Matus, Jim (Paranoise) (Part 1) (August 2002)


The Transcending Power Of Progressive World Music: An Interview With Paranoise's Jim Matus (part 1)

This is the first of two interviews that originally appeared at Progfreaks.com, this one dates from August 2001.

Paranoise - Ishq For those who don't have a clue as to what Paranoise is: you're really missing out on something. Not only has the band single-handedly created what has lately been called "progressive world music," but the intensely hypnotical music of Jim Matus and his fellow band members has slowly but surely gained the attention of people worldwide, to the point that they have already opened for prog rock giants Transatlantic once. The music, however, is only half the story, with the band engaging in a strong left-wing lyrical stance that has, if anything, raised some favorable eyebrows its way. After having listened to the band's third album (and first in the group's current direction), Private Power, yours truly finally felt able to interview Paranoise mastermind Matus and try to dig into his mind for the essence of the band's music and philosophy.

Marcelo Silveyra: Let's start off with a fairly obvious question. If I'm not mistaken, you released two extremely radical albums with Paranoise more than a while ago, those albums being Constant Fear (1988) and Start A New Race (1992) and featuring four saxophones, a wild singer (the sadly defunct Miguel Ortiz), and a hardcore punk/jazz/prog style. Then you played with progressive punk band Giant Metal Insect and alternative pop group Mr. Right. I take it you were already heavily into world music sometime during all that musical activity, so why didn't you decide to use it as an element of your compositions before? And, more curiously, how does one manage to write progressive punk?

Jim Matus: I've been fascinated with world music since the 60's when I first heard Ravi Shankar (thanks to George Harrison). When I discovered John Coltrane, and realized that he was using African rhythms and modes, it seemed like a natural idea to blend east and west. Not to mention Mahavishnu. I guess the reason I waited so long to incorporate it into my own thing was that I needed to develop a vision that was original and not derivative. I experimented with African percussion on the first two albums, but most of the tunes were not suited for anything but balls-to-the-wall guitar, bass and drums. All the time I was writing punk/jazz and atonal prog, I was listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Hamza El Din, The Bulgarian Women's Chorus, Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti, Jajouka etc. The turning point was Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for The Last Temptation Of Christ. This gave me a tidal wave of ideas and marked the beginning of a new phase for me. The first experiment was working with some loops from the Master Musicians of Jajouka. That became the first cut on Private Power, and permanently changed the sound of the band to what I would call progressive world music. I dropped all the saxophones and added Rohan Gregory on violin, who is an expert on Middle Eastern and Gypsy music. Progressive punk is just smart punk, or progressive rock with a bad attitude (scary stuff indeed!).

MS: Another interesting aspect of your musical education is the fact that you studied two years at Berklee, got to take lessons from Pat Metheny there, and later on took lessons from John Scofield as well. And your bassist, Bob Laramie, took lessons with Michael Manring. Yet there is very little jazz in Paranoise, apart from the obvious ability to come up with some extremely cool improvisations. Is there any other way that all the jazz surroundings show up in Paranoise's musical attitude?

JM: Although I no longer play any straight-ahead jazz, the stuff I learned from Metheny and Scofield stayed with me on a very deep level. Those guys are musical geniuses and have revolutionized guitar playing. I remember sitting down to my first lesson with Metheny and noticing that he was a completely natural musician whose mind and fingers were united in one smooth process and that he was able to instantly convert his emotions into logical and compelling music. This is what we all strive for, and he had it down when he was 19 years old. No matter what kind of music I play, I always go back to the jazz approach to improvisation, which I think is to create spontaneous melodies over changes, modes or whatever, in a way that is connected to your "non-mind." Charlie Parker said, "learn everything and then forget it and play." Compositionally, I also learned a lot from studying the early music of Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter (Miles, Weather Report). Much of what I do in reharmonizing the Paranoise loops traces back to things I picked up in The Real Book. (The Berklee Bible)

MS: Mentioning famous players and their relationship to Paranoise, Rohan Gregory [Paranoise's violin player] has played with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, as well as at the same concert as Iztahk Perlman. Does that kind of non-world music relationships rub off on you as much as, say, the influence of King Crimson and King's X?

