Tell me about the year you’ve had so far?
I’m kind of always touring. My philosophy behind touring has been to do smaller runs of shows but keep playing constantly. So, for the last three and a half years, I’ve played more than 300 shows. But it’s never like six months on the road constantly. It’s two weeks or four weeks. I think the longest I’ve done is six weeks, and then I’ll take four weeks off. I like doing special things like the David Lynch festival. I just don’t see the value in longer [tours] that exhaust you and tire you out, and I want to make sure every performance has something fresh about it. I’m also starting to show new songs as I’m getting closer to finishing my second record for Rhye.
Are you going to record with Robin [Hannibal] in Denmark, too?
He’s actually not involved anymore. He’s not been involved in Rhye for a long time! I just never did any press about it. He was involved only in the very first stages, but he can’t play any instruments onstage and is really his own kind of individual. I’ve been pretty obscure about a lot of stuff. I just don’t always feel like I need to tell every little thing about what’s going on. People keep thinking that he was the keyboardist on stage with me, but he’s not; it’s this guy named Ben Schwier who’s a brilliant piano player.
Well, I’m glad you’re opening up now, and while it isn’t necessarily something you’d want to divulge, it’s best to have the truth out there. Is the new record finished?
Well, it’s almost finished, and usually from the point where it gets finished to release takes about six months. So, it’ll be next year but done very soon.
Do you feel like you’re still maintaining the essence of Rhye and the sounds that you’ve been exploring for a few years?
I started doing songs a little more earthy in a lot of ways. Instead of a lot of the synth sounds, I started using a Hammond E-3 onstage, which is a 50-year-old organ. It just sounded so good live, so it informed a lot of the sound on the new record.
But I feel like that’s your way as an artist, to create space within your sounds. Were you inspired by certain things that set you off this year while you were writing it, or is this all material just milling in the back of your mind?
I write everything out of personal experience. I can’t really write fictionally or by design; I just write about things that are happening. I think the biggest thing is, one: I had a pretty heavy breakup, and that’s informed a lot of songs on the record. The other thing is I was in a weird legal and contractual issue that was preventing me from releasing a second Rhye record, so I had to buy out the label that was preventing that song from coming out.
You said a little while ago that there’s a lot of mystery around you, but then you lay everything out there in your music!
[Laughs.] Yeah. I think maybe that’s why I’m a little bit more closed off with my public persona. Maybe that’s why there’s not a lot of photos of me online, because I’m extremely honest in the music. Like, maybe I just feel like that’s enough. The only difficulty is that sometimes certain songs are hard to play live depending on things that are happening in my life.
How did you get involved with David Lynch’s festival?
He called my manager, and I was like, “OK, we have to do this!” I really like him. I don’t practice transcendental meditation, but I’ve always been interested and intrigued by it, so it just kind of felt like the right natural draw. Sometimes things like that happen in my life. If I’m interested in something, it somehow comes to me in a really intense way where I can’t ignore it. It’s really strange, because Mulholland Drive was a huge film for me. I live right by where they filmed a lot of it, so it’s always been in my head, and I watched it again right after I moved to L.A. There’s all this weird mystery that keeps happening to me in L.A., and I don’t know how they can all be so connected.
Really? Like what?
Here’s a really interesting one that I won’t go too deep into. I’m in Japan and I see this woman walking with a suitcase, and it’s just ridiculous, so I take note of it. She’s Asian, so I don’t know for sure she’s not Japanese or something. Then we play this concert, and afterwards I go for sushi, and I’m sitting at this weird, cool sushi place, and the same woman is sitting right behind me, so I feel compelled to say something about her luggage. I start talking to her, and she’s from L.A., and we just have this really nice conversation. That’s it. Just a couple of weeks ago, I start hanging out with this girl Genevieve for this dinner party. I go to her house, and then the woman who owns this house is not there. I meet her last night for the first time, and the woman who owns the house is the woman I’d met at the sushi place. Turns out she owns these motels around California.
That’s nuts! People enter your life for definitive reasons, so there has to be something you’re going to learn. But you mentioned transcendental meditation earlier. Do you think that your music could be considered meditative? Or do you find the creative process meditative?
I’ve often said that my personal approach to music is meditation for me. It roots me and keeps me sane because I’ve got this constant exploration into something other than myself. I think where it aligns very much with what David Lynch is trying to do with this festival is, I think that my whole goal with music is to be healing for an individual in an emotional way. I’ve had this amazing collection of letters from people about how music helped people get through tough times, from deaths in families, to breakups, to unions, to marriages, to having children. It’s very sweet and gives me this extra push.
