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How did the Desert Dwellers come to be? What was the most compelling element between the synergy of the crew that led you to coalesce forces?
TMT – Desert Dwellers was initially a downtempo side project of ours, as we made mostly tribal techno and psy trance in our early years producing together. After producing many Yoga DVD soundtracks and releasing them as albums under the Downtemple Dub series along with collaborators Rara Avis and Craid Kohland, we quickly saw that this sound had a great impact upon people and Desert Dwellers became our main project. Now we make 4 to the floor dance music on the side.
AMANI – Desert Dwellers really evolved to where it is today because of a network of many talented producers and musicians, with Santa Fe acting as the main hub for the majority of collaborations and studio sessions that the project has seen over the past 11 years. In the ‘90s, Treavor and I were making psychedelic tribal dance music under the name Amani vs Teapot, tek-house tracks that worked perfectly for the kind of desert gatherings we were a part of throughout the Southwest like Moontribe in California, and Cosmic Kidz in New Mexico. In 2002, Treavor and I made about 7 or so tribal ethnic downtempo tracks, and Desert Dwellers was formed around that album which we passed out as gifts at Burning Man that year. In 2005, those initial Desert Dwellers tracks caught the ears of fellow moontriber Rara Avis and Craig Kohland of Shaman’s Dream, who brought me into a great collaboration with them scoring music for a steady stream of yoga and wellness DVDs for many years. Rara and I first remixed the initial Desert Dwellers tracks from 2002 into DownTemple Dub Flames, and we also wrote DTD:Waves together in 2005 for Yoga instructor Duncan Wong. From that moment on Rara was a part of Desert Dwellers, and we produced several albums worth of music for yoga teachers such as Shiva Rea and many others. All this music was eventually re-worked into the DownTemple Dub series (White Swan) and Yoga Dub series (Yogi Tunes).
Even though these albums were made to accompany Yoga, we were still pushing the “edge” of what yoga music was at that time by bringing electronic music into it. We always knew it would be a blast to remix those organically spacious tracks with some more heavy beats for the dance floor because all the initial parts were already so good … so over the past 6 years, we have worked with many talented producers who have been able to offer amazing remixes of those tracks … resulting in a diverse collection of tracks from an international collective of producers. That’s really what the spirit of Desert Dwellers is all about … an ongoing collaboration with many artists all over the world.
You have a long tenured history of producing music from the early 2000s. Legends of the Moontribe gatherings in the Desert Dwellers still circulate far and wide. Can you speak about the origin of the Moontribe full moon gatherings? What has inspired the continual dedication to the project?
TMT – Actually that tenure goes back to 1993, and my first releases on vinyl were in 1994 under the name Solar Communications. I believe the reason Moontribe still exists and is still going strong at now 20 years as I type this is because it remained simple. Its still at its core a non-commercial private gathering held in various outdoor locations in California. If we had ever taken it to a commercial level and allowed it to become a huge thing, then perhaps it wouldn’t exist today or would definitely be much different.
AMANI – Yes, the origins of the Desert Dwellers project go back to the early nineties for me as well, but in New Mexico. In the 90s we had a production crew called Cosmic Kidz, and we would bring out the Moontribe DJs to play in our NM deserts quite often. This is actually how Treavor and I started making music together as Amani vs Teapot and eventually Desert Dwellers … he would stay longer to work in the studio when he would come play for NM events. It is amazing to see Moontribe still going strong after 20 years!! I can’t think of many other crews around the world who have been doing events consistently for that long.
What has fueled your decision to remain dedicated to traditional down~temple step roots and not be overly swayed by the highly popular dub-step draw?
TMT – Well actually we dabble in all sorts of genres. Our Spaces Between EP was what we consider a dubstep release, though not so like the more commercial dubstep you hear. There are many incarnations of each genre in “EDM” and we find something in most of them that we really enjoy. So we make all sorts of different styled tracks but of course in our own unique way.