JM: Rohan is a great musician. I've learned a lot about Middle Eastern forms and scales from him. But he also is classically trained and has his own group, The Arden String Quartet, so he keeps me honest as far as making music that is "correct." Some of what Page and Plant were doing in combining Egyptian strings and percussion was influential on me. I'm a Zep fan from their first album, which I used to listen to in High School on LSD. That will burn it into your subconscious fairly permanently. The first King Crimson album is another archetypal psychedelic memory for me. Needless to say, Fripp is a genius and I've always been in awe of him and his ability to grow, innovate and incorporate new influences into his bands while staying true to his vision. The best move he ever made was to add Adrian Belew to the band. I'm glad you brought up King's X. I'm a huge fan. Is it my imagination or are they not the most underrated band of all time? [It's not your imagination, they are! - MS] It seems as though only other musicians know about them outside their cult following. Anthony Jackson told me about them back in '88. I was always into weird drop tunings, but Ty Tabor's style is unique, and I learned something about how to make things roar and groove at the same time from him.

MS: Considering that your music is, so to speak, "progressive world music," I guess it'd be convenient to speak a little bit about the ethnic influences that Paranoise features. I was particularly interested in your use of Moroccan music samples, as I had the chance to visit Fez and Marrakesh last December and one of the things that most impressed me was the music. Not only was it very trance-like, but it felt very visceral and immediate, while retaining some sort of primal intimacy. All in all, it was very intense and absorbing. When I got to listen to Private Power, especially tracks like "Structural Adjustment," it amazed me how you managed to retain all those characteristics and yet give them a heavy prog edge. Do you feel a, so to speak, "spiritual connection" between the samples you use and your own musical ideas? How does it feel to have moved from a radically extreme complexity to an embracing of musical trance?

JM: Moroccan music is trance music. It is intended to transport the players and the listeners to a higher place where otherworldly things are normal, like communication with spirits and healing the physical body. Gnawa music of Morocco is over a thousand years old and is primarily for healing and worship, although it has been commercialized lately (by us, too!). The particular sample we used on "Structural Adjustment" is from one of the oldest songs, "Youmala," a kind of "classic" that originated in Central Africa and migrated up with the people who were taken as slaves. The slaves kept these songs alive and with it their spirituality and connection with this higher reality. In "Evil Vs Evil," we used a sample from Jajouka. This particular form of music from the mountains goes back to the time of the early Greeks and represents ancient rituals of the "Rites Of Pan." This is music that doesn't kid around. Demons are called up, spirits are flying around, people go into wild dancing fits, and in its purest form, this is powerful stuff. William Burroughs and Brion Gysin wrote about it in the 50's and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones recorded some of it in the early 70's. I tried to capture just a small piece of this magic and translate it to rock and roll. I still get chills sometimes when we play that song; there's something in there! To me, the main thing missing from Western music is this unexplainable transcendent quality. Modern Western composers have managed to create unbelievable complexities of harmony and structure but have all but forgotten about the original intention of music, which was to connect us with the universal energy that lives inside this beautiful planet. The goal of any composer should be to create novelty that brings about familiarity.

MS: Another thing that happened when I was in Morocco is that I got to speak with a senior Uruguayan tourist who did nothing but complain about "that noise not being music" and how "people should listen to real music like tango instead." That got me doubly upset. First, because I thought he'd say something like Mozart or Duke Ellington instead of tango. Second, because I dug the music. How does it feel to know people can react in such a close-minded and ignorant manner to the kind of music you're making? Do you feel as if younger people can relate to Paranoise more due to the influence from, say, electronic trance music?

JM: I've been making unpopular music my whole life. I'm used to dealing with closed minds. I just ignore the bad reviews (which are few) and look to the smart people whom I respect for feedback. I'm finding that people of all ages and degrees of musical sophistication like Paranoise if they give it an honest listen. I believe in the common sense of the average person. They will know the difference between shit and shinola if you give them a chance. I honestly haven't seen connection yet between ravers and Paranoise fans. This is an interesting question though. If they could ween themselves from that 160 BPM drum machine, maybe they'd listen.

MS: Third question about the ethnic music element of Paranoise. When I was listening to Private Power, I was able to pick up on a lot of African / Middle Eastern / Asian influences, but I found very little, if any, from European/American ethnic music. I read that you're going to include some stuff from Bulgaria in your next album, so of course I'm dying to hear that, but I was wondering how much you'd be willing to explore those types of folkloric expressions (Moravian, Hungarian, South American, etc.) as well...

