Thursday, July 9, 2009

Q&A with Ya Ho Wha 13

Posted By on 07.09.09 at 03:12 PM

Guest post by Steve Krakow, aka Plastic Crimewave.

UPDATE: As I should've pointed out earlier, Krakow not only has a relationship with Djin Aquarian (they've toured together) but also curated tonight's Empty Bottle show, which is a release party for the current issue of his zine, Galactic Zoo Dossier.

Krakow, unlike a typical promoter, is not getting a cut of the door from the show or otherwise profiting from it. He will be peddling copies of his zine at the merch table. 

My apologies for neglecting to address these issues when I made the original post.

Word is finally getting out about 70s white-light LA cult the Source Family and its musical branch Ya Ho Wha 13. For decades their contributions to society were merely mysterious rumors propagated by deep "heads"--despite mainstream appearances of the cult's famous Source restaurant in films like Annie Hall and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. At the center of it all was Jim Baker, aka Ya Ho Wha or Father Yod, a former military man and jujitsu expert who got "turned on" to kundalini yoga and all manner of esoteric magical teachings. With his profound meditation sessions and hip vegetarian restaurant, possibly the first in LA (frequented by everybody from John Lennon to Earth, Wind & Fire), he drew followers like Charles Schulz drew cartoons.
 
It was a logical next step for many of the musical members to start a band, and Father Yod took the helm, bellowing his wisdom and beating his kettle drum in 4 AM illuminated jam sessions. Father died in a hang-gliding accident in 1975, but the core members of the band--Djin, Sunflower, and Octavius--stayed in touch and continue to reach for the cosmos, playing together and spreading Father's message. Only nine albums came out during Father Yod's lifetime (compiled in the mighty Japanese box set God and Hair, thanks to recently deceases Source Family devotee Sky "Sunlight" Saxon), but more archival material has come to light, thanks to the precious handful of tapes saved by guitarist Djin Aquarian and official Source Family archivist Isis Aquarian--who was also one of Father's 13 wives (but that's a story for another day).
 
I spoke to them both about current releases and the continuation of Ya Ho Wha 13's musical endeavors--which include a show at the Empty Bottle tonight.
 
Was it difficult to tell who actually played on the Magnificence release? Besides the core band I hear violin, more percussion . . .

Isis: Since these were not reel-to-reel, which were lost or destroyed many years ago by others, it is hard to say. Even the band sometimes has trouble remembering who played on what, as sometimes Father would jump people in--if you hear violin, then that would only be Lovely Previn, daughter of Andrew Previn the composer. Sometimes Pythias played, but mostly it was Father and the three guys.

Djin: No, not all. . . . I can remember pretty well who is on everything. It's amazing how music kind of stamps a period in time. The violin is me playing the guitar with a viola bow and effects. The percussion was just Father and Octavius switching around.
 
Isis, were you present at some of those "Hours of the Saints" sessions?
 
I: We were all present, as it was part of the morning meditations, though the band room was not that large, so only a few could actually come in. We had speakers hooked up to the living room where all could share at the same time it was happening, then Father would come out all smiles and be really happy--it was like his playtime! Then we all would comment on the music, or share again with him and the band. Since I was the family historian and recorded Father and each morning meditation, I usually would just follow him into the band room, so I was in the band room a lot of the time.

Did you have a part in the selection process for the release?

I: Dave Nuss (No Neck Blues Band, White Out, et cetera) and Drag City chose what cuts they wanted from about nine CDs that they were given to work with. Some of the material was unpolished, but we were working with really old tapes and did the best we could with them. We are surprised that the tracks even survived. No one knew about them until I started to go into my archives and records to see what I had of Father's morning meditations! This is what Drag City thought would be the best for this new release, so I went with it.
 
Was it difficult to pick from the some 12-plus hours of material?

I: For me it was fine, because I know eventually it will all be heard--it is the only "new" material available from Ya Ho Wha 13 "from the day," and from the man himself, Father.

Do you feel Father Yod once again proves his versatility on these recordings, from his calming whistle to extreme shouts, and his control of dynamics--

I: Father was Father, it was what it was, and it is in the now what it is. We never knew what the heck was going to happen once he hit the band room. He was a man's man and yet a woman's man--this kind of balance and energy is very dynamic to begin with, and he was very expressive in all manners of things at all times.
 
