The Big Bang

Entering Comets on Fire's blazing parallel universes

When asked about the meaning of his oft-oblique lines, Kushner explains that while there aren't direct points he's trying to get across, there are definite underlying themes and inspirations, things like betrayal, revenge, and infidelity. Some of the enigma comes from his deliberately avoiding songwriting cliches. "A lot of times, I whittle things down, trying to stay away from certain words and subjects -- you don't need to have the word 'love' in any song ever again. And I'm really opposed to first-person kind of shit, like 'Oh, I'm so sad.' There are other ways to express that."

Acapulco Roughs was created at San Francisco's Closer Recording. Album producer Dylan Magierek, who is also a co-owner/engineer at Closer, was happy to hook up his buddy Kushner with cut-rate studio time, but the perfect well-tuned piano was imperative. Luckily, Closer had it. "I preferred this one old Baldwin that we have," recalls Magierek. "It's a saloon-style piano. I'd take the top off, open it up, and he just sounded great on that. And it kind of fits; when he's done gigs at places like the Rite Spot, that's the kind of piano they have. I think it was right up his alley."

Rising to the topic of pianos with a characteristic burst of enthusiasm, Kushner agrees. "That piano and me, we got along so well, we became friends. It was kind of funky, it had big wide keys, the action was really loose, it was just perfect. I've been playing around town at different bars, using the house pianos. It's funny, sometimes I lose the battle, sometimes we get along, sometimes I dominate."

Old soul Ethan Miller of Howlin' Rain.
Paul Trapani
Old soul Ethan Miller of Howlin' Rain.
Colossal Yes man Utrillo Kushner and his ivory friend.
Paul Trapani
Colossal Yes man Utrillo Kushner and his ivory friend.

Details

Howlin' Rain performs Thursday, June 1, at Amoeba at 6 p.m. (free) and on Saturday, June 3, at the Hemlock Tavern at 10 p.m. Admission is $8; call 923-0923 or visit www.hemlocktavern.com for more info.

Colossal Yes performs Sunday, June 11, at Fernwood Resort in Big Sur as part of the "Three Days of Summer" festival. Admission is $50 for all three days; call (831) 667-2422 or visit www.fernwoodbigsur.com for more info.

Six Organs of Admittance's new album, The Sun Awakens, is out June 13.

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So as long as there are pianos around, Kushner will keep banging out his celestial little ditties. In fact, he contributed two songs (with lyrics) to the upcoming Comets album, which is a first. As for the question of whether Colossal Yes will carry on long-term, the answer is, um, yes. "This band or whatever it is, it's from me," Kushner says with a toothy grin. "No one's ever going to tell me no on this. This is my yes. As long as I'm saying yes, this band is going to exist. I can always make up little piano songs, and it doesn't matter if people are paying attention or not." Mike Rowell

Soul Searching With Six Organs of Admittance

There are no easy words for the music that Ben Chasny makes. A simple thrum of his fingers across the guitar strings and your mood is arrestingly altered. His music is deep and hopeful, all-consuming but never stifling.

Since 1998, the Comets on Fire guitarist has released seven proper albums and an EP as Six Organs of Admittance, each one bringing him increasingly more recognition as a hero of introspective, psychedelic drone-folk. It has also elevated him as one of the most respected artists among his peers. "There's no intermediate between who he is and what you hear," says Al Cisneros, singer-bassist for meditative stoner-rock duo Om. "He's truly genuine and [his music] is just beautiful stuff. Each record seems to take you back to the source and a little bit to the edge each time."

On Chasny's latest and eighth disc, The Sun Awakens, the 31-year-old dives even deeper toward that source, soaking his acoustic plucking in waves of electric guitar as his singing comes through in a rougher, more sonorous tone. It is his most consistent, fully realized album to date and is likely to bring him even more recognition because of it. This, combined with his work for Comets on Fire, has made Chasny the rare artist who has achieved a balance of critical and artistic success.

The name Six Organs of Admittance has its origins in Buddhism. Similar to the Western thought that humans possess five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch), Buddhists include the mind (or soul) as the sixth. Chasny claims he took the name from Bill Porter's book on Buddhist and Taoist hermits, Road to Heaven, because he thought it sounded cool. But this moniker, and the fact that Chasny's music has its roots in Japanese folk, has lead many listeners to believe he is a holy man of sorts.

"It's total bullshit," Chasny says. "I'm not spiritual at all. It makes me gag just thinking about it. My meditation is done alone, with headphones on late at night and a glass of vodka in my hand."

Some may be shocked at the nihilist tone in his retort, especially for a guy whose music sounds like it was made after months of silent retreat. But Chasny will admit that some sort of higher power does inform his work.

"In all seriousness, yeah, of course there is a spiritual element to my music," he says. "But I think all art has to do with that, even the most nihilistic art. And it's too easy to tie my music in with something spiritual, so I try not to do it. The most intensely spiritual moments live are the most chaotic ones, the noisiest ones, the times when I have no idea who I am."

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