AMANI – We have always been into many genres of electronic music besides downtempo, but one thing we usually don’t relate to is the mainstream music. What brings us together to make the music we make is the urge to take the listener on a journey to deep inner spaces, weather it’s on a yoga mat or on a crowded dancefloor. There are always similar themes no matter what the genre we are producing in. It is psychedelic, cerebral, and consciousness uplifting music that is designed to impart the listener with a detailed sonic terrain to rest their brainwaves on and go on a journey.
TMT – Critters is release of old tracks re-released and one that was never released. It’s more of a glitchy IDM type release as when we wrote the songs we were really into that sound. I’d say what listeners will hear is that the tracks aren’t new and fresh. Our latest new release is actually the single w/remixes of our track Far From Here. This is a throw back to old school mid tempo breaks days, with a lovely vocal we found on some sample cd many years ago. Our next original release is likely to be remixes of our track Seeing Things on Twisted Records.
AMANI – Re-releasing “Critters” was an easy way for us to compile some similar sounding tracks that were made from around 2005 to 2006. A couple of these tracks ended up on compilations on Native State records and Flow Records, and we thought it would be nice to put them all together since they had a similar sound to them. Around that time I was recording in the studio with my first music professor in Santa Fe, Kevin Zoernig … he played a lot of Whirlitzer electric piano on those tracks … and I was also into these kinda glitchy high percussive elements, which is where the name Critters came from. But fans should not expect anything new and fresh with this release … these are all 6 year old tracks. Our new productions are more like Seeing Things on Twisted Records, a more psychedelic sacred bass track that we are getting remixes soon from Kalya Scintilla, Kaminanda, and Temple Step Project. Our new DD album will also be going in this sort of direction, and we are going to go a bit higher in tempo as well.
Many visionaries regard the creation of art and music as a deeply sacred constitution. Do you individually or collectively honor any spiritual practices that assist you in composing or performing? How has music influenced your spirituality and vice versa?
TMT – For me music is my practice of anything I’d really consider to be spiritual. I am highest when I’m in a serious ecstatic dance, and music gives me that feeling you’d hear many describing in the various workshops that go on at many festivals these days.
AMANI – Yes, for me my musical and spiritual paths have always been inter-woven together as one path. I was born to a musical father who was a multi instrumentalist and who to this very day still has a collection of instruments literally from all over the world, and to a Buddhist mother who has spent the past 30 years putting her spiritual practices of compassion and kindness into the world as a personal shamanic healer. So growing up in Santa Fe with these kind of parents resulted in a lot of very unique experiences for me at an early age, like traveling to many foreign lands and being exposed to a wide gamut of philosophies and cultures. I even wrote a bunch of shamanic music for my mom’s healing work called Liquid Bloom. That is why these threads of the ancient and future have always been themes that ran through my work whether as a music producer or as a visionary artist.
When I got to college in the mid 90s, I met some life changing people who helped lay the foundation for who I am today. In school I was being exposed to composition, theory, computer music, multi media production, field and nature recording, world music ensembles, and I also met a family of musicians and dancers who were deep into the classical lineages of East India, and from them I was exposed to Indian music and yoga, and also started studying with an auspicious lineage master of Tibetan meditation … I have been learning from him since 1996 and continue to meditate and practice every morning that I can … sometimes it’s hard with all the travel!
The reason I practice Tibetan Buddhism is to feel a sense of grounded wellness throughout my day, and to have interactions with people from a place of altruism. It develops a deep sense of compassion for others, and when I am meditating it is easy to imagine the virtue of my master’s lineage radiating through all that I do and create in that day, into the music I make, and spreading to all sentient beings and helping them find peace in their day when they hear that music. So you can see what I mean that my spiritual and music paths are really just one path at this point.
Many artists we have interviewed while deep in the throes of creating, feel as if they are transported by the movement of the practice into amplified states of awareness. Have you experienced a similar empathic connection with the world around you while producing? Can you share with us the nature of the phenomenon in your creative process?