JM: On the new album, we use samples from the Bulgarian Women's Chorus in a pro-legalization song that also uses the voice of Terrence McKenna (the mushroom guru). We also combined (live in the studio) the Yale Women's Slavic Chorus with a sample of a Moroccan woman singer, and used Galen Brandt, a Slavic and ethnic vocalist, on a few other tracks. I'm also working on combining a Kenyan vocal sample with Galen singing a traditional Hungarian song for the upcoming record. I've been listening to a lot of Swedish music lately (Vasen, Garmarna, Hedningarna, Hoven Droven), so the European/Nordic influence is coming, I'm just not sure how it will crop up. I've always been into Celtic music, but so much is already happening with that genre, I think I'll just listen and learn for now. I'm not as familiar with South American music except for Peruvian pan pipes and charangos, and Argentinean tangos. I want to get more into the music of the ancient tribes of the rain forests. There aren't too many recordings available and those people are disappearing fast.

MS: Now, before we move on into the philosphy behind Paranoise and your political views, I'd like to ask something regarding the progressive rock scene in general. There seems to be a lot of new activity in there lately, and part of it has been bringing completely new elements into the mix, a prime example of which Paranoise would be. Do you feel as if this revitalization has been merely a coincidence or has there been a common set of factors behind it all?

JM: I'm going to take your word that there is a revitalization in progressive rock. I remember the 70's when Yes, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin all had top 40 hits and the average teenager knew who King Crimson and Mahavishnu were. Compared to then, I'd say we're far from the mark. However there is now a much more focused and specialized scene in prog that makes it relatively easy for new artists to at least get heard and reviewed via the Internet. That doesn't translate into meaningful record sales for most artists though. Peter Gabriel seems to be the only prog artist with "hit songs." That doesn't bother me too much. I don't expect Paranoise to win a Grammy, but I do hope to reach as many people as I can with our take on world music, and possibly nudge the needle slightly to the left a bit.

MS: Ok, now let's start with the "more serious" factor of Paranoise's music: the political viewpoint. I agree that the world has got to start changing if we don't want to end up being totally controlled by government/media/corporation entities or heading into environmental destruction, but what I wanted to ask is how much of all the recent activity against the status quo has really been a conscious activity instead of just an excuse to engage in mindless violence. I somehow believe that a lot of the people who listen to Rage Against The Machine or go to political demonstrations every time there's a G8, World Trade Organization or similar organization summit are just there for the aggressiveness or violence that can take place, and that this idiocy is somehow defacing what are very noble intentions. Do you feel that this attitude has to change as well? Or that it even exists?

JM: From what we're shown in the mainstream media, it looks as if all those kids breaking windows and throwing stones are all there is. It makes for great TV. And if you listen to the pundits who cover it, they haven't got a clue as to why these kids are so angry, since globalization is obviously such a wonderful thing for us all. So the conclusion would have to be that it's just a fad or that they're just bored or misguided. A completely different picture emerges from the alternative press where you actually get to hear what these people are saying as they are allowed to explain themselves. I believe that most of the violence is committed by a relatively small faction of hardcore Anarchists, Nazis and other fringe elements, not to mention government agents placed there undercover as they have been since the beginning of the CIA. The vast majority of the protesters are peaceful, well informed, and organized. I'm actually very impressed with what I believe is a world movement that is making gradual progress toward stopping this global force of VAST UNACCOUNTABLE PRIVATE POWER. Maybe a few are sucked into violence by the bad guys, but there's a big difference between a RATM concert and a place like Genoa, where the city is under marshal law.

MS: Talking about rash impulses, I've read a couple of times how you talk about the natural connection with something more transcendental that tribal shamans achieve through the use of peyote and mushrooms. Yet it seems that every time Western culture interacts with this sort of custom, it misinterprets and abuses them, as can be seen in the way a lot of "white Western kids" end up screwing their own systems up by abusing these substances in ways that the shamans would have never dreamed of. Do you think this "cultural barbarism" is inherent to Western culture, or is it just something that people gleefully or unconsciously accept because of it being an easier way?

JM: I agree that most kids who use psychedelics are probably just out for a good time. This is because basic information about these wonderful plants is hard to find and the history of shamanism is never discussed in mainstream culture. We definitely are a violent and barbarous civilization and we're going to abuse everything; it's in our blood. But there's also a basic natural spiritualism in our blood that can be tapped through the use of mushrooms, etc., and we can use them responsibly with just a little education. Of course the education that's given is: drugs are bad, period, take them and you go to jail for a long time. So kids are forced into an outlaw mentality that produces bad judgments and stupid behavior.

