A Day Within Days:
AV Talks with Michael Allison aka Darshan Ambient

 

Michael Allison aka
Darshan Ambient

Visit Michael's website

 

A Day Within Days

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AV:  What was it that originally drew you to music and eventually being a performer yourself? 

MA:  My dad played in country bands when I was very young and that made a huge impact on me. I was 8 years old when I started really becoming interested in the guitar. Around that time (1964-65) I began listening to The Beatles and a lot of Motown and R & B records. 

AV:  Having listened to a lot of music during the 70's and 80's I remember some great stuff and some not so great stuff. Tell me about the music that you made and the groups that you played with during that time and what you enjoyed most about the music that you played during that time period.  

MA:  I joined my first "professional" band Brimstone when I was in High School and some friends of mine who were starting a new band needed a lead singer.

I loved to sing so it seemed the natural thing to do. I was a "bass player" at the time but they already had one so being the front man was very interesting to me. It was a great way to hone my vocal skills and learn how to become an "entertainer". I was really into the whole Peter Gabriel thing at the time.  Disco was a raging phenomenon but there were still many great bands to listen to. My favorites were Genesis, Yes, ELP and all of the English "progressive rock" bands. The ascendancy of electronic music in the 80's gave exposure to some fantastic artist's too like Peter Gabriel, Michael Brooks, Depeche Mode and the Art Of Noise. All made significant contributions to how music is conceived today. 

AV:  Do you still see that same level of creativity and innovation in today's music scene as existed back then? 

MA:  The technology is certainly better but I'm not sure the creativity is there.

A lot of the stuff today sounds great but it lacks "soul". No matter which genre of music in the 60's or 70's you choose, it almost always had soul and a great feel to it. I don't mean the more commercially successful music because a lot of that is awful but the stuff by Tower Of Power, Marvin Gaye and Earth,Wind & Fire and English bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes were just amazing. I love a lot of different kinds of music including Jazz and Blues and the 60's and 70's were filled with incredible sounds. 

AV:  In 1992 you made the decision to quit touring and trying to catch the rock and roll dream. Was this more because creatively you had other music that you wanted to realize or was it more that the lifestyle was just too much to take that you decided to give it up? 

MA:  I was pretty tired when I left New York in 1987. I went into semi-retirement, moved to San Francisco, bought myself a keyboard and decided to really slow things down. From 1975 until 1987 I was extremely busy touring, writing and recording which is not a lifestyle I would recommend to anyone. Up until the early 90's trying to have your music heard was nearly impossible if you couldn't get a record company to release your stuff but thanks to the Internet and technology which enabled the artist to record at home, playing non-stop in rock bands was no longer necessary. 

AV:  Once you were off the road and recording in your home studio did you already know what direction you wanted to go with your music?

MA:  Albums like Eno's Discreet Music and Another Green World proved to me that you don't need very much to make incredible music. Bill Nelson and Patrick O'Hearn were pioneers in the D.I.Y. philosophy. They also made a living at it which was encouraging. I've always loved "ambient" and "electronic music". What was very attractive about that kind of music was it's simplicity and what I needed in my life at that time was simplicity.

AV:  You mention in your bio about "wanting to record in a stress free environment" as one of the reasons to give up touring and chasing the rock and roll dream. How much pressure was there to "make it big" and compose the next big hit and how does that affect the creative flow of an artist who has to live up to these demands?

MA:  The demands were different when I was getting started in the 70's. If you weren't signed to a major label, touring was the only way your band got heard. And the only way you got signed was if a label saw dollar signs when they heard you. Now an artist can upload anything he wants and get heard from more people in a day then you could in an entire tour. I wish I had the Internet when I was starting out. Some of the bands I played in were really quite good and we could've used it for sure.

AV:  Tell me about the name Darshan Ambient and where that came from and what it represents to you as your performing name.

MA:  Since I was very young, the metaphysical world fascinated me. I was 18 when I met Naux and he introduced me to yoga and meditation. I fell in love with the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. From that time on, musically, everything I wrote was geared towards a form of Self-Realization. It became cathartic for me to make music that actually produced something positive in people. "Darshan" is an ancient word from Sanskrit meaning "divine vision". I put the word "Ambient" after it because there was already another band using Darshan.

AV:  So after making the decision to quit touring where did your muse take you in terms of musical compositions and how would you describe the music that you were composing back then?

MA:  Brian Eno was my biggest influence when it came to what I did after I quit the music scene. Originally I made this music to calm myself. To help me relax and focus on changing my lifestyle. I did a lot of drugs and drank heavily during my years as a "rock musician" and composing "ambient" music grounded me and gave me a sense of purpose. The music I composed was very similar to what I'm doing now except I'm a lot better at it. I had one of those cheap Yamaha keyboards that you couldn't program but I made pretty good use of it. I used a 4 track cassette recorder and made many hours of relaxing music.

AV:  Everyone is an amalgamation of their experiences and the things they have learned along life's journey. How did your previous musical experiences help to shape and influence the kinds of music that you now compose under the moniker of Darshan Ambient?

