I'm really pleased and grateful that Amani Friend one of the founders of the Desert Dwellers has taken the time out of his festive break to give us this wonderful insight into their world.
1) I gather that you choose to call yourselves the Desert Dwellers as a connection to the Moontribe parties you’ve played a big part in holding in the Californian deserts since the early 90’s. Aside from the obvious open space do you hold any affinity (spiritual or otherwise) with the desert?
2) Your music is often described as music for Yoga. Is Yoga something you both practise and how much of a part does it play when constructing a track?
Amani has been practicing Yoga and meditation on and off since the mid nineties, and Treavor has never done yoga much. The original Desert Dwellers album produced in 2001 by Amani and Treavor was not directly intended for Yoga; it was more of an exploration of downtempo dub beats mixed with East Indian music, a form of music that has greatly inspired both Amani and Treavor since the mid 90s. In 2005, Rara Avis and Craig Kohland of Shaman's Dream heard that original DD album and saw the potential in it to be such a perfect fit for the yoga scene ..... so Shaman's Dream brought Amani on board to score original music for several dozen yoga related DVD's over the course of 4 years (2005 to 2009). It was during these years that the immense yoga inspired catalog of DD music was produced for teachers like Shiva Rea, Duncan Wong, and many other high level teachers. Once the DVD's were completed, we were able to release the music through our own channels, which turned into the DownTemple Dub series on White Swan Records and the Yoga Dub Series on Yogi Tunes. All of this music was originally intended to be played underneath a teacher talking and giving instructions ... so we had to make it "open" enough to hold space for that, but also still be interesting and captivating as well; and we always wanted to make sure what we were creating was interesting to our own ears as well in terms of the hybrid of electronic music and world instruments mixed with groovy beats and dubby bass lines. So it was a challenge at first, but we ended up creating a unique style of music all our own, and each album was slightly different from the previous. What we have found is that people have been incorporating this music into so many different healing modalities ... It has been a real gift, and we love to see how much this music has effected people's daily lives from yoga to the bedroom to the dance-floor.
3) Your sound combines both organic and electronic flavours. Are the organic instruments mostly samples or do you prefer to use session musicians or play some yourselves?
We greatly prefer to collaborate with real musicians in the studio. All the dwellers play instruments and have musical training in one form or another. Treavor and Rara both studied guitar, and Amani has studied the keyboard, as well as Didgeridoo. So we have always had an affinity to bringing real instruments and vocalists into the realms of electronic music. These "organic flavors" we add are usually a collaboration with a real person and not a sample CD. Amani has been blessed to grow up surrounded by several masters of traditional world music lineages from East India, Middle East, and Africa. The majority of the DD tracks were collaborations with Santa Fe musicians such as Meagan Chandler, Ricardin, Sarah West, and Yamuna Wali and her teacher Pandit Birju Maharaj. There were a few times where we were incorporating sample libraries here and there, but that's probably because that's all we had access to, or maybe we had to meet a very tight deadline for one of those DVDs. Lately we have been recording lots of amazing new studio musicians and vocalists, either at our studio in Santa Fe or on the road as we have been traveling the world. This ongoing collaboration with other musicians and with other electronic music producers is the heart of the Desert Dwellers.
4) Your latest E.P. “Dive Into Forever” is more song based than your previous material featuring the vocals of Ixchel Prisma. In addition, the Eastern flavours seem to have taken a back bench on the first track. Is this a new direction you want take the Desert Dwellers sound to or simply another string to your bow so to speak?
Our collective DD musical background and training (before there was electronic dance music) was in jazz, blues, funk, reggae, and rock; since the mid 90s we have been exploring a specific hybrid of electronic and world-fusion music, but there are many various roots to our musical foundations. After the Yoga DVDs were completed, the next phase of our exploration came online in 2009 as Amani and Treavor started working on projects together again. The Spaces Between EP, Spinning out of Nothingness, and even the Critters bonus edition EP are all electronic downtempo tracks that are not quite so "yoga leaning." For the past couple years we have been exploring new psychedelic bass realms with tracks like Seeing Things on Twisted Records and our various remixes for many great artists, which are geared more for the dance floor and for our live sets. This most recent release "Dive into Forever" manifested because we have really been enjoying the work of Phaeleh, a UK artist that has an amazing skill at bringing spacious english lyrics and electronic chill-step together. We have always wanted to make a few songs with english lyrics and have had many fans ask for this, we just have never had the right vocalist to collaborate with. Amani first met Ixchel Prisma in Guatemala in Dec 2012, during the end of the mayan calendar. The various travel synchronicities in 2013 led to these songs being produced over a good chunk of time. We wanted the music and the lyrics and melodies to have a spacious flow, allowing the listener to be transported by the openness of the sonic journey, and to still offer the familiar verses and choruses of a "song based" format. This sound indeed is a new direction for us … but it seems we are always going in new directions; so it is just another string for the bow, and not a new direction that would take away from our deep love of world-electronic fusions. Actually, in addition to these more song based tracks, Ixchel is also singing and collaborating with Amani on some powerful shamanic ceremony songs from south america; there is another shamanic trance album in the works with Ixchel for a side project called Liquid Bloom. As far as this new direction on "Dive into Forever," we actually have a bit more to explore there and already have a couple more english songs recorded with Ixchel that need to be flushed out and finished. In general, we are always trying to be open to where this ongoing collective collaboration is wanting us to explore. We have so many musical influences and collaborations, and we love to keep pushing ourselves to create new things; and to live out the "music beyond borders" credo … exploring new sonic terrains that bridge worlds, genres, and generations.
5) Could you describe your studio set-up and what hardware or software appeals to you most?
We have been mac based since 1995. We have always produced music in Logic Audio, and before that it was Opcode Vision. Our studio has MOTU audio interfaces and good old Mackie HR 824 Studio Monitors. We have had lots of hardware over the years, but lately find ourselves using the computer more than anything ... so a lot of gear has been sold off. Amani still has his vintage Sequential Circuits Pro One synth, a Korg R3 and some Korg Kaoss Pads. But honestly these are all collecting dust because we are traveling so much and just using our computers to produce. When we perform live we are midi syncing both laptops together with one running Traktor and the other running Ableton Live. We both have shifted to the Allen and Heath XONE2 midi controllers recently and are very happy.
6) You’re embarking on a tour of the United States. Where can people catch the show and who have you got onboard for the support slots?
Yes we will be traveling around in a bus for 7 weeks hitting 42 different spots in the United States. Actually WE are the support for the tour, as we are opening for a legendary psy-dub producer named Simon Posford, AKA Shpongle. Simon has been the leading edge since the 90s and is one of our biggest musical influences ... so this is really a dream come true for any psychedelic electronic music producer. We are also honored to be releasing music on his label Twisted Records now as well. We will be staring off in Boston on Feb 12th, heading down the east coast into florida, across the south, hitting our home state New Mexico on march 5th, then heading over to California for several gigs, up the west coast and back over the country through the midwest, ending up in New York and Philadelphia at the beginning of April. You can see the specific tour dates here :::www.shponglemusic.com ... and you can stay in touch with us and our touring schedule here ::: www.desertdwellers.org …. we also have a great line of merchandise and all our music on our website as well.