Deradoorian on “Find the Sun” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Deradoorian on “Find the Sun”

Changing Your Paradigm: The Full Interview

Sep 18, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Angel Deradoorian’s new album, Find the Sun, invokes very different imagery compared to her aptly titled solo debut The Expanding Flower Planet. The sensual dance macabre of “Saturnine Night,” the mantra-like repetition of “The Illuminator,” the marching menace of closing track “Sun”; though created with improvisational abandon, these songs are imbued with the tactile quality and purpose of ancient artifacts. In the press release announcing the album, Deradoorian suggested lying on the floor with eyes closed and listening to the whole record in one go. When I did, I found myself amongst the ashen ruins of some forgotten monastery, frozen under accelerating skies.

With the coronavirus crisis causing a massive ripple effect in the world, many musicians have had to reset or rethink their release campaigns, yet you get the sense Deradoorian rolls with the punches more sure-footedly than most (even though the release of her album was pushed back from May to September). A year prior to recording Find the Sun, she enlisted in a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in rural Massachusetts, a place where you can’t interact, touch, or even look at fellow practitioners. That intense experience has not only helped her mend some deep-seated trauma, it also gave her new resilience and insight on how to navigate her life. A life she wholly devoted to her art. That sense of clarity was evident from the get-go in this interview: even the most inane questions were met with stirring galaxy-brain level responses. (Note: There’s a separate feature article on Deradoorian in our current print issue, Issue 67, this is the full transcript of that interview.)

Jasper Willems (Under the Radar): Was Find the Sun recorded with all musicians in the same room or did you have to bring players in to layer it?

Angel Deradoorian: I mostly wrote just skeletons of the songs. Samer Ghadry, the drummer, practiced just a little bit with me before we went into the studio. I purposely asked improvisers to be in the group: so it was just me, Dave Harrington, and Samer playing together. We would just flesh out the ideas and finalize things before we recorded. We did about four takes of each song, and just picked one of those. That’s why the record sounds so unpolished and minimal, because that was the way I approached doing it. I didn’t want to overwork everything, the concepts of the songs. So I brought people in who knew their instruments really well, and just let the energy happen instead of controlling it so much.

“The Illuminator” feels like a centerpiece track that acts as the celestial body everything else orbits around. How did that song happen exactly?

That was one I just wrote in the studio, because I started hearing this rhythm on the flute. You probably hear it in the beginning of the song, I was just working on the theme of just the flute bringing that kind of rhythm and energy to the song. The words are from a book actually, that travel like a list of affirmations. Or like a prayer if you will. But it’s nice to feel the simplicity of summing up “the power” of certain things, revisiting words that we kind of glaze over in our daily vocabulary, and to give mind how they actually play in your existence. It felt nice to have that with this jam going on. It’s really one of my favorite tracks on the album in how it’s produced. It has this trinket sounding percussion and weird flutes and spoken word. I feel like it captures the intention of the record very concisely: to be free and open, and recognize what is happening.

Is that a mentality something that took a long time to hone, or something you’re inclined to naturally?

Definitely something I had to work towards over many years. I’ve been playing music my entire life, but I think the point I’m finally getting to now is just scratching the surface of what it might feel like to actually be seasoned in what you do as an artist. That took many years of continually playing music alone, exploring who I was at the time. I was studying a lot of psychology, therapy, and meditation, doing these types of practices to become more present, and a little more detached from my emotions, and how your emotions tend to rule your experience of your life. Or the things that I felt were inhibiting me from being as open as I could.

At this point, making this kind of music, I’m relinquishing control, whereas a lot of artists want to be in control of what they’re creating. It made total sense to be vulnerable and put out a record; I’ve gone through many phases of love-hate with this album already. Because it sounds not nearly like how I thought it was going to sound like. It’s also just like “it is what it is,” and that was actually the intention. So the music came out that way. It’s about having to live with that, and having to live with every single thing you put out into the world, and know that some of it might hit with people and some might not. I think one of the bigger teachings is that as an artist, you always need to be making what you’re feeling at that exact moment and be very present with it. And not sway from what you believe in.

Some music is more urgent in its transience, in a physical space. When you see these industry machineries collapse during the pandemic, do you think it will encourage artists to transmit from a more immediate place?

I honestly don’t know. I’m curious about what this pandemic is going to do for people’s current reality, because everyone is being forced to be very present. People also have to think about their survival. And that’s actually how I looked at making music. This is so naturally the mode that I’m in, to be really aware of this job I have. Because it’s not going to garner me a lot of financial support. Which I understand. But because of that, it becomes a survival technique. I don’t know if that makes sense?

Right now, people are forced into this state of being present, to reflect on themselves, I hope people will find more value in who they are. And in the power of creativity, and what it can do for you spiritually. These are things people are going to be able to explore and feel on a new level and what’s really important. I think it’s a big question that everybody is asking themselves: what is the most important thing to me in my life? Am I doing what’s most important to me? All of our lives are on the line, so am I in line with what I want to be doing? I hope that this situation will bring some level of awareness on being creative in the moment, and embracing that. I feel that’s what jazz musicians—and jazz music in general—is very much about.