MA:  The art of improvisation is very key to what I do now which was introduced to me through my work with Naux and the early Harlequin years. When I sit down and compose I have no idea where it's going and all of my best pieces were recorded within a couple of hours, start to finish. I have a very 'jazz' approach to what I do which requires that I work very quickly. I use a lot of loops in my work and I just layer one idea on top of another until I have something fantastic.

AV:  What are some of the ambient releases you have put out since making the decision to alter your musical path and what kinds of mile markers do they represent in your musical progression?

MA:  Providence, The Zen Master's Diary, Autumn's Apple,  From Pale Hands To Weary Skies are some of my earlier works but I'm proudest of Providence and Autumn's Apple the most because of their huge yet very simple sound and composition. What really turns me on is discovering a melody that can literally make the listener cry.

AV:  Your latest release is A Day Within Days. Let's start with the title.  What are you looking to communicate about the music on this new album through the title?

MA:  The title doesn't have any major significance; I just liked the sound of it. Shortly after starting the project my dear friend Naux passed away from a long illness and his passing made for some emotional firepower that helped fuel what I was working on. I'm hoping that people receive a positive emotional impact with the music.

AV:  How long have you been working on this release that will be available on November 9, 2010 and is this about normal for a project from beginning to end?

MA:  From the moment "From Pale Hands To Weary Skies" was finished in 2008 I began writing and recording A Day Within Days. There are many tracks that didn't make it on the final release which easily could've become a double disc set. It usually takes about a year to conceive and execute my ideas for a new album. The record label then put's it in the pipeline and that can take several months.

AV:  Does this new album represent any innovative directions to your music that fans haven't seen to date?

MA:  I'm working with guitar and bass much more than in past releases. I love the combination of ambient elements fused with harder, more aggressive rhythms.

There are some new software like Spectrasonics Omnisphere and Native Instruments' Battery 3 that I'm having fun with on this CD. There is also an orchestral feel to this album that makes for a much bigger sound.

AV:  I really enjoyed the first track of the album called Talking Book. Tell me a little about this song and what you were aiming for as you worked on it.

MA:  I started with a couple of "Imbira" loops on Reason 4. Slowly I put piano and bass, then added guitar and extra percussion loops along with Omnisphere. It took forever to mix this track because it is so dense but I love the progressive nature of it. It's one of my favorite tracks on the album.

AV:  Reading the notes on the CD this is pretty much your project start to finish. Do you ever seek any outside advice or opinions since you started to work on your own in your own studio?

MA:  My wife listens to everything I do. She's got a great ear for what's cool and what isn't. I almost always end up agreeing with her perspective.  Originally this was going to be a much more vocal oriented CD. But some of the tracks just weren't panning out the way I'd hoped so "It's You" is the only one on this album with my voice on it.

AV:  Looking back to how you used to record music and contrasting that with the making of your new album what are the glaring differences in how you used to work on a project like this and how has this made a difference to how the finished album itself sounds?

MA:  I spent many years in a conventional recording studio environment so I was very slow in warming up to computers and all things digital. All of my early works in the 90's were recorded on an analog TASCAM 688 Midistudio. I moved over to a Roland VS-880 for albums like Providence and The Zen Master's Dairy. It wasn't until Autumn's Apple that I actually started using computers and all of From Pale Hands was recorded using nothing but Propellerhead's Reason 4. I don't know how I survived all those years without today's technology. The new album sounds fantastic!

AV:  After reading your bio and some of the notes on the CD itself it is apparent that there is a spiritual component to the music you compose. If you can, tell me how your spirituality alters what you compose and how you go about recording the music you write.

MA:  As I said before, my past explorations in self-realization through yoga and meditation is what fuels much of what I do. But above all my role as a father and husband give me so much inspiration for what I compose now. I love who I am in relation to their lives and that sense of undeniable purpose keeps my fires burning. Making music is so much easier now than the days when I was single and living alone. I'm a less selfish person.

AV:  Tell me something about either a song on the album or the album as a whole that I won't hear anywhere else.

MA:  You can dance to it.

AV:  The new album is being released on Lotuspike records. What kind of relationship do you have with them and are they supportive of your music once it is out of your hands and ready to distributed to your fans?

MA:  The folks at both Lotuspike and Spotted Peccary are great. The wider distribution really helps get my music in markets that were otherwise unattainable. I appreciate everything they do for my music.

AV:  Do you have a favorite instrument to compose on? What will listeners hear as far as instrumentation on A Day Within Days?

MA:  I play a lot of bass and guitar on this one. There are also some wonderful soft synths that I use for the first time that makes the music quite a treat to listen to.

AV:  Any final thoughts on your music or your new album that you would like to share with the readers of Ambient Visions?

MA:  I try very hard to make a human connection when it comes to my music. I think I really achieved that on A Day Within Days.

AV:  From one Michael to another thanks for stopping by and sharing some thoughts about your music with the readers of AV.