D: Well, to quote our dear brother Sunlight who recently passed over to join Father: "Father was the greatest singer on Earth."

Father also seems to have had many different voices--is that his Asian-accented voice on "Nam yo ho Renge Kyo"?
 
D: No, that was a brother who had recently joined the family after leaving the Buddhist path. He was actually quite adept at chanting the Gohonzon, the Buddhist mantra, and Father had to force him to do it one last time. We released it as a single vinyl in Hollywood to blow minds.
 
It seems like Father also truly embraced heavy rock 'n' roll, like on the cut "Treat You So Right."

I: It was the 70s, and of course the 60s--head-on rock 'n' roll! I mean, if you think of those times and some of the music that was happening--wow!--it was beyond the beyond and truly the crossover into expressing the spirit. People's souls related to it, and it had such a profound effect on the shifting of the consciousness of the times. Some of Father's songs also had a very 40s and 50s side to them--there were a few, like "Letter Edged in Black," that I remember my grandmother singing on her guitar, and "Shady Lady" and others.
 
D: Oh yeah, at times it just popped out of us that way, and he gave it his all as usual, even without much experience at that kind of groove.
 
Did Father ever speak to you on his musical philosophies?

I: He was just able to have some fun, express his soul and personality, and yet at the same time speak some wisdom. He said, "Long after I am gone, these recordings will still carry my message." And they have!
 
D: He said music was the best way to teach and communicate cross-culturally and that it intrinsically contained a balance of wisdom and love. It was also a way of uniting people and "penetrating" the subconscious.
 
Did he think music itself and not always the message could elevate?

I: Yes, music is a universal language that has no barriers of class, religion, race, et cetera. The sounds of music are felt by all--mantras like "Om," or note frequencies that Father would get from playing the gong and having us meditate. It was very powerful in sending one out of body.
 
D: Yes, he was moved by music his whole life. He knew many of the old standards, he knew the power of the military mantras for inspiring men as they marched and for battle. He went to the jazz clubs in LA before the Family days and heard many greats like Miles Davis, whom he loved. He also was quite acquainted with the classics, which he played at times in morning meditation. He particularly liked Ravels Bolero and Bizet's Carmen. One of his favorite styles was of the Beat poet's rant.
 
How much was Father's kettle drum a part of the band's sound?

I: This was his signature sound and provided a beat like nothing else. It was not only very tribal, but warriorlike in its beat, sound, and effect--penetrating right to the core. I do not know why he picked the kettle drum, but it worked!
 
D: Tremendous. . . . I miss it because it was so severe and could bring sudden change in any direction, and get you out of the haze of a good trance. It also had a deep subconscious effect and a way of vibrating the ethers with his thought projections. Everything he did carried the mark of a magical induction.
 
How are the recent Ya Ho Wha 13 shows going?
 
D: Well, the band feels like its legs are a little wobbly, but the fans are loving it and that's what really matters to us. If it wasn't for our fans, we wouldn't be doing it.
 
Is Father's spirit still present?
 
D: Always . . . and now Sunlight Sky's spirit can be added in. We loved him and wished he could have stuck around to sit in with us again or done more shows with each other.
 
Your current release on Prophase still has the signature "tribal," expansive Ya Ho Wha 13 sound. Was that difficult to capture or automatic?
 
D: Automatic for me, because aside from doing the Djin Aquarian song list, that's the only way I play. I don't do rock 'n' roll as we know it. To me it's too boring and overdone for the most part. I think it was a little daunting for the other two members [Sunflower and Octavius] to get into the flow and capture the feeling, so we had to jam together for a day before recording Sonic Portation.
 
Despite your native Chicagoan status, this will still be Ya Ho Wha 13's first Chicago gig, no?
 
D: Yes, it's very exciting and auspicious for me and the band. Ya Ho Wha, in his Jim Baker incarnation as a marine, fought on the high seas on the battleship Chicago, and as kid I was involved in the Grant Park Democratic convention bash. Then, while in town more recently and playing with Plastic Crimewave Sound, I went to Grant Park at 12 AM to be with Obama at his victory celebration. Ya Ho Wha 13 will be at the Empty Bottle playing just five days after Independence Day and Jim Baker's birthday. It will be like a christening, before we seriously start touring--beginning with the Ottawa Blues Festival July 11.

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