Whether you’ve yearned for her new album or have never before heard of Ana Patan, you’ve landed in the right place, as we discuss all things Spice, Gold and Tales Untold. In addition to the following interview, MusicTAP is pleased to premiere Patan’s new single, “Colours on Hormones,” which is available as a “pay what you want” (FREE!!!) download.
Hey Ana, thanks for chatting today.
For those not yet familiar with your music, I’d describe it as world-influenced grooving folk-jazz with a 90’s alternative inflection. Anything you want to add to that?
Whatever it suggests to you is fine. I’m too subjective to even try to figure out a name for its style. I’ve heard different descriptions of it, and I agree with all.
That sounds like a great attitude, and has the benefit of leaving your musical horizons wide open. Do you find yourself drawn to particular kinds of sounds or emotions when writing?
Not necessarily. My only focus when writing is to not put my own ideas, concept or limitations to whatever I feel coming, that wants to happen. It’s like a tap, where something beautiful runs every now and then, that I try to capture, not spill too much and not destroy or modify.
Do you ever find that to be a challenge? Do the songs tend to come out the tap just right, or do you find yourself adjusting the pressure to avoid “spilling”?
Oh yes it’s a hell of a challenge! We are so used to putting our own grid over the way we see things, that it’s hard to not shape any experience you’re presented with into your own little colors. Which is not necessarily bad, but it’s limiting. I’d like to step over these borders in time. The sounds come out right if I’m very quick and I happen to find myself in a state relatively removed from my ego, from expectations. Otherwise, they come out unfinished or with malformations… hahaha! I have so many like that, it’s a bit sad. But, on the other hand, that’s life.
How did that process work on “General Conspiracy,” the lead single from your upcoming album Spice, Gold & Tales Untold? Thematically, the song is wry and personal. It seems quite personal, actually…have you been the victim of a general conspiracy?
Neah, of course not, it’s a joke really. You know these situations when you’re not quite there and do things half ass, so of course the results will be completely chaotic, and the more you try to control the situation the more you fail? It really does feel as if the universe has you under a big magnifying glass and keeps playing tricks to watch your reactions and amuse itself… that’s the feeling I liked to express in this song. Half self ironic/funny, half frustrated at the futility of our desperate efforts to achieve. And the same feeling applies to the whole way the song came to life… it just didn’t want to happen, it was a very elusive set of rhythms and sounds that wouldn’t want to arrange themselves in a structure…
It almost killed me for many months…in a pleasant way of course… till I decided to just go ahead and play what I think it might be… so there it was… kinda… I don’t know if that’s what it was meant to be, and it’s still morphing every time I play it… but I have to let it go, and that’s why I made it the very first song to come out from this album. There’s no turning back now.
Well, the structure came out in the end! The groovy-jazzy approach really shines on “General Conspiracy.” The guitar solo is especially angular with funky tone. What do you look for when composing a solo? Is that also a case of just letting the tap flow?
Yeah about the solo, it was also more or less letting the tap flow. Rhythmically, it was a bit out of the context, but I guess that’s what I liked about it, so I didn’t bother any further.
I really like solos that juxtapose with the rhythmic structure of their surroundings.
It makes the solo stand out that much more as an integral part of the performance. Roine Stolt does that a lot.
Flower Kings, of course.
Yep. And you’ve got a direct connection to that music—fans of The Flower Kings will recognize the name Zoltan Csörsz in the credits to “General Conspiracy.” How did you get connected with this amazing drummer?
Oh that was through Jonas Hellborg, who’s also contributing his mind blowing playing on some of the songs. Zoltan is amazing, his sense of time, his sensitivity, dynamics, diversity of expression… and he’s got something very rare in drummers, he’s very strong, vigorous, but at the same time very delicate and tender, he doesn’t crush, he sustains…
Yeah, Zoltan has an expressive, light touch.
And he listens, he understands. He’s working hard to wrap his mind around where the song wants to go… he really gives everything, mentally as well. I can’t believe my luck to record my first album with him.
The song we’re premiering today, “Colours on Hormones,” is really one of his gems. It’s almost a sort of a techno beat, that he jazzified a little and added some frantic power that drives the whole thing along, I find it really addictive.
Yeah, getting both Zoltan and Jonas on board…sounds like you’re in great shape with the rhythm section. “Colours on Hormones” is a rather striking title. What’s this track about?
It’s trying to wrap my very first impression with Hong Kong
And that sounds like a striking story behind a striking title.
It’s like a wild tall jungle of lights, smells, sounds… it’s confusing, bedazzling, fascinating… and I remember myself sitting at my window on the 32nd floor looking down at the sea of streets, cars, people, and up at the walls of colour of the buildings around, and trying to understand how I feel, lifted or intimidated… I bit of both I guess. Abit lost, and curious, and in awe, and tired but excited…the first verses talk of an almost surrealistic scene, in which there was a white piano in a park where the orchids were just blooming, and a coloured parrot from the nearby zoo had escaped and was flying confused around my head. That’s Jonas Hellborg on the bass, I’m absolutely in love with that groove.
A lovely groove, and killer tone. I love that compact, punchy sound in a bass line. It complements the punctuating guitar strums.
Yeah, some sort of sweet mathematical (in)exactity, isn’t it…all songs on the album have been played freely, without a metronome. They don’t fit into a grid. Some of them change time over the course of a song, like a living thing’s pulse.
That’s the beauty of putting together a sympatico group of players.
Exactly my thinking also… I hadn’t thought though of the insane amount of work I had to do keeping up with them.
Sounds like the human element is central to this music.
You identified it correctly.
Speaking of…”The Human” arrived as the second single from Spice, Gold, & Tales Untold; your lyrical approach here is a bit wry as well, taking on ecological degradation. Why was it important to release this song now?
