and Giving Voice to the Inner Mystic
Once again, on his new CD, Sacred Road, David Lanz has captured some beautiful moments, and put them to music to share with us all. Sacred Road flows through beautiful new melodies as effortlessly as the stream of consciousness that pervades David's music fills my thoughts. This compilation, David's thirteenth, sounds suspiciously like a reminder that this world is a good and gracious host of life.
David has developed a relationship with his audience that feels intimately comforting to his listeners, he has enjoyed the recognition of a Gold Record, and he has maintained integrity to his simple vision of making music for happy people. or is it making happy music for people? I was fortunate enough to be able to interview David over lunch, and what he has to say is so insightful, we're moving directly to Go:
Scott: I'll start with the easy questions. What's your favorite color?
David: If you look at my album covers, it seems to be violet.
Scott: Your favorite food?
David: A brand of vegetarian hot dog. I buy cases of it. A lot of italian food.
Scott: Every interview in your press kit questioned whether or not you or your music is really "New Age." Does that categorization bother you?
David: Well, it never bothered me, but it seems to bother everybody else, because they always bring it up. Basically what I go on record as saying is that New Age is not a musical term, and that is where the confusion is. Any other category that people are put in--rock, classical, jazz, country--is a specific genre. What is called New Age doesn't really have a definite style. It's so diverse. New Age is a broad, philosophical term, not a type of music.
Scott: I know your music has transcended the New Age audience and reached many.
David: In fact, a lot of people who like my music are offended when it's called New Age. They don't know what that means and say, "You're not New Age." I'm not sure what that means. But when it comes to marketing I'm strictly New Age because that's where my records are in all the record stores. Billboard calls it the Adult Alternative slash New Age album chart. People--especially Americans--have this obsession with classifying everything. Thinking like it's a scientific thing, you know, you have to cut everything up and put it in a box.
Scott: Do you still read the critics?
David: Some of the stuff. It's about ninety percent good, and then occasionally you get someone who has an axe to grind or just doesn't get it at all. If I'm in the right place I can read those. And actually it's more interesting to me to hear those people who usually will lambaste the whole genre before starting in on me. Then a lot of the writers are way too complimentary. In one of the first reviews of Sacred Road, the woman compared me to Chopin and Rachmaninoff--way too heady for me.
I do some of the things the classical composers have done, or I should say, finally figured out some of those things. I was listening to a program on channel 9 the other night and they were going through all these different castles in England while playing classical music, like "classical music's greatest hits." I closed my eyes and just listened as they played Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire. It's a beautiful piece and I had heard it before, but I never really listened to it. So I closed my eyes and listened--and it put me in an altered state! I think Beethoven does that to me a lot too. Whatever it is that takes you from one kind of consciousness to the next, bridges that gap, that is really cool and that's the thing that hopefully art can do. I finally understood this last night when I was listening to this piece. The feedback about my music that I get from people is that it puts them in that space. But it's not even the music. Somehow the music creates enough ease in the person that then they make their own connection. That's what the good classical composers do. I guess you could say that about any kind of music.
(At this point, David decided to get a bite of his lunch in edgewise and turned the tables, asking me a very good question:)
David: So what's the focus of this New Times thing?
Scott: Well, we'll see what comes out of the conversation. To typify you, again, as a New Age musician is something I want to avoid.
David: Yeah, I'm basically trying to bridge that gap, you know? It's like I asked someone the other day: what's a New Age musician? I grew up playing Bach, classical music, jazz, Floyd Kramer and Ray Charles; I started meditating and whoola, I'm a New Age musician.
What really bridged the gap for me was doing a remake of "Whiter Shade of Pale" on Cristofori's Dream, which is a song by Procol Harum from the sixties. One of the members of Procol Harum played with me on that song and he is not a New Age person. New Age is an attitude and has nothing to do with music.
Scott: Do you have other creative outlets besides the piano?
David: Yeah, I'm a drummer. Actually I say that loosely; I'm in the process of producing with an old friend, Jeff Simmons, who was with Frank Zappa for many, many years, and we spend a lot of time at his house. He plays the piano and sings and I play the drums. We just record the stuff, like demos, and then go hire real musicians to play it. Other than that, I'm really into my son; it's baseball season now.