That sort of meditation within your music helps people who are suffering because there’s a sense of escapism in your music. I hate that word because it always …
… has a negative connotation.
Yes, and this festival is inspired by the work and mind of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and with all the things that you’ve gone through that can really uproot a person. When you feel a bit disconnected from the world, is there a meditative process that you can do when you’re on the road or when you have a momentary panic?
It’s really strange because when I talk to people about the way they deal with stress, I might be a little bit weird because I just don’t really get that stressed out. A year ago I got hit in the head in this altercation, got nine staples in my head, and had to fly to Lithuania. I wound up wearing a bandanna the whole time because I had staples in my head. I felt weird having to wear a bandanna because it’s not my normal look [Laughs]. I just try to stay really present, and when something bad happens to me, I think: “There’s probably a reason for it in some weird way, and I just don’t understand it.”
You are an alien! I’m 98% emotion most of the time, so things don’t necessarily stress me out — they throw me off balance. That’s an amazing ability you have.
Here’s a synchronicity. You just called me an alien, right?
[Laughs.] Well, I call myself an alien all the time, so I thought it would be alright.
It happens to me all the time, too! I had this old couple yesterday, around 75 and 80, saw me park and struck up a conversation about buying a donut, and somehow the conversation came around to how I’m probably an alien. But it happens to me every day.
And David Lynch is known for blending absurdity with the absolute mundane aspect of life. Do you see life at those two extremes?
Well, when I was first writing “You Make Me Feel”, I was extremely interested in David Lynch’s films because I had this inkling that there was more to life than this mesh that we’re just thrown upon. That’s why synchronicity is so interesting to talk about. Haruki Murakami and Lynch occupy the same space for me. They support my feeling that there’s this weird other way of looking at the world, and both of them are interested in how other worlds can exist at the same time as your world. If you look at it, it runs through a lot of his films: Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway. There’s a line in “You Make Me Feel” on my first record that’s like, “We’re two cave creatures content in our own little world.” That we can punch these holes in time. I’m referencing ideas from both of them in that moment. If you open your eyes at the mundane, it’s not even mundane.
But that forms the whole conversation about stress and meditation, how it’s just a way of looking at things and seeing the bigger picture. You mention Murakami and I remember that quote from Kafka on the Shore where he says that silence is something that you can hear loudly.
There’s this Persian proverb that I will not quote verbatim, but it’s about a bug in the rug. It’s about a bug that’s caught in the yarn of the most beautiful rug that’s ever been woven in Iran, and the tragedy of it is that the bug doesn’t understand that it’s lost in all this beauty. It always rings out in my head whenever something feels stressful. Do you remember that scene in Lost Highway when the devil appears? You have to have courage in your own art to be like, “It’s OK to bring people to another world.” Why don’t we make every song a world that people can occupy for three to five minutes?
So, if this were an alternate world, who would play you in one of David Lynch’s films?
[Laughs.] I’ll answer it like this: I think it’d be unbelievable if Cillian Murphy played me in something that David Lynch directed. I’ve had kids come up to me after Batman came out and ask, “Did you play Scarecrow?”
I hope you said yes! You need to cash in on this. You’re too good of a person.
I didn’t lie. I was just like, “Aww, no.” I can’t lie to kids.
Do you feel like you need to learn more about meditation?
Oddly, I was before. That’s what was weird about it. That’s what I’m talking about when I say that sometimes when I’m interested in something, it comes to me. In a grand way. The only part I’m controlling is what I’m going to perform. Everything else that’s around the whole event, I’m leaving open to chance.
I do hope you talk to a lot of people about your approach to stress. I know my partner deals with stress in the most calm way. I don’t know how he does it. He just steps out of it, and I’m always amazed and in awe.
I talk to a lot of people about that, but I always talk to a lot of musicians about how to design touring to keep it not stressful. One of my theories is that you have to inject magical moments in touring so that everyone’s morale is high. You get to have replenishing moments with your energy. That’s how you get your stress down.
But there’s that whole “busy trap.” People are worried about what it will look like if they just stop for a moment.
Then don’t tell anyone. Never tell anyone! [Laughs.] I just book it in. What happens is maybe you make a little less money, but you have to have these magical, beautiful experiences in life.