How shall I put it to not sound cliched and activistic…because it’s a matter of very organic importance to me, from back in the days when I was studying economics and trying to bring my academic contribution for a lower impact of trade on our planet. I just hate to see species of animals dying out, and oceans suffocated by plastic, not only because it has an effect on all of us, what we eat, how healthy a life we can lead, but it’s about the whole way nature can or can not take our actions.
Yeah. My wife reminded me that today is National Elephant Day…seems like I’ve been hearing about endangered species and pollution and such my whole life, but little seems to change, does it?
I wrote the song angry at that human mindset seeded by the Bible and transmitted with generations of culture and even with science sometimes, that we people are the “masters” of the planet, to rule and subdue everything on it. The correct attitude I think we should have is instead one of awe and respect, since we are guests here, sharing our home with billions of other creatures.
You capture that with some great lines in “The Human”: “The human is the only thing/To have a soul and put it all in building machines” and “Shuttles will be waiting when this planet is done/To take us all away to a nicer one.” The end of the world, humanity’s loss of humanity by prioritizing machine over nature…It’s interesting that you’ve taken such an organic, alive, human approach to the recording of the music itself.
You’re right, seems we forget a lot of times beauty over profit. It could have been a reaction towards everything I see around me, including in music. I can’t take automated, overcompressed beats anymore. I refuse to compete with anything that’s trying to achieve a level or impose a standard. I want to breathe and make mistakes, and be insignificant and free.
On your website, there’s a photo of you holding spools of 2″ tape. Is this album being recorded analog?
Absolutely beautiful, indeed, though I was totally unprepared for it.
Yeah, that’s a whole ‘nother layer of challenge.
You see, I’m the generation who grew up with plugins, and digital amps in the computer recording as many takes of each verse as you need. Well this time was back to school for me.
I had to sit down on my ass and do my homework of how to play perfect takes in one go, technically and emotionally… it’s easier said than done.
Sure. But that focus and dedication comes through in the resulting music.
It’s almost religious, because you need to practice going to a dimension were you’re very solid, where you know and don’t doubt, and don’t try…
Technical without sounding like it’s been made by a piece of technology.
Indeed, and that’s why you hear it in the good old players, the masters we grew up with.
Any of those masters who you’ve spent a lot of time with while recording this album? Inspirations for your “religious” approach?
There were lots! how much time do we have?
One thing Jonas Hellborg advised me to do was get rid of pedals and sound effects. He said if I can get the sound I want out of a clean guitar, an acoustic or ANY guitar, then I can play… otherwise I’d just spend a lot of time mesmerised at some pretty crutches that might even keep me from going. And he also told me to not keep recording take after take ‘till I get what I think is correct. The first one, or mostly the second one should deliver the necessary honesty and weight. And so much more basic wisdom I got from him, that in the beginning I’d just scorn at, but then, hitting the wall again and again, I’d have to accept and practice till I have it under my skin.
Oh and I have something to add at lessons from the masters… Devin Townsend!
I was going to ask about that! As if Zoltan and Jonas weren’t enough prog royalty for one album. What’s Devin’s role in Spice, Gold, & Tales Untold?
I know, right?! I must keep pinching myself. Well at the point when I was putting the project together and recording the demos, I stumbled over Devin in one of his blessed personality crises during which he wanted to be a bass player! He asked me if I didn’t know of anybody who might need some bass lines. Yupp, I did!! So I played him some songs, he liked it, and a while later, without any further invitations and discussions, there he was, in my studio, waiting patiently for his turn to record!!
And I have to say, this is the kind of lesson you pick up from the greats. It’s not what they play (though it’s great!), it’s not what they say to you, it’s the power of example, just to be able to watch them do their thing you understand intricacies about what they are, how they think, what that means that they do, where does it come from… because they don’t do it with a result in mind, they just manifest themselves as they are and bam! there it is, greater than one would expect!
Awesome. He seems like he would bring a fun but intense energy into the studio.
Yes, Devin can be the most focused and intense person you’ve seen, he’s got an insane capacity of keeping his mind at something…he picked up the bass and he played it, and it was just awesome, he was right on time but not robotic, he had nice melodies intertwining with my guitar lines, he even had humour in bringing some really intense heavy metal ideas into a ballad, in a word, it was a delight… and all the time he kept excusing himself for messing up my song…?!
Analogue, minimal effects, first and second takes—this is a very old school album! Will it see a vinyl release?
It’s a must, right? It would be a shame over the quality otherwise, I can already hear the difference when I release songs as mp3s. Of course the album will be available digitally as well, but that’s not what it was meant for. When you hear it from tape it has such a smooth, natural sound, that you’d swear everybody’s playing in the room in this very moment.
Right, that definitely comes through. Do you have a release date?
November. Everything is almost finished, just a few mixes to be done and the rest, artwork, mastering, the production…
Are you partnering with a label for the distribution, or is this project entirely independent?
There’s a label called Anchor Records, a daughter of Jonas Hellborg’s Bardo Music Inc. The recording studio was also Bardo Music. It’s the old equipment from Green Point Studio in New York, that Jonas Hellborg owned together with Bill Laswell in the ’80s. Studers A80, Neumann mics and all the goodies.
Cool. A treat to look forward to. So, we can look for the album to release in November on Anchor Records. Is a “follow” on Facebook and Bandcamp the best way for listeners to keep informed of more Ana Patan news?
Excellent. I look forward to spinning this analogue, insignificant and free, human, world-influenced grooving folk-jazz, 90’s alternative inflected, prog-related music at 33 ⅓ (update your Bandcamp tags accordingly).
Actually, me too… it’s been a while since I’m waiting for it… about 7 years… but as the great Devin Townsend put it: “just bring it out and don’t think about it anymore.”