I'm also working on a motivational-slash-educational video. Over the last couple of years I've been putting out songbooks of my material and even the publisher was surprised by how well they were received. I have legions of piano teachers and students that come to my classes, so I've become sort of a role model for kids. They'll be torturing kids everywhere with my music, you know, "Play like David Lanz." I've met a lot of these children who are pretty good little composers, too. By playing this music they get a feel for melody and the simple approach that I've taken with my left hand, and it's easier for them to write their own music. I'm really excited about that and hope by the end of the summer we can have that project out.
Scott: Do you recommend a certain amount of practice time per day for young piano players?
David: Well, my standard thing is look, if you can get 15 or 20 minutes where you're really focused, great. If you can't do anymore than that, don't worry about it. Don't think that you need to play for three or four or five hours. If you can go longer, that's fine too. Even if you only go ten minutes, if it can be time when you're focused on what you want to accomplish, that's really better than feeling obligated, or playing out of guilt, which both kill a student's spirit. My phrase is "gentle discipline." The other thing I tell the children is to do their exercises, whatever the teacher tells them to do, get that out of the way first, and then finish with something you enjoy. End with something fun and really light. Then you walk away from the piano feeling, "Hey, that was really fun," and that feeling will bring you back again. It's so important for the kids to enjoy their time at the piano because you can only torture someone for so long before they snap and give up or lose faith. If something's not fun or challenging or feeds your life, then why do it?
It's amazing, you know, the first CD I did seemed like it took forever to do. Now it just flies by. I don't know where the time has gone. It's just amazing. I look at my discography and I say, "When did I do all this?"
Scott: You must have been having fun.
David: Yeah, and it feels like just the tip of the iceberg because I have so much that I've written, although I'm not as prolific as I used to be just because I spend more time preparing, doing the live performances, fine tuning. And doing all these interviews.
Scott: When does this next tour begin?
David: It starts in September, so I will have time to finish this teaching project and have some time to prepare for the tour, spend some time with my family, and just hang out in Seattle.
Scott: I guess the real question is, what does it matter what your beliefs are when your music touches so many?
David:That's a good question. I've been really spiritual since I was a little boy in the sense of seeing things and being aware of this inner life, so when I read my first Seth Speaks book in 1974 or whenever it was, I flipped out. I started sleeping under a pyramid and doing all of this wild stuff, you know. Then when this New Age thing came about I said, "Well, okay," but I was already kind of into the thing.
I think most of us are like closet mystics, you know, and I think the effort now is for people to start giving voice to their mystic. If we start doing that, then all of a sudden reality will start to change.So I'll answer the question this way: to me my beliefs are everything. Although I really haven't had to state them, I felt like I was in a position that whatever my beliefs were, the music would somehow take on this charge. So while writing and performing there's a lot of stuff going on inside as far as affirmations, and just the focus of high energy. That's what people are getting, I think. Without that, I'd just be writing pop songs and trying to make a buck. I finally figured out that if I went where my heart was--damn the torpedoes--then, wow, I can be successful. It took a long time for me to figure that out, but I needed to honor this really simple, centered space and let the music come from there instead of looking at the music world and saying, "Okay, this is what's happening and so I should do this."
Everything is always changing; the flavor of the moment is never the same. So if you try to hang your hat on that, it's elusive and keeps moving. But if you can get inside yourself, kind of the eye of the hurricane, so to speak, that's what people need. They need you because you're the only person that can be that thing. That is your gift: yourself. I finally figured that out. It might not be so for other artists, but for me my beliefs have really shaped the music I play.
Scott: Okay, your four biggest inspirations?
David: Victor Borge would be one. Lennon and McCartney, as songwriters; on the spiritual side, St. Germain; and probably my wife, I better put her on there. (smiling) She's great. She's really excellent because I bounce all this stuff off her and she really grounds me, so I don't look like a complete idiot.
(Eventually, our fortune cookies arrived. David was gracious enough to reveal his first:)
David: "A fleeting thought is worth pursuing." What did you get?
Scott: "Tomorrow's happiness begins today."