Interview with Sonic Medicine
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
It’s hard to say what I would be doing otherwise because music has always been my main obsession, snowballing and taking over my life the whole time, but starting when I became obsessed with the music of Michael Jackson when I was just 7 years old. MJ’s legendary album Bad came out then, and I still love many songs from it! I remember riding the bus to school and hearing all his hit songs and the music bug just hooked me right then and there!
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Generally nowadays when I am not playing music I am often on a work site working as a live sound engineer around Seattle, or I am researching elements of music & audio in a studio environment.
Most of my life is work one way or another. And I enjoy getting into my work.
This approach of consuming music knowledge and working on music as much as I can began in 2000 in Washington DC during an overnight meditation where I made the decision to do what I had always wanted to do which is to make music intending to help the world. This is what Sonic Medicine is meant for, and that is when and where it began.
The album artwork for Manic State is the artist’s visual representation of that moment when I realized this path for my life and the concept behind making Sonic Medicine. It’s meant to be music to help the world. That’s the goal. The moment represented is a moment that took place at the end of a long meditation when one incredible orb filled with what seemed like millions of lights became visible to me. It was something I have never seen before or since, and it was very beautiful. I took it as a sign and as inspiration to do what I have been doing - to make this music. I think we can take moments and things that happen in our lives to draw our own meaning and to be our own sources of inspiration.
How long has your band been around?
The concept for Sonic Medicine began in 2000 when I was 20 years old. So, that’s been 22 years so far. And as for the songs - “Reflection’s Ink” - one of our first singles that was released recently, was originally penned by me in 2003.
You must understand, as many quests go, this one took on some twists and turns, and was not a straight line from wanting to do it, to forming the right band and recording the songs as people know them now. It took time, and unfolded the way it did, which took 22 years and
led me from Washington DC all the way to Seattle and to forming the live Sonic Medicine band and then to finally recording the songs and releasing the music right now!
When I set out as a musician in 2000 I was a fledgling musician who didn’t read music, barely knew anything at all about music or had any musical glossary to communicate to other artists with, had no confidence, and I basically thought I was barely anything better than a fraud - musically speaking! I just had a ton of passion and the belief it could be done and o was supposed to do this exact thing. I had the firm belief I could get there, and I had experienced this amazing moment with that meditation and the sign I had received! That was really all I was going on! I had all the enthusiasm and none of the training at that point.
And I had just failed out of the beginning of college while watching my peers carry on. So when I had the meditation and saw the orb, it really inspired me and it blew my mind away! So much so that as I tried to wrap my head around it in the days following, I really could not. I couldn’t relax about it, and I couldn’t explain it to others where they believed me, so I got frustrated by that and I couldn’t sleep. It was very upsetting and became it’s own issue.
The mental upheaval I went through following the mediation and sign soon sent me over the edge for a period of severe psychosis and psychological breakdown.
Somewhere in that time period of psychosis I was hospitalized into a psychiatric ward. I really needed it. I was severely lost in multi-layered sensory hallucinations, mental delusions, and immense amounts of mental confusion and the mental agitation was heightened and constant.
In my life, psychiatric hospitalizations like this have happened 3 times. This was the second.
Some Sonic Medicine music was written while healing from psychosis. All the music on Manic State is written about and/or inspired by mental health.
After I chose to follow music full-time and got my mental health under control in my mid 20s, I started working in a music store and discovered I’m handy at repairing guitars! It gave me joy to fix them and give them back to people in the community in better condition.
While happily working at the Dale Music Co repairing guitars and other string instruments throughout my late 20s, I found out a little more about luthiery. Then I applied to one of the best guitar building schools in the world and got accepted because of my work at the store!
Six months later in mid 2009 I graduated from Roberto-Venn as a certified luthier, and with the support of my family I started a small instrument repair and building business in Asheville, NC. I also formed my 1st band, called Archetechs, and wrote, recorded, and produced some songs with them, before everyone else gave up and left. It was quite a learning experience!
After just a couple years in Asheville I realized things there weren’t working out for the business and my music dream, so I used the vocational degree to good use as I applied to be the repairman for a Guitar Center in downtown Seattle, WA to get me back on the path of my quest! And because of my credentials from the luthiery school I was hired!
So I moved to Seattle in 2012 with the string repair job at Guitar Center as the anchor, and a new shot at making Sonic Medicine deliver!
Soon after I arrived in Seattle, the band started to finally take form. That’s when I linked up with Jim Dejoie (baritone saxophone) through the recommendation of a mutual sound engineer and friend, “Greedy” Greg Williamson.
The concept behind Sonic Medicine then expanded quickly, as the music begged for an epic approach. The idea of expanding the ensemble to include a lower bass instrument and higher strings on top of the electric guitar, baritone sax, and live drums, was a vision that both Jim and I shared. So very soon after we began, Alicia Dejoie came onboard adding the electric violin layer on top. We then found a wonderful duo on bass guitar and our first band drummer in Bowie McLean and Andy Pease for the first few years. But when cancer took Andy’s life we had to go on hiatus. Losing Andy was a terrible thing and we miss him tremendously. After searching we have been very fortunate to have Thane Mitchell join us on drums and electronic percussion!