Maybe the whole notion of recorded music messes with our heads in such a way that that sense of freedom you mentioned becomes distorted.

Part of me does feel like recorded music is weird. Promoting an album is in many ways odd because when you’re just creating what you love, it serves as the basis of what you do. A creative job is more comprehensive, something you’re meant to also experience physically and being in a space experiencing that as well, as opposed to just preserving it. That’s when I start to not like my music as much: when I record it. It’s just one way…and that happens to be the way people are going to sum it up in their minds. That’s how we view artists and musicians: through their recorded works, because that’s what we can keep playing over and over again. And attach ourselves to.

I don’t even know if a lot of jazz musicians liked making records, but they needed to make them to document their creative path. Like a photograph, for people who don’t immediately get to be in that experience. So I think recordings are really important, but also to show that it was just a capture of a moment in time, a fabric of your memories and experiences. These people were playing constantly. I think maybe what’s happening now, is that people make recordings and they sometimes play shows. [Laughs] And that’s just a different way of making music, which is fine. But I don’t know how people think about recording vs. performance vs. creating just for the sake of creating. It just feels like a very different time.

A live show is such a reciprocal thing: you feel this direct energy from the audience and that in turn affects the performance. Now there’s this stark intermediate, and it’s cool to realize you can still tap into a comparative energy.

Yeah, I felt closer to the listeners now that ever before. When we’re pairing down our realities we examine what is most important to us, by connecting on a more powerful, more condensed level. It makes me feel I’m not just making this music for nothing. I don’t make music just for myself. I consider it a way to connect with other people, because that’s really what people are about. We are able to connect with each other in all these different ways. And this is the way I chose to do it. It feels really good to receive a different type of feedback. Art almost feels irrelevant in [the U.S.], it’s not really valued in a way we can see. It’s just considered as another kind of currency. I don’t know if “currency” is even the right word. It’s just not really valued in a concrete way that makes you feel that what you’re doing actually has value. And it does…it’s the basis of recording the history of humanity. It’s a difficult time when the arts are being taken advantage of through these corporate lenses.

You were at a Vipassana meditation retreat for 10 days. Can you summarize that experience a bit?

A lot of people have had a lot of pain in their lives. I think that’s why musicians end up doing what they do. They have a lot of pain and they need to put it somewhere. But as I was saying earlier, your emotions can rule your reality, and I really wanted to detach from that. That specific style of meditation, that kind of retreat, is where you learn to become more observant and equanimous in your paradigm, your own existence and what is happening around you. I needed to learn in a very focused way: a lot of it was to deal with very intense anxiety, which is something a lot of musicians cope with. You know, the mental health problems that come with such an unstable job, that can really get to you psychologically and emotionally. This was a way for me to help regulate my emotions and my anxiety; the waves of depression that I endured. Again, a lot of it comes down to being present and to meditate. It helps you observe and understand whenever your mind wanders off, as opposed to letting that dictate who you are.

I read somewhere that Vipassana meditation is done in groups, but without interacting or even looking at people.

Yeah it was that style. I was in a women’s group of 60. They separate the men and women. You can’t look at, speak to or even touch anyone because you’re supposed to have your own individual experience and not interfere with someone else’s. You do that for 10 days and then meditate for 10 hours a day. You eat twice a day, a very minimal intake of food because you’re not exercising. The most you might do is walk around. The rest of the time is spent sitting on the floor feeling what’s going on in your body, which is an incredibly uncomfortable experience. But you get to some really crazy places with it.

I did the course at Vipassana Meditation Centre in Massachussetts, which was the first center built for these types of meditation techniques in the U.S. The way it works is—when you are a new student—you don’t pay until after the course. You can decide whether or not you want to pay. It’s all donation based. So if you want to, you can go for free. I liked that approach to helping other people because it makes it not feel like some type of cult. You have the option to give what you want and as something you can attach your own value to. You either have your own room or you share a room with another person. There’s an outdoor area where you can just walk around on trails, so there’s moments where you can be outside. It’s very simple and very secluded.

How did you feel when you got out of that?

Crazy. You feel high. The whole time I was there I felt like I was on mushrooms. There’s this base buzz going through your body, at least for me it was. You are regulating your nervous systems, your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, so when you’re flowing between those states—which you can regulate through meditation, something they call homeostasis—you can reach a homeostatic state. Because a lot of us are often sympathetic towards our default mode of doing, being or reacting. We interact with the world constantly in order to stand in our environments and get through our days safely and productively.

This means we don’t often feel a calm kind of base level. That’s what meditation is helping to do, to bring a healthy balance to these systems. In homeostasis you can flow more easily between the two systems in your body. So that’s where you can make the most clear decisions. That’s what presence is all about. When I came out of that experience it was so intense—almost like having panic attacks. Many times. It’s really crazy to be that present. By the time I was out I felt so good. You feel so good, but you’re also really spaced out, because a part of you drifts within the parasympathetic system, which associates more with your right brain activity.

