a little bit. I was inspired to try fingerpicking with my whole right hand (as opposed to the two-finger method I used to employ) while reading the book Dazzling Stranger, about Bert Jansch and the ‘60s folk revival. More fingers means more possibilities!
2. How come you stopped playing for a while? It seems that guitar was prominent in your early music as Ashan & gkfoes vjgoaf.
I kind of phased out of playing as much guitar around 2013 when I got my dulcimer. That really satisfied a lot of my acoustic desires and was a new sound to play with. I also got much more into making electronic music. At this point I’m less interested in electronic pursuits and just want to play tactile instruments.
3. Despite the gentle, soothing nature of Another Entrance, you sound re-invigorated in your playing. Was it because of the guitar or was it more from being inspired by 60s British folk music?
It’s probably a combination of things. I’ve been listening to a lot less atmospheric and ambient music and more to folk, rock, pop, and other more attention-centric musics. Also, I composed the majority of the pieces on AE before recording them (except the two piano pieces) and spent a long time practicing them. I feel like I was able to bring a lot more energy and confidence to the performances when it came time to lay them down on tape.
4. What is it about that scene, that music, that inspired you?
I love that so much of that music has these threads which trace back into antiquity. There is such a rich heritage to that folk music. It has always been in flux: people changing lyrics, changing tunes, and passing those along (most orally/aurally) for generations. It’s constantly in evolution and there is no such thing as a definitive version of any of those pieces. When people started collecting those songs in the late 1800s and writing them down and recording them on wax cylinders and such, people were in a preservationist mindset. Those tunes kind of stagnated for decades and decades and in the 1960s musicians were decidedly much more free with their interpretations of that work and breathed a new life into it and wrote new music in the spirit of those tunes. I think it’s that new breath in confluence with a lot of other things that were happening at the time.
5. Really, you released two Channelers albums on 10/22. Were the songs on Messages From One of Deeper Within recorded the same time as those on Another Entrance? How did you decide which song appeared on which album?
Side A of “Messages” was recorded at the same time. Side B is a track from the “Isles Beyond” sessions and a track from the “Faces of Love” sessions. I made a lot of different playlists for possible versions of AE, which all told different narratives. The narrative I went with was the one that I felt most dialogued with the album cover. There were a lot of other pieces from those sessions still to choose from for “Messages” and I just picked tracks that were mostly focused on the performance of a solo instrument.
6. You have developed a unique & captivating style in your role as artist. How do you create the illustrations you use for album art? Is it 100% digital? If so, why & what program(s) do you use?
I use Adobe Photoshop and sometimes Illustrator. Yeah, it’s all digital. My laptop has a touchscreen, so I’m also able to use a stylus for some human touch.
7. What projects are you working on now?
I’m wrapping up a collaborative album with Rosa. Hopefully it will be out early next year! I’m finishing another collaboration with Matt and Ash from Flower Room. And I’m always working on new material with Michael Henning for our Skyminds project. We get together every week and work on tracks. We have about six hours of unreleased material at the moment and we’re hoping to release some of it soon! I’m also beginning to work on another Channelers album.
8. Let’s talk about Inner Islands, which is 11 years old now! What keeps you going in your role as head of the label? What does the future hold for Inner Islands?
It’s kinda wild how long it’s been going now! And I’ve been running it for 8 of those years, which sounds way longer than it’s felt. I feel like Inner Islands is my musical home; it’s this sacred and deeply comfortable space for me. And what Inner Islands “is” is both this unchanging thing, this field that Braden established at the outset, and yet the manifestations of that are always changing and developing. I get a lot of joy out of teasing out that thread! The future holds a further unraveling of that musical journey.
9. What inspires you right now?
Moving my body every day! I’ve also seen a lot of heart-centric TV shows this year, which has been enlivening: Star Trek (Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager), Ted Lasso, and Pose, among others. Musically, I just went through a deep phase with King Crimson and related projects. The McDonald and Giles album was a revelation. My friend, Noah Klein, has also been a part of setting up the FLOATING outdoor show series in Los Angeles and I got to play and attend a couple of those in October. They were fantastic! I hope to see more music outdoors soon.
10. What words of wisdom do you like to recall in times of need?
I am the creator of my own experience. I always find that to be an empowering idea.
Channelers is the work of Sean Conrad. He recently released Another Entrance and Messages From One of Deeper Within on Inner Islands on October 22nd on vinyl, cassette, and digital formats. The albums are available from our Bandcamp page.