In the studio we also benefited from the support of Billy Stover for synthesizer bass and keyboard lines. The music has become be try potent in the time we’ve put into the songs since this began, and the songs continue to evolve in the live setting.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
Seattle, Washington - United States. Seattle is a melting pot for LOTS of styles of music! It has been a music Mecca for generations! And we love that!
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
The band’s name comes from the symbol I designed and installed, inlaying it onto a couple of the headstocks of a guitars I built.
It’s called the “caduceus clef.” It’s made from the combination of the treble clef symbol, the bass clef symbol (turned sideways), and the caduceus medical symbol. It is meant to be the symbol for Sonic Medicine.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
One of our most memorable shows so far has been the first time we played Slim’s Last Chance Saloon, here in Seattle. We played that one with our friends in Jack and 2 Punks for Thanksgiving in 2018. That band was sound engineer Greedy Greg Williamson, music producer Jack Endino, and drummer and producer Johnny Graziadei.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Our favorite venue is the greatest place! A fun place for music & exercise - Seattle’s Southgate Roller Rink! It’s an amazing scene where the love of rollerskating and music collide in glorious live performance and roller rink action! Check it out and come see us play there in September and October this fall!
Also we like to perform whenever possible! So if you have a wild idea, let us know what you want to do and we will work with you to make it happen!
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Well we always want to play with new acts and check out new stuff! So there’s that! But for favorites of mine that already exist?
Well I would love to perform a show where The Barr Brothers play a pre-show, acoustic style set, to warm everyone up. Then Pearl Jam rolls in to open the formal show and to raise awareness! Then it would have to be Radiohead to plays a mid show sonic mind melter! Then Morphine would deliver the main course. And it would be so cool. Then Sonic Medicine would play with guests coming on to join us from every act! Yes! Then a sacred set from John Coltrane’s latest e era band to close the night. That would really be the show of all shows for me💜
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
To someone just starting a band I would say stay as focused as you can while being healthy, and do just that, and no matter what happens: stay in love with the music.
To my younger self - Trust yourself. Don’t give up.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
There is a lot to find in the fine print. Do not lose sight or forget that in your heart you know we are more than an easily explained, cut and dry, accident hurtling through space that means nothing. We mean something! And that means you mean something and so does everyone and everything. Remember everything is connected, not just separated as it seems to be when we do not pause and take note of the wonders in this life.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
It is a song that we have not yet written. Songs are the thing I have chosen to focus on with my life. There’s so much, we’ve got to prioritize things in this life. And as a songwriter my priority is to the song that comes next. That’s my ultimate concern and my focus. The blank canvas is really one of the most important aspects of music to me. It is something new and exciting to me every time I go there. I try to write new songs every day. Do I succeed at making something good every time I try? No. No way. My success to attempt ratio is quite low. However it is an important part of the songwriting process to yield the good songs that I deem worthy of continuing to go on to sharing and working on with the rest of the band. So I’ll go to the blank canvas and start from scratch, and try, and definitely fail very very often, but I keep going just to get the good ones every once in a while.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
“Reflection’s Ink” is getting a bunch of appeal lately! So are Raising Fire and Blackout when we play live! They are all a lot of fun to play live because we have been expanding and evolving the arrangements in some of the songs! Things are very open to change in this band.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Well, so far the way this band has operated is I have come to the band with completely fleshed out demo versions of all the songs already written, and our band members have written lines to fit into the arrangements that I have already made.
But before that, in the beginning of writing things for me, when I finally reach the point where I feel I have something good enough to start to focus on, it begins with a single inspiring line, and then before long after that I’ll have a collection of new lines that all work well together in some musical ways.
But I can’t stop there (I have to turn over all the stones I can see!), so I will flesh things out
as much as I can by myself in this initial stage of the writing process, before I finally turn to the group and then say, “Ok! What do y’all think of this?” I will have most of an entire song - section by section mapped out, as well as the entire arrangement throughout the sections for 2 lines of music or more. Usually those lines are for a guitar line of some complexity, and a vocal melody line with the lyrics, and if I have more at this early stage it is possibly it would be a second guitar line - perhaps a lead/riff line, or another instrument like a keyboard or maybe something written for strings or for a horn. But when the band gets ahold of it, we’ll be batting it around forever after that too! I mean anything goes! You see? You know what I’m saying? Everything is subject to mutation in this life!
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I believe in the value of music as a medium to cause positive change in this world. That’s what this is for. So I use the lyrics in our music moreover as the voice for raising awareness about important matters. That’s the intention. So far the topics include mental and physical health, modern society and the cycles of human history, and the future of the planet.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
We do not have many disagreements in the band. Thankfully! Which I think we don’t fight because we are all in it for making good music! Having the same focus may be what keeps us on track.
Having a moral compass as a guide in this life is extremely valuable. And in a group setting it is important for everyone to agree on the compass. Music is our compass. Music is our guide. And using that to guide our decisions and our thinking with this project - this may be why we rarely disagree or argue or have any drama to speak of. It’s all about the music. Looking back, maybe decisions have been clear with this as the prevailing lens we have all been using to look at things with.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?