TMT – For me personally I look at each song and try to envision when, where and why the song would be played, be it at a festival or in someones car or house. Is the song to make people feel uplifted in a sunrise moment, is the song nice to lie down at home and listen to, or is it an intense heavy dance track? I don’t go too much deeper than that in my creative process as I generally don’t want to over think about it.
AMANI – In terms of amplified states of awareness, usually those are not as common for me while actually in the studio making music because the computer is usually a pretty logical realm most of the time. I definitely feel many amplified states of awareness when we are performing a show, or when I pick up the didgeridoo. There are certain projects I have produced like the Liquid Bloom trance music, where I have done ceremony and eaten a small amount of san pedro before I started on the creative process. It was a perfect fit in terms of the music we were working on and ended up being multi dimensional for sure … but to be honest the computer is the last thing you want to be operating while taking a journey like that.
TMT – I suppose just the feeling of joy over creating something that sounds great to my ears can create an ecstatic experience, but it could also be called extreme enjoyment.
AMANI – One thing I often feel while in the creative process is a total acceptance of being “in the moment” without past and future … similar to what people experience who are into extreme sports, deep meditation, or making love … the creative experience is an experience that gives you a nice dopamine rush to your brain, and is therefore very satisfactory and addicting.
I am also grateful everyday that there is a large amount of people who utilize this music in their daily lives, and daily spiritual practices … It has become a sonic staple in their sacred pursuits … so I am constantly aware that my own creative pursuits can be of benefit to so many people. When I am making music, I weave my meditation practice into the creative process, and have bodhicitta motivation.
While performing, who plays what role and how do the technologies communicate in synergy with the individual moves you’re making? Do you ever experience a kind of shared mind space while playing?
TMT – We use a combination of DJing and Live Remixing in our current incarnation of our show. Both of us are long time DJs and we feel that a DJ style set works very well on the dance floor compared to just playing our tracks thru beginning to end. Right now I am using Traktor with an S4 mixer and Amani uses Ableton Live with several controllers. We sync them together and I do most of the set structure like a DJ while adding effects and loops, and Amani is adding loads of live samples, loops, effects and essentially turning the set into one giant remix of many of our tracks. He adds a lot of older vocal samples and pieces of our older songs so we can create that nostalgia effect for long time fans, but without actually playing old dated sounding tracks.
AMANI – yep, TMT explained the gear set up right now. It is quite fun to hear a familiar vocal recording or lead instrument from an older track woven into a newer sounding track, and because the computers are synced together we are able to really add some trippy effects in the moment … I think the response we have been getting from people is that the live set really captures and holds their attention, and transports them into psychedelic and fractal-geometric realms. Treavor and I have been making music together for so long now that we definitely are sharing a creative mind space when we perform at shows, or produce music together in the studio … a sort of mind-meld or “uni-brain” as Rara and I used to call it.
TMT – The idea of combining a visual aspect to our live show is very intriguing and as time goes on I think this is the thing that will really get us excited. Ancient influences? I don’t find any personally, not sure how to answer that question.
AMANI – I just ordered myself a Livid Ohm 64 midi controller, and that looks exciting. Eventually having a visual component at our shows will be really important, as our music is so “visual” already, we really need the right visual elements to reinforce the sonic terrains. In terms of ancient influences, I think just the ability to have an international tribe of like-minded individuals in a little rectangle box is such a game changer. We live in a world that is so inter-connected now, and we form virtual networks no longer dependent on immediate location. Evolution and the increasing novelty of information is now at a complete vertical incline. It’s literally off the charts these days in terms of technology and innovation. It is challenging to really keep up with the progress. It’s a unique time to be alive, and I am sure we are going to see some unbelievable things. I am also fascinated with 3D printing technology.
Your music forms an audio bridge between the organic elements of a tribal earth and the electronic energies of the cosmic sky, creating a toroidal field of resonance felt within the body.. Do you intentionally weave your sonic sutras as a form of healing? How does sound heal/awaken the body?