It’s the mode you’re in when you’re making music. But if you’re always in this state, you’ll miss cues and “normal” things that get you through the day. So for example, I kept missing my stops on the train. If I listened to sounds around me, they sounded completely different. I didn’t have the same kind of reactions to music I dislike or like. Everything just really sounded different, and I experienced a lot of pleasure in just hearing things. It was something that completely changed in my body. You don’t want to drink anything, or do anything that would upset your system that could take you out of that state. Inevitably you fall back into the state you usually operate in. So a couple of weeks after getting out, I was meditating two hours a day, cause you’re like, “I can do this!” But then you realize it was to no avail, and so you went back to the usual way you experience, feel, and hear things.

So are you thinking about doing it on a regular basis, maybe annually?

Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to try and sign up for the summer again. It’s really beneficial to do these types of practices, that even if you don’t remember the experience, they can bring you back into the feeling you had. It’s a really good way to regulate yourself through stressful times. For musicians in particular that’s really helpful, because they are traveling all the time, and anxious or physically compromised health-wise, all these things.

Did you do the course before you made the record, or during the writing and recording process?

Before, almost exactly a year ago. I came out of it exactly a year and two days ago. It changed my life. I initially wanted to access that with “psychedelic medicines,” but it can be kind of risky sometimes. I just needed to understand how to get into that state on my own whenever I wanted. And that deeply informed the album.

Is that what we’re seeing in the choreography of the video for “Saturnine Night?”

That song alludes to an experience I had with my sister, exactly three years before my retreat. Almost exactly four years ago…I had this really intense psychedelic experience that led to a very dark kind of ego death. Not one that felt peaceful or liberating. Coming out of it, I was really scared. It took me three whole years, plus that meditation experience, to heal from that. It was crazy.

What do you mean by “ego death?”

My concept of myself was completely shattered. I had a loss of awareness of time, whatever reality we live in, to such an extent that I didn’t feel like I was inside my own body anymore. Or my identity. It was the first time I asked myself who or what I was. I had never asked myself that question before. It was a really magnified way of looking at your ego and how much it creates your current reality. And how much it can confine you. And when you actually stray from it, it can be horrifying. Because you don’t have any control.

There’s a song on the record that seems to allude to that feeling of losing control over yourself, of the rug being swept from under you. I am referring to “It Was Me.” You ask a lot of questions on that track.

Yeah. A lot of the record revolves around learning self-awareness. That song particularly represents the process of not feeling shame. Or being hard on yourself on having to go through the process of trying to be more self-aware, and knowing you were so ignorant before. And that you still are. That song is really about accepting the many versions of yourself. “Saturnine Night” is more about breaking with the concept of the self. Then there’s “Corsican Shores,” that song is about having to push through an extreme physical and emotional period and reconnect with a higher idea of what love is. The soul is the process, I’m a very psychological person and I really focus on self-work. But a lot of it boils down the acceptance that meditation teaches you. You can’t be perfect. You can’t immediately go from point A to point Z. If I want to live in this world, I need to find some semblance of peace, and that can only happen inside myself. I needed to change my paradigm of life and continue to examine and break with who I think I am.

For some reason, I always picture creativity as this screaming child that needs to be nurtured, especially when it comes to creative writings. It makes me wonder if you have a very specific way to describe your own creativity, or creativity in general.

Well, it’s very good for people to write, whether that’s with words or music. It’s a way to constantly exercise your functioning. I mean, I’m really into neuroscience right now, and specifically the communication between your left brain and your right brain. The right represents your creative side, all your sensations, whereas your left brain creates your reality, your narrative. So going into something like creative writing just for the sake of doing it—to satiate a part of yourself—is actually extremely important to processing subconscious or emotional situations that might not have context for you. You might never figure out what it really means, but there’s something there. The flow state happens pretty much exclusively in your right brain. We need to go into those places to shut off anxiety and worry about our daily routines as well and reconnect with sources outside of our left-brained functions, which regulates our self-identity. Since I was a kid, my parents always encouraged art and making stuff, so I’m lucky to have had that. That’s just been there: it always felt good, but kind of dark too, to be creative all the time. The fact remains that it’s extremely important. Whatever you get out of it is what you are supposed to get.

And this is what makes people so powerful: any person you admire has been doing just that. Even if it seems silly, it’s something you get to hold, something you need to process and place somewhere. And then, when it’s out of your mind, you get to have the next thing come in. To me, this is what creates these beaming, glowing inspiring people, people who bring something very positive into this world. And understand that through that processing they can connect to other people on a very deep level. I thought a lot about giving up music because it’s so hard sometimes, but there is always some kind of thing that goes like, “No you just gotta turn the page!” because something new is about to show up. Every time it feels like “ugh, this is very frustrating,” there’s this thing—I don’t know if it’s a voice or my body—to keep trying, because something new is about to happen. I have witnessed it happen many times for myself, even though it’s really difficult. I’m just happy for any person willing to dedicate their life to some kind of creative practice, and they get to unlock that part of themselves.

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