MS: Another problem I find with the fight against control and manipulation from massive organizations is that there are a lot of people with good intentions who don't take the time to inform themselves and just take up any cause they find. An example in Mexico would be regarding the EZLN (National Liberation Zapatista Army), where these so-called "revolutionaries" have also killed or abused Indians from Chiapas because they refuse to take part in their military exploits. That's not all, however. Other Indian associations in Mexico are irate because of the EZLN's activities, since the latter has ignored their suggestions completely; Guatemalan activist Rigoberta Menchú has been creating tons of controversy here while the situation for Indians in her home country is infinitely worse; European countries and the USA are subjected to an incredible amount of misinformation in favor of the EZLN, as I have been able to see myself; and I've even had friends who've come back completely disappointed after going to Chiapas and believing they would really help our native inhabitants, only to discover a bunch of European kids with guns who don't help the local Indians at all. The whole affair is more than a bit murky, and yet people scream in favor of the EZLN all the time without even analyzing all these factors. Isn't it dangerous when people act out of ignorance, even if it's with the best of intentions?

JM: I'm not as well informed as you about the Chiapas situation. I can only speak about NAFTA. As far as I know, the EZLN was formed in response to this treaty as well as to the exploitation of the indigenous people by the Mexican government. NAFTA is a bad deal for the people and the environment of Mexico and the U.S., and a great deal for the corporations in both countries. It was forced upon us virtually in secret and has had a demonstrably negative effect. I'm against violence and to put it simplistically, any time you use violence against violence you become part of the problem, so all these thrill seeker/mercenary types are going to gravitate to and corrupt an otherwise noble cause. Gandhi and Martin Luther King had better ideas of how to resist the forces of imperialism and racism. As far as what we hear about the situation in the U.S. media, we don't hear much of anything in the mainstream, and what we do hear is usually slanted against the EZLN. The alternative press makes them into heroes, and so the truth is somewhere in between. This is why you have to look at the whole range of news sources and draw your own conclusions.

MS: Another related question before I move into my anti-right perspective. After all, I think it's important for everyone to stop for a second and realize what they're doing and how that can be improved in order to direct the "fight" more accordingly. I've come to the belief that not only are people willing to take causes without making an effort of informing themselves, but also that people are willing to call anything that's "anti-system" heroic. My example would be hackers, some of which are of course true fighters against oppressive multinational corporations, but another part of which is also nothing more than petty criminals who hack other individuals' or organizations' systems for no reason other than having a little bit of destructive fun. How to distinguish between the real fighters and the people who are just going along for the ride? Is there any way to distinguish between them at all?

JM: Obviously, it's only small-minded insecure egotistical people just wanting to be cool who will take up a cause without informing themselves first. Mostly, the people you talk about are young, and are probably outcasts, and just want to rebel, have lots of tattoos and weird haircuts and impress their friends. The only way to distinguish the altruists from the thrill seekers is by what they do, not what they say. In the 90's, there was the cyberpunk movement that was threatening to take down the system by hacking into international banking institutions and screwing everything up just for the hell of it. These guys were brilliant and became kind of underground heroes. Maybe 10% of them were serious and actually did some good as far as educating people, bringing up ideas that filtered down into the mainstream. I think most of them got tired of starving and sold out to become "dot com" millionaires. Now the last thing they want to do is "take down" the system that made them rich.

MS: Ok, time to have some fun. All this friendly fascism and subvert Big Brother activity is, of course, a bit scary. But I take it it must be even scarier in the United States. After all, I always believed that you normally have to vote either for the Right (Democrats), or for the ridiculously extreme Right (Republicans). Of course there are some very worthy exceptions, but the political system in the United States is in my opinion not only very uncaring for the people, but also clever enough to manipulate the people and get support from them. How does it feel to be living under such an "arrangement" and have to fight against it, whether it is with music or other activities?

JM: You're right, the only viable Left in the U.S. is the Green Party, which got 3% of the vote. I voted for Ralph Nader, and his position was that the two major parties are the same, both being owned by the corporate oligarchy. I don't think the system is much different in Mexico where you had one party rule for 70 years. In a free country like America, where the government can't threaten the people with violence, it's more important to control people's minds. We don't have Big Brother, but we have Disney, CNN, Fox, NBC, AOL Time Warner. etc. that present a very narrow pro-consumer picture of what's going on in the world. We are told what's good for us and what to want, and anything that falls outside the box is marginalized and/or consciously censored by the owners of these huge mega-corporations. After all, it's in their interest to paint a picture of the world that agrees with the capitalist, market driven, neoliberal economic model that exists in order to keep the wealth and power in the hands of the few. This is the friendly fascist system that allowed George W. Bush to become President.