TMT – Well thank you! Both Amani and I have had a deep love for all types of ethnic music and always loved hearing tribal sounds in electronic music. For me it started in 92 hearing DJs have cool chants in their set, and then Eat Static, Banco De Gaia and the Planet Dog label hit the scene. Then I was hooked, and have used tribal elements in my music since I started really. My first ever release on vinyl in 94 has chants and tribal vibes galore. The many Yoga music releases we have are clearly made with healing intentions, and since I consider dancing to be extremely healing then yes I’d say we have that intention with all of our music.
AMANI – I guess because my parents were a musician and a healer, it would make sense that I would naturally weave these aspects of myself together in what I create, usually without me even being aware of it probably. I have always been fascinated with ancient and organic sounds. One thing I have also enjoyed doing is capturing natural and atmospheric sounds with a field recorder. These organic sounds always ground a piece of music into the vibrations of the world around us, and they are fun to weave in and out of tracks or to manipulate them into other worldly soundscapes with some sound design. In college I studied a lot of tribal percussion and digeridoo as well, and at the same time I was getting to know the sampler, synthesizers, and drum machines … so there were a lot of interesting experiments I was doing back then to bridge the ancient and future in experimental ways because of the juxtaposition and variety of my college classes. My senior thesis partly consisted of an ethnic-dub-downtempo-electronic album called Biodiversity, an album that sort of paved the way for the Desert Dwellers project actually.
Another factor that I have been blessed with during this entire musical journey is to be in the company of many friends in Santa Fe who are masterful musicians of ancient sound lineages. Even on Biodiversity (1996-98) I was already working with some of the core East Indian musicians that carried over to the Desert Dwellers project. Over the years we have worked with so many masterful musicians who have all contributed to the collective sound, including Pandit Birju Maharaj, Yamuna Wali, Steve Landsberg, Sarah West, Michael Kott, Ricardin, Meagan Chandler, Nicolle Jensen, Domonique Breaux, and many others. I have always been fascinated with the many diverse forms that music has taken throughout humanity … and that a lot of music has a natural healing quality to it, for an equally diverse number of reasons. Perhaps the most common reason is that music puts the listener in the present moment, allowing them to quiet their minds, and go on a journey away from reality … music has the power to communicate an emotional quality equally between different kinds of people … it transcends language, boundaries and borders and speaks directly to the inner landscapes in each of us.
Thank you deeply for being bold and coming forth with these sacred sonic offerings. What events and offerings from the Desert Dwellers can we look forward to in the near future?
TMT – You’re welcome! In the very near future the many remixes we’ve been doing over the past year will find there way to the public. We’ve remixed some amazing artists such as Bird Of Prey, Banco De Gaia, Kaya Project and Temple Step Project among others. Now that we’re finishing up the last of the remix work we will be going full throttle on a new DD album and likely many singles/EPs too. So there will be lots of lots of new music available pretty much every month leading up to a new album in early 2014
AMANI – The greatest thing right now is that Treavor and I are sharing a music studio in Santa Fe in between our touring … so a lot of work will be able to be done on the new sacred psy bass album and many other projects as well. I am also excited that we are working with Black Swan Sounds on compiling an album of various Desert Dwellers remixes for release later in fall of this year … with some un-released remixes on there … and Justin Totemical is working on the artwork for it.
Can you share some words with young aspiring artists who seeking to transform their dream into a healthy and sustainable lifestyle?
TMT – Its all about focus and dedication. If you really want it, you must put those two elements together and make it happen. Of course many sacrifices must be made too, like perhaps being less of a social butterfly and spending more of your time in the studio. Also don’t be afraid to share your music with people, offer it for free or whatever it takes to get people to take a listen. People like to see how musicians evolve so make sure to share that with people.
AMANI – Try collaborating with others, when it works for you. Be unique in the vision of your sound, but remain accessible as well. Have extreme focus and diligence and strong self-drive and work ethic … try to be as prolific as possible and work to get tracks completed and move onto the next creative inspiration. Be inspired by the diversity of music out there and try experimenting with genres you are not accustomed to producing. Find as many avenues to get your music out there such as remixing other well known artists … and making some of your music free is a good way to get more exposure when you are starting off.