What an embarrassment! In the eyes of the rest of the world, the U.S. is a big dumb rogue superpower bullying its way into disaster for the planet, and we the people look like uncultured idiots who just want to make money and drive fast cars. It's hard to be optimistic, but the only thing an artist who is a sane person can do in the face of this situation is try to affect whatever you can positively, in whatever small way you know how, and not give up. If we're lucky, someday it will reach a critical mass, and something major will change, and we'll never know what small factor will have pushed the envelope and broken the camel's back.

MS: Another thing regarding the system in the United States. How would you compare strong social democracies such as the ones in Germany, Denmark, and Sweden with the way things work in the US? Would you prefer such a regime, or do you have a preference for an entirely different political and economic system?

JM: In the more progressive European democracies they have parliamentary systems where you get representation by minority parties like socialists, labor, and other left of center groups. In America we have a winner-take-all system that conveniently excludes these bothersome ideas. Although they are better than what we have, they are far from perfect. There aren't any models that exist yet for organizing societies that I know about where rich, powerful people are kept in check and all the people in charge just naturally do the right thing for everybody. That's probably never going to happen. So all we can do is correct each little problem as it arises and replace it with experiments that will be judged in time. We can only wander in the dark seeking out solutions that make sense within our limited capacity to understand. These are huge problems that may never be solved since the population is so wildly out of control and exponentially driving us faster and faster, while no one thinks about designing brakes. Noam Chomsky believes in the anarchosyndicalist system, where capital and resources are owned and run by the people, not the government or the corporations. Some believe that we need to return to some kind of techno-tribal system and decentralize everything. Either way would require such a massive paradigm shift that they are unlikely to happen soon, if ever.

MS: Yet one more. Do you have any opinions or suggestions regarding how people should fight against governmental indifference, system oppression, manipulative education, global environmental destruction and similar modern world problems? Where can people get true quality information regarding the state of the world and not be headed into a bunch of paranoid rubbish? And how can people create a true united front? Where should they go to?

JM: One place to start is the Internet. The truth is available but it must be excavated and refined in order to be understood in the big picture. This takes a lot of time if you're doing it by yourself, so you need to establish networks of like-minded people and share information and opinions. You have to find sources that resonate with what you believe in your heart because I believe intuition and logic are equally important in discovering an accurate view of reality. If you have kids, then you should shield them from the disinformation that bombards them constantly through television and commercial media. Maybe home schooling, or certainly alternative education is a good idea. You have to vote for the person that you'd like to see in office, not the lesser of two evils. Contribute whatever you can to causes that you believe in, knowing that you can't do it all yourself, and trusting people who devote their lives to issues like the environment, population, disarmament, fairness and justice issues etc. Maybe all you need to do is take some mushrooms once in a while, and do a little bit of psychic house cleaning, maybe just read some great poetry...I don't know.

MS: Let's return to Paranoise before the interview's over. Your new album, Ishq ("transcendence" in Sufi) should be released any time now. Are there any surprises that Paranoise fans are to expect? How much closer do you think this release will get you to your objective of being able to play everything live instead of having to rely on samples and loops?

JM: We still rely on the loops when we play live. We have percussionists and dancers sit in with us, but the sound live is pretty much the same as on record except for the improvisation sections. We are a great live band and in some ways better than the record; put us through a good P.A. system and we'll blow the roof off. I see the new record as a crystallization of the original concept and a more eclectic and smooth sound than before. The only surprise is going to be for me, in seeing how this stuff is received.

MS: Talking about Paranoise records. Have you had any luck getting back the masters for your previous two albums in order to release them through Ancient Records?

JM: We're working on it. Wish us luck. [Good luck! - MS]

Marcelo's Jim Matus interview part two | Igor's Interview with Jim Matus

[Paranoise ceased and Mawwal was born circa 2004 -ed.]


Discography:
Constant Fear (1988)
Start A New Race (1993)
Private Power (1999)
Ishq (2002)

Added: August 25th 2002
Interviewer: Marcelo Silveyra

Artist website: www.jimmatus.com
Hits: 1320
Language: english
  

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